SVARA’s core learning happens in the bet midrash, a space for study partners to build a relationship with the Talmud text, with one another, and with the tradition–and to do all that in community. The learning is rigorous, yet the bet midrash environment is warm and supportive. Learning at SVARA focuses on skill-building (learning how to learn), revealing and understanding the radical core of the Jewish tradition, becoming “players” in it, cultivating Talmud study as a spiritual practice, and becoming people shaped by one of the central technologies of our tradition: Talmud Torah.
Our mission is to open Talmud learning to the 99% of Jews who have been shut out of the bet midrash for two millennia. SVARA is for you if you didn’t grow up at day school or summer camp, you’re queer in any number of ways that give you the valuable insight of the outsider, you’re a woman who was told that Jewish learning isn’t for you, you are or aren’t observant, or your relationship with Judaism doesn’t match traditional expectations. SVARA students bring their real-life experiences to bear on the text and the tradition and learn in a Queer-normative space.
In every SVARA Bet Midrash, whether it’s a One-Night Stand or the Full-Time Program, learning is structured in three phases. Each bet midrash session begins with chevruta learning: sitting with your chevruta (your study partner), your text, and your dictionaries and preparing the text. At SVARA, we never use translations. Your text is in the original Hebrew or Aramaic, no matter your learning experience. The more advanced learners will have the chance to go beyond the gemara into Rashi, Tosafot, codes, and mefarshim (medieval commentaries). Everyone has the same amount of time to work through the text, and whether you prepare five words or five lines, your learning is valuable and will contribute the the vibrancy of the discussion and your own growth as a “player” and as a human being.
After everyone’s spent some time deciphering the day’s text, we come together as a group to unpack what we’ve learned and discuss it—that’s called shiur. Rabbi Lappe or another teacher will guide everyone through fully translating and discussing the text and hold space to for you to share your questions and insights.
After shiur, you’ll return to chevruta for chazara (review) of that session’s text to the point of deep understanding, ownership, mastery, and memorization. At SVARA we use the process of memorization as both a diagnostic tool to check our own understanding and as a way to ensure that everyone truly owns the tradition. Finally, every student will have a chance to recite all the material they’ve come to own—and everyone who recites gets clapped up, no matter how much they were able to do!
The S&M Bet Midrash
Our signature S&M Bet Midrash, produced in partnership with Mishkan Chicago, welcomes total beginners and veteran students alike. All you need is your alef-bet and you’re ready to go! Rabbi Benay Lappe teaches in a super-supportive, love-fest atmosphere. We’ll hook you up and show you the ropes! It’s an experience not to be missed!
► Got questions?
Not sure which bet midrash is right for you?
Throughout the year, SVARA hosts pop-up batei midrash across the country. Check out where we’ll be this year (updated regularly) and how you can bring SVARA to your community!
Queer Talmud Camp
Queer Talmud Camp offers folks a chance to gather for five days of Talmud learning at retreats around the country. Learn more.