Welcome to the Bet Midrash
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Wednesdays, Dec. 7-21
8:00-9:30 PM ET | 7:00-8:30 PM CT | 5:00-6:30 PM PT | 3 Sessions
Teachers: SVARA Fellows Noah Rubin-Blose and Sarit Cantor
Zoom Link (Meeting ID: 818 3154 9750)
About this course: In this three-part workshop we will form, deepen, and embody our own relationships with the binyanim, a verb form that is a core part of Hebrew/Aramaic grammar. We will make space to reflect on the grief of the colonial language structures many of us were raised with (i.e., English), and celebrate the euphoria and liberatory potential of the binyanim.
If at any point you’re feeling lost or could use an extra boost, reach out to Sarit or Noah. You can also grab time in fairy hours where our team is available to connect one-on-one and offer support for your learning or whatever’s on your mind.
What to Expect
In this three-part skills workshop we will form, deepen, and embody our own relationships with the binyanim, a verb form that is a core part of Hebrew/Aramaic grammar. We will unpack some of the emotionally-charged layers held within grammar connected to colonization, assimilation and racial capitalism. We will explore some of the ways these layers impact us whenever we engage with the phenomenon of grammar. We will do what queers have done for millennia and work together to build a grammar of togetherness, finding new and creative ways of connecting with Hebrew and by extension, creating accessible pathways for deepening our relationships with our ancestors.
What do we mean by embodiment?
This class is about forming and deepening our relationships with the binyanim, with our Lashon Kodesh/Holy Language, and with our ancestors. It is an invitation to experiment with bringing intimacy, relationship, and creativity to our exploration of grammar. Each of our bodies work differently, so what sort of embodiment feels good and helps us learn will also be different for each of us. We will have the option to work with tools including: drawing, theater/song/performance, relationship-building, and hevruta study. There is also opportunity here to work with our own curiosities and resistances, and to explore how you learn best.
What to Bring
We suggest that you print this handout and bring it to the first class. You may want to print a couple copies. No worries if you don’t have access to a printer! If you don’t, just bring a paper & pen—or, even better, paper and markers or colored pencils. If you prefer to take notes on a device, make sure you have the handout file available so that you can take notes on it.
Whatever makes you comfy—water, tea, pen and paper, fidget toys, comfy clothes, art supplies, ritual objects to ground you & your space (candle, cloth for the surface, etc)
For the second session: please bring your favorite creative materials—musical instruments, costumes, construction paper & markers for making signs, etc.
SVARA envisions a future in which liberatory expressions of Judaism equip individuals and communities to realize a just and healed world. As a learning community, we hold ourselves to a set of cultural norms to help shape a bet midrash experience that enables each person to be fully present, supported, and nurtured.
We know that building a culture that is responsive, healing, and connective is not static work. And just as we approach our time in the bet midrash as a space to practice liberatory learning, we know the work of creating a community that is growthful takes time and practice. We hold the wisdom of bell hooks in our commitment to keep striving:
“The classroom, with all its limitations, remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility we have the opportunity to labor for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom.”
Thank you for your partnership in growing this incredible movement, for holding us accountable to our actions, and for your commitment to holding these community norms as they evolve over time.
We understand our project as queer in our effort to move towards a more just, inclusive and accessible world in which all people are able to live out their most fully human lives by allowing the insights of those on the margins to be brought to bear on the world.
Queerness is about thinking, living, and learning in radical ways. It is about challenging society’s norms not only related to gender and sexuality, but also more broadly challenging the silences and injustices around us, while creating subversive, brave, joyful culture that celebrates who we are. Like Jewish insight, queer insight is drawn from the experience of being on the margins and the wisdom gained from it. We believe that in their creativity, resilience, and radicalism, the Rabbis of the Talmud were queer. The innovators of the Jewish future will be queer. To be deeply Jewish is to be queer.
There are folks in our batei midrash with many different identities, and we are committed to making sure that everyone feels comfortable bringing their most dazzling, embodied, fabulous queer selves into the room. We invite you to bring the full range of your experiences and identities to the learning, something queer folks are rarely invited to do in Jewish community. We also welcome allies, and are grateful for their self-awareness and humility while engaging with queer culture and participating in queer-normative space. We ask that you:
- share your pronouns and take care to respect the pronouns of everyone in the space
- don’t ask someone about their identity and experience without their consent
- honor the names that folks use no matter what
- share what you’re comfortable with about your identity and honor others’ self-determination as well.
- changes to names and/or pronouns, for any reason, are welcomed and respected.
Throughout history, the Talmud has been accessible to just 1% of Jews. We believe in expanding the Talmud’s teaching to the other 99%, and we commit to ensuring accessibility in the bet midrash for all people who are seeking to learn.
All of our online programming includes:
- live captioning
- ample breaks to help reduce screen fatigue
- low teacher-student ratios
- materials that are compatible with screen readers
When we are in person, we utilize venues that meet or exceed ADA requirements and allow full access to folks who use scooters, wheelchairs, and other mobility tools, and we seek out locations that are easily accessible by public transportation.
We invite participants to share specific access needs with us in all of our registration processes and do our best to support our learners by designing an environment that works for them. Identities and access needs shared privately with the staff will never be shared outside of SVARA’s administrative team and immediate teaching team, and anything shared internally is on a need-to-know basis. All participants are expected to show the same level of discretion when their peers share personal information.
As a general rule, we invite each person to reflect on the ways in which we occupy positions of privilege, as opposed to asking those who are in a marginalized group to explain their oppression. These kinds of inquiries may be experienced as intrusive, insensitive, misguided, or hurtful – so be mindful before asking questions.
If you feel uncomfortable with the way another participant is engaging in the space, please reach out to a staff person privately to let them know. The SVARA bet midrash is, in its most powerful moments, a healing space and we ask everyone to treat each other with kindness and love.
We stive to be an anti-racist space, which we understand to mean one that is actively working to dismantle white supremacy culture and lift up the voices and insights of Black people, Indigenous people, and People of Color in our community. Guided by SVARA’s Justice & Equity committee we are committed to:
- donating 1% of our earned income each year to organizations and projects that lift up and center BIPOC identities
- building and deepening relationships with BIPOC SVARA-niks and members of the broader queer Jewish community to develop a pipeline of folks joining our learning community, the Teaching Kollel, and SVARA’s board
- creating a protocol for addressing racist acts and speech if and when they arise in our programs or through interpersonal interactions in our spaces
- creating a safety and security plan with built-in alternatives to policing that we will put into action when we gather again in person
- reviewing and updating our hiring practices to ensure that they are anti-racist and liberatory
- ongoing assessment and advanvancements to SVARA’s culture, policies, and programming
SVARA is a home for queer and radical Torah, and we are committed to building a culture where we are all students and teachers to each other. We strive to create an environment of mutual respect, where a myriad of voices and perspectives are welcome. We believe that words create worlds, and we commit to thoughtful speech with integrity. We invite you to play an active role in manifesting this commitment by:
- holding a posture of curiosity when encountering something new or uncomfortable
- listening to understand rather than listening to respond
- using a “yes, and” framework to add to conversation & learning
- noticing when you’re talking more than others and thoughtfully choosing where you might offer your voice (take space / make space)
- showing respect for the person sharing while challenging the idea being shared
- striving not to deliberately or inadvertently undermine, disrespect, or dehumanize another person’s identity or experience
- reaching out to a staff member when in need of resources about unfamiliar identities and experiences
Inevitably, there are moments where we let one another down, misstep, misspeak, hurt others, or get hurt ourselves. This is part of the deal when building community (not to mention when just being human!), and it can get messy. Harm can happen on multiple levels and we are here to nurture a community where it’s okay to own mistakes and work towards repairing them. While we always strive to reach resolutions that lead to an ongoing relationship with SVARA, we reserve the right to restrict people from learning with us for a given period of time or, in some cases, indefinitely, as they move through a teshuva process.
Harm from Surfacing Past Events
- We welcome you to the bet midrash in your current context, as the person you are today. And we also recognize that each of us brings a personal history to SVARA—some aspects that we’re proud of and some aspects that we wish we could have done differently. Even as we attempt to make SVARA as safe a space as possible, there may be times that the struggles someone else brings to the table will be difficult for you or create an issue for you. If you are triggered by something in another participant’s past, we invite you to reach out to a staff member for support.
Harm Between Participants in the Present Moment
- If you experience harm or are concerned you may have harmed someone else, please reach out to a staff member for support. We’re here to listen, to support processes of transformative repair whenever possible, and to remind you all that you’re human and humans make mistakes. We might invite you to engage in a process of teshuva, the Jewish spiritual practice of acknowledging and repairing harm and asking for forgiveness (invented by our oh-so-queer talmudic ancestors!), and are happy to talk you through how that could work.
Harm Between Participants and SVARA’s Staff, Faculty, or Fairies
- Our team is committed to embodying the steps of transformative repair that we ask of our community and we take your feedback and trust seriously. We are always open to direct feedback about any ways in which we may have caused or perpetuated harm in our learning spaces. If you experience harm in the bet midrash from a staff member or teacher, and feel that it’s too challenging for whatever reason to engage the person directly, please reach out to Ayana or Becky (our executive director and board chair, respectively) who can help guide you through next steps. Your feedback to Ayana or Becky will remain confidential unless you request otherwise, and you are welcome to request that your feedback be offered to a staff person or teacher anonymously.
Throughout history, the Talmud has been accessible to just 1% of Jews. We believe in expanding the Talmud’s teaching to the other 99%, and we commit to ensuring accessibility in the bet midrash for all people who are seeking to learn.
We invite you to share specific access needs with us in all of our registration processes, and we’ll do our best to incorporate your requests as much as possible to ensure that the bet midrash is an environment that supports your learning.
Below, you will find the latest accessibility systems we are using to support our online learning. We know that systems don’t always work, or fail to live up to their greatest dreamiest potential. If something isn’t going right for you in a learning space, please be in touch with your fairies, your facilitator, or James, SVARA’s point person for supporting access needs.
Access Information for Online Shiurim
We learn for 1.5-2 hours at a time on Zoom. There is a break scheduled for all learners during 2-hour shiurim. At all times, you are welcome to sit, stand, lay down, stretch, get a snack, drink some water, and take breaks according to your own needs. Please do what you need to do to take care of your body and yourself!
Feel free to turn your video on/off as needed throughout the session. While you are encouraged to have your video on during shiur, we honor that at times learners may need to have their cameras off. You always have the option of declining to read when you’re called on, and teachers will not call on you if you have your video off unless you have previously notified the teacher otherwise.
All full-group learning will be live-captioned by our captioning team, and all Zoom rooms support automatic integrated live-captioning. At various moments throughout our sessions, we may make use of breakout groups for chevruta (one-on-one learning) and smaller group discussion spaces of 3-6 people. Upon registration, you will be asked if you would like your chevruta and breakout groups to be captioned by one of the members of our captioning team.
All shiurim provide instructions for using Zoom, as well as options for increasing contrast and font size on your screen.
We have large-print copies of materials available to send along with printed materials. If you would like enlarged printed materials, please indicate this on your registration form and we will send them to you. Many students also choose to use a magnifying glass to read small print texts—we recommend the Magnabrite Magnifier.
Each shiur session will have an online learning portal with all bet midrash materials available digitally. Materials will be available in 13-point font, 20-point font, and in Google Doc formats compatible with screen reader technology and other formatting options.
After each session, we will upload recordings of the session, along with the Hebrew/Aramaic pronunciation of the text covered and inside/outside translations of the text onto the Class Portal.
There are two dictionaries that you will use when learning Talmud in the original at SVARA (or anywhere else!): a “Jastrow” (Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Bavli, Talmud Yerushalmi and Midrashic Literature, by Marcus Jastrow), and a “Frank” (The Practical Talmud Dictionary, by Yitzhak Frank). The Jastrow is unfortunately printed in a small and somewhat fuzzy font. Below you will find information about Jastrow accessibility and two ways to access the Jastrow dictionary online.
Many of our learners and teachers use a Magnabrite magnifying glass to increase the optical size and clarity of the printing. We also recommend this magnifier with two flat edges, which can fit in closer to the inner binding of a book. Some folks find the online versions of the dictionary more accessible for various reasons. Below is information about two free online editions:
- The Tyndale Archive Jastrow Dictionary: This is a complete scan of the printed dictionary. You can find your dictionary entry by selecting the first letter of the word you are looking up and then selecting the first word on the page that will contain your entry. You can enlarge the scanned pages of this dictionary by using the interfaces built-in enlargement tools which are available in the page header. Some benefits of using this option include that it feels more like the book—if your chevruta is using a printed dictionary, you will be looking at the exact same thing and can share page numbers, and you will reinforce learning the order of the alef bet.
- The Jastrow Dictionary on Sefaria: With this option you can type the root or word you are looking for into a search box (via the onscreen Hebrew keyboard) and jump directly to an entry. You may need to scroll backward and forward from there because there can be multiple entries for the same term. Sefaria includes a built-in function to adjust the font size which you can access by selecting the “Aא” button on the upper right side of the page. Some benefits of using this option are that the digitized text is clearer than the Tyndale Archive’s scans and Sefaria is compatible with screen reader technology. Some challenges are that it is harder to get on the “same page” as your chevruta (there are no page numbers), and sometimes the search function takes you to unexpected places.
Only you know what you need in order to learn best! We’ve found that having printed materials and a hard copy of the Jastrow dictionary is supportive for many folks, especially as a contrast to our learning online, and we encourage you to try this if it’s accessible to you.
If purchasing dictionaries or a magnifying glass is beyond your means, please be in touch with Nat.
No one will be turned away for lack of funds: during the registration process, you will be asked to identify the tuition amount that you would like to pay. All classes have a sliding scale tuition structure. If the tuition scale remains prohibitive, you will be offered the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution that is right-sized for your budget. You will be asked to choose a tuition or contribution amount in step two of SVARA’s two-step enrollment process.
Payment options include the opportunity to pay all at once or in a 2- or 3-installment pay plan.
If you have any other needs for making your learning experience with SVARA accessible, please don’t hesitate to James, SVARA’s point person for accessibility. We’re learning more each day about how to make online learning more accessible, and we’re grateful to everyone who shares feedback and ideas!
How to change your name
Hover your mouse over your own video feed and click the ⋯ button in the top right corner. Select ‘rename’ and type your name as you would like it to appear. Add your pronouns if you’d like after your name.
Gallery and speaker view
There are two views available in every zoom meeting and you can toggle between them whenever you want. Speaker view enlarges the video of whoever is speaking at the time and switches between speakers as new people begin speaking. (If you want to stick with one person’s feed, even when new people start speaking, see the next tip.) Gallery view shows up to 25 meeting participants in a grid of video feeds. If more than 25 people are in the session, you can scroll between different subsets of participants.
When in speaker view you can switch to gallery view by clicking the speaker view button in the top right corner of the zoom window. When in gallery view you can switch to speaker view by clicking the gallery view button in the top right corner of the zoom window.
Pin a video
The faculty will sometimes use physical whiteboards to present ideas in shiur. If you would like to stay with their video feeds even when other participants are speaking, you can pin their video by hovering your mouse over their video feed, click the ⋯ button in the top right corner, and select ‘pin video’.
Hide your own video
If you want to stop seeing your own video feed, hover your mouse over your own video feed, click the ⋯ button in the top right corner, and select ‘Hide Self View’. Note well: Hiding self-view keeps your camera on and other participants will still be able to see you. If you want to turn your video feed off for everyone, turn off your video.
Turn off your video
In the toolbar at the bottom of the screen, click ‘stop video’.
Turning on closed captioning
Closed captioning will be available throughout our shiurim. To turn on captioning, select the CC button from the toolbar at the bottom of the window.
Unfortunately, chat notifications interfere visually with the closed captioning. To avoid this challenge, click the chat button in the toolbar to open the chat feed in a side panel, and thereby shut off the notifications.
Increase the size of the chat and captions
Step 1: Log into zoom and hit your profile icon in the top right corner
Step 2: From the drop down menu that will pop up, select ‘Settings.’
Step 3: Select the “Accessibility” settings at the end of the list
Step 4: Move the slider to adjust the closed captions size. Below the sample closed captions, you can choose how big you’d like your chat to be.
Bonus: While on a zoom call, click the chat box as if you were going to write a message. If on a mac: hold down the “command” key and then hit the “+” key to increase the chat font size or “-” to decrease! If on a PC: hold down the “ctrl” key and then hit the “+” key to increase the chat font size or “-” to decrease.
Controlling the size of a screen share
Facilitators will periodically use ‘screen share’ to share important information with you in writing. Screen share produces a split-screen effect in which you will see the shared content on the left pane and the speaker’s video feed on the right. You can control the size of these two panes by clicking the center of the bar separating the two panes and dragging left or right.
Syllabus and Recordings
The themes of each our our three sessions are listed below.
December 7 (Zoom Recording)
We will give a hearty introduction to the emotional layers of grammar and the transformative power of language, and spend time introducing the binyanim.
December 14 (Zoom Recording)
We will spend more time with each binyan and have space for reflection, meeting the binyanim in small groups and creatively introducing them to each other.
December 21 (Zoom Recording)
We will spend time introducing nouns, explore the relationship between verbs and nouns, and re-visit the politics of grammar and our framework for understanding binyanim as a system.
Fairies are a beautiful part of the SVARA bet midrash. These folks are here to support the teaching and learning within our community and serve as wisdom-givers and text-wranglers.
If you have a question or need some encouragement, grab some one-on-one (or two-on-one) time with a fairy or faculty member from the list below! Let them help you (and your chevruta) get unstuck in a text, talk Talmud, or just chat about whatever is coming up in your learning.
Hi beloveds! Here are some resources we love to support our learning in Embodying Binyanim. Here are podcasts, books, videos, articles, and more that inspire us and have supported our own learning around language as a decolonizing practice, language justice, and relational/embodied grammar.
-Sarit and Noah