Judaism Unbound Episode 56: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva - Benay Lappe


In celebration of our one-year anniversary as a podcast, Dan and Lex are joined by the very first guest we ever had on the show, Benay Lappe, making her third guest appearance on Judaism Unbound. [1] In this episode, we do a deep dive into Lappe's organization, SVARA, which defines itself as a "traditionally radical yeshiva," a place to study Jewish texts through a "Queer lens."

(0:01 - 14:57): Lappe gives a basic overview of what the organization the she founded, SVARA: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva, does. [2] In particular, she discusses the Talmud, which many people think of as antiquated or boring, but which Lappe understands as "pleasurable and rewarding" -- especially for folks who are marginalized by society. [3]

(14:58 - 30:14): Lappe tells the story of her own journey into the world of Judaism and Talmud, which ultimately led to the founding of SVARA. She discusses her departure from Judaism and lengthy sojourn in the world of Buddhism and then explains how she came back to Judaism and entered rabbinical school, where she had to be in the closet, how she "went into hiding to get the Torah." Lappe also provides insight on why in-depth Talmud study can be particularly joyous, bringing a sense of achievement to learners, and why she thinks that Talmud study can be meaningful even to those who do not identify as Jews.

(30:14 - 44:23): An important question arises as the episode arcs towards its conclusion: Increasingly, people who are not LGBTQ are learning about SVARA and looking to engage with its offerings. Lappe talks about the tension between serving the growing numbers of non-LGBTQ people who are interested in SVARA and maintaining the uniquely queer and radical framework that has helped make SVARA so successful. [4]

[1] If you would like to hear more from Benay Lappe, check out two of our past episodes of Judaism Unbound in which she has been our featured guest: Episode 3: Exodus and Episode 36: What Jewish Looks Like Today

[2] Learn more about SVARA by visiting their website, svara.org.

[3] In discussing the pleasure that flows from meeting the challenge of learning Talmud, Lappe alludes to the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Learn more about his work, through a TED Talk he delivered, entitled Flow, The Secret to Happiness (to view it, click on the video directly to the left). Purchase his book, also entitled Flow, by clicking here.

[4] Lappe closes the episode by referring to the "Alma Mater" statue at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Learn more about the statue's history, and learn the text of its moving poem, by clicking here.

[5] View Lappe's influential ELI Talk, entitled "An Unrecognizable Jewish Future: A Queer Talmudic Take," a 17-minute distillation of "Crash" Theory that has been viewed by thousands, by clicking the video link directly to the left.