SVARA’s mission is to teach Talmud through a traditionally radical lens to develop compassionate, critical thinking, courageous humans who work to create a more just, peaceful & healthy world.
SVARA is a traditionally radical yeshiva dedicated to the serious study of Talmud through the lens of queer experiences. SVARA’s unique pedagogy makes Talmud study in the original accessible—for the first time in Jewish history—to all who want to learn. At SVARA, everyone—queer, straight, trans, alef-bet beginners, experienced talmudists, secular, religious, Jews, non-Jews—everyone learns together in a mixed-level bet midrash that recognizes as crucial the insights of all those on the margins.
“I don’t think the students who come to SVARA are coming primarily to learn Talmud—they’re not sitting at home, wishing they could learn Talmud—they are wishing that they could fall in love with the Jewish Tradition. And SVARA offers them that: They find a tradition that is smart, bold, courageous. They come because this is the place where they love doing their Jewish.”
-Rabbi Benay Lappe
SVARA is named for a 2,000-year-old talmudic term, meaning “moral intuition.” Svara is the only source of law that can overturn even the Torah itself. SVARA’s work follows the direction of Chazal, the Rabbis of the Talmud, who were willing to make radical moves—sometimes uprooting the Torah itself—to make Judaism more meaningful, compassionate, and responsive to the human condition. When you have svara (moral intuition) and gemara (learning), you are qualified to be a player, changemaker, and radical innovator in the Jewish project and the world at large.
Through rigorous short- and long-term Talmud learning programs, SVARA: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva builds and activates a radically inclusive and interpretive community of ‘players’ who seek to restore Judaism to its radical roots so that it might once again be a voice of courageous moral conscience in the world and reflect the truest possible vision of what it means to be human.
We create a space in which people historically excluded from the tradition can engage in intimate and intense conversation with it—and each other. SVARA’s commitment to the Queer experience means that people who have traditionally experienced Judaism as an outsider—in any conceivable way—can find a home, learn to give voice to their narrative from within the Jewish story, and gain the necessary text skills and halachic (Jewish legal) expertise to enrich, push, and define the evolving Jewish tradition. Since its founding, thousands of students have learned at SVARA, through short- and long-term learning. In our batei midrash, those who were once outsiders have become trustworthy, courageous, and authentic transmitters of the tradition. Complex and challenging issues are brought to the table with love, compassion, and honesty. To that end, SVARA works to imagine a just world and strives to model such a world within its walls. We ask our learners to be active participants with us in that act of ongoing creation.
Mastery of Talmud confers a legitimacy and confidence in one’s leadership that cannot be gained otherwise. Through traditional methods of study in the original Aramaic and Hebrew, SVARA develops and empowers innovative Jewish change agents who become learned and experienced in both worldly and Jewish sources, thereby creating a dynamic and inclusive tradition.