Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Come In, We're Open!

Excitement was in the air today. Whether it was due to the promise of pizza, or the fact that we all looked a little bit nicer, there was a sense of anticipation that hung over the learning today. After countless e-mails had been sent to friends, family, and random strangers, logistics were coordinated, and the usual last-minute dramas were attended to, my own feelings could best be summed up picturing Rav Elie in my head saying, in his own inimitable way, “Folks, this is it.”

The food was good. People of all ages and (non)denominations came. We celebrated Hadar’s transition to permanence, and the establishment of a place of constant learning for men and for women. While the topic of the text study was “Is Life About Torah or is Torah About Life,” the real theme of the evening was to work on closing the gap between the existence of the “Hadar Bubble,” and our mission to be present, often as actively as possible, for the community. After all, the work we do is meaningless if it only serves to impacts the lives of eighteen people until we lock the door of the yeshiva at the end of the day. Yet at the same time, the religious journeys that many of us are going through can be deeply personal. How do we navigate between the life of the mind, and our desire to live in the world?

Rav Eitan brought in a source by the Rambam, who expressed this very concern. The Rambam worries that the individual learner who sits in yeshiva all day studying Torah will not be able to translate his or her knowledge into a real-world context. When that happens, ironically, the Torah that the full-time scholar is studying ceases to become Torah. Yet the question doesn’t end there. The Kesef Mishneh and the Yam Shel Shlomo have their own worries; what can be done on a communal level to transmit Torah to the next generation?

In the end, there are two pieces to this puzzle, the individual and the community, and they each have to make a commitment to meet the other halfway. Rav Shai put it nicely when he said that “every step towards God is a step towards—not away from—the world.” As we engage in this intense, sometimes deeply personal process we should be aware of a constant movement towards connection with others. At the same time we move to connect with others, they can take the step of joining us in the Beit Midrash, and providing us with a support system that we can rely on. And what a glorious meeting that will be.

Folks, this is the start of something big.

Look! We're Famous!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

This Is It!

And by "it, I mean, "the chance to discover where it is I've disappeared to since June." I'll be wearing nice shoes, so you know it will be worth it.
See you there!

"Any Torah study without work will ultimately be lost and lead to sin."
Pirkei Avot 2:2

"I am abandoning all practical training for my children and I will only teach my children Torah."
Mishnah Kiddushin 4:14

Is life about Torah, or is Torah about life? [Ed. note: yes] And what's at stake in the question, anyway?

As we celebrate the opening of Yeshivat Hadar's full-year program, come join us as we explore the relationship between our commitment to Torah and our work in the world.

Yeshivat Hadar's Full-Year Celebration:
Wednesday, October 21
7:30 pm -- 9:30 pm

The Schafler Forum at Congregation Rodeph Sholom
7 West 83rd Street
New York, NY 10024

RSVP by email: or by phone 212.284.6549

Mechon Hadar is an institute that empowers young Jews to build vibrant Jewish communities through:
· Yeshivat Hadar: the first full-time egalitarian yeshiva in North America
· The Minyan Project: resources, networking, and consulting for more than 50 independent minyanim nationwide

Mechon Hadar is grateful to multiple individual supporters and national foundations. For a complete list of foundation supporters, visit

To learn more about Mechon Hadar visit our website:

Sunday, October 18, 2009

At Yeshivat Hadar, the Learning Never Ends

This weekend, some of us decided to forgo our Shabbos naps (a pretty major sacrifice) and went to a shaloshudes (third Shabbos meal) talk at the apartment of the inimitable Chippy Hait. Chippy, a Hadar alumna from this past summer, decided for her project to initiate a series of talks on Shabbos. There to inaugurate her first one was Ben Mernick, a Hadar summer fellow from 2008, who spoke about the halachic approach to risky behavior. Drawing on sources from the Talmud’s discussion of which women are allowed to use diaphragms (or the ancient equivalent) to Rav Moshe Feinstein’s teshuva regarding the halachic permissibility of smoking, Ben described four categories of risky behavior:

  1. Taboo and dangerous
  2. Not taboo, not dangerous
  3. Taboo, not dangerous
  4. Not taboo, dangerous

While it was relatively easy to find examples for the first two categories, in discussing what would go in the latter two, it became clear that much of what is considered taboo or dangerous can depend on an individual’s upbringing, ideology, and/or the subgroups of people he or she interacts with. In other words, it becomes a statement about values. Rabbinic texts don’t deal with the first two categories; the second is simply living life nondramatically, while the first has no reasons why it should be allowed. When it comes to the other two categories, it becomes difficult, both for those of us in the room, and for the rabbis, to draw the line between what should be avoided, though luckily if one doesn’t God supposedly protect fools (such is the claim in Psalms), and what is simply too dangerous and should be forbidden. When Rav Moshe writes that smoking should not be assur because most people who smoke do not end up dying from it, he is expressing a different outlook and set of values than the Tsitz Eliezer, who argues that the health dangers associated with smoking renders it forbidden. And those of us in the room who were appalled by Rav Moshe’s teshuva were biased by our own cultural and social values.

Ending the weekend on a high note (literally and figuratively) was the Uptown Salon, which also began as a student project from the summer of 2008. For almost a year, artists have met once a month at Andres’ apartment to share their work and creative visions. It was a privilege to be in a room with so many talented people. There were musical performances, poetry and prose readings, and one woman showed us her artwork inspired by Shacharis. Andres’ band will be performing at 8pm, Wednesday October 28th, at 254 W. 72nd St, and the Uptown Salon will be meeting again next month. The Salon was a wonderful reminder of how many creative people there are in the world (both in and out of Hadar), and that sometimes Torah can be learned through media other than ancient or rabbinic texts.

Chodesh tov.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Social Justice

I had a fantastic post planned about Rav Shai’s introduction today of our social justice project, visiting the sick and the elderly. And then Jen Taylor Friedman, Soferet extraordinaire and an alumna from Yeshivat Hadar summer ’09, sent me this blog post of hers and stole my thunder.


When writing Torah, the sofer is supposed to speak each word before
writing it.* The speech somehow causes the essence of the words to
waft through the air in holy, mystical fashion and settle onto the
parchment, to be followed in short order by the letters themselves.
Like spreading rose petals before a bride, if you will.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Vacation Adventures

Mazel tov to Hadar alum J.G on the birth of a daughter! It’s nice to know that Hadarniks have been busy with the simchas.

Another Hadar person on! R.L has been living and working in New Orleans, and shares her thoughts on the connection between rebuilding the city, and the holiday season. It’s great reading, and she’s doing amazing work.

Thanks to a Friend of Hadar and R.G for finding this: Because we’re not the only ones who might find certain aspects of Sukkot a little strange:

At Hadar over the summer I led a discussion group called “Meat Eaters Anonymous,” which was neither anonymous, nor for meat eaters, but was about the significance of our food choices and what we choose to eat—or not eat. One of the things we discussed was the emotional connection that people have to food, which can make the decision to become a vegetarian very difficult. So I found this article to be quite validating of those thoughts:

I’ve read accounts by women who discuss how uncomfortable they feel in shul being the only woman wearing a tallis and/or tefillin, or having to make the decision whether to wear a tallis or tefillin in a shul that is unused to seeing women decked out in ritual garments, and might be hostile to them. For the first time in my life, I could relate to their experience, when I went to shul over chol hamoed and found that I was the only person in the room not wearing a tallis. It was an interesting experience, and one that gave me a new appreciation for how women in particular identify themselves ideologically, and thereby marginalize themselves, in davening spaces through what they choose to wear. The mix of clothing, gender, and prayer spaces is a difficult subject to confront, and it’s something I’d explore more during the year.

Zman Stav at Yeshivat Hadar starts tomorrow! Come learn with us, and come for our opening event on October 21st (details to follow)!

Friday, October 2, 2009

I'm on the Internet!

The post is for a Birthright:NEXT series called Harvest to Harvest, which is looking to turn this holiday season of repentance and reflection into a call for action.

Though Yeshivat Hadar has no official programming to combat homelessness, as a Friend of Hadar pointed out to me the other night, it is nonetheless a topic that is discussed often. Over the summer this included, in addition to informal conversations, a talk by Ruth Messinger about our obligations to help those in our communities, and a shiur given by Rav Elie about the nature of tzedaka. While I have not yet managed to consistently turn my ideas about homelessness into practical action, and am still searching for the safest and most meaningful ways to do so, I am hoping that what I have written can serve as a metaphorical shofer blast for me the next time I pass someone in the street who has no warm bed to go home to.