The fifth annual Revel Shabbaton, which took place on March 13-14, 2015, parashat Vayaqhel-Pequdei/Parah in Washington Heights, surpassed all previous Revel shabbatonim. Thanks to the assiduous work of Revel alumni Mayer Juni (BRG 2014), Aliza Storchan (BRG 2014), and Yaelle Frohlich (BRG 2012), who planned, publicized, and organized the event, over 50 people signed up and participated in the programming — joined by dozens of others from the YU and Mount Sinai communities.

Friday night services were in the beautifully renovated Shenk community shul, where Rabbi Uri Orlian welcomed BRGS. This was followed by a communal meal attended by over 50 current and prospective Revel students and alumni, who enjoyed a scrumptious meal catered by Carlos and Gabby’s.  The meal stimulated lively social interaction, zemirot, and a riveting talk by Prof. Daniel Rynhold, who illuminated the debate between Judah ha-Levi and Maimonides regarding the nature of ritual impurity (tum’ah) based on concepts from contemporary philosophy. A number of people noted how wonderfully clear Prof. Rynhold made the abstract philosophical concepts, bringing them into their everyday lives as committed Jews.

An oneg program followed, with 5 breakout sessions featuring text-discussions by Revel students. Ezra Brand analyzed a Zoharic passage regarding tefillin; Chumie Juni contrasted the conceptions of God presented by Maimonides and Levinas; Chaya Sima Koenigsberg offered a close reading of the elegy of R. Eleazar of Worms for his wife; Jason Strauss discussed a seeming talmudic ambivalence about marital bliss; and Akiva Weisinger observed a post-modern tendency in the thought of R. Yaakov Kamenetsky. Hudy Rosenberg, a student at SCW, remarked: “I found it exciting to be part of a community that values academic Torah scholarship and inquiry, so well exemplified by the serious text-based learning led by Revel students, which made it clear that high-level scholarship is attainable to those who invest the effort.”

Shabbat morning services at the Mount Sinai Jewish Center featured a sermon by Associate Dean Mordechai Cohen on Nahmanides’ Kabbalistic interpretation of the “glory of God filling the tabernacle” as the culmination of the redemption from Egypt. The Revel presence was warmly welcomed by Mount Sinai, which expressed appreciation for the opportunity to partake in advanced Jewish studies programming. Both the Rabbi, Ezra Schwartz (BRG 2005), and Rabbi Emeritus, Marvin Schneidman (BRG 1952), are Revel alumni. At the Kiddush following the services, members of the community, many of them Revel graduates, reconnected with old friends. The second Shabbat meal was arranged “home hospitality” style, with participants eating in small groups at the home of Revel students and alumni.

Later in the afternoon, Dean Cohen delivered a lecture in Rubin shul on Rashi’s innovative peshat interpretation on the Song of Songs, focusing on the importance of the human love relationship according to the northern French commentator. The Shabbaton program concluded with a communal seudah shelishit at Mount Sinai, at which Prof. Rynhold gave a talk about Rabbi Soloveitchik’s adoption of a scientific model to describe halakhic analysis. Whereas many influential thinkers tend to view the legal decision-making process in hermeneutical terms, i.e., as textual interpretation, Rabbi Soloveitchik argued that halakhah is more like science, in which empirical data are subject to quantification according to abstract mathematical rules. And yet, Rabbi Soloveitchik was well aware of the creative dimension of halakhic analysis, which would point in the direction of the hermeneutical model. The key to resolving this seeming inconsistency, Prof. Rynhold explained, lies in the contemporary view — posited by Rabbi Soloveitchik — that scientific analysis itself is an interpretive process, a continual effort to offer a coherent explanation for the data from a variety of human perspectives.

The annual Revel Shabbaton once again provided a delightful opportunity for members of the Revel learning community to strengthen their shared commitment and passion for academic Jewish studies and the unique way that it enhances understanding of our illustrious heritage. In the words of Victoria Chabot, a current Revel student: “It was great to spend time with and learn from peers and teachers outside of the classroom setting. The Shabbaton generated an atmosphere in which I was able to truly appreciate my place in the long-standing Revel community, and envision its growth and development.”



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