S&M Bet Midrash


Fall Session

The Crash Talk
Tuesday, Oct. 9
Register now!

Bet Midrash
Oct. 16, 23, 30,
Nov. 6, 13, 27,
Dec. 4, 11, 18
Apply now!

SVARA and Mishkan have teamed up to create the most happening Jewish learning experience in Chicago—the SVARA and Mishkan (S&M) Bet Midrash. Started in 2013, the popular weeknight Bet Midrash is open to absolute beginners and experienced learners alike. 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. Our learning will 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.

We’ll be learning a text from Tractate Bava Metzia famously known as Tanur Shel Achnai, a set of stories and discussions in which the rabbis ask: Where does divine authority come from? Who decides how we should live our lives and establish law? What does God want from us: obedience, rebellion, or something else? Can rivers change direction, can trees walk, and what are the gates of prayer!?

Some of you may have learned the first half of this story in the S&M Bet Midrash a few years ago, but this will be a thrillingly longer 9-week session, so we’ll get to learn much more of this sugya (section of Talmud) and really dig deep into it! Put on your heretical hats and brace yourself for a wild journey through a text that invites us to challenge and investigate notions of divine power, authority, and our own role in taking hold of our tradition.

All you need is your alef-bet and you’re ready to go! We’ll hook you up and show you the ropes! It’s an experience not to be missed!


What does an evening at the S&M Bet Midrash 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! Everyone has the same amount of time to work thorugh the text. The more advanced learners will have the chance to go beyond the gemara into Rashi, Tosafot, codes, and mefarshim (medieval commentaries). After everyone’s spent some time deciphering the day’s text, we 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 for that night. At that night’s 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!

Don’t have a chevruta at your skill level? No worries, you’re not alone! We have many diverse learners and are happy to help pair you up with a partner.

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, and dictionaries, attendance at all sessions, and your willingness to work hard. If you’re willing to try, we’ll help you succeed!

Don’t believe us? Check out this awesome video taken on the last night of one session. Trust us, some of the folks reciting here had never done this before. If they can do it, you can do it!

How much does the S&M Bet Midrash cost?

Free of charge! Your learning has been made possible by the chesed (loving generosity) of SVARA-niks who came before you, SVARA and our funding partners, and the sponsorship of Mishkan Chicago. As individuals experience the joy, power, and importance–to their lives and to the world around them–of learning Talmud, they want you to experience it, too.

If, after learning in the bet midrash, you want to, and have the means to, make it possible for others to have the same opportunity, you can deepen your practice of chesed then! This is how Torah has been transmitted for 3,000 years, and we think it’s a pretty good system. It got us here. And if we keep it up, in 3,000 years people will still be learning and being shaped by this really wise tradition.

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

This is a six-week term. While unforeseen circumstances do arise, it is important that you plan to be at all six 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 down for this sort of commitment – that’s ok – just let us know; we’ll let you know about other ways to learn with us!

Class is at dinner time! What do I do?

You are welcome to eat during class and we will also take a snack break mid-way through class. We will pass around a sign-up sheet the first day of class for folks to volunteer to bring significant and delightful snacks to keep everyone going throughout an evening of learning. Feel free to grab some take-out before the bet midrash and bring it with you to eat while you’re learning. (We will let you know in advance if there are allergies to worry about regarding the food you bring.)

You mentioned texts and dictionaries...

At the first session, students will be provided with a bound volume of the tractate of Talmud we will be learning–a masechet–at a cost of $20. You will be able to pay for your masechet when you register. If you have your own unvocalized, unpunctuated, untranslated volume of the Vilna Shas or cannot afford the $20, please let us know.

There are also two mandatory 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 Rabbi Lappe or elsewhere).


On the application, we’ll give you a chance to order the books from us–we’ll get a big shipment from Rosenblum’s in Skokie at the beginning of each session. They’re also often available used on Amazon. If you already have the books, plan to bring them to the first session.

As with the masechet, If you are unable, for financial reasons, to purchase a dictionary at this time, don’t hesitate to send us a private email  so that other arrangements can be made. Extra copies of these dictionaries will no longer be available for borrow if you have not made prior arrangements.


Due to the severe chemical sensitivities of several members of our community, including Rabbi Lappe, please be exceedingly careful not to wear any scented products to bet midrash, including perfume, after-shave, hand lotion, lip balm, moisturizer, etc.

We’re so looking forward to learning with you!

For more information, contact Amir at [email protected], or check out our Facebook page.