These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Blowtorch to my Soul

Posted on May 30, 2014 by Eva Neuhaus

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Here are some reflections that I shared at the final
community lunch of the year:

evaneu“libun” is the process of making something kosher by heating it to a high temperature. “libun” means “to whiten” and refers to heating metal until it grows white; it also means “to purify.” studying talmud this year was like taking a blowtorch to my soul. several times i reached a point in class where i felt i was going to explode from frustration, and i seriously contemplated becoming a karaite (karaites use the tanach as their primary text and reject the mishnah and talmud). i actually called the karaite shul in the old city but never heard back from them.

the things that frustrated me were the the things i didn’t know what to do with. i couldn’t figure out how to make meaning of them or how to use them in a practical way. wrestling with the sages pushed me to expand my existing frame of reference; they wouldn’t let me rest until i found a way to understand them. there was incredible power in our encounter despite the fact that they’ve been dead for centuries and i met them for the first time in the pages of a book. they challenged me to take responsibility for my learning, to clarify my practice and beliefs against theirs.

although we tend to think of judaism as a western religion, in many ways it’s eastern in its approach. the anthologies of arguments that comprise our canon are akin to zen koans, which invite the practitioner into a new level of understanding by reflecting on seemingly intractable opposites. how can i participate fully in a system that limits my participation as a woman? how do i stay in my body while learning gemara in a box for hours on end?

at times it can be intensely uncomfortable to engage in a quest where all the questions lead to more questions, but ultimately that’s all there is. just as on yom kippur we ask for permission to pray with a community of sinners, there is something humbling and beautiful about learning with a community of learners where no one has all the answers, though some have more knowledge and experience on the path. i feel immensely grateful to be part of a community that can hold my questions, and i appreciate the willingness of our teachers to engage in the questions along with us. ultimately i think that the willingness to live inside the questions together is what creates community.

i want to bless us all with the courage to inhabit our questions fully, to let them work us over so that we may grow as individuals and as a community, even and especially from the places where we find dissonance. chazak chazak v’nitchazek!

Read more on my blog.