The Limmud Experience

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Rabbi Daniel Landes, Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies

Bonnie and Martin Lindauer spent two learning-filled days, Sunday and Monday, July 13-14, from 9 AM to around 5 each day, on the verdant campus of Sonoma State University, just outside Rohnert Park, at a Limmud (‘learning”) conference of Jews from all denominations (or none).  Limmud is an international organization with many chapters all over the world ( http://www.limmudbayarea.org). The Bay Area chapter is fairly young as this is the third Limmud conference.

After a plenary session led by Lee Shulman (retired Stanford Univ. faculty), we chose, with difficulty (so much good stuff), from 7-10 simultaneous sessions in any given time slot, with topics ranging from Talmud to psychology, from film to Bible, from Jewish music to death and burial and current political issues, mussar sessions, and sacred chanting and meditation. Each session lasted 1.5 hours. (See the 2014 program at: http://sched2014.limmudbayarea.org.   Sunday evening featured a fabulous concert by Neshamah Carlbach and her talented musician-husband Josh Nelson.

We started off with a provocative session titled “Abraham: A Smashing Success?” In this highly interactive session taught by Michal Morris Kamil, we read and discussed Genesis Chapter 11 and Midrash, Bereshit Rabbah 38:13 in which we learned that Abraham is not the earliest to believe in monotheism and his father Terah is really the instigator of their leaving Ur to go to Canaan. We also both attended one of the four sessions taught by Rabbi Daniel Landes of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Israel. It was a fascinating session on “Theology of a Machloket in a Post-Modern Setting.” “Macholket is argumentation and debate and of course the Talmud is well know for this. We read and argued over four Talmud sections and several other texts to look for how the macholkot might answer Rabbi Landes question: How do these texts explain the notion of what is Torah?

Bonnie attended two other of Rabbi Landes’ sessions: one titled “Men on the Mount, Women of the Wall and Muslims on Top” and the other a beautiful session title “Love God with All your Heart, With All your Soul, With all your Might.” From the “Men on the Mount….etc” session she learned that the Western wall isn’t even mentioned in the Mishneh Torah (Maimonides) where the content of what the temple in Jerusalem should contain and how to enter and who goes where are detailed. Rabbi Landes summarized by saying “Rambam doesn’t even mention the Kotel. Of course, everyone should have the right to pray at the Western Wall and maybe there should be separate spaces for men and women, but yes, it’s halachically OK for women to pray at the Kotel.” Bonnie also attended a session on Torah and Yoga, Art and Music of Exodus, and a delightful session entitled “Radical Amazement and the Art of Haiku: When Heschel Meets Basho.” The facilitator Abra Greenspan, a longtime writer of haiku and student of Japanese literature, shared a comparison between Heschel’s concept of radical amazement and some philosophy of haiku. For example:

Haiku:  “Haiku offers not the idea of an experience, but the experience itself.” (From Margaret D. McGee’s Haiku: the Sacred Art)
Heschel:  “This is one of the goals of the Jewish way of  living: to experience commonplace deeds as spiritual adventures, to feel the hidden love and wisdom in all things. (God in Search of Man)

Many young people, families, and babes in arms attended;  even some dogs (alas, not ours).  There is also a Limmud camp for youngsters.   Vegetarian kosher meals were included. We stayed at a nearby motel but most attendees lodged at the college’s dorms (some with kitchens and all very modern).  Expenses were remarkably low, since Limmud is run by volunteers exclusively.

This was our  second Limmud experience (the first was at Asilomar, near Monterrey) and we plan to attend next year’s as well, also at Sonoma State. We both highly recommend the experience and will keep you posted when the next year’s date is scheduled.

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