Night of learning could become Shavuot tradition

Night of learning could become Shavuot tradition

In case you think studying on Shavuot is boring, check out these classes:
• “Shavuot and the Grateful Dead;”
• “From Sinai to Cyberspace;”
• “Are You Ready for some Torah?”
• “Moses at Sinai: You Were There.”
No, we didn’t make these up. These are just four classes that will be taught tonight, Thursday, May 28, during Jewish Pittsburgh’s first communitywide Tikkun Leil Shavuot.
There are more traditional topics, too, such as “Judaism, Justice and Healthcare,” “Physician of the Soul: Maimonides’ 21st Century Message,” and “Face to Face: [How] Do Jews See God?”
Nineteen rabbis from nearly every stream of Judaism have agreed to teach 24, 50-minute classes between 10 p.m. and 12:50 a.m. on erev Shavuot — all at the Jewish Community Center. Dessert and coffee will be served during each break.
Each rabbi will teach his or her own class.
“One thing we insisted on was that everyone have an equal time slot, but doing their own thing,” said Community Scholar Rabbi Danny Schiff.
The rabbis also whipped up their own topics, though Schiff offered some constructive advice whenever there was overlap, “and that indeed happened.”
Though it’s the first time Jewish Pittsburgh has had a communitywide Tikkun Leil Shavuot, it’s a model that has been used in other cities. Pittsburgh, however, has taken a different approach to learning on this holiday.
Certainly, Jews in Pittsburgh have always studied on Shavuot, but the model was different.
“Classically, this has been the domain of the synagogues (in Pittsburgh),” Schiff said. But feedback to the Agency for Jewish Learning indicated that the events were sometimes lightly attended and that bringing all elements of the community together could create a significant learning opportunity.
Barbara Shuman, co-chair of the AJL’s adult learning committee, said people interested in learning with different rabbis on Shavuot often ran into problems. They didn’t always know what, if any, programs were happening at other synagogues. And even if they did, they might not feel altogether comfortable going.
“This way, all the students and teachers are together under one roof at the same time,” she said. “Because it’s a parve setting, I can feel quite comfortable studying with Rabbi (Yisroel) Miller or one of the Chabad rabbis; it broadens my experience.”
The AJL, JCC and the United Jewish Federation are jointly sponsoring the Tikkun Leil Shavuot.
Learning takes on special significance on Shavuot since it is the holiday that celebrates the giving of the Torah at Sinai.
How many people will actually attend tonight is not clear, and in a way, not really relevant, Shuman said.
“To me, the news is not how many people show up,” she said, “but that we’ve been able to bring teachers and students from every corner of the Jewish community together to learn.”
“But I’m hoping this will not be the last time,” she added, “that it will be the start of a community custom.”

(Lee Chottiner can be reached at

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