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The Koffler Bornstein Families Institute of Jewish Studies

Welcome to the Koffler Bornstein Families Institute of Jewish Studies!

We are delighted to offer a wide range of courses, lectures, and special events this year. Our range of offerings includes traditional favorites such as our weekly Tuesday night classes and Friday morning Parashat HaShavua, recent additions such as the Delve Deeper courses, and new educational opportunities, including a lecture series inspired by the success of past years' "Author, Author" lectures, and a Shabbat Lunch and Learn series on "Iyyun Tefillah: An In-Depth Exploration of our Shabbat Prayers," based on interest expressed by you, our students.

Whether you join us for one program or for them all, we hope this year will be one of exploration, discovery and joy. We invite you to explore our schedule and course descriptions below, and to be in touch with Rabbi Rachel Zerin at 331-1616 or with any questions, comments, or suggestions. Most importantly, we look forward to learning with you soon!


Professor Alan Verskin, Chair

Rabbi Rachel Zerin, Director

Committee Members: Kathy Blessing, Avram Cohen, Maxine Cohen, Karen Drucker-Stern, Michael Goldenberg, Judy Greenblatt, Marilyn Katz, Robert Landau, John Landry, Morty Miller, Dianne Z. Newman, Rosemary Prisco, Sam Shamoon, Stephen Sirota, Leonore Sones, Margaret Wool

Ex Officio: Rabbi Wayne M. Franklin and Robert Pelcovits


Year-Long Courses

Meets Tuesdays, October 24 - December 12 and February 20 - April 3, 7:30-9:00pm
Instructor: Rabbi Wayne M. Franklin
This year, we will examine the Talmud’s laws regarding robbery as they appear in Baba Kamma, Chapter 10. What is the definition of robbery? What is the robber’s obligation to return what has been stolen? In what situations is one not liable to return stolen property? These are among the questions we will consider in this year’s Talmud class. All are welcome; prior Talmud study in not required, and newcomers are encouraged to join this class.

Dressing the Part
Meets Tuesdays, October 17 - December 12 and February 20 - April 3, 7:30-9:00pm
Instructor: Rabbi Rachel Zerin
Come and explore the why, what, who, how, when, and where of Jewish garments! This course will include units on kippah, tallit, tefillin, Shabbat dress, clothing connected to life cycle events such as kittels and bridal veils, and laws of modesty. Each of these units will draw on a wide range of sources, from biblical and rabbinic texts, to contemporary law codes, photographs, personal accounts, and show and tell sessions. If there is interest, we may also hear from various artists and/or engage in making some of our own ritual garb. This course is created for students of all levels of knowledge, experience, and practice. Come and learn about something new, or deepen your experience of a long-held practice!

Shir Emanu-El
Meets Wednesdays from 7:30-9:00pm (e-mail for schedule)
Instructor: Cantor Dr. Brian J. Mayer
Come and join Shir Emanu-El, Temple Emanu-El's choir, as we prepare to sing for our "Israel at 70" concert with Iraqi Cantor George Mordecai.

Hug Ivri
Meets every other Thursday from 9:00-10:00am (e-mail for schedule)
Instructor: Rabbi Alvan Kaunfer
This group, which is conducted entirely in Hebrew, will be continuing its study and discussion of Sefer Sh'muel. The discussions often move into other fascinating topics. If you are an advanced Hebrew speaker, join us!

Parashat HaShavua
Meets every Friday, October 20 through June 8, 7:45-8:35am
Instructor: Rabbi Alvan Kaunfer
In this breakfast-study session, we will study highlights of the upcoming Shabbat Torah reading – the Weekly Portion. The group will have an opportunity to raise questions and share interpretations on the text. Participants are invited to daven in the Chapel at 7 a.m., before the breakfast and study.

Iyyun Tefillah: An In-Depth Exploration of Our Shabbat Prayers
Meets once a month on Shabbat Mevarkhim: November 18, December 16, January 13, February 10, April 14, and May 12 from 12:45-1:30pm
Instructors: Rabbi Wayne M. Franklin, Rabbi Rachel Zerin, and Cantor Dr. Brian J. Mayer
Once a month, we will gather after kiddush to study a different passage from our Shabbat prayers. Together, we will explore the history, composition, meaning, and musical settings of some of our most central pieces of liturgy. Whether these prayers are new or familiar, this lunch and learn series will deepen your knowledge, understanding, and experience of our Shabbat services.


Chanting Haftarah
Meets Sundays, November 12, 19, and December 3, 10:00-11:30am
Instructor: Paul Stouber
Do you already know how to read Torah, but want to expand your skills? Join Paul Stouber for a light breakfast and a chance to learn the special melodies used to chant Haftarah.
Note: This course will run pending sufficient enrollment

Short Story Discussion Group
Meets Tuesdays, January 16, 23, 30, and February 6, 7:30-9:00pm
Instructor: John Landry
What makes a story Jewish?  How can modern fiction complement or develop on the teachings of the tradition?  We’ll read and discuss four short stories by American Jews, spanning the past eighty years.

Text and Art
Meets Mondays, April 16 and 30, 7:30-9:00pm
Instructor: Marcia Kaunfer
Back by popular demand! This course is specially designed for artists of all media, including painters, sculptors, collagists, ceramicists, embroiderers, and calligraphers. In the first session the artists will study the Sh'ma and its Blessings with scholar and teacher Marcia Kaunfer. Participants will create original artwork inspired by that discussion, and, in the following session, partiicpants will return to class to shrae, present, and respond to each other's art pieces.

Fun with Food
Meets Sundays, April 15, 22, and 29, 1:00-4:00pm
Instructor: Marjorie Pelcovits
Do you like food? If so, this course is for you. (We expect it will be crowded!) Whether you already like to cook or are less than confident in the kitchen, this hands-on class will have something for you. Our three sessions will be divided into beginnings (hors d’oeuvres), middles (main courses), and ends (desserts). While recipes will be provided, the emphasis will be on adopting a creative, relaxed approach to cooking and enjoying the communal spirit that making and breaking bread together so often gives rise to.

The Biblical Creation Stories: Jewish and Catholic Interpretations
Meets Tuesdays, May 1, 8, 15, and 22, 7:30-9:00pm
Instructors: Rabbi Wayne M. Franklin and Professor Arthur Urbano
Jews and Catholics through the centuries have derived similar and different lessons from the stories of Creation in the Hebrew Bible. Among the topics to be considered: Do we read these stories as History or Allegories? Is there a conflict between Religion and Science? What do these accounts teach about God? What part do Sin and Satan play in these passages and in our respective theologies? Where do Jews and Catholics agree and disagree, within our communities and between communities? Come enjoy lively discussions on these central topics, grounded in our shared sacred texts.


Click here to register

Pennies for Heaven:
A Brief but Fascinating Look at the History of American Synagogues and Money

Thursday, October 26, 7:30-9:00pm
Rabbi Dan Judson

In this lecture, we will delve into the history of American synagogues through an unlikely source: money.  We will examine a few fascinating and contentious moments in American Jewish history – the creation of the first Reform synagogue, the introduction of dues, the rise and fall of for-profit synagogues – to see how disputes over money reflected the changing values of a Jewish community seeking its place in American society.  Our tour of the past will also lend some insight into the future of synagogues at this moment of uncertainty as to their long term viability.

Rabbi Dan Judson, Ph.D. is the Associate Dean of the Hebrew College Rabbinical School. His book Pennies for Heaven: The History of American Synagogues and Money, will be published this winter [Brandeis University Press]. He consults to synagogues across the country on new financial and engagement models and his research on synagogues that have eliminated dues has been featured in The New York TimesThe Boston GlobeHaaretz,The New York Jewish Week and Reform Judaism magazine


Uman: Pilgrimage and Prayer
Sunday, November 19, 4:00-5:30pm
Shai Afsai

The largest Jewish pilgrimage outside of Israel is to the heart of the Ukraine. In recent years, some 30,000 Jews from around the world have been drawn to celebrate Rosh Hashanah in the small city of Uman, burial place of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, the influential nineteenth-century Chassidic Master. Join local author Shai Afsai, who has twice participated in the annual pilgrimage and also written about it for publications such as the Reform Jewish Quarterly, for an exploration of Breslov Chassidic teachings and the palpable power of pilgrimage and prayer.

Shai Afsai is a writer living in Providence. His articles and short stories have appeared in The Providence Journal, The Jerusalem Post, Rhode Island Jewish Historical Association Notes, Rhode Island History, Heredom: Transactions of the Scottish Rite Research Society, CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly, Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies, and Anthropology Today. His “Jews and Freemasons in Providence: Temple Beth-El and Redwood Lodge” won the Rhode Island Jewish Historical Association’s 2013 Horvitz Award.


Two Composers, Three Opinions: What Makes Music "Jewish"? A Lecture Recital
Monday, February 12, 7:30-9:00pm
Samuel Zerin

At the dawn of the 20th century, a group of young Russian-Jewish composers sought to develop a uniquely Jewish style of classical music. However, they argued over what could count as authentically Jewish. In this lecture-recital, musicologist Samuel Zerin will discuss his original research on two competing practices: arrangements of Jewish folk melodies; and new works inspired by Torah chant. He will then perform a small group of piano pieces, which represent these different approaches to creating "Jewish" music.

Samuel Zerin is a PhD candidate in historical musicology at New York University.  His dissertation is simultaneously the first large-scale biography of the Russian-Jewish violinist and composer Joseph Achron (1886-1943) and a theoretical investigation of paradigms surrounding child prodigies and performer-composers.  In 2010, he founded the Joseph Achron Society, working together with musicians and scholars to revive the forgotten legacy of this brilliant musician.  Zerin has also worked as a music archivist, creating an online archive of rare Jewish classical scores at the website of the American Society for Jewish Music and cataloguing thousands of manuscripts, scores, and other music documents at Hebrew Union College.


"Who is a Jew?" Comes to Africa: A Multimedia Presentation
Wednesday, March 21, 7:30-9:00pm
Professor William Miles

From Nigeria to Madagascar, emerging Jewish communities in Africa are striving to acquire the knowledge and skills of modern Judaism. Professor Bill Miles of Northeastern University, a Temple Emanu-El member, shares his pix and clips from Jewish Africa.

William (Bill) Miles is professor of political science at Northeastern University in Boston and the former Stotsky Professor of Jewish Historical and Cultural Studies there. Two of his books have been National Jewish Book Award finalists: Zion in the Desert: American Jews in Israel’s Reform Kibbutzim and Jews of Nigeria: An Afro-Judaic Odyssey.

When Basketball Was Jewish
Sunday, April 22, 4:00-5:30pm
Douglas Stark

In this oral history collection, Douglas Stark chronicles Jewish basketball throughout the twentieth century in the words of those who played it. From the early days with Nat Holman and Moe Spahn to post World War II with Dolph Schayes and Max Zaslofsky, When Basketball Was Jewish focuses on the role of Jews in basketball as no previous book has, illuminating their contributions to American Jewish history as well as basketball history.

Douglas Stark is the museum director at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island. He is the author of Wartime Basketball: The Emergence of a National Sport during World War II (Nebraska, 2016) and The SPHAS: The Life and Times of Basketball’s Greatest Jewish Team.

Delve Deeper: A Program of Intensive Jewish Study is an exciting new adult education initiative that brings dynamic teachers who are experts in their fields to teach in-depth, university-level courses to adult learners in Rhode Island. We strive to bring together a diverse group of learners for semester-long courses that will be interesting and accessible to beginner and advanced students alike. Through background readings, engaging lectures, and invigorating class discussions, students will gain a comprehensive understanding of the course topic, strengthen and deepen their Jewish identity, and cultivate relationships with their community of fellow students.

This year, we are offering two courses: "Judaism in the Modern World," taught by Professor Paul E. Nahme, and "The Rabbis and Their Legacy: An Introduction to Rabbinic Judaism" taught by Professor Michael Satlow. For more information on these courses and to register, please click here.

Delve Deeper is a project of temple Emanu-El's Koffler Bornstein Families Institute of Jewish Studies, in partnership with Congregation Agudas Achim, Congregation Beth Sholom, Temple Sinai, and the West Bay Chavurah. We are grateful for the generous support from the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island's Innovation Funding, without which this would not be possible.

Romney-Wegner Lecture


Yours, Mine, or Ours:
Understanding Women's Authority over
Married Property

with Professor Elisheva Baumgarten



This talk examines the ability of married women to make financial decisions concerning money given to charity and business dealings in medieval Europe. It will discuss the ways medieval rabbis found to allow women greater freedom in business and the ways this freedom was taken away from the women at a later date, while leaving options for women’s charitable donation. It follows sources from the Talmud through the sixteenth century and ends with a surprising new reading of the Bible.


Prof. Elisheva Baumgarten holds the Prof. Yitzhak Becker Chair for Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She teaches in in the Department of Jewish History and the Department of History. Before moving to HUJI in 2013 she taught at Bar Ilan University where she was one of the founders of the Gender Studies Program and the Director of the Fanya Gottesfeld Heller Center for the Study of Jewish Women (2006-2011). She is a social historian who specializes in the history of the Jews in medieval Germany and Northern France. She has published articles that discuss medieval life cycle rituals, women in Jewish culture, Jewish-Christian relations as well as children and their education. Her first book Mothers and Children. Jewish Family Life in Medieval Europe was published by Princeton University Press in 2004 and was published in 2005 in Hebrew (אמהות וילדים. חיי משפחה באשכנז בימי הביניים) by Merkaz Zalman Shazar. The English book was awarded the Koret Foundation prize for the best book in Jewish History in 2005 and was a runner up in the category of women’s studies for the National Jewish Book Award. It was also awarded the Jordan Schnitzer book award in Gender Studies by the Association for Jewish Studies (2008).

Her latest book Practicing Piety in Medieval Ashkenaz (University of Pennsylvania Press 2014) was shortlisted for the National Jewish Book Award in 2015. She has published a number of edited volumes, most recently Elisheva Baumgarten and Judah D. Galinsky (eds.), Jews and Christians in Thirteenth Century France (Palgrave, 2015) and Elisheva Baumgarten, Ruth Mazo Karras Katelyn Mesler, Entangled Histories: Knowledge, Authority and Jewish Culture in the Thirteenth Century (University of Pennsylvania press, 2017) as well as dozens of articles. Baumgarten has held fellowships from the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies as well as EHESS in Paris.  She is the recipient of the 2016 Michael Bruno Memorial Award.  

Wed, July 18 2018 6 Av 5778