Have you missed me? Well I’ve missed writing on this blog! I did write an entry a few days ago, but decided not to post it because I think it needed some more development. Maybe I’ll come back to it, or maybe not. Right now I want to talk about Pardes since this is the week that it all started.
First we went to a pre-orientation intro session, where I ran into a few people I knew from when I went to Columbia and Reform services at Hillel. It’s funny that you always run into people here, and it’s also funny that you don’t feel surprised by this fact because you kind of expect it. During the evening we did some introductions and then broke off into groups and discussed what coming to Israel/Jerusalem meant to us.
We went to vegetarian potluck on Shabbat and met many people and encountered carbohydrate overload :). Well, let me backtrack. We were supposed to go to a Friday night dinner, but we took a nap in the early evening and overslept. No matter because we ended up getting plenty of Pardes related activities this week.
On Sunday we went to Pardes for our orientation and got a real whiff of what an amazing program this is. On first impression, I noticed that a significant number students were recently out of college. There were a bunch of students in their mid-late twenties as well as a smattering of 30/40 somethings. I didn’t see many couples in the crowd.
I also noticed that there were quite a few returning students who were either in the Fellows program (second year studies), Educator’s program (where students study at Pardes while pursuing an MA in Jewish education), and the Kollel students (advanced study). And then a few of them ended up teaching or working at Pardes. Who knew that Torah study could be so addictive!
Well, not just any Torah study, but Torah study at Pardes. One of the staff members spoke briefly about the vision of the institute–to be a place that would open the doors of Torah study as wide as possible. This approach is very different from a significant number of other institutes in that you are not expected to hold a specific point of view or have a certain level of observence. The other part of this vision was to open its doors to both men and women. When Pardes was established–in 1972 to be exact–there were no beit midrashim for women. Of course there were schools, but no place for women to study with a partner (chevruta) over a religious text.
The staff person also emphasized that Pardes is not a place for academic study. It’s not simply about learning information but also about personal engagement with the text. During our time at Pardes we’re supposed to be gaining textual skills and also learn how to relate the material to our own lives. He also encouraged us to use our time to gain new Jewish life skills such as learning how to lead prayer, read Torah or conduct a Passover seder. In addition to the daily classes, they offer classes on learning Torah and Haftorah trompe as well as Safrut (learning how to write a Torah scroll).
Following his intro, another teacher led us in a shiur (study session) about Potiphar’s wife and Joseph and the use of language. I didn’t realize this, but Torah contains five versions of the story of Potiphar’s wife trying to seduce Joseph’s wife. There is the objective version where she grabs onto his clothing and he runs away, there is the version seen through her eyes, there is the version where she tells the servants that a Hebrew man tried to take advantage of her, there is the version where she tells her husband that Joseph was mocking her and there is the version that Potiphar hears. Ask me about it, and I can go into greater detail about it. It was really good. At the end she talked about understanding the power of words and the significance of choosing one’s words. The advice for us was to choose our own words carefully when we went to study in the beit midrash and to also use the words in the Torah as a chance to delve deeper into the meaning of the text.
And delve we have. The teachers warned us that it would often be difficult and slow going at times. I’ve only been doing the program part-time, which means that I attend 2 classes a day (3 afternoons a week, I am volunteering at ICCI.) Even so, I’m pretty ready to crash by the end of the day. You can well imagine what Eric is like. He can barely put 2 sentences together after 9 pm. He says that he’s never studied as deeply as this. We’ve also tried a few evening activities like the course on Chasidut. I don’t know if either of us will have much brainpower to stay for the evening beit midrash, where you can study any topic you like with a chevruta.
My 7 weeks of Ulpan must have paid off because they placed me in Chumash (first book of Hebrew Bible) and Mishna/Talmud (oral law) level four. Eric is in level three. (I attribute my being more advanced than him to my excellent Hebrew Day school education and that college course) I was a bit apprehensive of going into level four, because I frankly thought a foundation in Mishna would be best before I went onto more advanced stuff. But I really like my teachers and the material is quite interesting. I’ll have to tell you how I do with the Aramaic. (oy!).
I feel fortunate that I got a jumpstart with my Hebrew before I got here. As it is, Mishnaic and Talmudic Hebrew are hard for me translate. Even if I do know what the sentence translates into, I still have to figure out what it means. (You could say it’s like trying to understand Canterbury Tales in modern English.) So that means a lot of brainpower. But modern Hebrew still has a lot in common with older forms of Hebrew, and it’s interesting to find out what they share in common and what they don’t. It’s our heritage and that’s what I dig.
Our schedule works out like this: every other day we study Chumash, and every other day we study Talmud. From 12-1 four times a week we have a short class in a subject of our choice. I’m studying the prayers of the Amidah (one of the most important set prayers in Jewish liturgy) twice a week, and Parashat Hashavua (Torah portion of the week) twice a week. Eric stays for the afternoon where you can choose more electives. Every other day he takes a class in Modern Jewish thought and the other days he studies Halacha (Jewish law).
In the future I’ll try to provide snippents of what we learn without giving too much away. In the meantime, I must bid good night since it is time for me to hit the hay. I really need to go to bed on time since we are going on a Pardes retreat to Ein Gedi this weekend–and you know that sleep and retreat are not often in the same sentence! We leave on Thursday afternoon and get back Saturday night after Shabbat. I’ll write about our experiences when I get back.