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236 Kane Street / Brooklyn, NY 11231 / 718 875-1550

Adult Education: Open Beit Midrash

IMAGE-OPEN BEIT MIDRASH-2014-15-2 (320x800)

  A weekly opportunity to study Jewish texts, hear live Jewish music, and enjoy good food.

Tuesday Evenings

October 21, 2014 to April 28, 2015

6:45 – 7:30   Refreshments

7:30 – 9:00    Learn! Classes, Lectures, Demonstrations

The Beit Midrash (House of Study) has traditionally been the cultural center for creative spiritual conversation, a place to bring everyone together in an atmosphere of focused learning, energetic discussion and personal search.

Using the educational techniques of a traditional Yeshiva, but in a progressive, inclusive, Brownstone Brooklyn way, our study will center around tables, with provocative texts and helpful resources arrayed before the students.

The Open Beit Midrash is for learners of all levels. We value diversity. Come whether you have studied Jewish texts for 20 years or are a complete novice. Madrichim, learning guides, will roam the Beit Midrash to welcome students and help them find an appropriate level of study.

Each Beit Midrash evening begins with refreshments at 6:45, followed by various opportunities for Jewish learning (i.e. the “Beit Midrash”) at 7:30.

The Open Beit Midrash takes place on all Tuesday evenings (except for national holidays) from October 21st to April 28th.  The program is built around three week mini-courses, offered almost every Tuesday.

Cost is $36 per three week course, or you may purchase a Beit Midrash subscription for the year:  As many courses as you like for 24 Tuesday evenings. Per person: $180. Scholarships are available; contact Rabbi Samuel H. Weintraub.

Download the new Beit Midrash brochure with course descriptions


Biblical Text I: The Mark of Lilith: Discovering Hidden Meanings in Biblical Stories Through Master Works of Art (Oct 21st, 28th, Nov 4th) Samuel Klein
In the first class, The Mark of Lilith, we will use Paul Gaugin’s imagery, Apocrypha and contemporary midrash to evoke the mythical figure of the demon Lilith, Adam’s first love. Our second class, The Banishment of Hagar, will explore the figure of Hagar – concubine of the Patriarch, Abraham – in 17th century Dutch painting and seek to understand why Hagar came to be viewed to sympathetically by the citizens of the Dutch Republic, avid Bible readers. Our final installment, Fall of the House of David, will examine several paintings of the infamous scene of Bathsheba bathing, watched secretly by King David, portrayed by Rubens and his student, Rembrandt. Why did this scene fascinate Master and student? What are teh key differences in their interpretation of the text? The course will be followed by an optional tour of the Metropolitan Museum

Biblical Text II: The Prophetic Experience (Nov 11th, 18th, Dec 2nd) Dr. Rabbi Barat Ellman
What does it mean to be a prophet? The prophetic experience in Israel as represented in the Tanakh was both sublime and terrible. Isaiah and Ezekiel had to perform uncomfortable and degrading symbolic actions in order to warn Israel of the consequences of its behavior. Hosea’s personal life – his marriage, his parenting – was wholly taken over and made to dramatize the relationship between God and god’s people. Jeremiah suffered physically and psychically in the service of the divine program. In this course, we will read passages from the books of Hosea, Isaiah, Ezekial and Jeremiah which shed light on the nature of the phophetic experience and the extraordinary effect it had on those chosen by God to be God’s mouthpiece. A few prophetic accounts from other ancient near cultures will be brought for comparison’s sake.

Talmudic Texts I (Dec 9th, 16th, 23rd) Rabbi Jeffrey Fox
The Talmud can be seen as a window into the creative and subversive Rabbinic mind. We will study core passages from the Talmud that help give meaning to the modern and postmodern life. Our theme will revolve around the loss of prophecy and the flowering of Halakha, or Jewish law. The Rabbis were inheritors of a tradition that was based on direct divine access. When Moses did not know the law he could ask God. In a post-prophecy world the Rabbis had to envision a different system of law that could still create meaning in the lives of their constituencies. In that context we will address the rituals of Chanukah, Purim and the lighting of Shabbat candles.

Talmudic Texts II: A Common Sense Approach to Torah Interpretation – Restoring 2nd Century Rabbi Yishael to Contemporary Jewish Life (Jan 6th, 13th, 20th) Rabbi Reuven Greenvald
In the second century CE, two influential Talmudic sages, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yishmael, propounded different approaches to interpreting the Torah. Rabbi Akiva (and his school), whose approach became dominant, reads the Torah as wholly divine – it is not written in ordinary language – and thus, special forms of decoding – midrashic and mystical – unlock the Torah’s teachings. In contrast, Rabbi Yishmael (and his school) assert that the Torah “speaks in human language” and not all of it was spoken by God on Mt. Sinai. It is accessible, not esoteric, and a practical guide, not a mystical tract. We will study halakhic (legal) and aggadic (narrative and homiletical) texts from Rabbi Yishmael and his school to appreciate this pragmatic voice within the interpretative tradition, and to see the spiritual power of how Rabbi Yishmael views the human-divine partnership in the here-and-now. In these sessions, we will use traditional hevruta (paired) learning to facilitate personal engagement. Each session will culminate with looking at our present Jewish lives (individual and communal) in light of how we read the texts.

Medieval Jewish Literature: Three Poets of the Hebrew Golden Age (Jan 27th, Feb 3rd, 10th) Prof. Raymond Scheindlin
The Jewish communities of the medieval Muslim world enjoyed a degree of security and prosperity that enabled them to be culturally innovative. The accomplishments of the Jewish intellectuals of Muslim Spain were particularly spectacular, especially in the field of Hebrew poetry. We will read and discuss selections from the works of three of the greatest figures of the Hebrew Golden Age: Samuel the Nagid, a political figure who was the first author of war poetry in Hebrew after the Bible; Solomon Ibn Gabirol, a philosopher whose poetry reflects both his intellectual and secular ambitions; and Judah Halevi, who turned against the values of his Arabized world in favor of an ideal of religious authenticity and devotion to the Land of Israel, but who never stopped writing secular poetry. Among the themes we will deal with will be love, wine-drinking, friendship, religion, ambition, exile and the Land of Israel.

The Prayer Book: “Who Are We? What is our Life? – A Subversive Exploration of Identity in the Prayers, Poems and Melodies of the Siddur (Feb 24th, Mar 3rd, 10th) Rabbi Sami Barth
The Siddur is a complex, organically growing, existentially diverse array of texts from every era of Jewish history. Our lived encounter with the Siddur, in synagogue services (and perhaps private moments) is no less complex, engaging us with tradition, duty, yearning, doubt and passion of heart, mind and soul.
We will use the Shabbat Siddur and High Holiday Machzor of the Conservative Movement to open conversation and reflection about the many ways in which we can understand and respond to the Siddur, both text and “beyond the text”. The sessions will engage with classic and contemporary commentaries, musical interpretation and experience, and multi-media clips for illustration and experience. There will be time and opportunity to share individual and personal responses to the texts and themes.
Looking at challenging texts from the 10th Century until 2014, we will especially explore personal identity, the place of Torah in our spiritual life, and the slowly evolving understanding of Israel and Zion in the liturgy.

Modern Jewish Literature: The Poetry of Modern Israel (Mar 17th, 24th, 31st) Ms. Orly Dabush Nitzan
Modern Hebrew poetry, which began with the poetry of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (Italy, 18th C.), has gone through changes and even upheavals over the last three centuries. From poetry that first dealt with philosophy, the world in general, and the community, it has developed into personal poetry that turns inward to the world of the soul.
We will focus on Hebrew poetry written in Israel since the early 1950’s. As mirrors of the spirit of this period, the selected poems will teach us about changes in Israeli society as a whole, and in the lives of individuals. We will encounter the poems of David Avidan, Yehuda Amichai, Dalia Rabikovitch, and others, Through them, we will examine three themes: relationship to the land of Israel, relationship with God, and contemporary women’s issues.

Chasidic Texts: “God Wants the Heart, and the Heart Wants God”: Chasidic Reflections on Kavvanah/Spiritual Intention (Apr 14th, 21st, 28th) Rabbi Sami Barth
The Chasidic sages were among Judaism’s deepest teachers about the soul and the inner life. Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov and his students (modern-day Ukraine, late 18th and early 19th Centuries), offered great insight into how to direct the heart in worship, how to cultivate our spiritual faculties, and how to attain feelings of love, awe and intimacy with God. Please join us to study the words of the Baal Shem Tov himself, his successor Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezritch and their friends, colleagues and students.


Rabbi Sami Barth is president of the Israel Seder Project ( and a sought after speaker, teacher and congregational consultant on Jewish prayer and liturgy. He has served as a professor of liturgy at the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Academy of Jewish Religion, and serves as a member of the core faculty of the ALEPH Ordination Programs, teachingliturgy and halachah.

Orly Daboosh-Nitzan is the first community shlicha (Israeli emissary) for Brownstone Brooklyn. In this role, she helps to create deeper levels of engagement with Israel both within the Jewish community and in broader Brooklyn. She has been actively involved in the struggle for social justice in Israel. A lawyer and educator based in Tel Aviv, Orly has been the director of Neve Schechter ( and the chair of Shacharit-Creating Common Cause (an organization dedicated to creating a flourishing, sustainable Israel) (

Dr. Rabbi Barat Ellman (Jewish Theological Seminary of America, ’04, ‘11) is a scholar of Hebrew Bible. Her areas of research interests include: biblical religion, biblical semantics and ideology, and the social world reflected in the Bible. She recently published Memory and Covenant: The Role of Israel’s and God’s Memory in Sustaining the Deuteronomic and Priestly Covenants (Fortress, 2013) and is currently working on studies about pain and suffering in the Bible. A Wexner Graduate Fellow and a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Dr. Ellman is an adjunct professor of Old Testament at Fordham University and an adjunct professor of Bible at the Jewish Theological Seminary.
A classically trained vocalist, Rabbi Ellman serves as a cantor for the High Holy Days at Congregation Beth Emeth in Herndon, VA. She lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn with her husband, Jay Golan.

Rabbi Jeffrey S. Fox currently serves as the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Maharat, the first Orthodox institution to ordain women to function as full members of the clergy. Rabbi Fox was the first graduate of the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School and previously served as the spiritual leader of Kehilat Kesher: The Community Synagogue of Tenafly and Englewood for nearly seven years. In addition, he has taught as part of the faculty of the Drisha Institute, Mechon Hadar and the Florence Melton Adult Education Center. He is also a Senior Rabbinic Fellow of the Shalom Harman Institute of Jerusalem. He lives in Riverdale with his wife Beth and their four boys.

Rabbi Reuven Greenvald is Director of Strategic Outreach, North America at the Jewish Agency for Israel where gets to think about new approaches to Jewish life and the place of Israel within it. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a B.A (honors) in Ancient Near Eastern Studies and was ordained as a rabbi by the Jewish Theological Seminary. Following rabbinical school he worked for over twenty years as a day school leader in the DC and San Francisco Bay areas. His volunteer and leisure activities include the Brooklyn Israel Film Festival, singing in the Community Chorus of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, vegan cooking, and running.

Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky has served as rabbi of Congregation Ansche Chesed in Manhattan since 2001. Prior to this he served as assistant dean of the Rabbinical School at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he received rabbinic ordination in 1997. He contributed essays to the books The Observant Life, Jewish Theology in Our Time and Jewish Mysticism and the Spiritual Life, as well as various journals. He is a member of the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards and the editorial board of the journal Conservative Judaism.

Samuel Klein received an MA in History of Art from University College London following a degree in Theology from Jesus College, Cambridge. A lecturer and writer on theology and the arts, he represents emerging contemporary artists and has worked with leading galleries in London, Tel Aviv and New York including Victoria Miro, Bernard Shapero and Rosenfeld Galleries.

Ray Scheindlin is Professor of medieval Hebrew literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary and the author of books and academic studies of the subject. He is also active as a translator from Hebrew, having published a verse translation of the Book of Job and translations of other works, both literary and academic. He has been associated with the Kane Street Synagogue since 1974, serving as part-time rabbi from 1979 to 82. He returns to Cobble Hill annually to serve as High Holiday cantor and to lead a Yom Kippur study session.

His books include: Wine, Women, and Death: Medieval Hebrew Poems on the Good Life (1986); The Gazelle: Medieval Hebrew Poems on God, Israel, and the Soul (1991); A Short History of the Jewish People (1998); The Book of Job (1999); andThe Song of the Distant Dove: Judah Halevi’s Pilgrimage (2008). He is currently at work on a book of translations of poems by Ibn Gabirol, which is expected to appear in 2016.

Rabbi Sam Weintraub was ordained as a rabbi at JTS and has been Spiritual Leader of Kane Street Synagogue for 17 years. One of his favorite Biblical verses is “Hoi kol Tzamei L’chu LaMayim” “Ho! Let everyone who is thirsty (meaning searching) come for water (meaning Torah)!” (Isaiah 55:1)  His main interest is the relevance of Jewish text for modern ethical issues, and his published articles have focused on interfaith relations, environmental and economic ethics, intermarriage, and the interplay of Judaism and globalism.


We invite you to join us in building a more knowledgeable and caring community. If you’d like to volunteer in one of the Beit Midrash committees, contact Joy Fallek at


If you have any questions about the Beit Midrash, or would like to suggest a course, contact Joy Fallek at

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