Thought for the Week: Studying together

Written by Rabbi Josh Levy — 25 November 2015

This weekend, 120 Alyth members will come together in the Oxfordshire countryside to learn, pray and laugh together.  Over the weekend there will be a huge variety of study opportunities of differing styles – text studies, illustrated lectures, presentations and discussions, and study in pairs.

One thing that all this study will have in common is that it will happen in groups of no fewer than two.  Jewish study is something that you do with someone else.  It is great to read a book, or grapple with a text for yourself, but the study of Torah is a communal, a social experience.

According to the Talmud, we should make “groups upon groups to engage in study of Torah, for the Torah is not acquired except ba’chaburah – in a friendship group” (B’rachot 63b).  This text goes on to threaten a sword against those who study alone.  And (even worse than that in the eyes of the Rabbis) that those who study alone will become foolish!

Elsewhere, the Talmud has particular praise for study in pairs, stating that two Torah scholars sharpen each other’s minds (Ta’anit 7a).  This becomes a common mode of study in Jewish tradition – known in Hebrew (well, Aramaic) as chavruta – friendship.  At one point this Shabbat, the whole Weekend Away community in Oxfordshire will split into pairs in one room to study in chevruta on Shabbat morning.

The extent to which study is a communal experience is seen in the famous Talmudic expression “o chavruta o mituta” (Ta’anit 23a) – “Either companionship or death!”

This is a very hyperbolic way of saying something that is also at the heart of Alyth life.  Our Talmud class, Gateway classes, shiurim, Scholars-in-Residence, our Weekend Away – these all reflect a fundamental Jewish ideal – that community, social interaction, study together, is what makes for a full and meaningful Jewish life.