Queer Talmud for Beginner’s Mind

a weekly deep-dive into traditionally radical Talmud with SVARA

Tuesdays, February 2nd–March 23rd

Section 1: 4:00–6:00 PM ET | 3:00–5:00 PM CT | 1:00–3:00 PM PT

Section 2: 8:00–10:00 PM ET | 7:00–9:00 PM CT | 5:00–7:00 PM PT

Join SVARA for a semester of Queer Talmud goodness specifically designed for folks who are new(er) to SVARA’s approach to Talmud study and want to learn in a queer-normative space!  The learning is rigorous, yet the bet midrash environment is warm and supportive. Students are strongly encouraged to bring their real-life experiences to bear on the text and to share openly in a space that models queer culture and radical inclusion.

We’ll study a section of the Talmud in the *original language* (with no translations!) with a focus on skill-building (learning how to learn), the radical nature of the Jewish tradition, and the cultivation of Talmud study as a spiritual practice. Each weekly session will combine chevruta learning (learning in pairs) and collective unpacking of the text in shiur

All you need in order to participate is the ability to sound out your alef-bet, and you’ll be reading from the daf (directly from the page of Talmud) in no time. If you’ve never learned with SVARA before and are new to traditionally radical Talmud study, this learning experience is for you!

About this learning space:

This learning experience is for folks who:

  • have never learned Talmud before (with SVARA or otherwise!)
  • want to explore Talmud study in a queer-normative learning space
  • can sound out the letters of their alef-bet
  • are excited to work hard in a rigorous, joyful, supportive learning space

What you’ll need:

  • a commitment to join for each session
  • a ‘Jastrow’ dictionary (NOTE: while we know the Jastrow Dictionary is available online, we strongly recommend using a book for this learning, access needs notwithstanding. If you’re having trouble finding a Jastrow Dictionary, you can order one directly from the publisher here or from your local Jewish bookstore.)
  • a ‘Frank’ dictionary

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

Not sure if this is the right learning space for you? Take this quick quiz to help you figure it out!


What will a session look like?

Each class begins with chevruta learning—sitting with your chevruta, your text, and your dictionaries and preparing the text.  At SVARA, we never use translations–no matter how long you’ve been learning, or if this is your first time opening the Talmud, your text is in the original Hebrew or Aramaic. That’s what makes it fun! 

After everyone’s spent some time deciphering the assigned text, we’ll come together as a group to go over what we’ve learned and discuss it—that’s called shiur. The following week, chevruta time begins with hazara (review) of the previous week’s material to the point of ownership, mastery, and memorization, after which you’ll prepare the new material. Then during shiur, we begin with recitation of the memorized material–and everyone who recites gets clapped up, no matter how much you were able to do!

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

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!

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 your ability to merely sound out (even without comprehension) the alef-bet, your text, dictionaries, attendance at all sessions, and your willingness to work hard. If you’re willing to try, we’ll help you succeed!

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

This is an eight-week class. While unforeseen circumstances do arise, it is important that you plan to be at all eight sessions. Each week builds on the work of the previous week, and students who miss a week will find it extremely difficult to catch up and participate fully. In addition, your chevruta depends on you for their learning as well!

We are also trying to create an intimate community of learners, and consistency 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!

You mentioned texts and dictionaries...

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:

  1. A “Jastrow”—Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Bavli, Talmud Yerushalmi and Midrashic Literature, by Marcus Jastrow; and
  2. 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 you are unable, for financial reasons, to purchase dictionaries at this time, please be in touch with James!

Registration & Cost:

As a yeshiva, SVARA aspires to be radically inclusive and is committed to creating spaces that center the voices and experiences of those who have been marginalized from Jewish life and learning. In order to maintain a diverse learning community that demographically represents our wide range of learners, we have implemented a 2-step registration process that allows us to reserve space for underrepresented identities. We have set a goal of maintaining a significant majority of queer- and trans-identifying people in attendance at each of our programs, as well as prioritizing the participation of people of color and people with disabilities. 

We will be admitting registrants on a rolling basis. You should expect to hear from us within three business days based upon the receipt of your registration.

Tuition for Queer Talmud for Beginners’ Mind is offered on a sliding scale of $100–$425. If the tuition scale is beyond your means, you will be offered the opportunity to make a contribution that is meaningful to you.


Your Teaching Team:

Bet Midrash Faculty

Section 1:

Benay Lappe (she/her) – Rosh Yeshiva

Benay is the Founder and Rosh Yeshiva of SVARA. Ordained by The Jewish Theological Seminary in 1997, Benay is an award-winning educator specializing in the application of queer theory to Talmud study. Benay was named to The Forward’s 2014 List of Most Inspiring Rabbis, Jewrotica’s Sexiest Rabbis List of 2013 (and is a little embarrassed about that but also a little tickled), is a Joshua Venture Fellow, a recipient of the prestigious 2016 Covenant Award for excellence and innovation in Jewish education, and was named to The Forward’s 2018 list of Sexiest Jewish Intellectuals Alive (and is both tickled and embarrassed again, and also more sheepish about the intellectual part than the sexy part). While learning and teaching Talmud are her greatest passions, Benay is also a licensed pilot, shoemaker, and patent-holding inventor.


Amir Weg (he/him) – SVARA Fellow

Amir moved to Chicago in 2009 after a brief stint hanging out in the Kosher Halal Co-op at Oberlin College. In Summer 2011 he participated in The Adamah Fellowship, a three-month Jewish ecology and leadership program, which nurtured his love of Jewish community, confirmed his interest in Environmental Studies, and gave him a chance to get his hands dirty. In the past few years, Amir has, on and off, worked as an urban farmer, studied Environmental Science at DePaul University, and built Jewish community at Moishe House Rogers Park. Amir has been studying at SVARA since 2013, was SVARA’s 2016 Fellow, and brings insights gained as a SVARA learner to his work.

Annie Sommer Kaufman (she/her) – SVARA Fellow

Annie teaches sewing, Talmud, and Yiddish; sewing at RefugeeOne, where she manages the sewing studio, Talmud at The Lace Midrash, which grew out of her training as a SVARA learner and teacher, and Yiddish at Chicago’s YIVO and Workers’ Circle. Anye is translating an American communist novel to English with the support of The Yiddish Book Center, and serves on the board of Jewish Voice for Peace.



Section 2:

Bet Midrash Faculty

Julie Batz (she/her) – SVARA Fellow 

Julie is a Fellow in the SVARA Teaching Kollel and a spiritual leader and educator serving the Bay Area Jewish community. Together, she and Maggid Jhos Singer are the Congregational Leaders of Chochmat HaLev, a center for Jewish spirituality in Berkeley where in addition to co-designing and leading engaging, musical, and inspiring services, she provides pastoral counseling, teaches adult education classes, mentors musical service leaders, and officiates congregants’ lifecycle events. In addition to her congregational work, Julie’s bnei mitzvah training and facilitation practice serves independent Jewish families, offering them the opportunity to (re)connect Jewishly in their families and the larger Jewish community. She extends particular welcome those who have felt themselves in the margins: families new to Jewish ritual, kids with learning differences, multi-faith families, queer families, and families of all configurations.


Binya Kóatz (she/they) – SVARA Fellow

Binya is a sefardi / ashki / moroccan / argentinean / ukranian / french trans jewish torah-lover, who writes poetry, organizes jewish community and sings and dances with her foremothers. she revels in languages, and can’t *believe* the radical gay anarchist tradition she’s been tasked with carrying forth. originally from the alte heim in Queens, she currently resides on Ohlone Land in the East Bay.


Noah Westreich (he/him) – SVARA Fellow

Noah is a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Prior to studying for the rabbinate, he worked and lived in Washington, DC and Jackson, MS, where he served the Jewish communities of those regions. In DC, he also served specialty coffee and developed a yoga practice. Originally from Montclair, NJ, Noah has always had a thirst for world languages and as such has become a competent speaker of Spanish, German, and Hebrew. He graduated from Macalester College with a degree in Sociology; his senior thesis explored the sociolinguistic theory of Hebrew education in American Jewry.