2014
05.26

A year of Torah study

I’ve been giving some thought to the upcoming Jewish holiday of Shavuot (also known as the Feast of Weeks), which celebrates the giving of the Torah (Law) to the Hebrew people at Mt. Sinai.

There are several traditions of this holiday (such as eating dairy products, reading the book of Ruth, etc.) but the one that interests me the most is the tradition of studying Torah all night long.

As much I would love to study Torah all night long, I think maybe a more fruitful exercise would be to study through the Torah over the course of the coming year and then to blog about the experience. So, here’s my plan…

1. I will study the weekly Torah portions that are read by many Jews each week. I hope that in reading the text in the context that Jews read it, I will see it with new eyes.

2. I will translate some portion of the week’s text in Hebrew (even if only a verse or two) as a way to maintain my Hebrew skills.

3. I will read some of the Jewish commentaries on the week’s portion, both scholarly ones (like the JPS commentary) but also less scholarly ones (blogs and the like).

4. I will write some kind of response to the text on my blog.

5. I will express my thoughts on the text openly. If I have doubts about the text’s wisdom, I will say so. I will bring to the table both an attempt at an objective historical consideration of the text, but also will bring my interfaith/feminist/anti-oppression perspective to the text. And I will consider the devotional/spiritual aspects of the text as well.

6. I will seek to engage with others in thoughtful dialogue about the text but I will do my best to avoid pointless arguments.

So that’s the plan. Shavuot starts on sunset of June 3 and runs until sundown on June 5, so I will start with next week’s Torah portion. Stay tuned…

2014
05.22

Biblical Hebrew Outline (PDF download), Keyed to Basics of Biblical Hebrew, 2nd edition by Gary Pratico & Miles Van Pelt

A bit of explanation: I am a seminary student but previously was a law student (I graduated from law school in 2005 and have been an attorney since 2006). Much of the experience of law school and seminary is dissimilar, but one element is the same — the need to comprehend, remember, organize and apply large amounts of information.

A common study technique in law school is the preparation of “outlines,” normally about 20-30 pages for student-written outlines, or between 200-300 pages for commercial outlines (sold by companies to help law students prepare for exams), as well as some unusual forms (I often condensed longer outlines down to 2 pages, and sometimes even 1 page as a method of studying). Since Biblical Hebrew has been an incredibly difficult subject for me, I decided to use the outline technique to prepare for my Hebrew final (which fortunately was open book, allowing us to use our textbook and lexicon, which meant the most important thing to do in preparation was to be able to quickly find relevant information in the textbook on the fly, which is why this outline is keyed to our textbook.)

As for coverage, I think I did a decent job of outline the first half of the class (all of the grammar besides verbs) but it is much weaker in the second half of the outline. In the future (for my own learning) I will probably rewrite this section. But for those interested, I’m sharing the outline anyway incomplete as it is. Use at your own risk.

2014
05.09

My wife and I are thinking about starting a monthly gathering that would meet to engage in informal Jewish study and worship here in the OKC Metro. The group would be interfaith in nature (with all being welcome to share of their understandings of the divine) but with the focus being on Jewish faith practices such as celebrating Shabbat (Sabbath) and holidays, as well as learning more about Jewish history and culture, all in the context of an informal, family-friendly home gathering.

This gathering would be modeled after the Jewish Chavurah movement (Hebrew: חבורה) which means “fellowship” or “friendship”) which sprung up during the 1960’s as an alternative to traditional synagogue services. Chavurot (plural of Chavorah) are traditionally lay-led and egalitarian in nature… or to say it another way, everyone is a participant and leadership is shared.

This is a lively and rich movement. It includes small fellowship groups that are sponsored by a larger synaoguge, but also include many independent Chavurot such as the Longmont, CO Shabbat Group, NefeshSoul in Phoenix, Tikkun Olam Chavorah in Germantown, PA and HaMakom Shalom in Germantown, MD

There is a lot more that could be said about this movement (actually I will provide two more links: Joys of Chavurah (AKA The Jewish Party thing) from Interfaithfamily.com and the National Havurah Committee Resources page for those who want to learn more), but maybe it is best to just say that it is time to try it out and see for ourselves what this kind of informal community would be like instead of just reading about it.

So, the community might start with some of these activities…

1. Shabbat suppers – The group would gather for dinner at one of our homes. We would light the candles and say the shabbat prayers together, and then eat a long lazy meal together (with of course wine and challah bread) while sharing about lives and the ways we attempt to connect with God in the context of our lives.
2. Torah Study – We might meet to read and discuss the Torah portion of the week.
3. Hebrew Study – This would not be learning to read and speak Hebrew fluently, but rather a kind of introduction to Hebrew, a “Hebrew for the rest of us” (quoting from a book title of the same name) in which I would teach participants how to recognize the Hebrew characters and vowel markings, how to pronounce Hebrew, and some of the basics of Hebrew grammar, so that participants could use some of the standard Hebrew language tools to study the Hebrew scriptures.
4. Service – We might choose together to do a service project of some kind together.
5. Holiday gatherings – There are so many wonderful Jewish holidays we can observe together in an informal way. Sukhot (the feast of booths) and Purim would be both very fun holidays to do together.

As far as who can participate, the meetings would be open to anyone who is interested in learning or engaging with Jewish practices. Certainly participants are welcome to discuss connections between Jewish practices and their own beliefs in appropriate ways, but this would not be an appropriate occasion for seeking converts.

And of course this group would be focused on Jewish practices, but is not intended to require any kind of doctrinal conformity. I expect (and hope) that we will have participants come with a variety of theological beliefs (including those who are agnostic).

Anyway that is my not-so-short explanation of what we have in mind. I’m now curious who might be interested in joining us on a trial basis, maybe starting with a Friday night supper sometime in May or June. If you are interested in participating, please email or text me (405-494-0562). Also please let me know what things you would be most interested in (shabbat meals, holiday celebrations, study, etc.).