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Adult Learning Reflections

Welcome! Here you will find reflections on topics discussed in Rabbi Edery's Monday morning Tanakh Talks class.

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Commentary on Tanakh Class July 26, 2021

Don Perlmutter

A Fable of Freedom and Remembrance
This week’s class was ably led by Religious School Director, Lynn Calnek, who opened the class with a fable about a humble slave that became a king. He used his powers to bring equality to his subjects, and never forgot his past servitude.

Connection between Passover and July 4th
With the theme of freedom in mind, Lynn challenged us to find the similarities between these two significant...Read more...

Commentary on Tanakh Class June 14, 2021

Don Perlmutter

Hillel: "Do not separate yourself from the community."
This advice became a springboard for a thoughtful exploration of the meaning and implications of community in our lives. A question before us was:

"What do you look for in a community?"
Our group offered several responses such as: common values, people in a similar stage of life, and a sense of family among diverse backgrounds.

Who Benefits from Community?
We...Read more...

Commentary on Tanakh Discussion June 7, 2021: Striking the Proper Balance

Don Perlmutter

We continued our discussion of the principles of Pirkei Avot as they relate to our daily lives. The recurring message was to carefully consider your decisions and weigh the consequences. While there are many rules to guide our behavior, either legal or Talmudic, it may be necessary to violate them if there is a “greater good” to be gained. A prime example is the principle of pikuach nefesh which positions the preservation of human life as...Read more...

Commentary on Tanakh Class May 17, 2021

Don Perlmutter

The Rabbi (Yehuda Ha Nasi)

Rabbi Yehuda (the Prince) was a second century head of the Sanhedrin and the first to reduce the oral commentary on Torah to a written form which later became known as the Mishnah. In his teachings, he posed a series of questions and words of advice which we considered in our discussion:"

"Which is the straight path for a person to follow?"
The implication in this...Read more...

Commentary on Tanakh Class May 3, 2021: Pirkei Avot (Continued)

Don Perlmutter

Hillel lived in the last century before the Common Era and was considered one of the great scholars and Jewish sages. He contributed heavily to the development of the Mishna and Talmud. Among other things, his legacy was the wise advice he imparted to his many students. His teachings reveal a keen insight into human motivations and can be applied in any age as a guide for leading an ethical and fulfilling life.

Here are a few of...Read more...

Commentary on Tanakh Discussion April 19, 2021: Pirkei Avot

Don Perlmutter

Pirkei Avot and Cancel Culture Collide
Pirkei Avot is rife with passages that are overtly sexist: “as long as a man engages in too much conversation with women, he causes evil to himself." Rabbi Edery began the discussion by posing a question: “Should we cancel texts that espouse sexist attitudes?” 

This advice from the sages was motivated by a desire to keep men’s minds undistracted from their pursuit of...Read more...

Commentary on Tanakh Discussion April 5, 2021

Don Perlmutter

Moses: The Real Story
Our discussion began with the revelation of some fascinating history per Rabbi Edery regarding the Israelites in Egypt and Moses:

The Israelites, along with other Semitic groups, at one time ruled much of Egypt. During this 200-year Hyksos period, the Semitic groups coexisted with the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Egyptian Dynasties which were based in Thebes. With the advent of the Eighteenth Dynasty, the...Read more...

Commentary on Tanakh Discussion March 15, 2021

Don Perlmutter

"What is the most important principle in Torah?"

Rabbi Edery posed this question to our group. The following were some of the responses:

“Life above all”
This refers to the doctrine of pikuach nefesh or preservation of an individual life. Because we are created in the image of God and our life is given by God, it is necessary to employ any means to save a life, including breaking other...Read more...

Magical vs Rational: Maimonides, Help Us Out!Commentary on Tanakh Discussion March 8, 2021

Don Perlmutter

This week, we resumed our exploration of why we believe what we do by considering mystical beliefs with an able assist from Maimonides, the ultimate rational thinker. To probe this, Rabbi Edery posed the question: “Should we value the opinion of a layman as equal to that of an educated expert?” While the answer seems obvious to most, the reality is that many do distrust authority and prefer to believe random uninformed opinions (even...Read more...

Commentary on Tanakh Discussion March 1, 2021

Don Perlmutter

“Why do we do a mitzvah; for a reward or for the sake of the mitzvah?”

Mitzvah Defined and Numbered
Led by Rabbi Mike Stevens, we engaged in a lively discussion in which we first attempted to define “mitzvah." Group suggestions implied a connotation of kindness, and charitable acts, which is only partly accurate. In fact, there are six hundred thirteen mitzvot or commandments, three hundred...Read more...

Commentary on Tanakh Discussion February 22, 2021: TRADITION!! (Teyve Revisited)

Don Perlmutter

In today’s discussion, we continued exploring the reasons for our beliefs and practices. We leaned heavily on the teachings of Maimonides, who had much to say about rational thinking. 

Orthodox to Reform to Conservative: The pendulum swings 
Acceptance or rejection of tradition and ritual has played a major role in the development of first the Reform, and then the Conservative movements, within Judaism. Reformism...Read more...

Commentary on Tanakh Discussion February 15, 2021: “What is the value of Truth?”  

Don Perlmutter

Rabbi Edery’s question stimulated a lively discussion around the nature of belief and the importance of knowledge over myth and superstition.

We began with Rabbi Elazar and the importance of study. He cautioned in the Mishnah that we should study Torah diligently so we can respond to the challenges of the Epikoros (the educated heretic). A priority was placed on this role of study because it is necessary to internalize Torah to...Read more...

Commentary on Tanakh Discussion February 1, 2021: Why Do We Do What We Do? 

Don Perlmutter

Just Do It!
The question Rabbi Edery posed to us was inspired by Shemot (Exodus) 24 in which Moses revealed God’s words and the Book of the Covenant to the people. Their response in unison was, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do and we will hear." The significance lies in the order of these pledges. They promised to do first, then to hear. Moses expected  acceptance from his people without offering a...Read more...

Commentary on Tanakh Discussion January 25, 2021: The House of David, a Dark Tale 

Don Perlmutter

In this class, we continued with the narrative of King David and his son, Avshalom. In the previous week, we learned of Avshalom’s act of Blood Redemption, the permitted assassination of his half brother, Amnon, after the rape of their sister, Tamar. Rabbi Edery reminded us that in many Biblical stories, the first born, e.g., Amnon, is not a hero. This role often fell to second or third-born, such as Avshalom. We infer that Avshalom, whose...Read more...

Commentary on Tanakh Discussion January 18, 2021: King David’s Palace Intrigue

Don Perlmutter

David: A Tarnished Icon  
The discussion began with an account of the rape that was perpetrated by Amnon, David’s first-born son. The victim was his half-sister, the modest and beautiful Tamar. He lusted after her and was frustrated until a friend advised him to trick her into a scenario in which he could over-power her. After satisfying his lust, he rejected her, presumably because she was no longer the virgin with whom he...Read more...

Commentary on Tanakh Discussion January 11, 2021: Is There a Law of Consequences? 

Don Perlmutter

Tanakh and Lessons for Today
Rabbi Edery suggested that the Tanakh is best appreciated if one reads the text then steps back and reflects on the insight it might reveal: How does this relate to my world now? 

After the momentous civil insurrection that occurred in our nation’s capital over the last week, our discussion was dominated by reflection and the lessons we might draw from this trauma. 

The subject of...Read more...

Commentary on Tanakh Discussion January 4, 2021: The Nature of Psalms and Prayer

Don Perlmutter

We continued our exploration of psalms, examining their nature and how they relate to prayer. In the process, we analyzed several specific examples. 

What do we say when we pray? 
Some of us pray to give thanks to God with the Shema, while others merely express gratitude for waking up another day to “smell the coffee." Prayer can be communal (about “us”) and scripted as in services, or personal (about...Read more...

Commentary on Tanakh Talks 12/28/20: Complaint Psalms & Divine Help

David Dirlam

Psalms are a favorite topic for liturgical musicians of all Abrahamic faiths. Many worshippers see them as God-praising; but to end our Tanakh studies this trying year, we examined psalms of complaint. Rabbi Edery began our study not with an ancient psalm, but with an exquisite modern version by Leonard Cohen, the renowned poet who died just four years ago.

I’m the little Jew who wrote the...Read more...

Commentary on Tanakh Talks 12/21/20

Don Perlmutter

How Does Torah and Jewish Culture Deal with the Subject of Physical Health?
There have been many references to issues of health from Biblical through to modern times. Our discussion began with Torah.

God as doctor
The earliest reference to our health can be found in Exodus in which God assures the Jews that if they obey his commandments and observe all his statutes, they will be spared the disease visited on the Egyptians. He...Read more...

Commentary on Tanakh Talks 12/7/20

Don Perlmutter

Q. What is the Greatest Contribution of Judaism to Humanity?
A. Torah
Today’s discussion took us on a journey from the significance of the delivery of Torah, it’s archaeology, for whom it was intended, and finally to the conundrum of “Who is a Jew?”  

What is the significance of receiving the Torah in the desert? 

Our group offered several...Read more...

Tanakh Talks 11/30/20: Torah in the Desert

David Dirlam

Today’s study expanded on our study of Tikkun Olam in many ways. Participants connected it to art, the evolution of our concept of God, Memetics, inspiration, near-death experiences, service music, the concept of evil and its relation to humility, and the contrast between treasured documents like the Torah and our modern literature glut. Some people may have the time to listen to the whole hour-and-a-half discussion, but I thought some...Read more...

Comments on Tanakh Talks 11/23/20: Why are we in this bad situation?

Donald Perlmutter

In this session, we explored the causes and consequences of human suffering both personal and collective. The lessons are universal and have real applications in our modern times. 

The Talmudic rabbis had much to say about this question as they were confronted with the tragedies of the destruction of the second temple, the murder of over a million Jews, and the dispersal of the surviving Jewish people from Israel. Why had...Read more...

Commentary on Tanakh class November 16, 2020: Tikun Olam- Repair the World

Donald Perlmutter

We enjoyed a stimulating examination of this subject with participation from many members and quotations from authors and teachers including Leonard Cohen, Kohelet, Rabbi Salanter, Rabbi Nachman, and John Lennon.

What is tikkun olam?
Rabbi Edery led off our group discussion by asking: “What does tikkun olam mean to you?” Responses included “Make the world a better place” and “charity." One member stated that it...Read more...

Commentary on Tanakh Talks 11/02/20: How Political Science Can Inform the Religion-Science Debate

David Dirlam

Rabbi Edery opened the discussion asking, “How is it that smart, intelligent, modern, people still have trouble understanding how a mask can stop a virus? Why can’t we heed Maimonides' millennia-old insight that “wrong beliefs will kill you?”

To explore these questions, we delved into impediments to science such as religion, superstition, ideology, habit, and just plain suspicion. We also identified...Read more...

The Prohibition of Birth Control: Comment on Tanakh Talks 10/19/20

David Dirlam

This week’s Tanakh Talks focused on the issue of abortion. Biblical texts revealed the existence of abortion herbs since Babylonian times. A number of texts dating to the Torah pointed to the concept that life begins at birth. The Rabbi’s conclusion was that the consequences of pregnancy fall mainly on the woman, and so it should be her decision.

During the discussion, I suggested that the ban on contraception was related to the...Read more...

Rewards, Punishments, and Consequences 8/24/20

David Dirlam

We first looked at the parts of the Sh’ma that Reform Judaism now excludes from the service. Rabbi Edery asked why they were excluded. David Z. mentioned it was because it made God the rewarder and punisher, like the Canaanite gods of Baal and Astarte. Doug suggested that seeing God to be like them made Him look created by men, as they were. Rabbi Edery explained that the...Read more...

Contemporary Israeli Poetry Reflections 8/31/20

David Dirlam

We had a richly metaphorical discussion of poetry today, which showed both the participant’s inventiveness and the way we build on each other’s ideas. Since we now are recording the discussions, it’s no longer necessary to provide all the details. I’ll use these reflection pages to share ideas to encourage people who could not join us to check out the recordings or even to find a way to join us in the future.

Rabbi Edery...Read more...

The Law of the Borman Expressway

David Dirlam with edits by Michael Stevens

Summary: Rabbi Michael Stevens led our discussion today with several of his favorite commandments. We responded with several of our own and then focused on the text he provided. Participants generalized from the commandments to fit them to our modern lives. Kindness to strangers became kindness to immigrants, then to anybody in need, whether for sustenance or friendship.

The global commandment to be holy led us to discuss whether...Read more...

What is a covenant?

David Dirlam, with edits by Rabbi Edery

In this week’s Tanakh Study, Rabbi Edery (RAE) began with a call for answers to “What is a Covenant?” Replies included Don’s, “Noah,” Ruth’s “Sinai,” and my “Homeowners Associations.” Mary contrasted two-sided “covenants” from one-sided “promises.”
We read Genesis 12 in which God instructed Abram, “Go to the land that I will show you,” and “all the families of the earth will find blessing in you.” RAE...Read more...

Beth Shalom Learning Reflections - 6/15/20

David Dirlam

How do we pray in a modern world beset by COVID-19 and demonstrations over police killings of blacks? Hal opened our rich discussion by asking whether we pray to anyone but God. The Rabbi answered that rabbis are not closer to God than people and that it helps to understand the Bible as metaphorical—"Avinu” means “our source” as much as “our father.” We should not get stuck in the literal, written prayers but become open...Read more...

Sat, October 16 2021 10 Cheshvan 5782