2021 Hardcore Talmud Intensive

a daily deep-dive into traditionally radical Talmud with SVARA

Mondays-Thursdays, August 9th-27th

11:30 AM – 2:00 PM ET | 10:30 AM – 1:00 PM CT | 8:30 AM – 11:00 AM PT

THIS SHIUR IS FULL – Check out our weekly Elul Bet Midrash!


Take your learning to the next level with a season of hardcore Talmud with SVARA this Elul! SVARA’s Hardcore Talmud Intensive, a three-week daily bet midrash, will provide learners of all levels with the opportunity to explore new areas of depth in their learning on their journey to becoming players—people who learn and shape tradition.

Through daily bet midrash learning, in-depth workshops, opportunities to explore supplemental materials on and off the daf, and more, SVARA-niks of all levels in SVARA’s Hardcore Talmud Intensive will have the opportunity to: 

  • Thicken your skills as an empowered Talmud learner
  • Level up your experience with rabbinic texts and concepts to help you be an even better player
  • Go deep into a new sugya (Talmud text) with a chevruta, teachers, and fairies
  • Build dynamic, dazzling queer community with your SVARA comrades

We’ll spend the month of Elul, a time for teshuva (relational repair), immersed in one of the most profound spiritual tools for reflection and connection that our ancestors have given us: Talmud study. 

We will be learning Bava Kama Chapter 8, “HaChovel,” with Rashi and supplemental texts, paying close attention to the structure of the sugya and common devices of talmudic argumentation. While this well-known sugya deals, on its surface, with the laws of bodily injuries, a deeper analysis of it reveals much about how the Rabbis dealt with biblical concepts and aspects of their received tradition that they could no longer morally live with. We will utilize both traditional and modern scholarship in an attempt to “get inside the Rabbis’ heads” during the tumultuous era of transition between the Written and Oral Torahs so poignantly captured in this sugya. Finally, building on the insights gained from our analysis, we will examine our own relationship to sacred text in light of the moral dilemmas of our time.

NOTE: If you’ve never learned Talmud with SVARA before, please plan to join us for a New Learner Orientation on Sunday, August 8th, from 7:00-9:00 PM ET. 

About This Learning Space:

This learning space is for anyone—from beginners to advanced Talmudists—and will provide learners with the scaffolding and tools to be challenged at their own learning level in a rigorous and supportive environment. Daily sessions will combine chevruta learning (learning in pairs) and collective unpacking of the text in shiur as a large group. We will be running two simultaneous sections of the Hardcore Talmud Intensive. Please read the descriptions below and select one of the sections:

Shiur A with Benay

This learning space is for folks who describe themselves in any of the following ways:

  • “I know my alef-bet, but I don’t understand the words.” 
  • “I can understand a few words here and there.” 
  • “I’ve learned a little Hebrew in my life.”
  • “I can understand some of what I read (vocab & grammar).” 
  • “I have some experience with Jewish text study in the original Hebrew/Aramaic, and am beginning to get comfortable with learning in SVARA’s method.”

Shiur B with Laynie

This learning space is for folks who describe themselves in any of the following ways:

  • “I can understand a good amount of what I read.” 
  • “I have learned with SVARA in more than three batei midrash.”
  • “I am familiar with what ‘binyanim’ are and can make guesses about what ‘binyanim’ words are in as I encounter them.”
  • “I am familiar with the various historical layers found in the Talmud (tanna’im, amora’im, and stamma).”
  • “I have quite a bit of experience with Jewish text study in the original Hebrew/Aramaic, and am pretty comfortable with learning in SVARA’s method.”
  • “I have extensively studied Jewish text in the original Hebrew/Aramaic.”

What you’ll need:

  • a commitment to daily learning
  • A “Jastrow”—Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Bavli, Talmud Yerushalmi and Midrashic Literature, by Marcus Jastrow; and
  • A “Frank”—Practical Talmud Dictionary, by Yitzhak Frank

We’ll be learning from Masechet Bava Kamma. After you register for this course, we’ll send you all of the goodies you need, including your volume of Talmud, to bring to the bet midrash. These materials will also be available online in one convenient resource portal. If you already have an untranslated, unvocalized copy of Bava Kamma, fabulous—let us know when you fill out the registration form! 


I don’t have a chevruta (partner) to learn with!

No worries! We will pair you up with a partner in advance of the first session!

I’ve never done this before. I don’t think I can do it!

You can! While all texts are studied in the original Hebrew/Aramaic from the Vilna Shas (traditional printing of the Talmud), no prior text experience is necessary. The requirements for the class are (1) your ability to merely sound out (even without comprehension) the alef-bet, (2) to have your text, dictionaries, attendance at all sessions, (3) and your willingness to work hard. If you’re willing to try, we’ll help you succeed! Guaranteed!

What if I can’t make all the classes in a session?

This is a daily learning experience that lasts for three weeks. While unforeseen circumstances do arise, it is important that you plan to be at all sessions. Each session builds on the work of the previous session, and students who miss several sessions will find it extremely difficult to catch up and participate fully. In addition, your chevruta depends on you for their learning as well! Learning at SVARA also creates an intimate community of learners, and being consistently present is important in developing such a community. If you are not able to make this sort of commitment at this time, that’s okay! Let us know and we’ll help you find other ways to learn with SVARA!

What will I need for this class?

Before our first session, you’ll be provided with a volume of the tractate of Talmud that we will be learning—a masechet. If you have your own unvocalized, unpunctuated, untranslated volume of the Vilna Shas and do not need one from us, please let us know on your registration form.

There are also two dictionaries necessary for doing the work of this bet midrash:

  • A “Jastrow”—Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Bavli, Talmud Yerushalmi and Midrashic Literature, by Marcus Jastrow; and
  • A “Frank”—Practical Talmud Dictionary, by Yitzhak Frank

These are great dictionaries for any and all future Talmud study (with SVARA or elsewhere). If you’re having trouble finding the Jastrow Dictionary, you can order one directly from the publisher here or from your local Jewish bookstore. If purchasing dictionaries is beyond your means, please be in touch with James!

Beyond these, we’ll send you everything you need to learn with us.

Registration & Cost:

Tuition for our programs is offered on a sliding scale. The top of the scale reflects the true cost of this class, and is the cost that we would charge all learners in the absence of a sliding scale. This range acknowledges that paying the full cost would prevent some folks from being able to attend. Please be mindful that if you pay at the lower end of the scale when you can afford higher tuition, you are limiting access for those who truly need the gift of financial flexibility. If the tuition scale remains prohibitive, you will be offered the opportunity to make a contribution that is meaningful to you. For more thinking on this topic, here is a resource that informed our approach.

The tuition scale for the Hardcore Talmud Intensive is $250–750.


Access Information:

Our learning community will convene on Zoom. All full-group learning will be live-captioned and all visuals will be described. At various moments throughout our sessions, we will make use of breakout groups for chevruta (one-on-one learning) and smaller group discussion spaces of 3-6 people. In your registration please let us know if you would like captioning in these smaller places and if you have any other online access needs you would like to share. If you would like to have voice-to-voice conversation about access before registering, please reach out to James.

Your Faculty & Fairies:

Rabbi Benay Lappe (she/her), President & Rosh Yeshiva

Ordained by The Jewish Theological Seminary in 1997, Benay founded SVARA in 2003. An award-winning educator specializing in the application of queer theory to Talmud study, Benay has served on the faculties of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Temple University, The University of Judaism, The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, The Graduate Theological Union’s Center for Jewish Studies at UC-Berkeley, and The Wexner Institute. She also currently serves as Senior Fellow at the Institute for the Next Jewish Future in Chicago.

Benay was named to Jewrotica’s Sexiest Rabbis List of 2013 (and is a little embarrassed about this but also a little bit proud), The Forward’s 2014 List of Most Inspiring Rabbis, is a Joshua Venture Fellow, and in 2016 received the prestigious Covenant Award for innovative Jewish education. She was named to The Forward’s 2018 list of “Sexiest Jewish Intellectuals Alive” (and is both embarrassed again, and also more sheepish about the intellectual part than the sexy part), and was recently named to the 2020 Forward 50 list of most influential American Jews (she was #10, and is grateful that her name starts with a “b” because it was in alphabetical order). While learning and teaching Talmud are her greatest passions, Rabbi Lappe is also a licensed pilot, shoemaker, and patent-holding inventor.

Laynie Soloman (they/them), Associate Rosh Yeshiva & Director of Transformative Leadership

Laynie is a passionate teacher of Jewish text and thought, and they believe deeply in the power of Talmud study as a healing and liberatory spiritual practice. They love facilitating Jewish learning that uplifts the piously irreverent, queer, and subversive spirit of rabbinic text and theology. Laynie holds a M.A. in Jewish Education from The Jewish Theological Seminary, is a Schusterman Fellow (Cohort 5), and received the Covenant Foundation’s 2020 Pomegranate Prize for Emerging Jewish Educators. Laynie is an Ashkenazi third generation Philadelphian, and when they’re not learning Talmud, you can find Laynie reading about liberation theology, collecting comic books, and singing nigunim.