Jewish Learning, Anytime

Dive into text learning any time of the year. Our 2017 learning theme is Beauty and Ugliness.

Click on any of the titles to expand the learning content. The most recent content is at the top of the list.

  • Use the theme as a way to think in new ways about texts and concepts that you may have studied before
  • Study texts and ideas that are related to the calendar of Jewish holidays
  • Jumpstart your individual, partnered or group learning with some of the discussion questions provided

Sukkot

A Beautiful Sukkah

The Talmudic sages draw a connection between the Hebrew word for “glorify Him” (Exodus 15:2) — וּהֵ֔ וְאנְַו — and a
Hebrew word for “beauty” — נאה) .These words share the root nun-aleph-hey.) They suggest that the way to glorify God is to “beautify yourself before Him in mitzvot” by performing mitzvot as beautifully as possible. In this excerpt of Talmud (Tractate Berakhot, 133b) the Sages emphasize that the ritual objects themselves should be beautiful. A beautiful sukkah or beautiful ink can be made beautiful through our intentions, our care, or by in some other way being made unique. When we add beauty to the sukkah or the ink, we are investing more of ourselves into the mitzvah. Read this text and discussion questions from our curriculum:


Example discussion questions:

  • What do the objects called “beautiful” in this passage have in common?
  • What distinguishes a sukkah from a “beautiful sukkah“, or ink from “beautiful ink”? How does an experience change when you put the adjective “beautiful” before it?

Rabbi Steinsaltz reflects on Sukkot

When you think of a sukka, what comes to mind? Rabbi Steinsaltz sees the sukka as a divine hug:

According to the halakha, the sukka is made of two sides, with one side the length of a tefach (a handsbreadth). The sukka, in its physical form, is, in a way, a hug. The inner sense of the holiday of Sukkot is not one of remembering anything in particular, but welcoming the divine hug.

Read more remarks by Rabbi Steinsaltz with ways of looking at Sukkot.

Questions like these, and more texts, are part of our easy-to-use curriculum, which is available to download FREE for registered communities. Registration is also free – host a Global Day event where YOU are and put your community on the Global Jewish Map!

Rosh HaShana

Beautiful Spaces

As many of us will spend a lot of time in synagogue during the holidays, ask yourself these questions next time you are in a holy space, or in a beautiful place:

  • What is the most beautiful place where you have prayed?
  • What made that place beautiful?
  • How might artwork or beautiful surroundings enhance your relationship with Judaism?

The above images are from a recreation of the synagogue at Gwoździec. The original was destroyed in 1941, and this recreation was completed in 2014. It is on display at POLIN Museum of the Polish Jews, in Warsaw.

Learn more about beautiful spaces in our curriculum unit “Appreciating Beauty and Art“, available for registered communities. Sign up today!


Repentance: In Praise of the Reed

The Babylonian Talmud (tractate Ta’anit, page 20a-b) includes a story told “in praise of the reed”. During the month of Elul, around the time of the new year and Yom Kippur, forgiveness and self-reflection are central themes of the holidays. Read this story from the Talmud, included in this year’s Global Day Curriculum, and ask questions about what you have read.

English translation [bold text] and commentary [plain text] by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, from the Koren Talmud Bavli

Example discussion questions:

  1. What does the Talmud mean by, “A person should be soft like a reed, and he should not be stiff like a cedar”?
  2. Why did the man withhold forgiveness for Rabbi Elazar’s behavior? How and why does his attitude change?
  3. Is forgiveness a type of flexibility? If so, why or why not?

Hanna: Prayers and Tears on Rosh HaShana

NEW! Special preview of the forthcoming Steinsaltz Bible

Read the Haftara for Rosh HaShana, on Hanna*

As we join in the Rosh HaShana prayers, the biblical Hanna is at our side. She whispers to each of us about her yearning, her pain and the possibility of triumph. Her prayers form the very framework of our synagogue service. In his commentary on Samuel 1, Rabbi Steinsaltz explains how Hanna is an important example during Rosh HaShana: one’s fate can shift between extremes in an instant. Download or read the preview.*

“Hanna’s anguished plea becomes a paradigm for prayer, and indeed many laws of prayer are derived from it…[We] read this haftara on Rosh HaShana because, according to tradition, Hanna, like Sarah, whose story appears in the Torah reading of the day, were both remembered by God on Rosh HaShana.”
*Please be thoughtful when sharing the Tanakh excerpt: while we encourage you to share your learning experiences, this very early preview is not for general distribution.

The Cry of Four Biblical Mothers: How to Transform Tears Into Triumph

The Bible seldom describes mothers crying. But when it does, we ought to pay attention. Rabbi Pinchas Allouche leads us on a four-step journey as we explore and learn life-lessons from the unique cries of four biblical mothers: Hagar, Rachel, Hannah, and Sisera’s Mother.

Beautiful Jerusalem

Jerusalem: Perfect in Beauty

The connection to the supernal worlds produces a flow of holiness through the Holy of Holies, Temple, and Temple Mount to the entire city – not just to the exalted things in the city, but to all its physical parts: its houses, its stones, even its thorns, and all who dwell in it, great and small. The stones of Jerusalem are different; its thorns are all of gold.

Jerusalem is “the city perfect in beauty,” more beautiful than many beautiful cities in the world. But the city’s beauty does not stem from handsome buildings or lovely external design. As a rule, the opposite is true. Jerusalem’s beauty, its sun and light and other beautiful things with which it is endowed, stem from its inwardness, from its holiness.

The surplus of Jerusalem’s inwardness, the drops that overflow from its holiness, are what make it beautiful and give it grace. The Midrash says that when God finished writing the Torah, He wiped the pen on Moses’ hair, and for that reason, “his face was radiant” [Exodus 34:29] and it was impossible to look at him. Similarly, the crumbs of holiness, the bits of surplus spirituality in the air, are what make Jerusalem beautiful in the physical world.

Model: Temple Mount in Jerusalem | Leen Rittmeyer, York Model Making and Display Ltd. | Collection of Yeshiva University Museum, “Jerusalem: City of Gold, Bronze and Light” is on display through July 30, 2017.

It does not matter whether the architecture of Jerusalem is extraordinarily beautiful or not. When one looks at the city as a whole, there is nothing more beautiful than it. When something is truly beautiful, its flaws do not detract from its great beauty; on the contrary, they give it added grace.

Thus, even the things that are not beautiful about it join in forming Jerusalem; every part, every corner, and every crumb are there in order to add beauty.

Jerusalem’s beauty slowly spreads to its various neighborhoods. Indeed, it takes some time until a new neighborhood is absorbed into Jerusalem and becomes part of it; its inhabitants must also with time turn into Jerusalemites. Just as when a person enters a perfume shop, perfume adheres to him whether he likes it or not, the Jerusalemite nature sticks to its inhabitants. To be sure, this process may sometimes take a generation, but ultimately everything is absorbed into Jerusalem, and this adds to its essential physical perfection.


From “Jerusalem Day”, Change & Renewal. Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz. Maggid Books.

Shavuot

“Learning is not just a matter of being a recipient of material but of acquiring it.”
—Rabbi Steinsaltz

From Tanakh:

Special PreviewThe Ten Commandments.

Download this text sample from the forthcoming commentary on the Tanakh by Rabbi Steinsaltz.*

From Writings of Rabbi Steinsaltz:

Curricular Units:

*Please be thoughtful when sharing the Tanakh excerpt: while we encourage you to share your learning experiences, this very early preview is not for general distribution.

Videos:

A Beautiful Passover

Passover Haggada

Dig into the story in the Hagadda about the rabbis having a seder in Bnei Brak, excerpted from Rabbi Steinsaltz’s Passover Haggada, Koren Edition.

Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 118a

Interested in gaining greater understanding about the tradition to drink four cups of wine at the seder? Dive into the Talmud’s conversation about this in Tractate
English translation [bold text] and commentary [plain text] by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz in the Koren Talmud Bavli.

Example discussion questions:

  1. Have you ever wondered why these rabbis in Benei Brak did not realize morning had come? What are your explanations?
  2. What do you think of Rabbi Steinsaltz’s explanation? Do you have any of your own insights that can light up your Passover Seder?

From our videos


The Taming of Desire“, with Rabbi Alex Israel

How Moses Learned to Speak” with Rabbi David Wolpe

From our curricula:

Moses: The Birth of a Leader (from the 2014 Global Day curriculum on Heroes and Villains, Saints and Fools: The People in the Book)

Purim: Heroes, Miracles and More

A video by Rabbi Steinsaltz on the nature of miracles:

“A Miracle is Breaking the Form”, excerpted from his Global Day On Air discussion about Nature.

Units from past Global Day curricula:



English translation [bold text] and commentary [plain text] by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz via Sefaria’s William Davidson Talmud. Read more from the Megilla at sefaria.org.

Example Discussion questions:

  • The Megilla describes Esther as beautiful. In the Talmud, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korha is saying that Esther was “greenish” – not beautiful on the outside. How does he describe the source of her beauty?
  • Does the possibility of Esther being “green” change how you think about beauty? About Esther?

The Ugly Vessel

The Babylonian Talmud (tractate Ta’anit, page 7a) tells us a story about the daughter of a Roman emperor saying to an unattractive rabbi, “Woe to glorious wisdom such as yours, which is contained in an ugly vessel.” English translation [bold text] and commentary [plain text] by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz via Sefaria’s William Davidson Talmud.

Read the three-paragraph story from the Koren Talmud Bavli

Example discussion questions:

  1. What do you find surprising or troubling about this text?
  2. In this metaphor, a beautiful vessel spoils its contents. What is the Talmud telling us about the value of beauty?
  3. What connection is being made between beauty and wisdom, inner and outer beauty?

Tu B’Shevat

Global Day Curricular Units

For everyone: Planting for the Future
For Middle School:The Power of Planting
For Elementary School:Loving the Trees

Supplemental Reading: Rabbi Steinsaltz on Nature

“Nature” is a full chapter of Rabbi Steinsaltz’s book, Simple Words.


Sefaria Sourcesheets

This is our first time making Sefaria sourcesheets for our curricular materials. Do you like them? Let us know if they’re helpful.

Loving the Trees

Planting for the Future

The Power of Planting