SVARA’s core learning happens in the bet midrash, a space for study partners (chevruta) to build a relationship with the Talmud text, with one another, and with the tradition—and to do all that in community. The learning is rigorous, yet the bet midrash environment is warm and supportive. Learning at SVARA focuses on skill-building (learning how to learn), revealing and understanding the radical core of the Jewish tradition, becoming “players” in it, cultivating Talmud study as a spiritual practice, and becoming people shaped by one of the central technologies of our tradition: Talmud Torah (the study of Torah).
All SVARA learning begins with the CRASH Talk. In this talk, SVARA faculty lay out our philosophy of the Talmud and the rabbinic revolution that gave rise to it—along with important vocabulary and concepts for anyone learning Jewish texts. This lecture is both an overview of the ultimate goals of the Jewish enterprise, as well as a crash course in halachic (Jewish legal) jurisprudence. Beyond its application to Judaism, CRASH Theory is a simple but elegant model of how all change happens—whether societal, religious, organizational, or personal. We build on this conceptual framework as we unpack our understanding of all the texts we study.
Our mission is to open Talmud learning up to the 99% of Jews who have been shut out of the bet midrash for two millennia. SVARA is for you whether you did or didn’t grow up at day school or summer camp, you’re queer in any number of ways that give you the valuable insight of the outsider, you’re a woman who was told that Jewish learning isn’t possible for you, you are or aren’t observant, or your relationship with Judaism doesn’t match traditional expectations. SVARA students bring their real-life experiences to bear on the text and the tradition and learn in a Queer-normative space. All you need to begin learning is your alef-bet (a working familiarity with the Hebrew alphabet) and you’re ready to go!
In every SVARA Bet Midrash learning is structured in three phases. Each bet midrash session begins with chevruta learning: sitting with your chevruta (your study partner), your text, and your dictionaries and preparing the text. At SVARA, we never use translations; your text is in the original Hebrew or Aramaic, no matter your learning experience. More experienced learners will have the chance to go beyond the gemara into Rashi, Tosafot, legal codes, and mefarshim (medieval commentaries). Everyone has the same amount of time to work through the text, and whether you prepare five words or five lines, your learning is valuable and will contribute to the vibrancy of the discussion and your own growth as a “player” and as a human being.
After everyone’s spent some time deciphering the day’s text, we come together as a group to unpack what we’ve learned and discuss it—that’s called shiur. Your teacher will guide everyone through fully translating and discussing the text and hold space to for you to share your questions and insights.
After shiur, you’ll return to chevruta for chazara (review) of that session’s text to the point of deep understanding, ownership, mastery, and memorization. At SVARA we use the process of memorization as both a diagnostic tool to check our own understanding and as a way to ensure that everyone truly owns the tradition. Finally, every student will have a chance to recite all the material they’ve come to own—and everyone who recites gets clapped up, no matter how much they were able to do!
At SVARA, we don’t teach Talmud; we teach people. A teacher is someone who empowers players, people who mess with, transform, and shape the tradition. SVARA teachers—our Fellows, our Faculty, and our Scholars-in-Residence—are committed to upending the educational power dynamics of all-too-many conventional Jewish (and beyond!) learning spaces, shifting the focal point from teacher to learner, and transforming the bet midrash environment to one of critical pedagogy, clear methodology, rigor, love, and empowerment.
Teachers at SVARA embody this through: