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. 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.
“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
Our yeshiva 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, we build and activate 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.
SVARA is committed to creating learning spaces 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.
- The serious study of Talmud. To learn how to learn. In order to achieve this goal, a rigorous approach to the acquisition of text skills is followed. Attention is paid to the vocabulary and technical structures of the talmudic sugya as well as to the deeper messages of the Rabbis whose ultimate concern in creating this new tradition and this new record of it—the Talmud—was not so much how to act but, rather, how to think.
- To help our students gain insight into what is most deeply Jewish about Judaism. In other words, how does the “Jewish system” work? This goal of our learning is to discern—and resuscitate in order to apply to Judaism today—those radical principles of the Jewish tradition which have been long submerged or reserved only for the elite rabbinic class in every generation. The texts we study are, typically, representative examples—and reflections—of the traditionally radical nature of Judaism and the Jewish legal tradition, texts which reveal the deepest values of the Jewish tradition. We attempt to gain insight into the rabbinic mind and the ongoing endeavor of the Jewish tradition to “upgrade” Torah in every generation. Students witness, firsthand, how courageously and radically this transformation has been carried out over the past two thousand years and how it might continue in this traditionally radical fashion today.
- To help our students gain the confidence and halachic (Jewish legal) expertise to enter into the communal Jewish conversation on a sophisticated level. Our hope is to begin to nurture a cadre of Queer “players” who will bring their insights and life experience to bear on the reinterpretation of Judaism today using a traditionally radical, i.e., Rabbinic, approach.
- To expose our students to the experience of Talmud study as a spiritual practice. While the content of the texts themselves is a crucial component of our learning, the process of learning from the original talmudic texts, b’chevruta (with a study partner), is at the core of the millennia-old spiritual practice known in the Jewish tradition as derech ha-shas, The Way of the Talmud, whose ultimate goal is self-awareness and the ability to access otherwise inaccessible inner truths.
- To create interpretive communities in which queer folks can engage with Judaism as a courageous and radical tradition. We hope to inspire and equip our students with the necessary text skills to set up for themselves batei midrash (study halls) in which they can continue to learn on their own to penetrate, challenge, enrich and contribute to the continuity of the evolving Jewish textual tradition—and be challenged, enriched, and shaped by it.