At Limmud NY, YU Faculty, Students and Alumni Share Jewish Learning and Culture
Whether they were discussing societal rifts in Second Temple Jewry, analyzing iconic Biblical moments from new angles or charting the surprising journey of American Jews through film, Yeshiva University faculty, students and alumni led the conversation at this year’s Limmud NY conference.
The conference convenes more than 700 Jews of all ages and denominations annually for an extended retreat focused on celebrating the richness of Jewish life, with sessions and learning experiences that cover topics that run the gamut from Jewish history and culture to textual study, prayer and challenges facing the modern Jewish community. The goal is to create a dialogue centered on Torah and Jewish heritage that engages and connects Jews from all walks of life.
“YU’s participation at Limmud is good for YU and good for Limmud,” said Dr. Aaron Koller, associate professor of Near Eastern and Jewish Studies and chair of the Robert M. Beren Department of Jewish Studies at Yeshiva College. “For our students, it has always been a positive experience, where they interact in an intensive way with the most diverse type of Jewish crowd one can imagine about Judaism and Jewish learning. This broadens their horizons, sometimes expands their ideas of what Judaism can mean, and often inspires them to do more work in the Jewish community. For some of our students Limmud has literally changed their lives. For Limmud, our students bring solid bases of learning and Jewish knowledge to discussions. The number of YU alumni presenting and involved is really remarkable, ranging from musmachim from half a century ago to undergraduates today, and every age and stage in between.”
“The diversity of Jewish experience is one of the engines of Jewish intellectual and cultural life, and our University’s representation at Limmud reflects the value of that diversity to our community and how much our faculty and students have to offer in that conversation,” said Dr. Selma Botman, provost and vice president for academic affairs at YU.
Some of the YU presenters at this year’s conference included Koller; Rabbi Dr. Richard Hidary, associate professor of Judaic studies; Dr. Stuart W. Halpern, assistant director of the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought and assistant director of student programming and community outreach of the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies; Eric Goldman, adjunct professor of cinema studies; and Rabbi Sam Reinstein ’12YC ’14BR ’17R.
Koller presented four sessions at Limmud. In one conversation, he invited conference participants to reexamine cultural Zionism from the perspective of 20th-century Jewish thinkers and argued that Hebrew language was integral to its success. Another session took on the relationship of archeological finds in Israel and their contemporary political implications, and a third drew on a major exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Jerusalem 1000-1400,” to explore the city of Jerusalem in the Middle Ages.
Koller also led a detailed discussion about akeidat Yitzchak [the Biblical story of the binding of Isaac], incorporating classical and contemporary approaches to the ethical questions central to the story.
Hidary’s sessions focused on Jewish history. One lecture compared the bitter divisions of Second Temple Jewish society with modern rifts between segments of Judaism in an effort to learn how the tragedies of the past could be averted. Another took on the history and mysteries of the oldest complete Hebrew manuscript of the Bible, the Aleppo Codex, written in Tiberius in 930 C.E. Hidary’s third session looked to ancient Roman and rabbinic court systems to highlight issues of justice, truth and divine mercy.
“It’s wonderful to be together for a Shabbat and extended weekend with Jews from all walks of life share in common a love for Torah study and community building,” he said. “What could be a better way to commemorate Har Sinai, where we all stood with one heart to experience the Torah’s revelation? We hope our sessions left the message that serious high-level textual engagement can be relevant and inspiring to a modern sensibility and perhaps even more important than ever for our spiritual wellbeing and continuity.”
Halpern delivered two lectures; one addressed what seems to be an anachronism in the text of the Song of the Sea through a comparison of the song to ancient Near Eastern creation myths, while another examined the interpretive and theological challenges present in the stories of the Binding of Isaac and the Plague of the Firstborn, with a solution proposed by the pseudepigraphal book of Jubilees.
Goldman presented three sessions studying the journey of American Jews through the lens of cinema, from the immigrant stars of early films like The Jazz Singer to films about the Holocaust and filmmakers who were comfortable tackling Jewish stories, such as Woody Allen and Mel Brooks. “What a wonderful way for YU teachers to interact with the broader community and for us to not only teach but to study with others,” he said.
Reinstein led an interactive session comparing Moses to the typical heroic figures in mythological stories as a method of shedding light on Biblical stories.