- time 8th-12th grade
- location In person at Hebrew College OR Online
- duration Tuesdays in person, 6:00-8:30pm (with dinner) OR Wednesdays online, 6:45-8:30pm, Oct-May. Class begins Oct. 12th (in person) and 13th (online).
Tal Pemstein, Newton
Every week, I have that feeling of ‘Wow! This is a place where I can think!’ It’s a place where you get to think for yourself and really be yourself. For example, when translating, one word could mean many different things, but it’s up to each havruta to figure out which translation makes the most sense, resulting in slight differences in translation between havrutot. There’s so much freedom to understand things your own way. I think that’s really what makes me come back to TBM every year.
Hebrew College Teen Beit Midrash (TBM) is an intimate and challenging program for teens in 8th-12th grades of all denominations who are looking for a pluralistic and inclusive place to explore their identity as a Jews and deepen their knowledge.
Founded by Hebrew College alumna Rabbi Shahar Colt `16, the program bring together a dedicated and diverse group of Jewish teens who are excited to delve into traditional Talmudic text and find contemporary meaning relevant to our lives. We open the library of our Jewish heritage to help teens understand our multi-voiced, nuanced tradition and gain the skills to reach their own conclusions. Talmud study enables us to hone our reasoning and persuasive argument skills that are applicable to all aspects of our lives. Together, we study, share dinner together, build community and learn and have fun.
Teen Beit Midrash parent
Our family hit the jackpot when we found TBM. It is a welcoming community with high-quality Jewish learning at the center. My teens went every week without complaining (really!). TBM is just the right combination of educational and social — with all kids, even the most quirky, welcomed. To this day, my children count graduates of TBM among their closest friends.
Questions about Teen Beit Midrash
A Beit Midrash or Study House is a unique and traditional Jewish way of learning. In a beit midrash, traditionally, students learn in pairs or small groups grappling directly with texts. This intimate form of study lets the students be in charge of their learning and build relationships built on trust and openness.
Students are supported by dedicated teachers who take teens seriously. They encourage and guide the teens in making meaning of both the texts and the big ideas and questions and how they relate to their lives. In our one room classroom, students learn to use dictionaries, grammar and translations.
Each year we choose a different Massechet (section or tractate) of the Talmud and follow it in its rich combination of Jewish law, morals, history, stories, and theology.
Each week we meet on one night a week for dinner and community building. We then delve into the sugiya or section for the night. Some students begin the translation process with hints and tools to access. Other students have more English support. We break part way through for a snack and then dive deep into discussions about the texts and the bigger questions raised in the sugiyah. We end the evening with how these ideas relate to our lives and our society.
For the past year we have met on Zoom. In the fall of 2021 we plan to offer two parallel TBM nights.
On Tuesday nights we will be in person (when it is safe), location TBD. We start at 6pm for dinner and schmooze time (chatting and catching up) and then dive into our learning until 8:30pm.
On Wednesday nights we will be on Zoom so that anyone can join. We start at 6:45pm for shmooze time (chatting and catching up) and then dive into our learning at 7pm until 8:30pm.
A Beit Midrash or Study House is a noisy place for sharing ideas and challenging each other in the spirit of finding authentic meaning in our texts. We break up into pairs or small groups, usually based on learning styles and Hebrew levels. We translate each text, not once but at least twice – first for the meaning of the specific words and then for the meaning of the text as a whole. The Rabbis of the Talmud did not always explain their reasoning. We have to dig deep into their words to puzzle out what they meant and then decide whether or not we agree.
A Beit Midrash is a noisy place because we are talking and sharing. The model of hevruta, or paired learning, goes back to the Talmud. The idea is that two people try to uncover meaning in a text based upon their understanding of the world and each other. Our learning is richer when we share ourselves as well.
A Beit Midrash is also a place to build a shared culture. We start our learning by dedicating our learning to people and situations that need our attention. We share our interests and news of the week. Sometimes, like before Purim, our Beit Midrash becomes a place to share jokes and plays.
In our Beit Midrash at TBM we share what it means to be a Jew in a secular world. How do we bring our Judaism to school and what happens when they clash or misalign? We also discuss how the wisdom of our ancient tradition can inform the way we think about important issues of today like justice, equality, and climate change.
Teen Beit Midrash is open to curious 8th-12th graders who want to spend their free time in an intellectually stimulating Jewish environment where they can try out big ideas and be actively engaged in their learning.
When we are in person we have students from around the greater Boston area. While the program is online, we welcome students from all over, from Nashville to New York. Some teens go to public school and some to private school. Students enter with a wide range of language and text skills and varying levels of knowledge of Jewish content. In general, we ask that teens be able to sound out the Hebrew alphabet before they join the program. But most important, teens who are looking for an intimate and challenging, pluralistic and inclusive, Jewish teen experience.
Want a taste of what learning Talmud is like? Here’s an example of a text that we learned last year from the Babylonian Talmud. It is from the section called Sukkah, on page 28b. This section is talking about the holiday of Sukkot – the fall harvest festival.
Step 1: First we look at the Hebrew or Aramaic.
כל שבעת הימים
Step 2: Rough (Yoda) translation
Then we start to translate. Different teens do it in different ways but everyone works with a hevrutah or learning buddy. Everyone uses a variety of dictionaries and word banks. Some have more extensive word banks and some literal or rough translation which helps them figure out why the words mean what they do and how they’re structured (sometimes we call it the Yoda translation, you’ll see why):
All seven+of the (ת) the day (plural)
Sukkah+his (תו) permanent
And house+his (תו) temporary
Step 3: Polished (or real English) translation
Next we take our rough/Yoda translation and transform it into prose.
All seven days of the holiday of Sukkot (see, you have to add some words so that it makes sense)
A person makes
His Sukkah his permanent residence
And his house his temporary residence
Step 4: Now here comes the really fun part: The Wondering About!
This is when we take this really old text (1500 years, give or take a few centuries) and try to figure out what it really means beyond its face value and what it can teach us for our lives today. We suggest a few questions to start with, but really it is the teens who do the deep dive thinking and wondering: Teen Beit Midrash is a place for you to be in control of your learning.
- When do our houses feel permanent or temporary? What makes them feel that way?
- What does it mean to have a holiday/experience that takes us out of our comfort zone on purpose?
- How does it affect us to make nature our permanent home? What does it say about how we think about our planet as our home?
Teen Beit Midrash is not only about learning Talmud. We also care about building a Jewish community. When we meet in person, we share dinner together each week. While meeting online we will still make time to connect socially and learn about each other’s lives. We share important milestones and celebrate small events as well.
Each semester we have a Shabbaton. We spend Shabbat together in a community. We pray, eat, learn and play games together. We accommodate a variety of Shabbat observance. Though we cannot hold shabbatonim this year, we occasionally have other virtual programming outside of class time, such as game nights or gathering for havdalah together.
Teen Beit Midrash was founded by Hebrew College alumna Rabbi Shahar Colt as a small but mighty Jewish startup. We are grateful to the following amazing groups and individuals:
Our founder and Rabbi Shahar Colt `16
Harvard Hillel, Temple Beth Zion, and Kehillat Israel for generously providing space
All of the teens and families that have brought their T to TBM
Teen Beit Midrash Alum
I came back to TBM every week because the three values it radiates. TBM values belonging to an engaged Jewish community of like-minded people: Through community dinners and outside events like Shabbatons, we bond and strengthen the connection of the community. The TBM classroom is not one you will commonly find; teachers encourage everyone to want to learn, because they cater to the students’ different learning levels and styles. TBM promotes learning that directly relates to our lives, making the material easier to internalize.
Current Student Voices
“I absolutely love the concepts that we’re learning this year. I really enjoy discussing the text with hevruta and then hearing everybody else’s insights when we come back together.“
“It’s been great so far! Honestly, I don’t think I would have joined TBM if the pandemic hadn’t purged my schedule. After a long day of Zoom classes, it can be hard to not implode at the thought of another class. But the material is much more engaging than what I have to do for school.”
Why students love TBM
Is squid ink kosher? Can you time travel on shabbos? Students in Hebrew College’s Teen Beit Midrash program tackle these questions together using creativity, text study, and their pluralistic perspectives, and learn about themselves and their classmates in the process.Watch the video