Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Judah's Learning Marathon Today


"כי הם חיינו ואורך ימניו ובהם נהגה יומם ולילה"
"Because they [words of Torah and mitzvot] are our lives and lengthen our days and we will engage in them day and night" (Ma'ariv Prayers)

My day started off on the wrong foot.  I had set my alarm on my iPod Touch, but the mistake I made was that I did not leave the application open.  So I woke-up three minutes before I was supposed to show up to Nativ davening (I got there a little late). It ended at 8:35, which is shortly before class, so I had a short amount of time to eat breakfast and was actually 25 or 10 minutes late (depending on how one interprets the start time of chavruta).

My chavruta and I were fairly ahead in Chumash, so we took it fairly easy this morning.  I played a little bit with the iPod Touch, but we did some review of the material and I took a look at Torat Chayim for other commentaries besides Rashi.  They became useful for class discussion.  My issue with class discussions these days has been that I can stay interested for spurts of time, especially when we're on topic, but then it becomes too easy for me to doze off.  Even when I didn't have my computer open during Chumash I had a hard time focusing when it got off topic.  But I did an overall good job of chiming in on the discussions.

Today at lunch, I started a Theology Workshop with Shaiya.  His understanding of our mission as Jews is crucial to me.  The idea that we serve God, Avodat Hashem, through Halacha, Talmud Torah, and Tefillah, and that we need to define and identify what is found in those, but then we must interpret them to be true and good if it is true Avodat Hashem is essential.  The two ideas are intertwined.  Shaiya talked about two orders of understanding our tradition: the first order suggests that we are with the sages in our studies and we want to believe it so that we are a part of the conversation, while the second order suggests that people study texts because they are important texts but they create a dichotomy between the text and themselves.  I'll be coming back to this.

Right afterwards, Chancellor Eisen (of JTS) spoke to the yeshiva.  I don't remember exactly what he said.  But he spoke very shortly about Conservative Judaism by not talking about Conservative Judaism, but by talking about Torah through the lens that Conservative Judaism would interpret it.  He's a great speaker – I wish he would have gone a little longer to really elaborate on how his understanding of Torah related to Conservative Judaism because he seemed to end abruptly.  But it was worth going.

Then Biblical Grammar was easy – people were finishing up worksheets on vocalizing words.  Reb Shlomo gave me some more to do; they were fairly easy.  I helped another student finish his up.  It's very nice to understand how it all works.

Modern Jewish Thought was interesting because non-yeshiva people came today.  A lot of them dominated the conversation.  We discussed Allan Bloom, who talks about the failures of American education (I looked him up online and learned what this stems from) and we talked about prejudices and his approach on how they can be important.  Here's a good quote from him: "Error is indeed our enemy, but it alone points to the truth and therefore deserves our respectful treatment."  Then we started talking about books and heroes – what our favorites and most influential are.  It was an important conversation to have, and I will possibly write an essay about that separately but I won't deal with it here.  I stayed after to discuss with Aryeh an article he wrote that he previewed for us about a reading of B'reishit; I read it last night and realized how much it relates to what we discussed with Shaiya today.  We got into a discussion about studying a text to advance understanding but from there to find a spiritual depth to it.

I had an hour essentially to eat dinner and shower after that.  For Erev Nativ tonight, we had a preview to the Beit Midrash program that JTS Rabbinical Students are running for Nativ.  In my group we studied Sea Monsters with a student named Ethan.  It was a great session – he's an example of how the tone one sets as a teacher and the excitement they bring can really get people into studying.  Everyone enjoyed his class from the beginning, and we studied some interesting perspectives on what sea creatures mean to Judaism, starting with the very beginning of creation.

Last, but not least of my nearly 14 hour day of learning, since I'm switching back to my original Talmud class, I had a date with Steinsaltz Bava Kamma to catch up.  I spent almost an hour and a half going through the text.  Luckily it wasn't too tricky and I think I got it.

Now it's really time for bed. Laila Tov.

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