By Rabbi Michael L. Feshbach

The fourth cohort of the Hartman Institute Rabbinic Leadership Initiative recently convened in Jerusalem for their winter seminar. In addition to intensive learning at the Institute, the group took a trip to Bet Shemesh. Rabbi Michael Feshbach, a member of RLI IV and the rabbi of Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase, MD, reflects on the trip.

When Bob Dylan wrote the lyrics many years ago that “everybody must get stoned,” I am not sure he had Bet Shemesh in mind. I’m actually not sure what he did mean (in that or many other places), but I am fairly sure it was not about physical intimidation, harassment, and assault.

I write these words towards the end of the winter week of my spread-out sabbatical in Jerusalem. It has been a challenging and deeply troubling year in the Jewish state. While security measures and circumstances have brought about a blessed and hopefully long-lasting reduction in terrorist attacks, internal Israeli issues and Jewish extremism have roared to the fore. From the massive social protest movements last summer (the front page of headlines here for many weeks before they broke through for any coverage in the American press), to desecration of mosques and even attacks on IDF soldiers by extremist West Bank settlers waging a private war called “price tag,” to the combined exultation and anguish over the return of Gilad Shalit and the high cost it took to seal that deal, we are a long way, today, from the easy pride and idealized vision of what was in any event a probably mythical past. At the same time a whole slew of seemingly anti-democratic legislation has come before (but not passed!) the Knesset, seeking to limit the rights of NGOs, minorities, media, and anyone who would dare speak out against governmental policy.

Into all this now comes a painful—shameful—issue of gender segregation and oppression of women in Israel. At least, that’s what I thought the terrible images coming from a place called Bet Shemesh were about. It turns out that even this image is more complicated than I could have initially imagined.

By John Rosove

The Shalom Hartman Institute of North America recently launched its Beit Midrash for Rabbis in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, in which visiting Hartman faculty, hosted by leading local institutions, lead text study for area rabbis. Rabbi John Rosove  attended the kickoff event in Los Angeles on December 7, 2011. A longer version of this article can be read here.

Last week, I was privileged to hear a presentation on Hanukkah by Noam Zion, a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, who led 40 rabbis of the Southern California Board of Rabbis in a superb two-hour conversation entitled: “Reinvention of Hanukkah in the 20 th Century: A Jewish Cultural Civil War Between Zionists, Liberal American Judaism andHabad – Who Are the Children of Light and Who of Darkness?”

I attended this session not only because of my long-standing respect for the scholars of the Hartman Institute but because their teachings are of the highest quality.

Noam’s presentation offered a comprehensive bird’s view of Hanukkah through history as understood today by Israelis, American liberal non-haredi Jews, and Habad. Based on Hanukkah’s tendentious history and the vast corpus of sermons written over the centuries, Noam noted that classic drashot reflect the following themes: Who are the children of light and darkness? Who are our earliest heroes and what made them heroic? And what relevance can we find in Hanukkah today?

Read the whole article on the Shalom Hartman Institute website.

Rabbi John Rosove is Senior Rabbi of Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles, is a national Vice-President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA), and is an active member of the Rabbinic Cabinet of J StreetHe writes a blog for the LA Jewish Journal.

By Yitz Landes

Daniel Boyarin’s Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash is now out in Hebrew, after a long wait. On November 27, students, havrutot, friends, and admirers of Boyarin and Boyarenesque scholarship coalesced at Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute to celebrate the appearance of Midrash Tannaim – the Hebrew title ofIntertextuality. The three speakers, introduced by Prof. Galit Hasan-Rokem, dealt with different parts of Boyarin’s Torah as it pertains to their own fields of expertise.

Professor Menahem Kahana, a scholar of Midrashic literature and the head of Hebrew University’s department of Talmud and Halakha (!), reminisced about the times when he and “Danny” (Hebrew- “Donny“) would engage in philological exploits into the depths of the Mekhilta. Such exploits engendered two very different scholarly tomes- Boyarin’sIntertextuality and Kahana’s Mekhiltot. Kahana, whose praises for Intertextuailty are listed in Ishay Rosen-Zvi’s afterword to Midrash Tannaim, chose to argue for more historical understandings than those presented by Boyarin in his early work. In his own words, “The multi-vocality of history is no less important than the multi-vocality of the text”. Of course, historically attuned readings are quite present in Boyarin’s later work, and the other speakers also struggled with critically engaging a book more than two decades after its initial publication, whose author no longer fully agrees with everything he wrote in it.

Dr. Dina Stein of the department of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at Haifa University also began with a personal story involving her and Boyarin. Years ago, she had purchased a copy of Todorov’s Symbolism and Interpretation from a used bookstore in Berkeley. She soon realized that the copy in her possession had originally belonged to Boyarin, who had referenced relevant rabbinic passages in the book’s margins, as can be seen in the picture to the right. Yet those passages, to the best of her knowledge, are surprisingly absent from Boyarin’s published work. Stein also pointed out that not only were those stories left out, but the book in which they were cited had left Boyarin’s library, first to a store that is no longer even open, and then, redemptively, to a fellow Rabbinics scholar. Indeed, those changes are perhaps symbolic of a deeper shift apparent in Boyarin’s scholarly output: A move from the semiotics of midrash, of understanding rabbinic hermeneutics to work in “an almost too perfect” way, to historicist readings of the rabbis. As Stein suggested, perhaps Intertextuaility is Boyarin’s Shir haShirim. In his response, Boyarin acknowledged that Socrates might be his Kohelet, but added that that is because the Bavli is the Kohelet of the Rabbis (“בעיניי, הבבלי הוא הקהלת של חז”ל”).

In his distinctly clear yet sharp style, Dr. Joshua Levinson of Hebrew University’s department of Hebrew Literature presented an overview of Intertextuality‘s continued influence on rabbinic studies. Instead of deciding what exegesis is and then asking whether rabbinic midrash fits the criteria, Boyarin took the text’s claim to be exegetical seriously and then asked what its hermeneutic methods are. Levinson then showed how such an outlook affected research into other genres of rabbinic literature, such as the exegetical narratives of Genesis Rabbah- Levinson’s own field of expertise in which he has pioneered new paths of understanding.

Although speakers came from as far away as Berkeley and Haifa, the evening’s overall atmosphere was characteristically Jerusalemite, and not just because of the rugelach from Marzipan or the classically South Jerusalem institution in which it was held. Rather, what created the special ambiance was the very presence of such scholars on the same stage, along with an audience of researchers and students of Talmud, Jewish thought, and literature in what seemed like a mixture that can only come into being in Jerusalem. Despite their differences, and regardless of which ‘Boyarin’ they prefer most, all in attendance seemed more than happy to gather in appreciation of their shared teacher.

Yitz Landes is a student in Hebrew University’s departments of Talmud and Halakha and Comparative Religion. This post was originally published on The Talmud Blog, which Yitz co-edits along with Shai Secunda.

The 2011-2012 academic year got off to a great start for nearly 100 educators studying at the Be’eri School for Teacher Education, which was launched in October 2010 in partnership with Keren Karev. Fifty of these teachers are returning for their second year of intensified study in basic and advanced teachers training tracks. A new cohort of thirty teachers is beginning the two-year basic teacher track to become Tarbut Yisrael instructors. Graduates of the teachers’ tracks will receive Ministry of Education certification as Tarbut Yisrael instructors. Eighteen principals and department supervisors are beginning study in the principals’ track and an additional eighteen principals who participated in previous cohorts will return to the School approximately once every six weeks for enrichment seminars.

The academic year launched with a festive day of learning which started off with Beit Midrash study, after which the educators split into three groups, led by School director Rani Jaeger and faculty members Dr. Inbar Galili-Schachter and Ariel Aviv, to discuss themes related to the High Holiday season. The groups then convened for a lecture by Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman on obligation and renewal and how to instill these values in students. The day concluded with a concert of piyutim [liturgical songs] and a discussion of these songs in their historical and cultural context and a festive toast in honor of the new year of study and the upcoming holidays.

The School also hosts open seminar days on special themes throughout the year. These are open to teachers who are not necessarily studying at the Be’eri School for Teacher Education. Some 150 educators attended this year’s first open seminar day, which was held in October at the Hartman campus in Jerusalem. The goal of the day was to provide these educators with a deeper understanding of particular Jewish studies content as well as with practical methodologies for transmitting Jewish studies lessons to their students. The day consisted of workshops and lectures on the theme of introspection on the state of the Jewish home and featured workshops on, among others, methodologies for teaching the texts that appear in two new Be’eri textbooks on Pikrei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) and Jewish identity. The teachers also attended a lecture by SHI faculty member and Israeli media figure Dov Elbaum on the meaning of freedom. The day concluded with a concert of songs related to the four species used during the holiday of Sukkot.

Shalom Hartman Institute President Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman, and SHI-North America President Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer recently taught at the launch of the third cohort of The Berrie Fellowship, a two-year intensive Jewish learning and leadership education program for a select cadre of leaders in Northern New Jersey.

The Hartman Institute is working closely to help develop the curriculum for this two-year program, which is funded by the Russell Berrie Foundation, and will include a week-long seminar in Jerusalem in July 2012 that will be taught by a faculty of SHI fellows.

To read more, click here.

פתיחת שנת הלימודים תשע”ב לא הייתה האירוע היחיד שאותו ציינו תלמידות המדרשייה והצוות החינוכי. המדרשייה זכתה לפתוח את שנת הלימודים בבניין חדש הממוקם ברח’ רחל אמנו 18, בירושלים. האירוע צוין בטקס חגיגי במעמד ראש העיר ונציגים נוספים, הנהלת מנח”י ירושלים, הנהלת מכון הרטמן, הנהלת בית הספר והצוות החינוכי ונציגי הורי התלמידות. ביום פתיחת הלימודים בירכה מירב בדיחי, מנהלת המדרשייה, את תלמידות בית הספר. אלה הדברים

!בנות יקרות – ערב טוב וברוכות הבאות לבית החדש שלנו

בפרשת השבוע, פרשת שופטים, שנקרא השבוע, מדובר על יציאה למלחמה וניתנים שלושה פטורים גורפים לאנשים במצבי חיים שונים – למי שאירס אשה ולא לקחה, למי שנטע כרם ולא חיללו, ולמי שבנה בית ולא חנכו.
?למה דווקא שלושה אלו משתחררים מן החובה הציבורית? מה משותף לשלושתם

 ראשית, שלושתם מתחילים התחלה חדשה ומרגשת – בזוגיות ואהבה, בעבודה ופרנסה ובמקום המגורים. אולי הפטור שניתן להם מלמד אותנו שאין משמעות להתחלה חדשה בלי שנהנים ממנה ומגשימים אותה. ההתחלה אינה נחשבת ככזו עד שחיים אותה במציאות. לא מספיק להינשא – צריך לחיות יחד, לא מספיק לטעת כרם – צריך לעבוד בו, להשקיע, ולא מספיק לבנות בית – צריך לחיות בו וליהנות ממנו, לעצב ולמלא אותו חיים. רק אז הוא נחשב שלנו.
ועוד – השחרור הזה מן המלחמה מלמד אותנו מסר חשוב על חשיבות הראשוניות. לכאורה, היינו מצפות שמי שכבר נשוי שנים אחדות ויש לו ילדים בבית או אישה בהריון, יהיה זה שיקבל את הפטור. היינו מצפות שמי שיש לו כרם ותיק ומלאי של ענבים במחסן וספקים שדורשים את שלהם, הוא שיקבל את הפטור. ולא כך. דווקא ההתרגשות של הראשוניות, החלל הריק שמבקש להתמלא, הראשוניות מקבלת משמעות

 התורה מלמדת אותנו שלא הבנייה והקירות חשובים, אלא האופי שניצוק לתוכם.
במקום הזה, הבית החדש שלנו, הושקעו מחשבה, כספים רבים ועבודה אין סופית. כמעט בלתי אפשרית. הרבה מאד אנשים טרחו וחשבו ועיצבו ועזרו ותמכו כדי שנגיע לרגע הזה. עכשיו הגיע הרגע שלכן. אתן תעצבנה את המקום עבורכן. ולכן, כל אחת ואחת שיושבת כאן צריכה לחשוב מה חשוב לה באמת ולבחון האם היא מתנהלת על פי הערכים בהם היא מאמינה.

 אני בטוחה שכולכן מאמינות בטוב – בהתחשבות, בדרך ארץ, בשמחה ואהבה, בצדק ונתינה, אבל אין משמעות לאמונות הללו אם הן לא באות לידי ביטוי.
אנחנו צריכות להבין שאנחנו יוצרות את המקום שאנו חיות בו –
אם לכלכתי – מישהו אחר נדרש לנקות אחרי,
אם דיברתי רעה או סרה – מישהי נפגעה,
אם חייתי בתחושה שהכל מגיע לי ולא אמרתי תודה – העכרתי את האווירה,
וההפך – אם השפעתי טוב ואהבה ופרגון –גם זה משפיע על היחידות ועל הכלל

 אתמול התכנסנו כאן ואמרנו תודה לעירייה ולמשרד החינוך ולהורים ולמורים ולקבלנים ולכל מי שטרח ועבד בשבילנו. ועכשיו הדבר בידינו. ואני מקווה שנדע לשמור עליו ולטפח אותו ולהפוך אותו לבית שנעים להימצא בו.
אני מבקשת להקריא לכן שיר של נתן זך, שמדבר בדיוק על הנושאים הללו ושאני מאד מזדהה איתו-

אָדָם חַי בָּעוֹלָם שֶאוֹתוֹ הוּא עוֹשֶֹה לְעַצְמוֹ ,
מִן הַתַּאֲווֹת שֶבְּשָֹרוֹ מִתְאַוֶּה לְעַצְמוֹ
מִן הַנוֹפִים שֶבָּהֶם הוּא מַמְתִּיק לְעַצְמוֹ
אֶת הַפְּחָדִים שֶבָּהֶם הוּא מַפְחִיד אֶת עַצְמוֹ
וּמִן הָאַהֲבָה שֶאוֹתָהּ הוּא אוֹהֵב לְעַצְמוֹ.
וּמִן הַשִֹּנְאָה שֶאוֹתָהּ הוּא שֹוֹנֵא לְעַצְמוֹ
וּבַקַּיִץ הוּא יוֹצֵא אֶל מִחוּץ לְעַצְמוֹ
וּבַסְּתָיו הוּא חוֹזֵר חֲזָרָה לְעַצְמוֹ
וְרוֹאֶה מֶה עָשָֹה לְעַצְמוֹ
בַּקַּיִץ וּמַה לא עָשָֹה לְעַצְמוֹ
מַבְחִין בֵּין זֶה לְזֶה וּמֵבִין לְעַצְמוֹ.
נתן זך

שתהיה שנת לימודים פוריה ושמחה ולכולנו

It’s not every day that professional relationships are forged between academics in Israel and Egypt. This is why Professor Israel Knohl was both surprised and  pleased to receive a message from Omar Zakaria, the head of the Israeli  Academic Center in Cairo. Zakaria, who speaks Hebrew fluently, turned to Knohl with a request to translate his bestselling book The Bible’s Genetic Code  (published in Hebrew as Me’ayin Banu) to Arabic. The book traces the roots of the Jewish people and the Bible and includes a discussion of the Jewish people’s connection to the Egyptian nation.

Professor Knohl, a senior lecturer in the Bible Department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, agreed to grant Zakaria the rights for translating his book and at Zakaria’s request assisted him in securing funding for the endeavor. Although Professor Knohl was unsuccessful in attaining this funding, Zakaria was nonetheless able to complete the translation and recently sent Professor Knohl a copy of his book in Arabic with a personal inscription.

The Bible’s Genetic Code was published in Hebrew in 2008 and received critical and popular praise. The book presents revolutionary answers to essential questions regarding the origins of the Jewish people and its culture.

This is not the first time that connections have been forged between scholars at the Hartman Institute and the Egyptian nation. During the Egyptian revolution in February 2011, Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute, wrote a Letter to the Egyptian People in which he responded to the events happening in Egypt as an Israeli neighbor. He received dozens of responses to the letter from Egyptian citizens. This active dialogue not only sparked the interest of Hartman enthusiasts, but also that of numerous Israeli and foreign media.