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2014 - 2016

Past Dirshu Series

כִּי אִם עֲשׂוֹת מִשְׁפָּט וְאַהֲבַת חֶסֶד וְהַצְנֵעַ לֶכֶת עִם אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ
“do justice and love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

– Three Monday evenings: October 31, November 7 and November 14 –

What does tzeniut really mean? What does it mean to walk humbly in this world? What implications does Micah’s call have for how we dress, how we conduct ourselves, and other personal and communal choices that we make?

6:30 – 7:15 pm – Workshop: Outside-In: Who’s Watching?
Miriam Gedwiser led a three-part workshop each Monday evening that will engage with legal and narrative sources about how people–and God–behave in private and public spaces.

7:15 – 7:45 pm – Tefillat Ma’ariv and Refreshments
7:45 – 9:15 pm – Lectures and Panel

MONDAY, OCTOBER 31 – Tzeniut: The Missing Discourse of Modesty
Tova Hartman will present a critique of the ways in which tzeniut is often deployed in our communities and a challenge to reclaim a broader vision of tzeniut.

MONDAY NOVEMBER 7 – Walking Humbly: Personal Decisions
Shira Hecht-KollerCelene IbrahimJon Kelsen, and Aviva Richman will offer personal reflections about their own choices in relation to the call to walk humbly.

MONDAY NOVEMBER 14 – Values Lived: Tzeniut in Our Personal and Communal Spheres
David Silber will lead an inquiry into texts and ideas about tzeniut and invite us to consider how to actualize this value across the many domains of our lives.

Speakers’ Bios

Miriam Gedwiser is a faculty member at Drisha. She has a BA from the University of Chicago in the History and Philosophy of Science and a JD from NYU School of Law. She studied in the Drisha Scholars Circle as well as at other programs in Israel and Boston, and has taught at several New York area synagogues and Hillels. She practiced commercial litigation at a large law firm, and completed a judicial clerkship in the Southern District of New York.

Tova Hartman is Dean of Humanities at Ono Academic College, the largest private college in Israel, established to foster inclusiveness and multicultural education. She is the author of Are You Not a Man of God?: Devotion, Betrayal, and Social Criticism in Jewish TraditionFeminism Encounters Jewish Tradition: Resistance and Accommodation; and Appropriately Subversive: Modern Mothers in Traditional Religions as well as of numerous articles. She is currently finishing a  book on male trauma and shame.  Dr. Hartman is a founder of Congregation Shira Hadasha in Jerusalem.

Shira Hecht-Koller is Director of Education at 929, previously served as the Director or Communal Engagement at Drisha and the coordinator of Drisha’s Dr. Beth Samuels High School Program. She has taught Talmud and comparative ethics for many years, most recently at SAR High School. She is a founding member of the Orthodox Leadership Project and was a fellow at the Paideia Institute of Jewish Studies in Stockholm. Ms. Hecht-Koller is a graduate of the Bruriah Scholars Program in Advanced Talmud Studies at Midreshet Lindenbaum. She received her BA in Biology from Yeshiva University, and she was a Golding Scholar at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, from which she received her JD. Prior to embarking on a career in Jewish Education, she was an associate in the Intellectual Property department at Debevoise & Plimpton, LLP.

Celene Ibrahim holds a joint faculty appointment as the Islamic Studies Scholar-in-Residence at Hebrew College and Andover Newton Theological School, where she co-directs the Center for Inter-Religious and Communal Leadership Education (CIRCLE) and supports programming at the newly established Betty Ann Greenbaum Miller Center for Interreligious Learning and Leadership. She has served as the Muslim Chaplain for Tufts University since 2014 and is an instructor at the Boston Islamic Seminary. Ms. Ibrahim has published widely on academic forums, and her contributions to increasing religious literacy have been featured in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, BBC Persian, Public Radio International, and the Religion Initiative of the Council on Foreign Relations, among other venues. Her research specialties include Muslim feminist theology, Islamic intellectual history, and interreligious leadership. Ms. Ibrahim holds an AB in Near Eastern Studies with highest honors from Princeton University, an MA in Women’s and Gender Studies and Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from Brandeis University, and an MDiv from Harvard Divinity School. Ms. Ibrahim is completing a doctorate in Arabic and Islamic Civilizations in the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Department at Brandeis University.

Jon Kelsen is a faculty member at Drisha and Rosh Kollel of the Drisha Kollel. He also teaches Talmud at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and serves as adjunct faculty at the Pardes Institute. Rabbi Kelsen received ordination from Rabbis Daniel Landes and Zalman Nehemiah Goldberg, holds an MA in Jewish Civilization from Hebrew University, and is currently pursuing doctoral studies in Education and Jewish Studies at New York University as a Wexner Graduate Fellow.

Aviva Richman is a faculty member at Yeshivat Hadar, where she teaches Talmud and halakhah and directs the winter learning seminar.  A graduate of Oberlin College, Rabbi Richman studied in the Pardes Kollel and the Drisha Scholars Circle and received ordination from Rabbi Daniel Landes in Jerusalem. Her interests include halakhah, gender and sexuality in Judaism, and niggunim. A Wexner fellow, Rabbi Richman is currently pursuing a doctorate in Rabbinics at New York University.

David Silber is the Founder and Dean of Drisha Institute for Jewish Education. He received ordination from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. He received the Covenant Award in 2000. He is the author of A Passover Haggadah: Go Forth and Learn (JPS, 2011) and is currently working on a book about Megillat Esther. 

October – November 2015

.קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם

 “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.”

What is holiness?
          How do we aspire to live holy lives?
                    What is the place of holiness in our contemporary world?

A discussion of these challenging questions on three Wednesdays, October 21, 28, and November 4. Through workshops, lectures, and a panel conversation, we try to understand better how we might seek to fulfill the Torah’s injunction to be holy.

6:30 – 7:15 pm – Choice of Workshops
7:15 – 7:45 pm – Tefillat Ma’ariv and Refreshments
7:45 – 9:15 pm – Lectures and Conversation

WORKSHOPS (each workshop met for three weeks):

Looking Deeper: Creating Moments of Holiness in Our Lives
Rabbi Tsvi Blanchard and Ms. Naomi Mark
In this workshop we will interactively explore how we might experiment with introducing a modern notion of holiness into our lives.  We will start with some classic Jewish paradigms of holiness.  Using these models will allow us to speak to several other key problems:  What is the un-holy? In what sense can human beings transcend nature without being disconnected from it? Are mitzvot necessary for achieving holiness or are there other ways to do so? Through study of Jewish texts, participants will explore specific possibilities for experiencing holiness in important areas of human life: sexuality and reproduction, eating and bodily health, and interacting with our natural environment.

How to Make Things Holy: A Midrashic Exploration
Dr. Sam Lebens
In this workshop we will look at midrashim about the nature of holiness and think about their real-world implications—how do they teach us to transform the mundane things around us to make them, and ourselves, holy? We will also talk about what it might mean that our tradition asks us to sanctify things—such as Shabbat—that are inherently holy.


October 21st
Rediscovering Centers of Holiness and the Sacred
Rabbi Tsvi Blanchard

Modern society seems to have lost both the conception and experience of holiness (kedusha), or at least to have reduced them to sociology, psychology, ethics or an amorphous sense of spirituality. In this lecture I will address the possibility of recapturing a distinct, independent, and religious sense of kedusha. I will also briefly suggest ways in which this sense of holiness might be rediscovered in a variety of important aspects of ordinary life.

October 28th
Cultivating Holiness: Insights and Challenges from the Chassidic Tradition
Rabbi Ariel Evan Mayse
Through study of selected Chassidic texts, we will explore the contemporary relevance of several models of sacred living found in the writings of Chassidic masters, with an eye to conceptions of holy time and space and the ways in which the sacred is expressed through human deeds.
Click here to access the lecture source sheet.

November 4th
The Place of Holiness in Contemporary Jewish Life
Dr. Erin Leib Smokler and Rabbi Rolando Matalon in conversation
Join two of our community’s foremost teachers of Torah as they discuss the place of holiness in contemporary Jewish life and how they seek to make room for holiness in their teaching and in their work.



Tsvi Blanchard is the Meyer Struckmann Professor of Jewish Law at Humboldt University Faculty of Law in Berlin as well as scholar-in-residence at the Institute for Law, Religion and Lawyer’s Work at Fordham Law School. In addition to being an ordained Orthodox rabbi, he holds Ph.D. degrees in Philosophy and Clinical Psychology. Rabbi Blanchard has taught philosophy and Jewish studies at Washington, Northwestern and Loyola Universities as well as at Drisha Institute and has had a private practice in psychotherapy. In addition to his articles on Jewish law, his publications include the 2002 Riesman award winning “How to Think About Being Jewish in the Twenty-First Century: a New Model of Jewish Identity Construction,” a book that he co-authored, entitled Embracing Life, Facing Death: a Jewish Guide to Palliative Care, and non-academic writings on a variety of Jewish topics.

Sam Lebens is a post-doctoral research fellow in the philosophy department at Rutgers University. Originally from England, Dr. Lebens holds a PhD in metaphysics from the University of London. He studied at Yeshivat Hakotel, Yeshivat Hamivtar, and Yeshivat Har Etzion and received rabbinic ordination from Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. Dr. Lebens is on the faculty of Drisha’s June Kollel and has taught at the Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies.

Naomi Mark, L.C.S.W. is a psychotherapist in private practice, specializing in work with individuals, couples and families. Ms. Mark was trained at the Ackerman Institute for the Family in New York City and at Columbia University School of Social Work. She was an adjunct clinical professor of social work at Columbia University School of Social Work, a faculty member at the Institute of Psychosocial Oncology, and a student educational coordinator at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center where she also served on its hospital-wide Ethics Committee. Ms. Mark is the founding director of the Graduate Social Work Field Training Program for NYC’s Human Resources Administration, where she is developing a curriculum on “Building Resilience and Enhancing Coping” for the NYC Department of Social Services. She has published numerous articles in professional journals and book collections and has served as the book editor for the academic journal of the Wurzweiller School of Social Work, Social Work Forum.

José Rolando Matalon studied at the Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano in Buenos Aires and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1986.  Since then he has served as a rabbi at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun.

Ariel Evan Mayse is a Research Fellow at the Frankel Institute for Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He holds a Ph.D. in Jewish Studies from Harvard University and rabbinic ordination from Beit Midrash Har’el. He recently moved with his wife and two children to Ann Arbor from Jerusalem, where he has been teaching and studying for the past four years. In addition to authoring several scholarly and popular articles on Kabbalah and Chassidut, Rabbi Mayse is co-editor of the two-volume collection Speaking Torah: Spiritual Teachings From Around the Maggid’s Table (Jewish Lights, 2013) and editor of From the Depth of the Well: An Anthology of Jewish Mysticism (Paulist Press, 2014). His current research deals with the role of language in Chassidic theology, expressions of Jewish mysticism in the twentieth century, the formation of early Chassidic literature, and the relationship between spirituality and law.

Erin Leib Smokler is the Director of Spiritual Development at Yeshivat Maharat, where she teaches Chassidut and Pastoral Torah. She earned her PhD and MA from the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought and her BA from Harvard University, and she studied in Drisha’s Scholars Circle. Dr. Leib Smokler previously served as Assistant Literary Editor of The New Republic magazine, and her writing has appeared there as well as in The New York Times Book ReviewThe Jerusalem Report, and The Jewish Week.

Wednesday evenings February 11, 18, and 25, 2015. 

An invitation to members of the community to learn more about hunger and food insecurity in the United States, to consider our responsibilities toward those in need, and to find out what we can do to help.


“You Shall Leave It”: Agriculture and the Rights of the Poor – David Silber
We will study biblical and rabbinic texts about agricultural grants to the poor and about shemita (the sabbatical year). We will discuss the principles and values that emerge from these laws, and we will think about how these paradigms might shape our understanding of our relationship to our resources and our  obligation to share them.

Promises and Policies: What’s the Government Doing About Hunger in America? – Karin Fleisch
About 1 in 4 Americans participates in a federal food and nutrition assistance program.  Some of these programs – such as food stamps (now called SNAP) – may be familiar to you. Others, such as EFAP, are virtually unknown to the average American. In this session, Karin Fleisch will paint a picture of domestic hunger, outline our government’s response, and analyze the effectiveness of these policies and programs. We’ll also examine the controversial Farm Bill, a key piece of anti-hunger legislation hampered by competing interests, political favors, and heavy lobbying.

A Place at the Table
This 2012 documentary film examines the issue of hunger and food insecurity through the stories of three people: Barbie, a single Philadelphia mother who grew up in poverty and is trying to provide a better life for her two children; Rosie, a Colorado second-grader who often has to depend on friends and neighbors to feed her and has trouble concentrating in school; and Tremonica, a Mississippi second-grader whose asthma and health issues are exacerbated by the largely empty calories her hardworking mother can afford. Their stories are interwoven with insights from experts, activists, and concerned citizens.

Why Rain Comes from Above: Biblical and Rabbinic Reflections on Sharing Our Blessings – Devora Steinmetz
Biblical and rabbinic texts about rain invite us to join in an exercise of religious imagination and to consider how this mundane—yet critically life-giving—event offers a model for reflecting on our responsibilities toward those who have less that we do. We will study several of these texts as a foundation for the work of learning about hunger and considering how we might respond.
Click here for the source sheet.

Good Food for All: A Dream Deferred – Mark Winne
Since the discovery of domestic hunger in the 1960s, the Unites States has spent trillions of dollars in an attempt to end it. However, with 15 percent of the population food insecure, 47 million people receiving SNAP benefits, and demand at food banks growing steadily, the results are not encouraging. Mark Winne will review the history, programs, policies, and assumptions behind the long battle to end hunger, and explore why that war has reached a stalemate.
Click here for the source sheet.

Re-Imagining the Work of Ending Hunger – Lisanne Finston and Pamela Johnson
If we are to engage effectively in the work of ending hunger in our communities, then we must do more than collect cans for our local emergency food center. There are many organizations and programs that are paving the way with a new vision for how to end hunger in the United States.  Lisanne and Pam will share the story of what one organization, Elijah’s Promise, is doing in central New Jersey, and offer suggestions for ways to become engaged in the work of building a healthy, just, sustainable food system, where all have access to good food.
Click here for the source sheet.


Lisanne Finston first encountered the growing population of people who were hungry and homeless when she was a college student in the early 1980s living in Washington DC.  A volunteer trip to a soup kitchen and homeless shelter set the course for her life’s work: using food as a tool for change.  Currently, as director of Gould Farm in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, Lisanne is part of a caring community that promotes recovery for people managing mental illness and addictions through meaningful work, community living, and clinical care.   Previously, Lisanne served as Executive Director of Elijah’s Promise in New Brunswick, New Jersey for twenty years.  Through her work there, she turned a local soup kitchen into a culinary center that feeds hundreds of individuals and families with nourishing, locally grown food and provides job training and employment opportunities for people who are food insecure, homeless and unemployed—moving people from the streets to success. Lisanne has a BA from American University, an MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary, and an MSW from Rutgers University.  She is ordained in the United Methodist Church.

Karin Fleisch is an independent nonprofit consultant specializing in sustainable food systems. For the past ten years, she has worked in the nonprofit sector, including five years at the Food Bank For New York City, where she managed the team that monitors New York City’s network of 1,000 soup kitchens and food pantries. Prior to her work at the Food Bank, Karin farmed at Eco-Israel, edited at Teacher’s College, Columbia University, and somewhat inadvertently founded an English-language teaching program in the cloud forest of Mindo, Ecuador. More recently, Karin served as a Kol Tzedek Fellow with American Jewish World Service while earning a Masters in Public Administration from NYU Wagner, which she attended as a Dean’s Scholar. She now consults for clients in New York and Israel in the areas of marketing, program design and evaluation, grant writing, board and team facilitation, and transition and crisis management.

Pam Johnson was a teenage mom with a dangerous addition to crack cocaine and heroin. She was on and off the streets and ate at Elijah’s Promise soup kitchen in New Brunswick, New Jersey for years before she took the rocky route to recovery. Pam enrolled in the Promise Culinary School, Elijah’s Promise job training program, to pursue her love of cooking and start a new life. She’s been clean and sober and working as a chef for many years. Most recently, Pam became Head Chef at Elijah’s Promise’s soup kitchen. Pam feels blessed to be able to give back, and she strives always to go the extra mile for others. As she likes to say, “Hope lives in my kitchen.”

David Silber is Founder and Dean of Drisha. He received ordination from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. Rabbi Silber received the Covenant Award in 2000. He is the author of A Passover Haggadah: Go Forth and Learn (JPS, 2011) and is currently working on a book about Megillat Esther.    

Devora Steinmetz serves on the leadership team for special programs at Drisha in the United States and Israel. She has taught Talmud and Rabbinics at Drisha, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Yeshivat Hadar, and Havruta: a Beit Midrash at Hebrew University. Dr. Steinmetz is the founder of Beit Rabban, a day school profiled in Daniel Pekarsky’s Vision at Work: The Theory and Practice of Beit Rabban. She is the author of From Father to Son: Kinship, Conflict, and Continuity in Genesis and Punishment and Freedom: The Rabbinic Construction of Criminal Law. Dr. Steinmetz consults for the Mandel Foundation and works at Gould Farm, a therapeutic community for individuals struggling with mental illness.

Mark Winne was the Executive Director from 1979-2003 of the Hartford Food System, a Connecticut non-profit food organization dedicated to finding solutions to the food insecurity problems of the greater Hartford area. He is the co-founder of the Community Food Security Coalition, a former Kellogg Foundation Food and Society Fellow, and is currently a Senior Advisor at the Johns Hopkins University Center for a Livable Future. Through his own firm, Mark Winne Associates, Mark speaks, trains, and writes on topics related to community food systems, food policy, and food security. He is the author of two books, Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty and Food Rebels, Guerrilla Gardeners, and Smart Cookin’ Mamas. Both books are published by Beacon Press.

Wednesday evenings October 29, November 5, and 12, 2014.

Each evening began at 6:30 with a choice of workshops.

7:15,  break for tefilat ma’ariv, refreshments, and informal conversation.

7:45, we joined together in the beit midrash for a lecture or panel discussion.

We invited educators, rabbis, students, parents, and all interested members of the community to participate in this conversation.

Choice of Workshops (each workshop met for three weeks):

Existential Dialogue: The Complex Human Spirit of the Talmud  Rabbi Tsvi Blanchard
Cultural meaning-making is at the heart of both religion and spirituality. In these three sessions, we will consider how the meaning-making discussions of the Babylonian Talmud, very often but not exclusively expressed in legal texts, explore important human social, psychological and ethical issues.  Together we will reflect on the holiness of ambiguity, difference and disagreement.

Ancient Texts, Modern Lessons – Yaffa Epstein
Why should we care about a text that was written long ago by people who lived lives so different from our own? This workshop will look at some of the issues that exist in our own lives today and explore in what ways the Talmud addresses our contemporary concerns and sensibilities.

Archeological Talmud: Digging Deeper – Rabbi Ysoscher Katz
While the Talmud appears to many to be a book of halakha, it is in reality a book of philosophy—Jewish thought shrouded in Jewish jurisprudence. In this workshop, we will study Talmud as an exercise in discovery and excavation, looking for the meaning, logic, and ideas that are embedded in Talmudic legal discourse.

What Does the Talmud Say About Talmud? – Rabbi Jon Kelsen
In this workshop, we will learn sources that reflect on the nature of learning itself. How does the Talmud understand its own role? Why does the Talmud think that study is important?


October 29: Talmud Study as a Religious Practice – Dr. Devora Steinmetz

Talmud study poses formidable challenges: the Talmud is a difficult and complex text, its modes of argumentation can appear foreign or artificial, much of its subject matter can seem dissonant with or distant from the realities of our lives. This lecture will focus on some of the more challenging aspects of the Talmud and discuss how these very attributes can contribute to the religious formation of the student of Talmud.

Click here for the source sheet.

November 5: The ‘Conceptual’ Approach to Talmud Study: Where Has It Been, Where Is It Going, and Why Does It Matter? – Prof. Chaim Saiman
The Yeshiva movement assumes that learning Gemara is the central spiritual practice of Judaism. But why does delving into the specifics of property rights, torts, or even the intricacies of Shabbat and nidah reflect the pinnacle of a person’s encounter with God? This lecture will survey several approaches to learning Gemara within the world of the Yeshiva and discuss how each interprets and fulfills the spiritual aspirations of Talmud study.

Click here for source sheet.

November 12: Navigating the Sea of Talmud: Study, Teaching, and Personal Religious Meaning – a conversation between Dr. Alyssa GrayRabbi Dov Linzer, and Rabbi Ethan Tucker.
Three master teachers of Talmud will discuss their approaches to Talmud study and talk about how Talmud study is meaningful to them.

Click here for source sheet.



Rabbi Tsvi Blanchard, PhD of CLAL is professor of Jewish Law at the law faculty of Humboldt University in Berlin and the Jewish Scholar in Residence at the Institute on Religion, Law and Lawyer’s Work at Fordham Law School. In addition to his teaching and research, Rabbi Blanchard was a practicing psychologist and organizational consultant.

Yaffa Epstein teaches Talmud at Yeshivat Maharat and serves as the Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies.  She holds a Law Degree from Bar-Ilan University and studied at the Kollel at Pardes, the Advanced Talmud Institute at Matan, and the Talmud Department at Hebrew University. She is currently pursuing Rabbinical studies at Yeshivat Maharat. Ms. Epstein has taught Talmud, Jewish law, and liturgy at Pardes for over a decade and has served as the Director of the Beit Midrash at the Dorot Fellowship in Israel. She has taught at Drisha’s summer kollel as well as at Limmud Events around the globe and has written curriculum for the Global Day of Jewish Learning and Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.

Dr. Alyssa Gray is Emily S. and Rabbi Bernard H. Mehlman Chair in Rabbinics and Associate Professor of Codes and Responsa Literature at HUC-JIR. She has written and lectured widely on many topics, notably the formations of the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, the relationship of halakha and law, liturgy, charity, and martyrdom. Her essays have appeared in AJS ReviewJewish Studies QuarterlyDiné IsraelJournal of Jewish StudiesConservative Judaism, and The CCAR Journal. She is also the author of A Talmud in Exile: The Influence of Yerushalmi Avodah Zarah on the Formation of Bavli Avodah Zarah. Her current book project is tentatively entitled Righteous before God: Charitable Giving in the Jewish Religious Imagination from Antiquity to the Present. 

Rabbi Ysoscher Katz is Chair of the Department of Talmud and Director of the Lindenbaum Center for Halakhic Studies at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. Rabbi Katz received ordination in 1986 from Rabbi Yechezkel Roth, dayan of UTA Satmer. Rabbi Katz studied in Brisk and in Yeshivat Beit Yosef, Navaradok for over ten years. A graduate of the HaSha’ar Program for Jewish Educators, co-sponsored by Drisha and the Beit Rabban Center, Rabbi Katz taught at the Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls and SAR High School. He was a leading teacher of a daf yomi class in Boro Park for over eight years.

Rabbi Jon Kelsen teaches Talmud at Drisha and is Rosh Kollel of the Drisha June Kollel. He has served as a member of the faculty at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Pardes and has taught extensively in various formal and informal contexts in Israel and the United States. A graduate of the Pardes Kollel, Rabbi Kelsen received ordination from Rabbi Daniel Landes and Rabbi Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg and holds an MA in Jewish Civilization from the Hebrew University.  

Rabbi Dov Linzer is the Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School. He has published and lectured widely on topics relating to Halakha, Orthodoxy, and modernity, writes a weekly parasha sheet, and teaches a Daf Yomi shiur which is available on YouTube and iTunes.  Rabbi Linzer is an awardee of the Avi Chai Fellowship and was the convener of the 2012 Modern Orthodox Siyyum HaShas. 

Prof. Chaim Saiman is a Professor of Law at Villanova University and is completing his book Halakha: the Rabbinic Idea of Law, which will be published by Princeton University Press.  Professor Saiman has recently served as the Gruss Professor of Jewish Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and the Simon Fellow in Religion and Public Life at Princeton University. Prior to teaching at Villanova, he learned at Yeshivat Har Etzion and Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, clerked for Judge Michael McConnell in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, and studied at the law schools of Columbia, Harvard and NYU. 

Dr. Devora Steinmetz serves on the leadership team for special programs at Drisha in the United States and Israel. She has taught Talmud and Rabbinics at Drisha, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Yeshivat Hadar, and Havruta: a Beit Midrash at Hebrew University. Dr. Steinmetz is the founder of Beit Rabban, a day school profiled in Daniel Pekarsky’s Vision at Work: The Theory and Practice of Beit Rabban. She is the author of From Father to Son: Kinship, Conflict, and Continuity in Genesis and Punishment and Freedom: The Rabbinic Construction of Criminal Law. Dr. Steinmetz consults for the Mandel Foundation and works at Gould Farm, a therapeutic community for individuals struggling with mental illness.

Rabbi Ethan Tucker is co-founder and Rosh Yeshiva at Mechon Hadar, where he serves as chair in Jewish Law.  He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and earned a PhD in Talmud and Rabbinics from the Jewish Theological Seminary. A Wexner Graduate Fellow, Rabbi Tucker was co-founder of Kehilat Hadar and a winner of the first Grinspoon Foundation Social Entrepreneur Fellowship. 

This series was sponsored by Drisha Institute in partnership with Mechon Hadar, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, and Yeshivat Maharat.

Wednesday evenings March 19, 26, and April 2, 2014.

Prayer is both an obligation and an opportunity. Yet we encounter many obstacles in prayer, practical challenges as well as theological ones.

This series discussed ways to understand what we are doing when we pray and introduce practices that help us sustain concentration and cultivate presence of mind and heart in our prayer.

Each evening began at 6:30 with a choice of workshops on practices that we might choose to introduce into our tefilla. Workshops  followed at 7:15 by tefillat ma’ariv (with a choice of minyanim) and a brief break for refreshments. The evening concluded with a lecture at 7:45 on approaches to the theology of prayer.

  • Workshops (6:30pm):
    Soul Connection: Meditations for Prayer According to the Aish Kodesh – Mira Niculescu
  • Tembling Joy: Quieting the Noise and Amplifying the Song of the Heart – Rabbi Dani Segal
  • Niggun Ha’Lev: Melodies to Awaken our Hearts in Prayer – Rabbi David Silber

Lectures (7:45pm):

  • March 19: Less Ego, More God: R. Abraham Joshua Heschel in Conversation with Hasidic Masters and Christian Mystics on the Spiritual Project of Prayer – Rabbi Shai Held

Click here for the source sheet.

  • March 26: Words Filled with Light: Hasidic Mystical Reflections on Kavvanah and Contemplative Prayer – Prof. Eitan Fishbane

Click here for the source sheet.

  • April 2: Prayer and Human Needs: R. Soloveitchik and Other Recent Thinkers – Prof. David Shatz

Click here for the source sheet.

Wednesday evenings April 30, May 7, and May 14, 2014.

Each evening began at 6:30 with a choice of workshops that will help participants deepen their understanding of the experience of mental illness in relation to Jewish tradition.

7:15 break for tefilat mincha and refreshments.

7:45 we joined together for a lecture that invites us to consider our attitudes toward mental illness and the challenges that we are called to meet as individuals and as a community.

We invited individuals with lived experience, family members, mental health professionals, clergy, and concerned members of the community to participate in this critical conversation.

Click here to read “From Where Does My Help Come?”, an article published in The Jewish Week on June 3, 2014 on this series.

Click here to read “Struggling with Mental Illness: Sanctuaries for the Mind,” by Rabbi Alfredo Borodowski for the Rabbinical Assembly.

CHOICE OF WORKSHOPS (please note that each workshop meets for three weeks):

Struggling Toward Mental Health: Chassidic Wisdom and Modern Insight – Dr. Yitzchak Schechter
We will explore the rich Jewish perspectives on mental health and illness. We will focus on a variety of Chassidic texts and teachings and juxtapose these with the modern context of science and treatment.

Veravach LeShaul Vetov Lo (“Saul Was Relieved and Felt Well”): Music and Healing – Dr. Harvey Kranzler
We will explore the profound relationship between music and mental wellbeing. We will sing Chassidic nigunim and reflect on the ways in which they touch upon the depths of our souls and our emotions.

Mima’amakim Keratikha: From the Depths I Have Called Out – Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot
We will explore the range of emotional, spiritual, and religious feelings of suffering, mental anguish, and angst together with healing and wholeness that emerge in the experience and poetry of the Psalmist in selected Tehillim (Psalms).

Vayelkhu Sheneihem Yachdav (“The Two Walked Together”): Accompanying People with Mental Illness – Dr. Michelle Friedman
We will use texts and personal stories to explore what it means to be the family member, friend, or member of the community who cares for and wants to support someone with mental illness. We will discuss the feelings of people who accompany an individual with mental illness, questions that arise, and challenges that are faced. We will consider issues such as compassion, anger, estrangement, and forgiveness, and we will share practical ideas that emerge from the experiences of participants in the workshop.

Illness and Redemption: Exploring Mental Illness Through Personal Stories – Rabbi Alfredo Borodowski
We will read diaries by individuals experiencing mental disorders. What did they experience? What were their fears? How did they overcome their challenges? What was their road to recovery? Rabbi Borodowski will also share his personal struggle with bipolar disorder and his story of how Judaism helped him travel this very treacherous road.

“All of Us Are More Human Than Otherwise”: A Workshop for Mental Health Professionals – Dr. Seth Aronson
We will explore the challenges of therapeutic work with individuals with mental illness through discussing memoirs written by persons with illness as well as Jewish texts that can serve as a foundation for creating a framework for our work. The workshop will also provide a safe space in which we can explore issues such as authentic engagement in the work while maintaining boundaries, the intersection of the personal and professional, and compassion fatigue.


April 30: Ordering Disorder: A Structural Framework forThinking About Mental Illness – Dr. Hillel Grossman
Psychiatric diagnoses are a confusion of disorders, diseases, reactions, responses, personality and behavior. This talk will outline a structure for understanding where symptoms, stories, behaviors and traits fit in how we think about mental illness and how these elements interact within the person’s experience.

May 7: The Human Experience of Recovery: Living with Meaning and Hope– Dr. Marianne Farkas
Recovery is a concept that has special implications in relation to mental illnesses. This talk will introduce what recovery means for individuals with mental illness, what studying recovery has shown us, what the critical components of recovery are, and what can help foster a journey of recovery.

May 14: Living with Mental Illness: From Where Does My Help Come? – A conversation between Rabbi Roly MatalonRabbi Mychal Springer, and Benyamin Cirlinfollowed by an open discussion about the role and responsibility of community, led by Rabbi Felicia Sol and Rabbi David Silber.
An exploration of Jewish resources, textual, ritual, and communal, that are available to those living with mental illness, their family members, and their friends, followed by an open discussion about the role and responsibility of community.


Seth Aronson, PsyD is Fellow, Training and Supervising Analyst, and Director of Curriculum at the William Alanson White Institute in New York. He is adjunct Professor at Long Island University’s doctoral program in clinical psychology, and he serves on the faculty of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, where he facilitates process groups for rabbinical students.

Rabbi Alfredo Borodowski is the founding rabbi of Congregation Sulam Yaakov in Larchmont, NY. Born in Argentina, he obtained his law degree from the University of Buenos Aires and was ordained by the Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano. He completed an M.A in rabbinic literature and a doctorate in Jewish philosophy at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He served as Rabbi of the JCC of Harrison, NY, as Executive Director of the Hartman Institute in North America, and as Executive Director of the Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning.

R. Benyamin Cirlin, C.S.W. is the Executive Director of the Center for Loss and Renewal, a group private practice specializing in life transition therapy. He also serves as the part-time Social Work Supervisor at the Visiting Nurse Service of New York Hospice.  A graduate of the Wurzweiler School of Social Work at Yeshiva University, he completed the postgraduate program in psychoanalytic and family therapy at the Long Island Institute for Mental Health.

Marianne Farkas, ScD has served as Co-Principal Investigator of the Research and Training Center and Professor in Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at Boston University for over 25 years. Dr. Farkas was in charge of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center in Psychiatric Rehabilitation and has served as Vice President of the World Association for Psychosocial Rehabilitation and as President of the National Association of Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers. She has authored and co-authored many articles in professional journals, as well as several textbooks, book chapters, and multi-media training packages.

Michelle Friedman, MD, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, is Chair of Pastoral Counseling at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School and Associate Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital. She has a private practice in Manhattan.

Hillel Grossman, MD is Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, where he designed and leads a course on Method and Methodology in Clinical Psychiatry.  He is a neuropsychiatrist in clinical practice who researches memory and aging.

Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot is on the faculties of the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, SAR High School, and Drisha and serves as the spiritual leader of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Teaneck, NJ. He has authored and edited a number of volumes in Hebrew and English. He has lectured widely throughout the Unites States and Canada, including on his own experiences with depression and mental illness.

Harvey N. Kranzler, MD, is Professor of Clinical Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is a child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist. Dr. Kranzler has led High Holiday tefilot at Drisha for thirty-five years.

Rabbi José Rolando Matalon studied at the Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano in Buenos Aires and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1986.  Since then he has served as a rabbi at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun.

Yitzchak Schechter, PsyD is a clinical psychologist and Director of the Center for Applied Psychology at Bikur Cholim in Monsey, NY, which offers a behavioral health clinic, counseling in yeshivas, educational programming for rabbonim, clinicians, educators, and the general community, and child safety services. Dr. Schechter recently launched the Institute for Applied Research and Community Collaboration, whose mission is to conduct, analyze and disseminate rigorous research on psychiatric, psychological, and social issues of the observant community in an effort to empirically base and guide decision making, resource allocation, and program development.

Rabbi David Silber is founder and Dean of Drisha Institute and a teacher of Jewish texts, primarily biblical narrative. He is the author of A Passover Haggadah: Go Forth and Learn (JPS), recently translated into Hebrew and published by Koren Press.

Rabbi Felicia Sol was ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and holds a Masters in Jewish Education from the Rhea Hirsch School of HUC. She has served as a rabbi at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun since 2001. Rabbi Sol is a board member of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice.

Rabbi Mychal B. Springer is Director of the Center for Pastoral Education at The Jewish Theological Seminary, where she holds the Helen Fried Kirshblum Goldstein Chair in Professional and Pastoral Skills.  She is a certified supervisor in the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education and a certified Jewish chaplain.

There was no fee for this program. We welcomed contributions to support our work.

This series was co-sponsored by B’nai Jeshurun and Drisha Institute.

Selected Session Recordings

See appropriate tab above for accompanying handouts.

November 2016, Tzeniut
November 2016, Tzeniut
October 2016, Tzeniut
Noevember 2015, Holiness
October 2015, Holiness
March 2015, Hunger
March 2015, Hunger
February 2015, Hunger
November 2014, Talmud
November 2014, Talmud
November 2014, Talmud
May 2014, Confronting Mental Illness
April 2014, Prayer
March 2014, Prayer
March 2014, Prayer
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