This week is the "Executive Seminar" week. In addition to the 39 fellows and dozen or so faculty, and in addition to the 8-12 people we have at any given time from the crowd who are living in New York and paying one class at a time to attend part of what I'm doing full-time, the Executive Seminar is when we're also joined by 26 folks slightly older than the usual demographic. As best as I can tell, they're retirees and well-off professional folks who can afford $1000 (plus, presumably, a hotel room in Manhattan) to come learn with us full-time for a week.
The space the yeshiva rents, a synagogue that has minimal programming during the week, is usually, I'd say, "comfortably full". This week, it's more like packed full. At times it's overwhelming and a bit ridiculous, but at times it's awesome. The buzz of that many people learning in one room is like nothing I've ever heard before.
Also, today was the first day when I realized that the chapter of talmud we were chosen to learn this summer not only has an interesting mix of obscure law, random discussion, and the occasional story, but also has some pretty well-known content as well. (Good choice, huh?) This morning I learned about something many products of any Jewish education have heard in some form before: the three laws that, in contrast to all other laws in the Jewish legal system, you must die rather than violate, if it comes down to it. (Murder, idolatry, and certain sexually immoral acts like incest and adultery.) I think we're learning more about this part tomorrow. I never wanted to study talmud to get anything practical out of the content; the goal is more to build skills and to connect to the tradition. But now I know (if not for the first time) that it's ok to violate Shabbat or kashrut to save a life, but I can't murder someone! This is (er, almost) practical! Bonus!
In the evening, we (just the full-time full-summer fellows and some faculty) had a discussion about the purpose and role of Jewish learning in life. This was the first "out of the text" conversation about "bigger picture" (meaning, spirituality, theology) stuff all summer that I felt I could completely relate to. I don't know how much of it I retained, but to the extent I kept some of it, it's good food for thought going forward about why I'm doing a program like this in the first place, and what Jewish learning perhaps should look like for engaged people who don't have the ability or background or time to take a summer off.
(I asked a question toward the end of the discussion about the financial accessibility of Jewish eduation, given that we're all able to do this only by virtue of being able to afford making an annualized $18,000/year to sit in the most expensive city in the country and learn torah without producing any goods or services. Of course there's no good answer, but it's good to know once again that more good people are thinking about the problem and how to address it for future generations before they're college-age.)
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