Podcast Ep #16: Poetry as Midrash
I think about poetry as something full of multi-layered allusions. And instead of meaning something, it evokes meaning. It’s generative of meaning rather than fixed in what it signifies. It’s an associative medium. It’s a flowing medium.– Rabbi Rachel Adelman
In this episode, we’re sharing a discussion between Hebrew College faculty member Rabbi Rachel Adelman and her rabbinical student Risa Dunbar about the power of poetry as midrash: the stories that open our text to even more questioning, along with understanding. Both writers bring their individual voices and experiences into the conversation with the text, allowing the ancient words a new place in the modern era.
Rabbi Rachel Adelman is an Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible at Hebrew College. When she is not writing books, papers, or divrei Torah, it is poetry that flows from her pen. Risa Dunbar is a current rabbinical student at Hebrew College, and an adept, passionate poet.
Tune in and discover how the very nature of poetry has the ability to give us a new perspective on ancient text and wisdom, generating meaning through flow, wordplay, and multi-layered illusions.
What You’ll Discover from this Episode:
- The inspiration behind Rachel’s poem, The Luz and the Dew
- Why Rachel thinks of poetry not as having meaning, but evoking meaning through multi-layered illusions.
- The freedom of expression that poetry gives the writer and the reader.
- Some interesting parallels that can be drawn between poetry and classical midrashim.
- How Risa’s poems reflect the narrative arc of Sarai, Avram, and Hagar (Genesis 16:8, 21:10).
- The way the poetic form helps Risa explore and expand upon her interpretation of Hagar’s trial.
Featured on this Episode:
Rabbi Rachel Adelman (PhD, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem) is Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible at Hebrew College in Boston, where she recently earned rabbinic ordination. Her first book, The Return of the Repressed: Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer and the Pseudepigrapha (Brill, 2009), is based on her doctoral dissertation, and she began her second, The Female Ruse: Women’s Deception and Divine Sanction in the Hebrew Bible (Sheffield Press, 2015), under the auspices of the Women’s Studies in Religion Program (WSRP) at Harvard. She is currently working on a new book, Daughters in Danger, from the Hebrew Bible to Modern Midrash (Sheffield). When she is not writing books, papers, or divrei Torah, it is poetry that flows from her pen.
Risa Dunbar grew up in an Interfaith family. At eleven years old, she initiated her formal Jewish education, becoming the first person in her family to become a Bat Mitzvah and enroll in Jewish day school. She graduated from Brandeis University with a major in anthropology and a minor in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and creative writing. She has worked at Lehrhaus, a new hybrid beit midrash/tavern and communal learning space in Cambridge, MA, BBYO’s International Kallah program, Camp Ramah in Northern California, the New Israel Fund, and in 2022-2023 will be the rabbinic intern at Ohav Shalom in Albany, NY.
Rabbi Jessica Lowenthal `19 (Host) is the spiritual leader and Education Director at Temple Beth Shalom in Melrose, MA. She was ordained in 2019 at Hebrew College. Before attending rabbinical school, Rabbi Jessica was Assistant Regional Director at the Anti-Defamation League in Boston, working with partners like MIRA (Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition) and MassEquality. She holds an MBA in non-profit management and MA in Jewish Leadership from the Hornstein program at Brandeis University and a BA from George Washington University in Religion and Judaic Studies.
A special thank you for this episode’s musical contributions:
Intro by: Jackson Mercer
Jackson is an Ordination Candidate at the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College in Newton, MA. He grew up at Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael, CA where he cultivated a love of Judaism, embolden with music, spirituality and justice.
Esa Einai (Psalm 121:1)
Music by Jackson Mercer
Guitar and Melody by Jackson Mercer
Harmonies by Cantor Rosalie Will, Ilana Sandberg, Rabbi Micah Shapiro, Rabbi Josh Warshawsky, Noah Diamondstein, Ryan Leszner, Eliana Light.
“Hashkiveinu” from “Celebrate! 30 years of Shabbat Joy!”
Featuring Cantor Kevin Margolius`13 and the Panorama Jazz Band
Touro Synagogue, New Orleans, LA