syllabus - Aleph | Alliance for Jewish Renewal


syllabus - Aleph | Alliance for Jewish Renewal
SW 15: The Holiness of Relationship, Working Syllabus, page 1
Teachers and Friends, Lovers, and Adversaries: The Holiness of Relationship in Jewish
Mystical Teachings. Rabbi Elliot K. Ginsburg
Jewish traditions have developed a rich vocabulary for encountering the divine while
simultaneously realizing the inter-connectedness of all life. Our exploration of the world of
relation will unfold in four dimensions, beginning with (1) rabbinic and hasidic teachings on
friendship as a spiritual practice; moving to (2) sources on the role of Teacher or Mentor in one’s
spiritual growth; (3) exploring the vocabulary of loving intimacy developed in the Song of Songs
and other select sources; and concluding with (4) the challenge of discovering the face of the
divine in all human beings, even adversaries. Here we ask: what might we learn from a barplugta and from frictional, aversive relations, from those who are not part of our “soul-cluster”;
how might we stretch our awareness to hold diversity (its joys and its radical challenges)? Our
teachings, anchored in rabbinic, kabbalistic and hasidic sources, and in the warp and woof of
relational life, will be enriched by practices and teachings advanced in Jewish Renewal, from
Shefa Gold’s understanding of spirit-buddy practice, to Reb Zalman’s vision of rebbe-craft, and
the cultivation of spiritual intimacy. Weaving together text, reflection, and spiritual practice, this
is learning you can “take home.” Final projects might include: a 5 page paper on key theme; a
crafted spiritual exercise emerging from our study (with explication); a translation and
commentary of a key Hebrew text; or a summary essay that integrates the key learnings from the
class. (More suggestions on our Moodle website)
Structure of the Days... (‫ זרימה אפשרית‬/‫ )נתיב צפוי‬Envisioned Flow with potential themes:
1.5 class Sessions: 1‫ מכל מלמדי השכלתי‬Teachers and Students, Masters and Disciples.
Finding a teacher; models of mentorship; shimusha de-Rabbanan, learning through
apprenticeship/service; taking leave of a teacher. Teacher as Neshamah K’lalit; Teacher as Cocreator/facilitator: sharing a “pregnant” teaching and birthing new Torah.
1.5 class Sessions: 2‫או חברותא או מיתותא‬: Spiritual Friendship as ongoing practice.
Comrades on the Path; Honesty and Elemental Trust; Battle of Wits, Dialogue of Hearts; Sharing
the Torah of Life; Eros and Torah; ‫הוכח תוכיח‬---on giving “loving, reflective feedback.”
Finding one’s spiritual cluster vs. learning from divergent ways/orientations.
1 session: Intimate Blessings: (Parenting and) Partnering, Sexuality and Eros. “Had the
Torah not been given at Sinai, the world could have been conducted according to Song of
Songs.” (Midrash Shir ha-Shirim). Potential themes include: On ties that bind; Sexuality and
intimacy; Beyond Gender Binaries; Growing Old together; The Blessing of Parenting: Holding
and Letting Go, Holding and Letting Go. On this theme, what are our ancestor texts? And: What
must be fundamentally transformed?
1 session: Adversaries and Anonymous (“Thin”) Encounters ---Beholding the Other.
Intimate Enemies and Stretching One’s Vessel. Nequddah Tovah: Beholding and Mirroring the
other’s Good Points. Bar Plugta as Torah-Frenemy; Daring to Risk Peace: The Courage to NotKnow; Tzelem Elohim, or “by dint of Being Human.”
ramping up—To be read prior to Smicha Week. While we will probe mostly
(primarily!) primary sources in class, the preparatory reading tilts to the secondary literature. All
readings will be available on our class website. Most are very brief, yet resonant!! (Hummmm).
1. Reread in Pirqei Avot to mean: “I have learned from all who have taught me”
2. The words attributed to shaman Honi ha-Ma’agel, “Give me friendship or give me death!”
SW 15: The Holiness of Relationship, Working Syllabus, page 2
That said, there are two books I ask you to purchase (or have access to) during your prep: Arthur
Waskow, Godwrestling: Round Two; and the Bloch and Bloch edition of Song of Songs. Davqa
that edition!! Please bring the latter to SW. Here’s the preparatory reading:
An opening ‫כוונה‬: Arthur Waskow, Godwrestling, Round 2: “Sacred Knowledge and Academic
Knowledge”: 206-210. (Torah le-shem mah u-mi? In the service of what/whom?)
Theme 1: Teachers and Students
Melila Hellner-Eshed, “Teachers & Students” (Encyclopedia of Love in World Religions)
Arthur Green, Tormented Master on Nahman of Breslov, “Master & Disciples” (excerpt)
Simcha Bunem of Przysucha, Tale: “Where the True Treasure is to be Found”
Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach (excerpts) chap. 1, 3-4
Danya Ruttenberg, Surprised by God: 153-165
Zalman on Rebbe-craft (and Royal Jelly): excerpt from “The Future of Neo-Hasidism”
Quick Takes from Mariana Caplan, Halfway Up the Mountain: The Error of
Premature Claims to Enlightenment. Excerpts on Gifts and Guidance, Challenges and
Abuse in the Master-Disciple Relationship (including insights on these themes by Reb
Recommended: Arthur Waskow, Godwrestling II, chap. 10: “The Question is the Answer”;
George Steiner, Lessons of the Masters; and Reb Zalman’s book, The Geologist of the Soul
Theme 2: Spiritual Friendship (Seeing and Being Seen)
A. Waskow, Godwrestling Round II: “Face to Face with God: 290-292
A.J. Heschel, “To Grow in Wisdom” (excerpt)
Shefa Gold, “Spirit Buddies: Theory and Practice”
Oliver Sacks, “My Own Life” (Op-ed piece)
Theme 3: Intimate Blessings: Parenting and Partnering, Sexuality and Eros
Sharon Olds, “Watching Them Asleep” (Poem)
Bloch and Bloch ed. “Song of Songs” chap. 1-2:14; 4:8-5:16, 7:12-14; 8:5-10 and
8:13-14; Robert Alter: Afterword (119-131)
Excerpts from We Two: Eve Ilsen/ Zalman Schachter Shalom on Loving Partnership
A. Waskow, Godwrestling, Round Two: “Do Not Stir Up Love Until it Please”
Shefa Gold, Excerpts from In the Fever of Love: “A Call to Intimacy” and “The Ten
Commandments of the Song of Songs”
Recommended: A small bilingual anthology of Medieval Hebrew Love Poems (in hetero
and same-sex keys)
Theme 4: The Challenge of Tzelem Elohim—On Adversaries and Anonymous Relations;
On Encountering the Other
One page excerpt from Emmanuel Levinas: On the Face
Chaim Grade, “My Quarrel with Hersh Rasseyner” (short story)
A. Waskow, Godwrestling, Round 2: “From Heel to Godwrestler: Jacob and Esau”; &
“The Spiral of Torah.”
Shaul Magid, “The Dark Side of Purim”
An Interview with Menachem Froman,” (Haaretz, July 2012)
Raja Shehadeh, “An Imagined Sarha: Wadi Dalb” (from his Palestinian Walks)
SW 15: The Holiness of Relationship, Working Syllabus, page 3
Recommended, Crossing the Cultures: Short film Danielle Schwartz: The Mirror Image: here;
and Stephen Mitchell on Metta-Meditation, from Meetings with the Archangel: A Comedy of the
Spirit: 68-106.