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This program is part of Drisha’s initiative,
Dirshu: Confronting Challenges with Mind and Heart

Past Dirshu Series:
Confronting Mental Illness – April/May 2014
Hunger: What Can We Do?
 – February 2015
Prayer: What Are We Doing? – March/April 2014
Why Learn Talmud? – October/November 2014

.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?

Please join us in a discussion of these challenging questions on three Wednesdays, October 21, 28, and November 4. Through workshops, lectures, and a panel conversation, we will 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

CHOICE OF WORKSHOPS (please note that each workshop meets 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 Review, The Jerusalem Report, and The Jewish Week.


There is no fee for this program. We welcome contributions to support our work.

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