S&M Bet Midrash

The SVARA/Mishkan Bet Midrash

SPRING 2015 Session Begins April 21st!


The S&M Team: Jaré Akchin, Mary Otts, R’ Lizzi Heydemann, and R’ Benay Lappe

In January 2013, SVARA and Mishkan teamed up to create the most happening Jewish learning experience in Chicago–the SVARA and Mishkan (S&M) Bet Midrash. Now kicking off our second year of collaboration, the popular Tuesday-night (and now Thursday-night) Bet Midrash is open to absolute beginners and experienced learners. The learning is rigorous, yet the bet midrash environment is warm and supportive. Students are strongly encouraged to bring their real-life experiences to bear on the text and to share openly in a Queer-positive space. Our learning will focus on skill-building (learning how to learn), the radical nature of the Jewish tradition, and the cultivation of Talmud study as a spiritual practice.

This weekly bet midrash program is for both learners who have just gotten their Alef-Bet down as well as  those who have years of Talmud experience. It’s for anyone who wants to figure out how Judaism fits into their life or wants to try out Talmud as a  spiritual practice. Or maybe you just want to see what all the buzz is about! Four six-week sessions are offered over the course of the academic year. Students may drop in or out of each session, but are required to commit to all six classes of that particular session.

Each class begins with chevruta (paired) learning in the bet midrash, followed by shiur (lecture and discussion). Don’t have a chevruta at your skill level? No worries! We have many diverse learners and are happy to help pair you up with a partner. While all texts are studied in the original Hebrew/Aramaic from the Vilna Shas, no prior text experience is necessary. The requirements for the class are your ability to merely sound out (without comprehension) the alef bet, your text and dictionaries, and your willingness to work hard. No translations will be used and students will be asked not to consult translations outside of class.

Chazarah from SVARA on Vimeo.

The S&M Bet Midrash has been so successful that your SVARA and Mishkan team is now offering TWO NIGHTS to learn! The texts and format will be exactly the same–so you needn’t worry that you’re missing out on anything!

The SPRING 2015 Session:

Tuesdays, April 21 – May 26, 2015, 6:30-9:00 pm


Thursday, April 23 – May 28, 2015, 6:30-9:00 pm

Location: Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted, Chicago

Both nights will be held for 6 weeks from 6:30-9:00 pm at The Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted. Because your chevruta will depend on you for their learning, it is important that students understand that this is not a drop-in class. Attendance is expected at each of the six sessions and all students are asked to commit to ALL 6 NIGHTS. To ensure a great learning environment, space will be limited to 30 students per night, so sign up ASAP to secure your spot (and your chevruta’s)! If you’re a new student, fill out the application so we can start learning with you. If you’re a veteran, just drop us a line at sm@svara.org to let us know you’d like a spot. 


All of the learning at SVARA is offered free of charge. 

Course Requirements

As always, the requirements of the bet midrash are the ability to sound out (without comprehension) the alef bet, and the willingness and patience to work through the text in the original Hebrew/Aramaic. No translations will be used and students will be asked not to consult translations outside of class. This will be a mixed-level bet midrash of absolute beginners to experienced learners. The more advanced learners will have the chance to go beyond the Gemara into Rashi, codes, and medieval commentaries. Each session will be divided between chevruta (paired) learning and shiur (discussion).

All students must attend CRASH, Rabbi Lappe’s introductory talk before joining us in the Bet Midrash. Find out more information about CRASH here.


This is a six-week term. While unforeseen circumstances do arise, please plan to be at all six sessions. Each session builds on the work of the previous week, and students who miss a session will find it extremely difficult to catch up and participate fully. We are also trying to create an intimate community of learners, and consistency is important in developing such a community. If you are not down for this sort of commitment – that’s ok – just let us know!


You are welcome to eat during class. We will take a snack break mid-way through class. Stay tuned for opportunities to volunteer to provide snacks. The Center on Halsted is connected to Whole Foods. Feel free to grab some dinner there and eat it in the dining area of the lobby or bring it up to class with you.


At the first session, students will be provided with a bound volume of the tractate of Talmud we will be learning at a cost of $15. Please bring this $15 (cash or a check made out to SVARA) to the first class. If you have your own unvocalized, unpunctuated, untranslated volume of the Vilna Shas or cannot afford the $15, please be in touch with Mary (mary@svara.org).

There are two mandatory dictionaries necessary for doing the work of this bet midrash:

  1. A “Jastrow”—Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Bavli, Talmud Yerushalmi and Midrashic Literature, by Marcus Jastrow; and
  2. A “Frank”—Practical Talmud Dictionary, by Yitzhak Frank

These are great dictionaries for any and all future Talmud study (with Rabbi Lappe or elsewhere). Students are required to each have their own Jastrow and their own Frank. [Please, no sharing!] We recommend ordering these books through Rosenblum’s in Skokie (Simply let Micha know you are learning with Rabbi Lappe and he’ll help you find the right books). If you are unable, for financial reasons, to purchase a dictionary at this time, please send us a confidential email so that other arrangements can be made. Extra copies of these dictionaries will no longer be available for borrow if you have not made prior arrangements.


Bet midrash learning relies heavily on chevruta (partner) study. We’ll match you with a chevruta based on past text experience and Hebrew skill level. No worries about matching someone exactly! Chevruta pairing and study is an art, not a science, so there may be some adjusting once classes begin. If you would like to be paired with a certain person whom you know is also taking the class, please feel free to let us know that as well.


Coming to the S&M Bet Midrash?

Why don’t you come an hour early and join the Hebrew Grammar class!  

For new and returning students!
Really want to improve your Talmud skills? We’ve got three tips for you: Hebrew, Hebrew, and Hebrew! Now, SVARA-nik and U of C PhD student, David Frankel, will be teaching an optional Hebrew Grammar course for Bet Midrash students from 5:30-6:15 pm, at the Center on Halsted, before each S&M Bet Midrash session. Students will gain an in-depth understanding of Hebrew grammar and gain the tools necessary for deciphering  the words they encounter in the Talmud. For both beginners and more advanced students. Interested? Let us know!


Fragrance-Free Zone

Due to the severe chemical sensitivities of several members of our community, including Rabbi Lappe, please be exceedingly careful not to wear any scented products to bet midrash, including perfume, after-shave, hand lotion, moisturizer, etc.


Apply for the S&M Bet Midrash here.

We’re so looking forward to learning with you!

For more information, contact SVARA at sm@svara.org , or check out our Facebook page.