Nance in Manhattan

Summer School at the Jewish Theological Seminary


Shalom from Manhattan


Week 2 update

Week 3 update

Week 4 update

Shalom from Manhattan again. I have survived week two of classes. I woke up expecting it to be raining and instead it was a beautiful day. Yesterday it rained all day. Someone pointed out that I should feel at home! I didn’t make it to the fireworks on Monday so I don’t have any great pictures, instead there are some pictures taken at dusk in the courtyard inside the JTS quad of buildings. I was trying to take pictures of lightening bugs (fireflies) as I haven’t seen any in Seattle, but alas, they don’t photograph very well.


I did watch the fireworks on the TV with two other students here. That was fun as neither of them are American and they had not seen a 4th of July fireworks display before. They were quite impressed and plan to go see them in person next year. My friend David did go by himself after spending the day roaming around New York on foot.


Wednesday evening I went to a Beit Midrash (house of study) program where Rabbi Burt Visotzky was speaking. I have taken two classes with Rabbi Visotzky and he is a wonderful teacher and person. He was teaching in honor of the anniversary of his father’s death. His father died when Burt was a first year rabbinical student here and Burt started the custom of reading a complete maseket (volume) of Talmud each year. This would be completed on the anniversary and marked with a si’um (celebration at completion of study). This is the second year I have marked this occasion as last summer he did it in the class I was taking. Burt is a drinker of fine Scotch, which he brings a bottle of to the si’um, so it is a nice occasion on many fronts! Rabbi Visotzky had just returned from Qatar where he was an official representative of American Jews at an interfaith dialogue sponsored by the Emir of Qatar. This dialogue is in its third year and this is the first year Jews were invited. That said, there almost were no Jews there again as the Emir invited Jews from Israel but told them they couldn’t speak. This prompted a boycott. Qatar issued an apology and said that they could speak but the Israeli and European Jews still did not attend. Many fundamentalist Muslims who have attended in past years did not attend either to protest the Jews being invited. The Emir of Qatar is a fairly progressive guy and R. Visotzky was surprised (mostly pleasantly) by many of the things that he saw and experienced in Qatar. The Emir is into education and instead of sending people abroad is importing Western institutions into Qatar. Texas A&M has a school of agriculture there for example.  So, citizens of Qatar get good educations without the concern of them being exposed to Western culture and peoples.  Of course, the Emir’s own daughters have degrees from American Universities.


My classes are going well and are quite interesting. The class on Magic and Mysticalism is very, very interesting. Learning lots about ancient Judaism that is far from what we view as “normative” or even normal!! We are reading about lots of fiery angels and their fire eating horses that guard the gates of the palaces of heaven. As our professor says – the goal is to make the familiar foreign and the foreign familiar. I think we have achieved the first but I am not sure that I want to make fiery angels who will stone me with iron bars familiar!! I am going to be giving a presentation for this class on a text called “Sefer Yetsirah” This translates to the Book of Creation or Formation. It is an ancient text about how everything was created by God using the 22 letters of the Hebrew aleph bet and 10 numbers (also represented by the first 10 letters of the aleph bet). It is very interesting and strange. One of the theories is that it was written to explain how God “spoke” and created the world. If all of Creation is made up of letters, then that would give speech the power of creation. Others in class are doing presentations on magic amulets and incantation bowls and other interesting things.


Not too much else to report. I plan to spend Sunday and Monday reading for my Spinoza paper and the independent study I am doing.  Monday night is another Beit Midrash with Rabbi Joel Roth who has served as the Head of the Law Committee of the Conservative Movement and who was my teacher for the course on Talmud that I took last year. It will be nice to meet him in person and to get to study with him in person.


Have a great week.