by Samantha Vinokor-Meinrath –
After 3+ months of daily study on the intricacies of the eruv, the symbolic boundary that extends the private domain of Jewish households into public areas in order to permit activities within it that would not otherwise have been allowed on Shabbat, I and my fellow Daf Yomi-ers am officially finished with Tractate Eruvin. In many ways, this particular section of Talmud is not meant for a global pandemic. Reading, day in and day out, about how to make public spaces private flipped on its head the day to day reality of life in COVID-19. At this moment, we’re far more likely to be making our private spaces public – welcoming colleagues and friends into the living rooms-turned offices that comprise our (or at least, my) days, with the Zoom squares providing a glimpse into private domains that are now accessible to all. Eruvin is all about how we can extend our boundaries outward. But the world of November 2020 is centered around making our boundaries smaller. Social distancing, quarantining, keeping up the proverbial walls that are meant to keep our community safe.
With another tractate finished, full of the most specific of details and the most esoteric of concepts, I chose to focus on just one verse that spoke to me as an educator, and a lifelong learner:
רבינא אמר: בני יהודה דגלו מסכתא, נתקיימה תורתן בידם. בני גליל דלא גלו מסכתא, לא נתקיימה תורתן בידם.
Ravina said: [With regard to] the people of Judah, who would [publicly] disclose the tractate [to be studied in the coming term so that everyone could prepare and study it in advance], their Torah endured for them; [with regard to] the people of the Galilee, who would not disclose the tractate to be studied, their Torah did not endure for them.
Too often in education, and in the world as a whole, information is kept on a seemingly need to know basis. I’m sure I’m not alone in being able to have immediate flashbacks to the anxiety of meeting requests without any context, just the vague “I need to speak with you” or “See me.” There is, of course, a power dynamic in play a lot of the time. As educators, we know things that our students don’t necessarily need to, and there’s sometimes a method to the madness of keeping them in the dark, giving out information bit by bit rather than dumping it all at once. As managers of organizations, it sometimes makes more sense to keep certain nuggets close to the vest, rather than to unload all of the details. But when we share information, we empower others. When the leaders of Judah shared the relevant information that allowed their students to be prepared for learning, they created confident learners whose study could make a lasting impact. By leading from a place of information rather than secrecy and pressure, they built strength in their learners, and therefore a positive relationship with the content and the process.
In my own teaching, I like to do all I can to pull back the curtain. To share what’s coming, what the logic is behind certain tasks or activities, and why I’m doing things a certain way. I do this because I want my learners to feel secure, to know that there is an intentionality and method to the madness, and that it’s important to me that they are part of the process, not just the product.
As the Daf Yomi cycle switches gears tomorrow and we move along to Passover, I’m ready for the pivot. Thinking about boundaries and courtyards and alleyways and what counts as one wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. But I’m glad to have stuck through this experience. To understand (if not fully follow) the complexities of this part of Jewish life and observance that to some is invisible, but to others is pivotal and critical to their lives. To recognize that there’s no aspect of life that doesn’t have depths to delve into and ethics to uncover.
Hadran Alach: We will return to you.
Samantha Vinokor-Meinrath is a Jewish educator passionate about connecting with Jewish teens and emerging adults, talking about Israel, history, philanthropy, and food, and sharing meaningful icebreakers. Learn more about Samantha and read past articles at: https://samanthavinokormeinrath.com/