Students are beginning to wrap up their halakha learning for the year and move into a serious chazara and test-taking. This week, years 1 and 2 finished up the rabbinic restrictions of shehiyah and chazara - leaving food on the fire from before Shabbat and returning it to the fire on Shabbat. Years 3 and 4 covered the topics of tvilat kelim, immersing vessels bought from non-Jews, as well as bishul nakhhri, eating kosher food cooked by non-Jews. These halakhic areas present both practical challenges - eating in restaurants or otherwise off of dishes that are not toveled, and eating manufactured food products that are kosher but were produced by non-Jews, for example. They also present for some conceptual challenges, as they seem to treat everything non-Jewish as bad. One point that we made in shiur is that these statuses are specifically around food and food-related vessels. Therefore, they can be seen as an extension of the kashrut model. Not that it is "bad," just that when it comes to food and everything related to food, the Torah and the Rabbis clearly demarcate between not only kosher food and non-kosher food, but also, and as an extension, between Jewish and non-Jewish food, and between Jewish and non-Jewish eating utensils.
On Monday, Yom HaShoah, we interrupted our morning learning at 12:30 for a special commemoration. We - the Modern Orthodox community, in contrast to the Charedi community - have chosen to interrupt the joy of the month of Nissan with Yom HaShoah, and this serves as a statement that the tragedy of the Holocaust was so unprecedented that it created a rupture in history and to all normal categories, and thus needs to even create a rupture in the month of Nissan and its previous inviolate status. In this light, we believed that it was necessary to interrupt our morning seder for this commemoration. During this commemoration, Beit Midrash student Avram Mlotek led the yeshiva in the singing of Yiddish songs that were written during and survived the Holocaust. It was a profound moment of connecting back to the world that was, in our hearts and not just in our heads.
Tuesday is a day on which students of each year meet as a group for 1 hour with a Process Group leader to reflect on issues, and to listen to one another, and to learn to be reflective of and to process their own thoughts and feelings and those of others in the group. This Tuesday, we held a Process Group for the entire yeshiva, mixing students into different groups, and with a group for the rebbeim and staff as well. After each group met, the whole yeshiva was brought together. Each group reported on its discussions and there was then a period of yeshiva-wide discussion and reflection. It was a tremendously uplifting experience, to hear how thoughtful everyone was, how deeply invested in the yeshiva, and - when it came to sharing concerns and challenges - how both students and staff shared the same concerns, and were committed to working together to addressing them. Yasher Koach to Process Group Leaders Dr. Seth Aronson and Dr. Jill Salberg for initiating this, and to all the Process Group Leaders, and all the students and staff for their full and enthusiastic participation.
This week we also had two special guests. Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu from Klal's Rabbis Without Borders, was here on Wednesday and had lunch with students who were interested in being involved with this project. On Thursday, Rabbi Yitz Greenberg was this week's Visiting Scholar and he spoke on the critical topic of: "Toward a Personal Theology of Judaism- What Is the Jewish Story for the World?".
Finally, YCT students Andrew Scheer, Daniel Millner, and Aaron Potek left this weekend to Birmingham, AL, to support YCT student Eytan Yammer who is heading Knesseth Israel Congregation, the Orthodox Synagogue of Birmingham. As I am sure many of you know, Birmingham was hit with several tornados last week, and much of the community there is without electricity and other basic necessities. Our students will be helping bring aid to the people of Birmingham, and will be there for Shabbat to bring chizzuk to the Jewish community.