Recently, I read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 for the first time. As far as I knew, it was about the burning of books and the kind of totalitarianism that would command that to happen. However, I discovered that beyond this dominant image of the book the beating heart of the narrative focuses on the dumbing down of life. Already apparent to Bradbury in 1951, it is breathtaking to read today, when it could aptly and chillingly describe our own cultural milieu in which the “shallowing” and “speedening” of “information” continue to replace thinking that is deeply and profoundly considered. (Check pp.52-60 for an edifying expression of this.)
My colleague Rabbi Larry Kushner once compared religions to decks of cards, with every religion possessing all of the same cards – but holding them in a different order; while this one might prize love over justice, another might value repentance over charity, and so on. If I had to choose the lead card that distinguishes Judaism it would be our insistence on keeping sacred texts at the center of our spiritual lives – including the thoughtful, pensive, self-engaging interpretive process of making the narratives our own.
In different words, I encourage my students to “read the text as if you’re part of the story and the story as if it’s part of you.” The spirituality of a textual tradition is, as Michael Fishbane has described it, “the interpreter and the text interpenetrate in dynamic ways. The individual finds and realizes that the layers of his or her deepest self have been ‘textualized’ by study, so that the sacred texts provide the language for ongoing life experience and inspiration. The text, on the other hand, reveals itself through the accumulated readings of its many seekers and learners.” (Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary, 1503).
With all of this in mind, we maintain a vibrant “Torah Learning” group – meant not only to give participants knowledge of the contents of the text but to engage the text in ways that shed light on our lives and the perennial questions the humanity asks of itself.
Our reading and dialogue engage both those who have learned Torah before and those who have not; in other words, veterans and newcomers alike. We read the text and commentaries in English. We meet once a week for a few weeks and then take off a week or two. It is by no means necessary to attend every session; by design, people will be able to drop in and out as they need.
Unlike many Torah classes which read the weekly parasha (portion) and get as far as they can with it, continuing with the beginning of the next parasha at the next meeting, we’ve begun at the beginning of the Torah and at the next meeting pick up where we left off. My intention is to explore a coherent unit each evening. As of June 1, 2016 we’ve completed the first book of the Torah, Genesis/Bereshit.
Participants should purchase a Chumash (Torah + commentary) for their own use. I’ll give guidance as to suitable choices. With a variety of commentaries around the table – in addition to our own experiences and perspectives – our learning will be quite rich and deep.
Meetings are on Tuesday evenings, 7:15-8:30. There is no charge for B’Chavana members and a charge of $25/meeting for non-members. We are eager to include people beyond the B’Chavana community; our learning is the better for it and we will be able to expose more people to our thoughtful and spirited engagement with our tradition, so please think of someone to bring along.
There is no formal registration. If you would like to attend or have questions please contact us:
Rabbi Belgrad: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rachel Levin: email@example.com