Courses

The Shiurim Online Beit Midrash presents a wide range of material organized as full courses. The courses are presented as a series of web pages containing text and sources, with some links to video. The courses are easy to follow, with each class numbered consecutively. Click on Next Class to move forward, the last class provides a link back to this Course Descriptions page.

Below you can see course descriptions as well as a directory of courses.

All Around Abraham

The Abraham narrative in Bereshit (Genesis) focuses, naturally, on Abraham. But around the father of the monotheistic faiths are several secondary characters, illuminating him and fascinating in their own right. Let’s take a look at the family that he leaves behind, the nephew that joins and leaves him, the wife that does not bear children and the wife and child he is forced to give up. We will consider the local political and cultic powers that he deals with. What does a close reading of the Tanakh tell us about these people? How do later traditions understand them?

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Baba Kamma – Chapter 6

The Babylonian Talmud has been the foundation of Jewish life since its completion some 1500 years ago. It is the source of Jewish practice and, perhaps more importantly, it is central to shaping the Jewish thought process, the manner in which we approach, think about and solve problems. It is the core of our study program at the Conservative Yeshiva. This course will study the material studied this year in the Conservative Yeshiva Beit Midrash.

Our study course this semester will be the 6th chapter of the tractate Baba Kamma, which deals with an owner's responsibility and liability for the damage caused by his animal. This course will seek to provide a window into how the sages think and analyze problems, deriving their answers from the tradition. This course aims to provide students with some basic Talmudic skills, some inspiring debate, and an appetite for more.

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Baba Kamma – Chapter 8

The Babylonian Talmud has been the foundation of Jewish life since its completion some 1500 years ago. It is the source of Jewish practice and, perhaps more importantly, it is central to shaping the Jewish thought process, the manner in which we approach, think about and solve problems. It is the core of our study program at the Conservative Yeshiva.

This course will study the material studied this year in the Conservative Yeshiva Beit Midrash. Our study course this semester will be the 8th chapter of the tractate Baba Kamma, which deals with the liability to provide compensation to someone whom we have injured, pained or humiliated. This course will seek to provide a window into how the sages think and analyze problems, deriving their answers from the tradition. This course aims to provide students with some basic Talmudic skills, some inspiring debate, and an appetite for more.

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Contemporary Issues in Halakha

In this course, we will examine how halakha – Jewish law - confronts modernity (and vice-versa) on a number of issues, some of which have riveted the Jewish world recently.

  • To Fast or not to Fast?
  • Pidyon Shevuyim – The Redemption of Captives
  • Musical Instruments in the Synagogue
  • Giyyur – Conversion
  • Kohen & a Giyyoret (convert) – An Acceptable Union?

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Eight Theologically Provocative Talmud Sugyot

It is a popular assumption that the Talmud is a book filled exclusively with legal dialectic and debate. Truth be told, the Talmud contains much more non- legal material than legal material and the same rabbis who vigorously debate legal issues, are equally energetic in their discussions about what makes up their theological universe.

This course will focus on a number of these debates. Among the topics to be discussed: Why do the righteous suffer; Is there reward for service to God; Did Israel really accept the Torah of their own free will; Are the dead really resurrected; Who makes Jewish law – God or man?

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Eight More Theologically Provocative Talmud Sugyot

It is a popular assumption that the Talmud is a book filled exclusively with legal dialectic and debate. Truth be told, the Talmud contains much more non- legal material than legal material and the same rabbis who vigorously debate legal issues, are equally energetic in their discussions about what makes up their theological universe. This course will focus on a number of these debates. Among the topics to be discussed: When Is Man Judged; Are We Really Inscribed in a Book of Life; Is God Really Merciful; What Human Qualities Are Rewarded; What Divine Qualities are We Intended to Emulate; What Is Teshuva Good For; Why Be a Part of a Religious Community.

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Elijah

One of the most colorful biblical characters, the prophet Elijah burst on to the scene with a declaration of a drought – and disappears, leaving us to debate if it was God or Elijah that decreed the lack of rain. We will follow him up into Phoenicia (Lebanon) and down to the Negev. We will observe his relationships with people, whether ordinary or royal. We will discuss the moral dilemmas raised in the Biblical narrative. Finally, we will look at the place that Elijah has in Jewish tradition, and ask ourselves how he got there.

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Gender and Judaism

This class will be an exploration of the points at which feminism meets traditional Judaism. We will touch on a range of topics including halacha, Biblical and Rabbinic studies, theology through the distinct and overlapping prisms of traditional textual analysis and feminist theory. We will examine traditional sources for explicit and implicit concepts and biases about gender. In discussion, we will explore the extent to which these traditional concepts apply in our contemporary lives and how they impact our sense of Judaism, the world and ourselves.

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Haggadah And The Seder

Of all the famous lines in the Haggadah, one stands out – Why is This Night Different From All Other Nights? This is the question every child asks from the time s/he can sing a song. And the question continues to occupy adults as well – what is the meaning of all of these strange customs and prayers we say at the Seder?

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A Jewish Theology of Human Rights

Elie Wiesel has famously spoken about a modern “secular religion of human rights”. The world movement for human rights seeks to guarantee the most basic conditions for the flourishing of humanity, like life and at least minimal freedom. While this is a “secular” effort for some, in important Jewish sources the flourishing of humanity or ADAM is nothing less than the revelation of God. In this class we will study the divine significance of humanity in three sources: The Zohar, Maimonides, and the modern religious-Zionist thinker Rabbi Chayyim Hirschenson. Perhaps together these sources constitute a modern Jewish theology of human rights.

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Joseph – Oh Brother!

The story of Joseph, the beloved son and hated brother, the slave-turned-prisoner-turned second to the Pharaoh, is too complex to come down to simple answers. Many of us have studied it before, but each time we approach this narrative we discover something new. More important than the answers that we might arrive at in this course, is the dialogue that we have with the text. Take your time and enjoy the process.

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Little Books, Big Voices: Four Minor Prophets

Join us for a look into some of the lesser known treasures of the Tanach. Habbakuk, Zephaniah, Joel and Haggai prophesied during turbulent times. These small books, part of the Twelve Minor Prophets (Trei Asar), highlight the challenges of the period surrounding the destruction of the first Temple and the beginning of the second Temple. But the sages taught that all the prophecies that were preserved in the Tanach also contain lessons for future generations, and lessons for our lives are to be found too in the big voices of these four prophets.

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Midrash on the Matriarchs

Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel – we bless our daughters in their names and read their stories each fall in Sefer Bereishit. Our sages interpreted their stories through Midrash, filling in details, expanding roles, and in many cases lifting up our foremothers to greater stature. In this class, we will study Midrashim from Bereishit Rabbah as well as later commentaries, seeking to understand the stories of our foremothers and what they can teach us for our lives today.

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Midrash On The Exodus

Enhance your understanding of the Exodus and your retelling at the Seder by studying Midrash – early and later rabbinic teachings about the Exodus. Learn the story behind the story. Find out by the merit of which actions by righteous women we were redeemed. Learn the true nature of the waters that covered Pharoah and his army. Examine what really happened at theRed Seaand what the witnesses saw…and explore the meaning of all these teachings for our lives today.

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Megillat Esther

Palace intrigues, a decadent court, beautiful queens, and an advisor whose rise to prominence risks an entire nation. Who do you feel is the worst character of the Megilah? And how did Esther and Mordechai get their roles in this story?

Megilat Esther reads (at least in parts) as a chronicle of the Persian court, leaving us to wonder what it is doing in the Canon. During 4 sessions we will explore various aspects of Megilat Esther and try to expand our appreciation of this unlikely holy text. Studying the Megilah will also give us the opportunity to review some rabbinic texts, as well as other biblical texts that influenced the narrative of Esther, texts that the narrator assumed that we know and refer to.

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Psalms of Hallel

What is the origin of our custom of reciting special Psalms on festivals and Rosh Hodesh? Why were Psalms 113-118 chosen for this purpose? In this class we will examine the Psalms of Hallel in detail and look at rabbinic texts explaining the place of Hallel in the Jewish year.

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Psalms of Pesukei Dezimra of Shabbat

This course studies the Psalms of Pesukei DeZimra of Shabbat – Psalms 19, 34, 90, 91, 135, 136, 33, 92 and 93. The concluding section focuses on the origins of Psalms as evidenced in Biblical and Rabbinic texts.

The goal of the course is to develop skills for the study of Tehillim in Hebrew, to develop familiarity with Biblical poetry in general and with Psalms specifically. The course is designed to provide tools for Psalms and Tanach study in Hebrew, as well as expand students understanding of Psalms that are part of the Shabbat tefillot (prayers). Students can learn the Psalms in translation but the emphasis of the study materials is on building skills for learning and understanding Psalms in the original Hebrew.

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Recipe for an Empire

In this course we will focus on biblical materials relevant to the issue of how a fragmented tribal nation became unified, powerful kingdoms. While the event that we are studying took place about two and a half millennia ago, the ideas and concepts have remained relevant.

We will cover a time period of under 2 centuries, from circa year 1000 bce, when David united the people and established the first state capital of the people of Jerusalem, to the establishment Samaria in mid 800's bce.

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Talmud with the Conservative Yeshiva

This year Conservative Yeshiva students in Jerusalem will be learning Tractate Berachot. This online course offers both new students and alumni an opportunity to study the same material that we will be studying in Jerusalem. We will learn together selected sugyot dealing with topics like the reading of Shema, the recitation of the Amidah, the structure and recitation of blessings as well as theological problems like the question of why bad things happen to good people.

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Temples and Temptations: King Solomon

The wisest of all men, the richest of all kings, and the monarch in whose kingdom people were always happy. The Temple he built was the grandest (but there were others, too) as was, perhaps, his love for women (1000 of them were his wives and concubines.) So why, as soon as he died, did this beautiful dream fall to pieced? Reading the text of the Tanakh, we will examine the myth and the reality of one of the most colorful monarchs in history, finding hints in the text to help us decipher this fascinating man and his reign

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Ten Bible Stories You Thought You Knew – Introduction to Rabbinic Midrash

The sages of the Rabbinic period shaped the way the Jewish tradition looks at the Bible. Their manner of interpretation is known as midrash. This course seeks to provide the student with the tools: textual, historical, religious and literary to explore the rabbinic interpretation of Scripture. This will be accomplished through the examination of how the rabbinic sages interpreted key stories in the Bible. The text reading will be examined both in Hebrew and in English translation.
1. Introduction: What is Midrash? Its historical, religious, literary background
2. Cain and Abel
3. What makes Abraham so special?
4. The Sin of Sodom and Gemorrah
5. The Binding of Isaac
6. Jacob and the Ladder
7. What caused the trouble with Amalek?
8. The Making of the Heroes of Purim – Mordechai and Esther
9. Moses at the Burning Bush
10. Israel at the Sea

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(Some) Villains of Tanakh

These guys (and gals - they are well represented) can be bad, immoral, quarelsom, seductive, and (maybe) all around evil. Potifar's wife attempted to seduce Joseph, Delilah brought big Samson to his death, Menasseh King of Judah is single handedly responsible for its destruction, Datan and Aviram would have turned Moses in.

These and others are among the evil individuals of Tanakh, those whom we love to hate. But how bad were they? What motivated them? Is there such a things as a purely evil person? Through these characters and others we will explore some well known stories, as well as some obscure ones, from various corners of the Tanakh. We will explore both the biblical text and the rabbinic understanding of these characters. And since bad people are fun, (as long as they don't move in next door) there won't be a dull moment!

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What Does It Take to Become a Jew? – The Conversion Controversy in Modern Jewish Law

Conversion (Giyyur in Hebrew) has become one of the most volatile issues in modern Jewish life. People are often unaware that most of the issues under discussion have their roots in serious legal (halachic) debates. This course will examine some of the major concerns which underscore these legal controversies. Among the topics that will be discussed will be: the basic legal components of conversion; conversion for ulterior motives; acceptance of the Torah; must a person become an observant Jew to convert; can a conversion be annulled; the concept of “zera Yisrael – (Jewish blood), the conversion of a minor. In this course we will examine the foundation sources in the tradition for each debate and then the modern opinions which underlie the passionate deliberations found in modern Jewish life.

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In the beginning, the spirit of Elokim hovered in the darkness over the deep. There was no light and no life.

Extraordinary People in an Ordinary World Sourcesheet (pdf) Extraordinary People in an Ordinary World E-shiur (printer-friendly pdf of this page) The story of Ruth is set in the time in which judges led the people of Israel, a period known for lack of order, government, and cohesiveness among the tribes ofIsrael. The story is set in the […]

Freedom and Necessity at Mt. Sinai Sources (pdf) Freedom and Necessity at Mt. Sinai E-shiur (pdf) One of the most famous images in the Talmud is that portrayed by Rav Avdimi in Shabbat 88a; G-d held Mt Sinai over the heads of the Children of Israel and threatened: if you accept the Torah – fine, […]

Shavuot Psahim 68B Sourcesheet (pdf) The Talmud (Pesahim 68b) records, in a baraita, a debate between two prominent Tannaim, Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua, about how a person should conduct him or herself on hag (festival): “Rabbi Eliezer said: ‘On a festival, a person has nothing to do but either to eat and drink or to […]

CY Shavuot E-shiur Sourcesheet 2011 (pdf) Shavuot 2011 E-shiur (pdf) Originally, our Jewish calendar did not have a fixed number of days in each month. Each month had 29 or 30 days, depending on when witnesses spotted the new moon and reported this to the Sanhedrin (High Court). Around three hundred years after the destruction of the […]

Introduction

These Holiday Shiurim, prepared by Conservative Yeshiva faculty members, were made possible by a generous grant from Temple Zion Israelite Center, Miami, Florida. Multi-session courses about holiday topics can be found in Shiurim's Course list. Additional commentary about the development of holiday practices are available in Shiurim - The Online Beit Midrash's Rabbinic Texts section.