The Serial Tourist's Guide to Living in Jerusalem
Copyright 2011 by Morris Rosenthal - - contact info
Places to Sit and Learn in Jerusalem - Yeshiva
The word "learn" in the traditional Jewish sense means the study of Jewish texts. I'm going to attempt to give you a flavor of some of the more mainstream options for the serious student to pursue learning in Jerusalem. There are also a variety of Jewish programs in Jerusalem that approach the subject without a strong base in traditional texts, the "make it up as you go along" approach, but I have limited experience with these, and I'm not so curious to find out more. I'm also skipping the institutes, both new and old, focused on mysticism and Kabbala, as these subjects have been traditionally reserved for advanced students, and the romance Hollywood is currently conducting with Kabbala should be enough to convince anybody that it's bad for you.
The centerpiece of Jewish learning in most institutes, whether they like it or not, is Gemora (Talmud). The Babylonian Talmud (Bavli) is studied much more than the Jerusalem Talmud, and consists of two primary components: the discussions of the great scholars of the period about the Mishna (Oral Law), plus the commentaries of the later great scholars about what the discussions of the earlier great scholars actually mean. This process of explaining the explanations is ongoing, and there are new commentaries on the Talmud published in every generation. Some programs of study begin with the Mishna, and the teaching of Mishnaic Hebrew, before taking on the Talmud. Other programs, particularly those focused on older students, take the Talmud as the starting point and offer intensive tutoring to bring the student along. While most of the classes will be conducted in English, the texts are studied in the original Hebrew and Aramaic, which students are expected to learn over time. Students with little or no Hebrew background are often required to attend a Hebrew Ulpan prior to or coincident with the start of their learning. Ulpan may be offered by the institute, or through regular Ulpanim (see the Hebrew Ulpan in Jerusalem page for a complete description).
Study of the Tanach (Jewish Bible) usually takes a back seat to Talmud in hours dedicated to study, if not in actual importance. One reason for this is that it is taken for granted that Jews will take the opportunity to study Chumash (The Five Books of Moses) as they are read through in a cycle each year, and certainly the Shabbat Divrei Torah (Words of Torah) delivered during services are related to the Parsha (chapter) of the week. When Tanach is studied in learning programs, some focus more on the literary and language aspects, an approach similar to that of University Bible studies, while others interpret Bible strictly with the traditional commentators, primarily Rashi. Often times, courses will be offered in a specific book of the Bible, such as "The Song of Songs" or "Psalms", but there's a lot of meat in the Tanach and much of it is in discordance with our modern views of the world. The more progressive Yeshivot tend to give more time to Tanach study, in part because the student body at Orthodox Yeshivot have often spent a great deal of time on Tanach in their youthful studies.
My personal experience in learning in Jerusalem is limited to a summer program at the Conservative Yeshiva and a three month stretch of Daf Yomi (A Daily Page of Talmud) at the Orthodox Center. Aside from these institutes, I'm taking the liberty to talk a little about Pardes, where I've known several students, and Ohr Somayach, where my sister always wanted me to go. I also chose these four institutes because they offer a reasonable cross section of the "middle road." Two of them offer egalitarian studies (men and women together), two don't. Three are "program" oriented and push full day studies, two offer summer programs, one is known as a "Ba'al T'Shuva" (returning to Orthodoxy) Yeshiva. There are literally hundreds of other places to learn in Jerusalem, and I may attempt a more comprehensive list of places that welcome beginning students at a later date.
The Conservative Yeshiva is located at the intersection of Agron and Keren HaYesod in the center of Jerusalem. While the Yeshiva is rapidly growing their infrastructure and offering some weekly classes for non-traditional students, the focus is on full time learning in the Beit Midrash (Study Hall). Many students take the majority of their meals in the Yeshiva (carry-in), and spend 12 hours a day or more on the premises. An emphasis is placed on the traditional method of Chevruta (studying in pairs), with help available from instructors and advanced students. Shiurim (classes) in the material the students are studying in Chevruta come immediately after these study sessions, so the students can review and discuss with an instructor the problems they have encountered. Shiurim in other subjects such as prayer and Jewish philosophy are sprinkled throughout the schedule, and the thrice daily services play a big part in Yeshiva life. If I could sum up the program at the Conservative Yeshiva in one word it would be "community." This is not a place for a loner to go to pursue independent study. www.conservativeyeshiva.org
The Pardes institute on Pierre Koenig in Talpiot is convenient to the German Colony and the Mega food warehouse. Pardes also focuses on learning in chevruta in the Beit Midrash. Unlike the Conservative Yeshiva, Pardes is not affiliated with any religious denomination (or political party). They sum up their philosophy on their web page as follows: "We are committed to Jewish practice as prescribed by Halacha (Jewish Law), and this is reflected in our official activities and events. Pardes faculty do not impose any patterns of observance or belief on students." Pardes is a large and stable institute that has been around some 25 years, and has an excellent reputation for training Jewish Educators, though their programs aren't limited to this aim alone. The cost for a full year at Pardes is around $6000 plus personal expenses, but financial aide is available. For more information, visit their website at www.pardes.org.il
I've put off visiting Ohr Somayach for the ten plus years I've been coming to Jerusalem though I plan to get there for a visit this trip. I'm comfortable saying something about Ohr Somayach none the less, because my sister has been bugging me to go there for years. This tells me that Ohr Somayach is at least in part about bringing less observant Jews into a more orthodox way of life. Ohr Somayach offers lots of personal attention, small classes, communal meals and prayers. I'm not comfortable saying anything more about it before I stop by, maybe next week. www.ohr.org.il
There are no shortage of small Daf Yomi groups meeting around Jerusalem at all hours of the day and at all levels. The Daf Yomi group I participated in for three months was conducted in a combination of English, Hebrew, Aramaic and Yiddish. The Rabbi who ran this beginners group would read out the Daf a few sentences at a time, explain what was going on, and answer questions he thought were relevant. The majority of the students, myself included, treated the group more a lecture than assisted study, meaning we didn't prepare for the hour long, daily classes. It's also quite easy to find partners to study in chevruta with on any subject you like. I've been reading the Parsha of the week with a friend whenever I'm in Jerusalem for the last several years, and have taken on the occasional page of Talmud with a variety of people. I doubt there's another place in the world where it's as easy to find something that suits level and schedule as Jerusalem, whether institutional or independent.