Rabbi Yonah Lavery-Yisraeli
When I was a young woman living in Canada, there was nothing I wanted to do more than learn Talmud, but there was nowhere to do it. A few places in Toronto offered an hour-long discussion about once a week, but nothing that delved into the mechanics of the text, into the depths of its language. I didn’t want simply to enjoy Talmud — I wanted to build real skills that would enable me to turn it round and round and inside-out, to learn how to think like a sage. Programs like that exist in Canada, but they are open to men only, usually men living in a particular kind of Orthodox community. Anyone outside this category must go to Jerusalem or to New York.
That is precisely what I did. I went to Jerusalem to learn at the Conservative Yeshiva, the Pardes Institute of Jewish Learning, and, briefly, Matan. In this way I immersed myself in learning rabbinic literature from morning to night for around four years. It was exactly what I craved, and it gave me the tools I needed to keep on learning Talmud and halachic literature independently. I eventually also received rabbinic ordination from my closest teacher, a modern Orthodox rabbi on the forefront of the Orthodox movement to ordain women.
Now that I am back in Canada, I see that the situation here cries out for new growth. Torah is like water: it must be available to everybody and in every place. Because I have had the privilege of learning, I am happy to do the work of digging the well in our community, knowing that not everyone who wants to learn can get up and move to another country. To that end, I am starting a beit midrash (study hall) right here in Hamilton, a place where Jews can learn Talmud seriously, no matter what their gender, orientation, or background.
Our pilot program will take place from August 26 to 30. It will start on a Sunday, so that even those who cannot get time off work will be able to get a substantial taste. The program will finish with a celebratory gathering Thursday night, open to the wider community, when students will present what they have learned.
The last week of August will be in Elul, the month of inner reckoning which leads to responsible transformation. Do you worry that you have passed the stage of life where you can learn deeply? Do you have the feeling that authentic Judaism is not for “people like you”? Do you worry that your Hebrew skill level prevents you from ever grappling with Torah in its original language? I promise you that this is not the case. The Talmudic tradition is your inheritence, and you are able to become literate in it. It will be difficult, delightful work, and you are invited. For more information,visit http://shaharuth.blogspot.com/p/hamiltonbeitmidrash.html.