אף אתה עשה אזניך כאפרכסת וקנה לך לב מבין לשמוע את דברי מטמאים ואת דברי מטהרים את דברי אוסרין ואת דברי מתירין את דברי פוסלין ואת דברי מכשירין
Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya taught… make your ears like a funnel and acquire for yourself an understanding heart to hear both the statements of those who render objects ritually impure and the statements of those who render them pure; the statements of those who prohibit actions and the statements of those who permit them; the statements of those who deem items invalid and the statements of those who deem them valid.Babylonian Talmud, Chagigah 3b
Learning, teaching, and education are fundamental to how I view my role as a rabbi. I’m particularly curious about what our classical texts have to say about education and how we build community through learning.
I’m inspired by the piece of Talmud above, where you can see just how important a shared culture of open learning is to our rabbis – we are meant to attune our ears and hearts to learn from all – even those who speak the exact opposite of one another.
Below are some of my favourite classes I’ve taught, including source sheets and links to recordings.
The Night is Dark and Full of Terrors: Jewish Help for Nighttime Anxiety
When the lights are out, the world is quiet, and there are no more distractions.
That’s when anxiety often rears its ugly head. Late in the night, join Rabbi Jesse for some very human stories of how our tradition approaches anxiety, and how we can work together to calm the soul.
Oh, for God’s Sake: Belief in a World of Suffering
Why do bad things happen to good people? What does it mean to believe in, not believe in, or be angry with God during a time of great suffering and death? These are the big questions that humans have always grappled with, particularly in times of uncertainty.
This class taps into the astonishingly subversive approach to these questions that comes from the Book of Job, a story about speaking truth to power about belief in what God is and isn’t.
When the world doesn’t look the way you want it to, how do you know when it’s time to build bridges and when it’s time to get mad?
These sources explores how to balance moral outrage and civil discourse by learning from cognitive psychology, examining change leaders throughout history, and discussing Jewish texts. Through ancient and contemporary practices, gain tools to help you move beyond the angry tweet and mobilize others to effect positive change.
Star Treatment: The Ethics of Rating a Human Being
These sources explores what our halakhic and ethical responsibilities are in a ratings-based gig economy, and grapples with the question of what it means to give a low rating to another person, given questions of socio-economic status, customer service, and workers’ rights.
Convictions and Compromise
In today’s climate of ideological polarization, how do you know when it’s time to build understanding with philosophical opponents and when it’s time for absolute dedication to a cause?
These sources explore the different stories of Chanukah – a guerrilla revolt by religious fundamentalists set against the backdrop of a Jewish civil war – as both a warning and a model to learn from.
What is Torah Like?
My favourite piece of Talmud (Chagigah 3a-b) introduces some subversive and piercing ideas about the nature of Torah, and its implications on how we are meant to live and learn with each other.
In particular: how do you coexist in a community of fellow learners and practitioners, among those who have radically opposing ideas on core Jewish practices?
Welcoming the Stranger: Jewish Values on Immigration and Refugees
Jewish text often reminds us of our ancestors’ history as refugees and wandering immigrants, commanding us to love the stranger (36 times, to be exact). But what does welcoming the stranger actually mean in today’s complicated political climate?
These texts also explore the often fraught question of how to apply Judaism to contemporary political policies in a way imbued with integrity and respect for diversity of opinion.
Is God an Angry Vegan?
As plant-based diets grow in popularity, this class explores the biblical and rabbinic teachings on the ethics of eating—or not eating—meat. It asks us what our obligation is to the sources of our food, and how being mindful of this is not just a nice contemporary practice, but an idea encoded deeply within Jewish spirituality.
Savlanut (Patience) in a Time of Uncertainty
As days blend together and the movement of time feels like it has morphed, it can be harder to both exercise patience in the face of anxiety, and also to know when it’s time for some righteous impatience.
Through mussar, poetry, and psychology, this class explores some of the radical ideas Jewish spirituality offers about noticing our own tendency to be impatient or patient, and suggests practices that can help cultivate a greater sense of balance.
Old Words, New Vision: What a 1,500-Year-Old Text Can Teach Us About Modern Zionism
This course introduces a text-based approach to thinking about Zionism and Israel, exploring four Talmudic texts that might inform thinking on the nature of “diaspora,” minority rights, human dignity, and visionary leadership.
Pour Out Your Wrath: Jewish Ideas of Anger
The Tanakh and Talmud teach two fascinatingly different ideas when it comes to anger: on the one hand, anger is something to be strenuously avoided. One the other hand, there are instances when it is not only understood, but demanded!
This text study explores that tension and encourages learners to consider how our classical texts might inform an understanding of human emotion today.
The Democracy Dilemma
What does Judaism today have to say on dilemmas of collective decision-making, political power, and checks and balances? Is democracy even an idea reconcilable with Jewish ideas of power and responsibility.
Getting Away with Theft for the Sake of Teshuvah
Why is teshuvah (repentance) so hard? What gets in our way? What are some ways that we might encourage teshuvah? These texts explore thee foundational practices of teeshuvah – return/repentance – and introduce the radical Jewish idea that there might be a point where the value of individual teshuvah might compete with communal standards that deter crime.