Arnold Eisen, chancellor of the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, proposes a modern, egalitarian alternative to the seven-and-a-half year cyle of daily Talmud study, one that would “galvanize non-Orthodox Jewish minds” and that “is open to the larger world and bears the impact of modern thinking”:
Imagine if every Jew who wished to do so could awake to a platform of daily Jewish text not limited to Talmud—and to Jewish media not limited to text. Daily reading of Torah or psalms would be juxtaposed with their echoes in the headlines of the day; a passage from Job would be accompanied by clips from the Coen brothers’ film, “A Serious Man”; the poetry of Isaiah could be explored side by side with that of the late Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai.
Israelis and diaspora Jews would exchange contrasting accounts of contemporary Jewish history. Orthodox and non-Orthodox would offer differing testimony about the power of divine commandment. Life-cycle events would be shared by far-flung communities of celebrants.
A great idea — I’d love to get a daily dose of learning that connects classic text and modernity. But I have to ask — instead of writing an oped about it, why not start it? Get a grant, hire a good web-savvy editor, get it going through a web site, Tumblr feed, Facebook page, etc. JTS doesn’t have a ton of extra cash these days, but certainly it has the intellectual resources and institutional clout to get this off the ground in a relative hurry
P.S.: Personal gripe: Looking for a daily “platform” for text study I subscribed a few months back to the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s MISHNAHYOMIT (Daily Mishna) email. I was hoping it would be the kind of learning that links past to present, and excites the learner about the possibilities of Jewish text. Instead — well, this is from August 9th’s message:
Toharot, Chapter Six, Mishnah Four
This mishnah demonstrates that the general rule that conditions of doubt in the private domain are unclean and in the public domain are clean remains stable, no matter how many doubts about the uncleanness there are.
1) However many doubts and doubts about doubts that you can multiply, a condition of doubt in a private domain is unclean, and in a public domain it is deemed clean.
2) How so? If a man entered an alley and an unclean object was in the courtyard, and a doubt arose as to whether he entered or did not enter [the courtyard];
a) Or if an object of uncleanness was in a house and there is doubt whether he entered or not;
3) Or even if he entered, there is doubt whether the uncleanness was there or not;
4) Or even if it was there, there is doubt whether it consisted of the prescribed minimum or not;
5) Or even if it consisted of the prescribed minimum, there is doubt whether it was unclean or clean;
6) Or even if it was unclean, there is doubt whether he touched it or not;
7) Any such condition of doubt is deemed unclean.
8) Rabbi Eliezer says: if there is a doubt whether he entered, he is clean, but if there is a doubt whether he touched it, he is unclean.
Section one: This is the general principle that will be illustrated in the continuation of the mishnah.
Section two: This is the first doubt—he is not sure if he even went into the courtyard, or he is not sure whether he entered the house.
Section three: This is the second level of doubt—even if he entered he is not sure if the potential source uncleanness was even there.
Section four: Third level of doubt—even if it was there, he is not sure if it was large enough to defile.
Section five: Fourth doubt—even if it was there, and it was large enough, he is not sure if it was even unclean.
Section six: Fifth doubt—even if he went in, he is not sure if he touched it.
Section seven: In all of these cases, despite the fact that there is a multiplicity of doubts, since the doubt occurred in the private domain, he is unclean.
Section eight: Rabbi Eliezer says if he is not sure whether he even went in, then he is clean. Evidently, Rabbi Eliezer does not consider this to be a case of doubtful impurity in the private domain, because he is not sure if he even entered the private domain. However, if he knows he went in but is just not sure if he touched the source of impurity, then he is impure because this is a case of doubtful impurity in the private domain.
And so on. Granted, this is out of context, and Toharot, about ritual impurities, is perhaps the least accessible section of the Mishna. But a good teacher could draw out the broader implications and meaningful interpretations from what appears to be an explication of ancient laws and rituals. I’ve been in such classes — you start out talking about impurity and you end up in a discussion about defining public spaces and private spaces, an essential concept in free speech and copyright cases, among other things. Or to take another example, you might end up discussing the definition of ”doubt” under the law and when it is reasonable.
If JTS could spearhead, or even inspire, a program of daily learning that is “open to the larger world and bears the impact of modern thinking,” I’d be all for it. Chabad and Aish have been flooding the Internet with lively, accessible Jewish learning for decades now. What are we waiting for?