This week I want to open with a quote from R’ Bradley Shavit-Artson, the dean of the Ziegler School for Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles:
“We have what to share with the world: our values, our stories, our traditions and guidelines, our love of a place, our ways of sanctifying time and family, our hunger for justice. Ours may be the greatest secret that humanity has yet to discover because it has been hiding in plain view. And it is our job to bring it out there into the world… To do that, you have to know the sources. How else can we transmit the wisdom that people are starving for if we don’t ourselves become fluent in it?”
To me, this is an excellent statement of the unquestionable importance of learning in Judaism. Ours is not a faith which one is expected to follow blindly; You will not hear me suggest that you must believe without knowing why or that you must believe even when it contradicts what you know. Jewish faith works in reverse to many others: faith and belief are built upon knowledge. The more you know, the more you believe, the more you can represent the values of the Torah and our traditions to the world around us.
To that end, learning is not a side-step in one’s spiritual journey– it is absolutely elemental. It is the culmination of the mitzvot, almost a meta-mitzvah, because through learning we can deepen our understanding of Judaism. Literacy and familiarity with Jewish sources must be a top priority for any community which wishes to claim the mantle of Jewish tradition.
In that frame, I’m very happy to share with you that we have a new adult education programme running at SAMS this upcoming year (5779.) I’ve branded it ‘Life-Long Learning,’ and I hope that you’ll join me in studying and sharing throughout the year. If you would like more information, please contact the Synagogue office.
A few things to note:
-Our successful Hebrew class is returning, in a double-incarnation, with options for those who are complete beginners, as well as those who want to deepen their knowledge.
-The programme is divided into four areas: Learn Language, Learn Text, Learn Today, and Learn Skills. Aside from Hebrew, our Text classes will include an in-depth study of the Zohar (in English, accessible to all) as well as a regular Torah study group. Learn Today will focus on discussions and lectures on contemporary affairs and ethical questions (including a series on modern Israel). Learn Skills will provide an opportunity to become more familiar with the ritual of the synagogue and an empowering chance to practice them as well.
-None of these classes have any prerequisites other than an interest to learn something new. You can drop in and out, dress however you’d like, and don’t worry for an instant if you don’t feel like you know enough of the subject to be there (that’s why you’re learning it, isn’t it?)
-Lastly, this is only the tip of the iceberg. There will be other chances throughout the year to learn new things in one-off programmes and there is the constant offer on my part to teach, discuss, and debate any topic you would like.
I’m so looking forward to another year of learning with all of you. I hope you’ll join me in studying the sources of our tradition in order to understand them, to share them with the world, and to build a foundation of belief through knowledge.