Okay, still getting used to this format. Evidently this blog is already being found by people who aren’t on my personal spam list–and upon reflection, I realize that I’ve been woefully out of touch with some of the Good People I spammed today, so maybe some more background about what I’ll be doing in the great Eastern yonder is in order.
I’m studying to be a rabbi, and generally my program ships us third-years off to J’lem to get our sabra on. I look down the list of the classes that I’ll be taking (not ’till like October, but whatever), and I see that it’s primarily text classes: Midrash, Talmud, Codes, Halakha l’Maaseh (practical aspects of Jewish Law), Israel seminar, Bible, Talmud Bekiut (uhh, a lot of Talmud moving quickly). This makes strange sense to me for a couple of reasons. The obvious one is that “the Israel year” is designed to be a lot about immersion–immersion into a language, a religious rhythm (it really is different when the whole city, basically, keeps Shabbat), and into the texts themselves. It makes sense because of resources–some of the biggest brains in Jewdom live in J’lem, so it’s smart to have them teach us the hard stuff from the hard books, right?
But there’s something else to the pace as well, I think. I picture the process of ordination as a little bit like a labyrinth walk–a sense of coiling in and then, eventually, coiling out. Eventually we get to be back out there in the real world, with the real people, doing and performing and such–and a few of the 5th year classes really draw the focus outward again. But this–3rd year–is like the apex of the inward-gaze that’s really necessary if one is going to become clergy, and become clergy properly. Maybe this is part of why they send us to a whole other country–far from what is familiar (to most of us) and from our key people (for most of us), in a place where it’s harder to even get, like, a normal job, maybe it’s more likely that we’ll do some of the good, yummy, hard, icky, beautiful, necessary and entirely holy inner work required to be a servant of God. Or maybe we’ll just have some time to live and be a person (rather than A Baby Rabbi), which I don’t think is necessarily different from the other thing. And all this heavy texty stuff–while I have my thoughts about things that I think are missing from the curriculum as a whole–is really about learning for the sake of learning’s sake, about studying just because it’s good to study. Lishma, they say in Jew-speak. Everybody seems to agree that third year is “the best year”, and I’m guessing some of this is why.
I hope it’s true. All the people I know who’ve done something like this send these funky mixed messages about how great and how hard the experience was (My friend K.: “You’ll need to bring rainpants and big galoshes! It rains constantly for months! It’s good you’ll have a DVD player because everybody gets really, really sick at some point! Oh, and a lot of people I know took up smoking because the stress of the bombings was so great! Yeah, man. It was the best year of my life.”) I’m prepared for hard. Frankly, I’ve been preparing for the hard for a while, now (not like any of those “preparations” will do me a whit of good when I actually get there, but, you know). Glorious, that I wouldn’t mind. Fun would be OK too.
Ultimately, though, I just hope it makes me better clergy. In the broadest sense of the word.