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

Open Beit Midrash 5783/2022-23

Tuesday Evenings, November 15, 2022 to March 28, 2023
7:30-9:00pm
(Dinner 7:00-7:30pm)

Click Here to Register Now!

Beit Midrash is a term given to the House of Text Study in the traditional Jewish community. Its atmosphere is fundamentally different from the secular educational schools with which we are generally more familiar. In universities, for example, classes are quiet and ordered, and in libraries the most focused study occurs in separate, private carrels. The Beit Midrash atmosphere, in contrast, is energetic, even boisterous. Students often sit around tables, and the physical proximity encourages them to listen, share, argue and imagine together.

What explains the passion and intensity of the Beit Midrash?

Jewish text study comes primarily not from intellectual interest, but from a love affair. From Sinai, 3300 years ago, Jews have been drawn to the study of the Torah and other sacred writings because these addressed their most important questions about life. Just as we learn about ourselves in our intimate, loving personal relationships, so study of texts helps us to discover who we want to become. As in all relationships of love, the connection to the texts is marked by reflection, unpredictability, struggle and joy.

By exploring Jewish literature of all ages, Open Beit Midrash illuminates key moral and spiritual challenges which we face today. This year, we will study questions as old as violence in the name of religion and as new as depictions of Jews in Hollywood sitcoms. Along the way, students will encounter classical Biblical, Rabbinic, and early Christian texts, as well as ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman works, Kabbalah, Chasidim, and contemporary feminist Midrash.


Open Beit Midrash is for learners of all levels. We value diversity. Come whether you have studied Jewish texts for twenty years or are a complete novice. All texts are studied in English translation. Open Beit Midrash is held almost every Tuesday evening, 7:00-9:00pm, from November 15, 2022 to March 28, 2023. The sessions will be either in person or online, depending on the public health situation, and registrants will be advised as we get closer to the course dates. Whether in person or virtual, we will offer a time for social gathering from 7:00-7:30pm, and then the course session from 7:30-9:00pm. 

While the program is drop-in and you may attend as much or as little as you like, please consider the full 18-week program, in order to appreciate the journey and growth of Jewish wisdom from Sinai to the 21st Century. As detailed below, we offer a subscription option which enables you to attend all of the sessions for the year.


Cost: $40 per three-week course, or as many courses as you like for up to 18 evenings, $180 per person.

Scholarships are available; please contact Rabbi Michelle Dardashti for more information.

Click here to register for Open Beit Midrash,
or call the Synagogue office at (718) 875-1550.

For more general information, if you’d like to volunteer for the Beit Midrash committee, or would like to suggest a course, contact [email protected].


~ Courses ~

What Do the Bible & Jewish Tradition Have to Say About Love?

with Dr. Rabbi Barat Ellman
November 15, 22 and 29, 2022

Jews don’t often think of “Love” as a central value in our tradition. With our focus on mitzvoth as the cement binding us in our covenant with God, love is put in a secondary place. But our biblical texts, rabbinic interpretation, and our liturgy reveal that love is very much a Jewish value: God’s love for Israel (us); our love for God; as well as the commandments to love the stranger and to love our neighbor as ourselves. In this class we will explore both the reasons why Judaism appears to have ceded “Love” to the Christian tradition and what our tradition has to say about love. We will also consider the relevance of the concept of “The Beloved Community” to Judaism and explore ways to incorporate it.


Our Greek Heritage

with Dr. Raymond Scheindlin
December 6, 13, and 20, 2022

Session 1. The Wisdom of Ben Sira
This collection of proverbs, written shortly before the persecutions that led to the Maccabean revolt, could well have ended up as part of the Bible, since it is very similar to the book of Proverbs. We shall examine its position between conservative Judean views and “modern” Hellenistic perspectives and speculate on why it was not included in the canon.

Session 2. Joseph in Alexandria
The Bible says that Joseph spent most of his life as a courtier and administrator in the government of Pharaonic Egypt; his life therefore had personal meaning for the Jews of ancient Alexandria. We will review the story of Joseph in the Bible and explore how it was presented in three Greek works: Philo’s Life of Joseph; Josephus, Antiquities; and the anonymous Testament of Joseph.

Session 3. Joseph and Aseneth: A Hellenistic Romance
The story of Joseph was developed by an unknown Jewish author living in Alexandria into a short novel in the style of the late Greek romances. We will become acquainted with the novel and see how it reflects the concerns of the Jews in Hellenized Egypt.


In the Image: Creative Practice and Spiritual Life

with Ben Freeman, Associate Clergy, LabShul
January 3, 10 and 17, 2023

How can we cultivate a deeper spiritual life by engaging the artist within? And how can the creative process be a model for social transformation? In this course, building off of Ben’s graduate thesis at Harvard Divinity School; his training as a theater artist, spiritual director, and ritual leader; the Jewish practice of midrash; and a wide variety of thinkers, makers, tinkerers, and movers, we’ll explore the relationship between creative practice and spiritual life. Come prepared not only to talk and think, but also to create and make – this course will make use of text but be experiential in nature.


Art as Midrash: Animals

With Cantor Sarah Myerson
January 24 and 31, and February 7, 2023

From the talking serpent in the Garden of Eden to the talking donkey in the Sinai wilderness, from the big fish protecting Jonah to the spider protecting David, animals play pivotal roles in our biblical narrative. We’ll look at media including paintings, drawings, linocuts, sculptures, photography, and digital art; from medieval times through to contemporary creations. We’ll discuss the ways in which each artist creates a visual midrash on the biblical text, and look for resonance between the artworks and rabbinic midrashim.


Israel @ 75: What Does It Mean to Be Jewish in the Jewish State?

with Rabbi Josh Weinberg, President of the ARZA and vice president for Israel and Reform Zionism for the URJ
and Dr. Hillel Gruenberg, SAR High School in Riverdale
February 14, 21, and 28, 2023

Zionism wasn’t just a revolution to provide refuge for Jews fleeing persecution, but also a revolution in Judaism itself. These sessions will examine the unreconciled tension that comes from the polar ends of Jewish identity—secular vs. Orthodox—and to see how those trends are changing, and what it means to be a Jewish State as Israel reaches its 75th year of independence.


The Other Mothers: Biblical Women and Gender in Midrash

With with Rabbi Margo Hughes-Robinson, T’ruah
March 14, 21 and 28, 2023

Using both classical sources and contemporary scholarship, we will dive together into an exploration of gender in rabbinic exegesis while uncovering the stories of women in the midrashic canon. Join us as we analyze the narratives of Lilith, Serach bat Asher, and the extended Korachite family to uncover what we can learn about the traditional narratives of these oft-ignored Biblical women, and how we might engage with them anew.


~ Faculty ~

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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 and theology, the social world reflected in the Bible, and ways to draw upon biblical material in contemporary social justice work. She is the author of Memory and Covenant: The Role of Israel’s and God’s Memory in Sustaining the Deuteronomic and Priestly Covenants (Fortress, 2013).

A Wexner Graduate Fellow and a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Rabbi Dr. Ellman is an adjunct assistant professor of Theology at Fordham University and on the faculty of the Bard Prison Initiative. In addition to her academic positions, Rabbi Dr. Ellman is actively involved in social justice work with organizations such as Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ); T’ruah: the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights; Just LeadershipUSA; and New Sanctuary Coalition.

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Ben Freeman, MDiv is Associate Clergy at Lab/Shul and is a multidisciplinary artist, educator, and ritualist whose work focuses on helping people understand themselves and act conscientiously in the world through creative expression and play.

In addition to his work in spiritual leadership, Ben has worked as a DEI-focused facilitator at Lucasfilm, a teaching artist at CO/LAB Theater Group, and a chaplain at Hebrew SeniorLife and Boston Children’s Hospital. Ben is a graduate of Brown University and Harvard Divinity School. He is also a musician with music on streaming services, including the recent full-length album Quiet Fury.

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Rabbi Margo Hughes-Robinson (she/her) is the NY Organizer at T’ruah: the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, as well as the NYC Ruach Avodah faculty at Avodah: the Jewish Service Corps. She was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2021, where she also earned an MA in Midrash and served for two years as the Program Coordinator of the Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue, and as a Marshall T. Meyer Rabbinic Fellow at B’nai Jeshurun on the Upper West Side.

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Cantor Sarah Myerson is an ordained cantor serving Kane Street Synagogue (Brooklyn, NY), having previously served congregations in New York, Massachusetts, and Israel. She is a member of the Cantors Assembly and ASCAP; a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary (NY) and the Sydney Conservatorium of Music (Australia).

She writes and performs new compositions, for example with Jewish spiritual music duo Shekedina, and freelances as a musician, speaker, educator and Yiddish dance leader. Cantor Sarah Myerson’s Art As Midrash classes are based on her art history and biblical exegesis studies with Dr. Shulamit Laderman at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, Jerusalem.

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Dr. Raymond Scheindlin is professor emeritus 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 1982. In addition, for over forty years, he served as High Holiday Cantor and continues 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); and The Song of the Distant Dove: Judah Halevi’s Pilgrimage (2008). His most recent book is Vulture in a Cage: Poems by Solomon Ibn Gabirol, which appeared in 2016. More information about his books and a selection of his informal essays are available on his website, raymondscheindlin.com

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Rabbi Josh Weinberg serves as the Vice President of the URJ for Israel and Reform Zionism and is the Executive Director of ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America. He was ordained from the HUC-JIR Israeli Rabbinic Program in Jerusalem, and is currently living in New York. Josh previously served as the Director of the Israel program for the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and as a faculty member of NFTY-EIE High School in Israel teaching Jewish History. Josh is a reserve officer in the IDF spokesperson’s unit, has hiked the Israel-trail, and came on Aliyah to Israel in 2003.

Originally from Chicago, he has a B.A. from University of Wisconsin in Hebrew Literature, Political Science and International Relations, and an M.A. at the Hebrew University in Jewish Education.

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