Religion & Beliefs

Two Is Better Than One—Start Your Own Chevruta

I’m going to be in New York this summer, and part of the reason I’m so excited about it is the proximity of my chevruta. A chevruta is a study partner, a person you learn Torah (or Talmuch, or Nach … Read More

By / May 17, 2007
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I’m going to be in New York this summer, and part of the reason I’m so excited about it is the proximity of my chevruta. A chevruta is a study partner, a person you learn Torah (or Talmuch, or Nach or whatever) with. Kind of like an AA sponsor, but for learning. The benefits of a chevruta are huge. Your partner will add insight, will bring another point of view, and will ask all kinds of questions that you hadn’t thought of. To start your own chevruta you need to first pick a friend. It doesn’t have to be your best friend, it can be someone you know but not that well, someone that you get along with, but who you think might have a different take on things than you. Someone who’s adventurous and motivated and dedicated. Then set up a time to sit down together. Every week, every other week, once a month, but make it regular, so that you can really build it into your schedule. Having consistent study habits is the key to making this work. Next, pick a book. If this is your first time learning text, you might consider Genesis, which is action packed, but is full of stories you’re probably somewhat familiar with. If you’ve done some text study before, I suggest either heading over to the Prophets, like Joshua, Judges, or Samuel I, or checking out some of the megillot. The books of Esther and Ruth aren’t too long, so if you give yourself a year to look at them in depth you can be confident that by next Purim or next Shavuot you’ll be done. If you’re interested in Jewish Law, start with Mishna, and instead of beginning with the laws of damages and found objects (why does everyone begin with that crap? It’s painfully boring! Grrr!) start with something more relevant to you, like Megilla or Nashim, laws having to do with Purim and women respectively. Once you’ve chosen what you want to study, you have to get the appropriate books. Ideally you should go to a Judaica store where you can browse and ask the salespeople what they recommend. But if you don’t have a Judaica store nearby, or you happen to have a gift certificate to an online bookstore or something, here are some suggestions: For Torah study, I adore the JPS Commentary, which you can buy as a set of all five books, or in single volumes. Robert Alter’s translation and commentary is also nice, but I think for chevruta you should have a bit more commentary than he usually offers. For lots of fascinating and in depth discussion, plus added questions for you to think about, get a copy of Nechama Leibovitz’s commentary on the parshot. You can buy it volume by volume, or in a set, and it comes in Hebrew and in English. An excellent resource. If you’re working with Joshua, Judges, Ruth or Esther, and if you’re set on something in English, Artscroll publishes a variety of useful texts. They’ve got a pretty right wing translation and agenda, but they offer lots of commentary in English, so it’s worth it to have one of their books on hand, and supplement it with something more wacky and liberal like this book about the political implications of the book of Esther. If you’re comfortable with Hebrew, I’m obsessed with the HaKeter series, which is gorgeous and very easy to read. And any basic mikraot gedolot will do. For Mishna, in English there’s the trusty Artscroll, and in Hebrew, start with the Kehati which has lots of helpful hints. Once you’ve chosen a text, sit down, and begin studying. This means you take turns reading the primary text, first in Hebrew, if possible, and then in English. Then ask any questions you might have, and try to clarify things. You can use the commentary in your text as a guide, but feel free to try to figure things out as you go along. Rinse and repeat. When you’ve finished a chapter, a book, or a section, have a party, a siyum to celebrate all your hard work and study. Invite friends, make good food, and give a dvar Torah based on what you learned. Take pictures with your awesome chevruta and congratulate yourselves on being so cool and Jewish.