Melton – Conversion

January 29, 2010

In this session we dealt with the gemara in Yevamot 24b that begins to raise the question of what are the healthy reasons to convert.  The mishna describes the case of a woman converting for the sake of marriage.  The gemara understands that this is less than ideal, however the conversion remains valid after the fact.

Subsequently, we began a theoretical discussion about the status and authority of decisions made by the beit din.  Does a Jewish court have the ability to create physical reality in the world.  For example, if the beit din says that a piece of meat is kosher and it is later discovered to have been not kosher – what is the status of the piece of meat.

The authority of the beit din is a flash point issue in the contemporary conversion controversy.  Understanding the parameters of the retro-active annulment of a decision made by a beit din is not simple.  (I will place a link to the source material when I return to my desk top computer.)

Conversion – Sec 1 – 1 27 10

Conversion – Sec 2 – 1 27 10


Berachot 4b to 5a – The position of Chachamim: Like R. Eliezer or Rabban Gamliel?

January 26, 2010

This is a skills building shiur on masechet berachot.  In the first semester, we covered the first three pages of the masechet.  We pick up at the bottom of 4b with an analysis of the position of the Chachamim in the mishna.  The gemara assumes that the Chachamim must be in line with either R. Eliezer or Rabban Gamliel from the mishna.  This opening question and assumption leads to a forced read of their approach.  Rashi tries diligently to make sense of the sugya.

You can find the sugya, with words to looks up as well as the parallel material in this doc.

Here is the audio from the shiur:

Berachot 4a to 5b – Drisha – 1 26 10

Yoma 74b – 75a: R. Ami & R. Assi; The Manna

January 26, 2010

This is a shiur on masechet yoma page 74b to 75a.  The gemara in the beginning of the eighth chapter of Yoma, in seeking a definition of the term inuy turns to the manna. There was a citation from the Sifra on acharei mot chapter 7 that concluded with a teaching from Rebbi Yishmael that linked the language of inuy from the manna to the concept of inuy Yom Kippur.  In its simplest form the manna came as a result of hunger, so too, on Yom Kippur, part of the definition of inuy is hunger (See Rashi and Tosefet Yom ha-Kippurim for a more detailed analysis of the two are related).  This shiur picks up as the gemara is beginning a lengthy aggadic tangent on the manna.  Before we get there, we first meet a few debates between Rebbi Ami and Rebbi Assi.

You can find the text of the gemara that we are learning in this doc.

Here is the audio file from the shiur.

Yoma 74b to 75a – Mann – 1 26 10

Girls in Trouble

January 25, 2010

It is rare for new Jewish music to actually be new.  Alicia Jo Rabins has created something very new and creative with her new albumn.  Each song is a commentary on a Biblical story in which there is a female main character.  The album needs a Rashi in order to figure out every song.  Can you figure out every song?  Here is a link a brief article on Jdub.

Here is a song from the perspective of Yiftach’s daughter:

The comedy of Joel Chasnoff

January 25, 2010

On the lighter side.  This guy is great, clean, funny and uses observant Jewish life as a core part of his routine.  Given the infamous “tefillin bomber” here is Chasnoff riffing on the same idea –

He has a few other bits on Youtube as well as his own website: – enjoy!

Dreams as the texts of our lives

January 21, 2010

The material in the ninth chapter of masechet berachot (from 55a – 57b) dealing with dreams and their interpretation is fascinating.  Allow me to share a few thoughts about these tantalizing texts.

I believe that the struggle the rabbis face with dreams is actually an attempt to recover the ability to experience direct communication from God.  To live in a world that had prophecy and then feel as though that ability has been lost, must have been devastating.  In berachot and elsewhere we see the Rabbi trying to revive a deep connection with the divine that they no longer feel.

Bavli, Berachot 55b

Shmuel, when he would see a bad dream would say they speak dreams of nothingness.  When he saw a good dream he would say, and can it be that they speak dreams of nothingness for behold it is written I will speak to him in a dream.

Rava asked [the following contradiction] it is written they speak dreams of nothingness and it is written I will speak to him in a dream. There is no problem – here the dream was sent by an angel and here the dream was sent by a demon.

Here the early amora Shmuel relates to dreams in a cynical fashion – seemingly he does not experience dreams, or their interpretation, as a moment of divine connection.  Rava, however, already steeped in Sassanian Babylonian culture, experiences the moment of a dream as a message from a divine source.

Rav Hisda, early on in the extended sugya says, “A dream uninterpreted is like a letter unread.”  Rava understood that Rav Hisda meant to teach us that the one sending the dream may in fact be the Holy One.

Rava makes an even more powerful claim towards the beginning of masechet hagiga:

Bavli, Chagiga 5b

And I will certainly conceal my face on that day (Deut 31:18) Rava said, “The Holy Blessed One said, ‘Even though I concealed my face from them, I will speak with them through a dream’”

If only we were able to capture our dreams and understand them as moments of divine communication.

Conversion – Demai vs. Yevamot

January 21, 2010

This class enters into the middle of a course on reading the Talmudic material regarding conversion from masechet Yevamot.  In this session we began to explore different notion of Jewish People-hood based on different concepts of the process of conversion.  It is important to note from the beginning that in the contemporary setting we tend to move from our notions of Jewish People-hood to a definition of the process of conversion.  This is what leads to inter-denominational differences regarding a complete conversion.  When reading rabbinic texts we have to turn this method around and attempt to tease out notions of Jewish People-hood based on the details of the process of conversion that the rabbis give us.

This session is loosely based on the conceptual framework articulated by Avi Sagi and Zvi Zohar in their important work Transforming Identity:  The Ritual Transformation from Gentile to Jew – Structure and Meaning. While this is an extremely important book, I am not in agreement with some of their fundamental assumptions about rabbinic texts and halakhah.

Conversion 1 20 10 sec 1 – Method – Jewish Peoplehood

Conversion 1 20 10 sec 2 – Method – Jewish Peoplehood

Conversion 1 20 10 sec 3 – Method – Jewish Peoplehood