S&M Bet Midrash

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 in our third year of collaboration, the popular Tuesday-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! Typically, four six-week sessions are offered over the course of the academic year–come to one, come to all, no need to commit to all four! 


Dates: 6 Tuesdays, October 27th-December 1st, 2015.

Time: 7:00 – 9:30 pm

Location: Lakeview location TBD

Note: We’re only offering a Tuesday bet midrash this time around, so sign up now to be sure you get a spot!


Veteran students: Just Email Sara to claim a spot!

What does an evening at the S&M Bet Midrash look like?  

Each class begins with chevruta learning–sitting with your chevruta, your text, and your dictionaries and preparing the text.  At SVARA, we never use translations–no matter how long you’ve been learning, or if this is your first time opening the Talmud, your text is in the original Hebrew or Aramaic. That’s what makes it fun! Everyone has the same amount of time to work thorugh the text. The more advanced learners will have the chance to go beyond the gemara into Rashi, Tosafot, codes, and mefarshim (medieval commentaries). After everyone’s spent some time deciphering the day’s text, we come together as a group to go over what we’ve learned and discuss it–that’s called shiur. The following week, chevruta time begins with hazara (review) of the previous week’s material to the point of ownership, mastery, and memorization, after which you’ll prepare the new material for that night. At that night’s shiur, we begin with recitation of the memorized material–and everyone who recites gets clapped up, no matter how much you were able to do!

I don’t have a chevruta (partner) to learn with!

Don’t have a chevruta at your skill level? No worries, you’re not alone! We have many diverse learners and are happy to help pair you up with a partner. 

I’ve never done this before. I don’t think I can do it!  

While all texts are studied in the original Hebrew/Aramaic from the Vilna Shas (traditional printing of the Talmud), no prior text experience is necessary. The requirements for the class are your ability to merely sound out (even without comprehension) the alef bet, your text, and dictionaries, attendance at all sessions, and your willingness to work hard. If you’re willing to try, we’ll help you succeed!  

Don’t believe us? Check out this awesome video taken on the last night of one session. Trust us, some of the folks reciting here had never done this before. If they can do it, you can do it!

Chazarah from SVARA on Vimeo.

 Here’s another AWESOME video from our spring session! (The password is svara)

How much does the S&M Bet Midrash cost? 

Free of charge! Your learning has been made possible by the chesed (loving generosity) of SVARA-niks who came before you, SVARA and our funding partners, and the sponsorship of Mishkan Chicago. As individuals experience the joy, power, and importance–to their lives and to the world around them–of learning Talmud, they want you to experience it, too. 

If, after learning in the bet midrash, you want to, and have the means to, make it possible for others to have the same opportunity, you can deepen your practice of chesed then! This is how Torah has been transmitted for 3,000 years, and we think it’s a pretty good system. It got us here. And if we keep it up, in 3,000 years people will still be learning and being shaped by this really wise tradition. 

What if I can’t make all the classes in a session?  

This is a six-week term. While unforeseen circumstances do arise, please plan to be at all the 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. In addition, your chevruta depends on you for their learning as well!

We are also trying to create an intimate community of learners, and consistency is important in developing such a community. If you do miss a session, plan to get notes from your chevruta BEFORE the next class, so you don’t fall too far behind. If you are not down for this sort of commitment – that’s ok – just let us know; we’ll let you know about other ways to learn with us!

 Class is at dinner time! What do I do?

You are welcome to eat during class and we will also take a snack break mid-way through class. We will pass around a sign-up sheet the first day of class for folks to volunteer to bring significant and delightful snacks to keep everyone going throughout an evening of learning. Feel free to grab some take-out before the bet midrash and bring it with you to eat while you’re learning. (We will let you know in advance if there are allergies to worry about regarding the food you bring.)

 You mentioned texts and dictionaries…

At the first session, students will be provided with a bound volume of the tractate of Talmudwe will be learning–a masechet–at a cost of $20. Please bring this $20 (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 $20, please let us know.

There are also 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).


On the application, we’ll give you a chance to order the books from us–we’ll get a big shipment from Rosenblum’s in Skokie at the beginning of each session. They’re also often available used on Amazon. If you already have the books, plan to bring them to the first session.

As with the masechet, If you are unable, for financial reasons, to purchase a dictionary at this time, don’t hesitate to send us a private 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.  


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, lip balm, moisturizer, etc.


 Apply for the S&M Bet Midrash here.

Veterans, you can skip the application and just shoot us a “Count me in!” email to reserve your spot.

We’re so looking forward to learning with you!


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