Sunday, October 17, 2010

Lesson Plan: Learning with a Maggid

Today in our world religion class, we got to hear from a Maggid, or ordained Jewish storyteller.  The maggids are part of a 17th century Hasidic tradition that incorporates storytelling into Jewish religious practices.  According to Maggid Rachel Galper, the woman who spoke to our class today, the role of the maggid is to take the same stories that might be in the Torah and other religious writings and might be addressed by the Rabbi in a Shabbat service, but to present it to people in a more informal, or in her words, "user-friendly" way.

Maggid Galper started out by asking the students, What makes someone Jewish?  They discussed various aspects--food, clothes, holidays, family heritage (especially through the mother)--but Maggid Galper said that in her mind (admittedly, she is of the Reform persuasion), people choose to be Jewish when they believe in and follow Jewish faith practices, regardless of family background or other factors.

Maggid Galper covered many of the great Jewish patriarch stories--Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Esau, Joseph, Moses, Jonah, and David, among others.  She raised the issue that some take these tales as literal truth, and others as teaching stories where events or people may be symbols for a larger truth.  She explained that the name "Isreal" means "God Wrestler," and stated her belief that to be Jewish is to argue with or wrestle with "God" or spiritual truths or stories.  "If you ask a Jew about a spiritual question," she claimed, "You'll get 10 different answers."  But in Maggid Galper's mind, that is a good thing.

What was particularly great about listening to Maggid Galper, though, was that she also talked about the stories of women found in Jewish writing.  So it was that we heard the version of the Abraham and Isaac story in which Abraham's wife, Sara, is the one to rescue Isaac, or the important role Mose's sister, Miriam, had in protecting Moses and making sure the flight from Egypt and search for the promised land was successful.

She talked about the Torah, made up of black writing, known as "black fire," and white space, known as "white fire."  She related that to a story about Miriam, who received a gift of an empty box from the angels while Moses was receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai.  White fire, she said, was given to women to represent all the wonderful, valuable stories and wisdom that are NOT contained in the Torah.  Finding and telling those stories, according to Maggid Galper, is the purview of women--a teaching that I just loved.

It was a great gift to have her, and both the students and I learned a lot to add to our understanding of the rich traditon of Judaism.

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