Step 1: Chevruta

First, go ahead and print your daf (page of Talmud) and Hint Sheet, if you can. This Chanukah sugya is found on Shabbat 23a (שבת כג.). It picks up after a discussion of how many blessings one should light over the Chanukah candles. The beginning of the sugya is marked with an arrow and bracket on the daf below. Additionally, The relevant Rashi comments are underlined. In this printing a superscript number (e.g. 1) indicates the beginning of a quote from Tanakh. (Other printings use a °.) You can find the citations for each quotation in the rightmost column, under the heading תורה אור השלם.

You’ll also want to grab Hints for Finding the Root (maybe you have one lying around in an old SVARA folder) and your Jastrow and Frank dictionaries. We strongly encourage folks to learn from the physical Jastrow dictionary whenever possible! If you don’t have a printed dictionary yet, Jastrow is available online:

Finally, if you like taking your notes on a text prep form, you can download it as a PDF or .docx file.

We recommend that you learn this text in chevruta just like you would in any SVARA bet midrash. Below you can review how to prep a text in chevruta and then dive right in.

WHAT IS CHEVRUTA?

  • A framework for intimate connection with another human being, with the text, and with the tradition (“chevruta” refers to both the partnership and the people in the partnership!)
  • A spiritual technology for developing radical empathy and interdependence
  • Interactive, engaging, busy, immersive, with both chevrutas feeling totally present to the relationship and the learning
  • When done with rigorous and clear expectations of text mastery, chevruta  becomes a profoundly meditative and empowering experience

How Do We Learn in Chevruta

Start with a check- in. Take turns, and share with your chevruta how you are, what’s on your mind, whatever you need them to know about you right now so that you can become fully present. 

Dedicate: In the Jewish tradition, learning is believed to carry within it the power to repair, to heal, and to transform. It is our custom at SVARA, as it has been the custom in many yeshivas in the world for thousands of years, to begin our learning by directing that power to someone or something in need of healing, strength, or encouragement. Or you might dedicate your learning to someone in whose honor or memory you would like to learn, perhaps someone whom you think would be very proud to know that you’re learning in this moment. Hold the person, people, or community you’d like to dedicate your learning to, in your mind and heart, and then say “I’d like to dedicate my learning today to _______.” Feel free to explain to your chevruta or your learning comrades why this dedication is on your mind.

Bless: The blessing for Torah study closes dedications and elevates learning into the realm of mitzvah, the language that the Rabbis used for what mattered most to them. You can find the blessing for Torah study here.

Learn: Now you’re ready to start learning! 

  • Pick a “driver”: You and your chevruta are going to be working through the text, word by word. It helps to have one of you be the “vocalizer”– the person saying out each word or phrase (making just a rough guess at the proper pronunciation), just to make sure you both know which word you’re both working on at any given moment, and are always both looking up the same word at the same time. You can periodically switch who’s being the “driver.”
  • Look up every word! Oftentimes we think we know what a word means based on previous learning or experience. At SVARA, everyone looks up every word to uncover hidden meanings, nuances, suggestive resonances, connections, and etymologies that are present in the words of the text and help us go deeper in our learning.
  • Holler out the page number when you find it! Each chevruta has their own set of dictionaries and should be looking up the same word at the same time as their chevruta. When looking up words, whoever finds the entry first should call out which dictionary they found the word in, the page number, left or right column, top or bottom of the column, or direct their chevruta to the entry.
  • Keep it collaborative, take your time. Learning is not a race, or a competition! Talmud study—and all learning—should be a collaboration between learners who understand that they’re on the same team. Don’t worry if other learners are ahead of you in the text, behind you, or anywhere else! Wherever you and your chevruta are is just plain perfect.