1 | Prep Your Text
Start with a check-in. Take turns and tell your chevruta how you are, what’s on your mind, and share 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.
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.
- Look up every word…together! Don’t “split up the work”: You take this word, I’ll take the next word! You and your chevruta should always be working on the same word at the same time. You may be looking that word up in different dictionaries, but you’re always working on the same word at the same time. Whoever finds the entry first should direct their chevruta to it. For example, if you’re both learning from printed Jastrows, call out the dictionary name, page number, and area of the page, as in: “Found it! Jastrow, page 24, left-hand side, right near the top!”
- Keep it collaborative. 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. Remember: You are responsible for your chevruta’s learning, and your chevruta is responsible for your learning.
- Take your time! 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.
2 | Unpack the Text
Now that you’ve prepped the text in chevruta, let’s unpack the text! Take your best guess at your “inside translation” and “outside translation,” check your understanding in comparison to the SVARA recordings of inside/outside translations (found on each sugya’s portal page), and use this as a launching point for the big questions that surface from the text.
HOW DO WE UNPACK THE TEXT?
- Inside translation: After looking up every word, go back and make your best guess as to the “inside” translation, i.e., the hyper-literal translation, of each word, in the order in which the words appear, following the syntax of the original. When you’re giving an inside translation, it will sound quite choppy and not flow in a smooth, colloquial translation. Every single prefix and suffix should be represented in an inside translation (i.e., החובל בחברו would be translated as “the one who injures in his friend”). Nothing that isn’t represented in the letters of each word should appear in one’s inside translation. For example, rabbinic literature often implies an “if” at the beginning of a case: “if one injures his friend.” But that implied “if” should not appear in the inside translation.
- Outside translation: After giving your inside translation of each phrase, go back and give your best guess at the “outside” translation—a colloquial translation that flows smoothly in modern English and sounds like something you’d actually say, in the way you’d actually say it. Then, if necessary, explain what the phrase means, adding any additional background information that would be necessary to help an uninitiated imaginary listener understand what’s going on in that phrase.
- Check your understanding: When you have your outside translation or if you are feeling stuck, head to your sugya’s page on this portal and listen to a recording of a faculty member reading and translating each section. If your translation differs from the recording, chase down those differences! Come to our live Open Bet Midrash to learn with Fairy support, reach out to your Fairy over email, or sign up for Fairy Hours.
- Unpacking: Along the way, ask yourselves: What does the text say? What does the text mean? And what might the Rabbis have been trying to tell us in saying what they said in the way in which they said it? Beyond the surface content of the text, what might the text be conveying on a meta level about how you, as the learner, are being taught to witness the tradition and how it works? How does the text affect how you witness yourself as a leader and your role vis-à-vis the received tradition and the future of Judaism? How is your process of learning this text helping you gain insight into yourself and the world around you?
3 | Chazara
It’s all about chazara! This is where the magic happens.
- Read Inside/Outside: While looking at the text, the chevruta with a stronger grip on the text—let’s call them chevruta (a)—goes first, reading out loud through the text, phrase by phrase, with proper phrasing and pronunciation, and translating both “inside” and “outside,” talking out any necessary explanatory or background information as if teaching the material to an uninitiated listener. Partner (b) should monitor and check very carefully and correct any mistakes immediately.
- Switch roles: Now chevruta (b) does the same thing while chevruta (a) monitors and corrects. At the end of this step, both (a) and (b) should understand every individual word, inside and outside, and as many details about each word and phrase as their Hebrew level will allow.
- Talk it out: Chevruta (a) should close their masechet (or their daf window or tab) and talk out the text, in English, from memory (without looking at the text at all), in a good, colloquial outside translation, but staying fairly close to the inside translation, moving through the text phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence, to make sure they’re not missing any nuance of the text’s “moves.” The translation should follow the original words of the text closely enough that your chevruta should be able to know, at every point, where you are in the text. Chevruta (b) should be careful to monitor whether they think chevruta (a) really gets it or may not, at every given point. If chevruta (b) suspects there may be a gap or misunderstanding in chevruta (a)’s understanding, they should ask for clarification from chevruta (a). Remember: You are responsible for your chevruta’s learning! And they are responsible for yours.
- Switch roles. Now chevruta (b) does the same thing, while chevruta (a) monitors.
4 | Recitation
- Recite from memory: Chevruta (a) starts the memorization/internalization part of chazara, reciting the text out, in the original Hebrew/Aramaic, still without looking at the text. You are now producing the text, from within yourself, from your deep understanding of it. This is not a rote recitation. The text should be naturally emerging from inside of you! As soon as a mistake is made, even the most minor, chevruta (b) should correct you by simply saying correctly the word which was mispronounced or missed, and return you “Back to the top!” to begin reciting again, from the beginning. This “Back to the top!” step is very important in the internalization process. Student (a) is not finished until they can recite the entire section without error. Remember: memorization is primarily a means to an end (deep, integrated understanding), not an end in itself (the ability to rattle off a lot of words).
- Switch roles. Now chevruta (b) goes through the same process of recitation from memory with (a) monitoring.