Human Rights Beit Midrash In Jerusalem This Fall

Yakar announces the continuation of its Human Rights Beit Midrash (House of Study) beginning October 30th in Jerusalem.
For many Jews, commitment to issues of social justice comes without saying. Social action would appear to be as much a part of Jewish culture as our literary and religious traditions. Jews have forever been at the forefront of issues such as women’s rights, civil rights, queer rights, environmental justice, and so forth. However, many Jews who feel empowered by Judaism’s humanitarianism often feel alienated by its religious heritage, finding the religious worldview to be inherently dogmatic and chockfull of repressive ideologies including nationalism, racism, sexism and homophobia.
Those who have such an impression of their heritage are lax in interest to engage with Judaim’s religious tradition, and therefore are often unaware of the fact that within Judaism itself, there has forever been a countercultural movement — originating within the religious community itself — to confront and challenge these negative tendencies, and to refute them by presenting counter-arguments based upon Jewish myth and law.
This tradition of challenging authority is, in fact, the originating point of Judaism itself: Abraham rejects the religion of his father and sets out into the world to make his own way. Jacob receives the name Israel (“Straight to God”) for wrestling an angel sent by God and overcoming him. The story of Moses begins with a fed-up, bourgeois, assimilated Jew clubbing an over-zealous slavemaster on the back of the head and burying him in the sand!
Our obligation to challenge religious authority is further affirmed by God’s concessions to both Abraham and Moses, who argue on behalf of humanity when two defiant communities are faced with destruction. There are also tales in the Talmud in which our Rabbis overturn the rule of law to which God shrugs and says “So be it.” Thus, ultimately, our tradition tells us that God wants “his” word to be challenged, and that we should not accept that which we know in our hearts is wrong.
Discovering this element of the Jewish tradition and engaging with it is a way for Jews committed to social justice to feel empowered by their tradition rather than revulsed by it. Judaism is not the monolith it is too often perceived as, and is every bit as radical and revolutionary as we ourselves aspire to be. It would therefore be ideal were we not to allow the dogmatic and repugnant to claim ownership over our tradition, and in turn our identities, but rather claim our tradition for ourselves, by engaging with it and thus fostering a new Jewish majority which leaves the bigots small in numbers and thereby irrelevant.
This path can only begin with learning. However, there are unfortunately few institutions available which teach such “radical” Torah while emphasizing humanitarian issues, and offering critical viewpoints on topics such as Jewish nationalism. Thus I am pleased to announce The Human Rights Beit Midrash at Yakar. A progressive Orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem, Yakar offers a day learning program which focuses exclusively on issues of human rights in Torah, addressing all issues imaginable pertaining to the subject, while helping those new to Jewish learning acquire skills to become self-enabled students. All of this transpires in a non-coercive, co-ed, egalitarian learning environment with charming and thoroughly-informed educators.
The program runs for 25 weeks, beginning October 30, and has a tax-deductable tuition cost of $4000. In addition to the daily course curriculum, the program offers evening classes and workshops with esteemed scholars from the local community, presentations by leading figures in Israeli and Palestinian social action movements, encounter experiences with Jewish and Arab communities beyond the Green Line, and volunteer “matchmaking” with social action organizations working in Israel and the Occupied Territories.
For more information click here or e-mail info [at] yakar [dot] org. Please note that there are scholarships available for independent Jewish study available through the United Jewish Communites and other Jewish organizations which you can research online.
Note: I am a student of the program and this is not official correspondence from Yakar itself.

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