2,000 years in the making: UK hosts first cross-communal yeshiva

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2,000 years in the making: UK hosts first cross-communal yeshiva

Edinburgh welcomes more than 100 learners to inclusive Talmud community at Azara

‘Hachnasat Sefer Torah’; participants bring their Sefer Torah to the Beit Midrash. Photo credit Naomi Klionsky.
‘Hachnasat Sefer Torah’; participants bring their Sefer Torah to the Beit Midrash. Photo credit Naomi Klionsky.

More than 100 participants from different denominations and age groups have taken part in Edinburgh’s Azara cross-communal yeshiva, the first of its kind in 2,000 years of European Jewish history.

Participants joined a variety of events, including sessions of textual study of Talmud, Halacha and books on Modern Jewish Thought, as well as get-togethers with the wider local community. Attendee Sam Gaus said that the first meeting had been “one of the best Torah events I’ve been to in Edinburgh”.

According to Jessica Spencer, a founder and teacher at the yeshiva: “participants bonded remarkably well” and “were very invested in hearing other people’s thoughts and understanding their worldviews”, showing the possibility of respecting and learning from others’ views, while not compromising one’s own values.

Participants in Chevruta (one-on-one learning) during the Azara orientation. Photo credit Ben Schwaub.

Jeremy Tabick, a Talmud teacher at the yeshiva, said: “Azara is giving access to deep Torah learning to a whole group of people who have never had the opportunity. It’s inspiring to watch such committed and excited participants throw themselves into a month-long experience. The organisers have done incredible work in putting the programme together.”

Reflecting upon the month of study, one student told Jewish News:

“Favourite thing: learning in an accepting, pluralistic environment, where disagreeing with the text is okay. Biggest surprise: I don’t suck at Gemara. Most important thing I learned: what it actually looks like to learn (and teach) in a non-judgemental environment.”

Looking towards the future, the students have committed to sharing their studies when they return to their own communities. Azara believes that this summer will be the catalyst for text learning across the community, and, as Jessica Spencer puts it, “we’re certainly hoping that this will be the first of many.”

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