Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
2007-2008
Annual Report
| Page 11
Each student has been designated to
present, and be the ongoing representa-
tive of, a specific commentary – Hirsch,
Hertz, Plaut,
Etz Chayim
,
Stone,
Friedman, Alter, Fox, and others – in
addition to using
The Torah: A Women’s
Commentary
as an ongoing commentary.
Today it is Rachael Bregman’s and
Joshua Samuels’s turn to teach their class-
mates about the early twentieth century
Hertz
Pentateuch,
offering an overview
of Hertz’s biography, the history and
context of his commentary, and his goals
as an interpreter of Biblical text.
As Barbara Lehman of the eLearning Department manipulates
documents on the Smartboard (an electronic “blackboard”
shared by both campuses), the two students – 3,000 miles apart
take turns sharing their research. Bregman describes Hertz’s
goal of bridging an emotional connection to Judaism with the
discoveries of
Wissenschaft des Judentums
(
the scientific study of
Judaism). She tells how Hertz’s commentary reflects the influ-
ence of contemporaneous archaeological excavations, how it was
assembled from the work of a small number of pulpit rabbi
contributors who were skilled in teaching, and how the multi-
volume set only became popular when Soncino published it
as a single volume. Samuels talks about how Hertz wanted to
defend traditional Judaism at a time of growing self-hatred and
assimilation by appealing to the teachings of ethical values and
halakhah
(
Jewish law) and encouraging Jews to take back the
study of the Bible and to use his commentary in the pews.
Together, they discuss Hertz’s interpretation of Genesis 32:
23-33,
and 34:1-4 – when Jacob wrestles with the angel and
changes his name – and explain how Hertz characterizes both
events as victorious.
Then the class shifts gears as Professor Weiss in New York asks
the class to break down into small
chevruta
(
study partner)
groups to analyze the text of
parashat Yitro
in the context of an
article by Harvey Meirovich
.
Once the groups have completed
their work sheets, they share their answers. The class discussion
encompasses a wide range of issues: the threat within posed by
liberal Judaism, the threat without posed by biblical criticism,
the defense of divine authorship and the historicity of revela-
tion, the focus on Bible study for the spiritual lives of Jews,
and the notion of accepting truth from whatever source it
comes, noting that Hertz used both Jewish and non-Jewish
sources in his commentary.
Professors Eskenazi and Weiss call upon each student by name,
and the high definition cameras and ceiling microphones allow
everyone to be easily seen and heard. When the class takes a
short break, 4th-year rabbinical student Noam Katz shows
everyone a photo of his newborn baby. These classmates may
be separated by space and time, but are linked in a shared spirit
of kinship and friendship.
When the class resumes, Dr. Eskenazi in Los Angeles engages
the class in a discussion of the story of Dinah, comparing the
translations of Genesis 34:2 in the diverse commentaries. There
is an animated discussion of the words used in the translations,
and as Dr. Eskenazi circles these words on the Smartboard in
Los Angeles, the circles appear on the Smartboard in New York.
Melissa Zalkin Stollman comments on the political implications
of language; Emma Gottlieb points out the commentator’s
euphemistic concern for the reader’s sensibilities; and Reuben
Zellman reflects on the use of language to describe Dinah’s role
in the event. Dr. Eskenazi asks the students to read aloud from
The Torah: A Women’s Commentary
on this text, which points
out that Dinah never speaks and offers different ways to under-
stand what happens to her.
Each student brings his/her own perspective to the discussion,
sharing the insights of the commentary that she/he has selected
to focus on throughout the semester. The students pull up their
notes on their laptops and log onto Sakai (HUC-JIR’s collabora-
tive learning environment) to access reference materials. The
classroom interaction is the continuation of online conversa-
tions, or cyber
sichot
,
that take place before the class as small
st to Coast
The Smartboard (electronic ‘blackboard’) brings Dr. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi (on left
screen, at right) and the Los Angeles students into the New York classroom, together
with one of the texts that is the subject for discussion in this cross-campus Bible class.
(
continued on page 12)