Years have passed since that awful night in November 1995 when the world learned of the assassination of Israel’s Prime Minister, Yitzchak Rabin. At the time, this writer lived in Calgary, Alberta Canada and was actively involved in an online Jewish discussion list called Tor-Ch, the Torat Chesed group. Members of the group were in shock regarding the Jerusalem tragedy. Some asked me, a relative nobody, what I would do. I suggested the age old Jewish way to memorialize our beloved departed. My email to the listserv bore words that I have heard repeated many times since, “why don’t we do as they have in shiva houses and study Mishna?” (Mishna is the first major work of rabbinic literature that was reduced to writing by Rabbi Judah the Prince, sometime in the third century. The Mishna is the basis of the more widely known Talmud.)
Little had I then realized that I had fathered a new program. Offering my idea I provided the seed of a program that was successfully taught by Rabbi Simcha Roth of Herzliyah, Israel and came to be known as the Rabin Mishna Study Group (RMSG). The first lesson was published online on the day of Rabin’s funeral, November 6, 1995. Since that time, Roth taught hundreds of online lessons, and grew the group from a base of about 20 original students who signed on with Rabin’s passing, to a group that now approaches a thousand students worldwide. In its early years the program was disseminated by listserv from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. For the past several years, particularly since Rabbi Roth retired from pulpit life, the program was based in Jerusalem under the aegis of the Conservative/Masorti movement’s Virtual Seminary, officially called Bet Midrash Virtuali.
During those years under Rabbi Roth’s guidance, the group studied twelve tractates (volumes) spread among each of the six orders (major divisions) of the Mishna. Participants ideas were cited by Rabbi Roth as each brought insights from prior studies and personal experience to the discussion of the Jewish texts, and the enterprise was active, exciting and highly participatory despite the fact that the students were spread out to the four corners of the globe.
Sadly Rabbi Roth passed away during May of this year. As the father of the child he mothered so well, I could not allow our offspring to pass on as well. I contacted Rona, Rabbi Roth’s widow, to let her know that if no one else rose to the challenge, I would take over for my friend. She directed me to the forces behind the Bet Midrash Virtuali, and last week, this writer was asked to submit sample lessons for consideration.
Columbus has long been a bastion of innovation for the world of Jewish education. During the 1950s this was the city where Saul Wachs oversaw early trials for teaching Bible through the inquiry method. That challenge was underwritten by Samuel Melton and became the first effort of the Melton Research Center of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Later, in the `1980’s, Melton’s widow, Florence, underwrote a novel program for teaching adults on a high level. That program, now called the Florence Melton Adult Mini Schools, is still utilized in communities throughout the world. Rabbi Idit Jacques of the Federation, with the help of local educators and consultation by the Jewish Educational Service of North America, launched the WOW Initiative to revitalize the Jewish educational programs of synagogue and community schools. Three very successful, widely respected programs have their roots in this fair city.
I have already written and submitted one sample lesson. Two more remain to be developed after Tisha B’Av, the Ninth of Av. If given the nod as the new teacher for RMSG, I will face a daunting text. I am not as scholarly as my dear friend and teacher, Rabbi Simcha Roth. Still, I will more than meet the challenge. I encourage readers to take my online lessons and arrange for them to be delivered to their email by contacting the Bet Midrash Virtuali and subscribing. They can read Rabbi Roth’s teaching in the archives at the same site.
If I can make it happen, my lessons will come from Jerusalem as my words of Torah are first sent from Columbus.