Why You Need Your Own Study Practice
On December 21, 2014, I jumped headfirst into a challenge that would prove to be a defining, sometimes infuriating, and ultimately incredibly rewarding. I began a project called 929: Tanakh B'Yachad [Bible Together], an initiative of the Israeli government that had individuals reading one chapter of Tanakh a day, five days a week, for three and a half years. Starting from creation and going straight through Chronicles, this project has given Israelis and Jews from all backgrounds and levels of engagement with texts with the chance to be part of a new community and to get to know our foundational stories on a deeper level.
I decided to take part in 929 in what was basically a whim. I was interested in furthering my own Jewish learning, was living in Israel at the time, and figured I'd give it a try and see how far I could get. I never imagined that 929 would become a beloved practice and a near-constant during three years of change and transitions. I'm not a 'routine' person, but somehow, Torah study became part of my daily schedule, and I found myself prioritizing it in a way that nothing other than food and personal hygiene had previously merited.
- I read a chapter on my wedding day (Jeremiah 42, for those who are wondering).
- I read a chapter the day after I had surgery, and my notes from that day are possibly the least coherent thoughts I've ever had.
- I read a chapter the day I moved back to the US, the day I moved to Washington, and the day I started my job.
- I've read chapters in Israel, Ireland, Poland, Greece, and in at least seven different states.
So what did I get out of all of this?
As someone who didn't grow up with Torah study that involved commentaries and original texts and many of the other things that I assumed predicated intense Jewish learning, Project 929 gave me the chance to gain skills as a student of Jewish sources. It turned our canon from something that I was on the sidelines of to something that I feel an intimate ownership of. I've reread the chapters that I saw during holiday and Shabbat services every week, and discovered chapters and entire books that I never would have accessed otherwise. I can hold my own in conversations on any number of Jewish topics, and have done the work of sourcing my own arguments in those discussions.
Having your own study practice makes you part of the age-old tradition of Jewish study and commentary. You're in conversation with great thinkers, adding your own insights to the Jewish conversation.
Jewish educator confession: sometimes we spend so much time creating experiences for others that our own practices and growth are pushed to the side and neglected. It's way too easy for incredible, passionate educators to get burnt out because they don't take care of their own Jewish needs. Taking on this project, while time consuming, was also a great gift, because it gave me a Jewish outlet that was completely my own, separate from the study that I did to create source sheets for work or to find new materials for my students.
Having your own study practice is an investment in yourself, in the beautiful Jewish practice of Torah l'shma, study for its own sake. It's a chance to walk the talk, while growing internally.
Project 929 has a community all its own, mainly in Israel. While I've loved learning about who else in my network was doing this project, even more, the burgeoning love of study inspired me to seek out new outlets in my new community when I moved to the DC area. I searched for and found hevruta learning opportunities, study groups, and numerous other outlets to keep me inspired and motivated, both in my Tanakh study and broadly in Jewish learning as well.
Having your own study practice is a building block for relationships and connections locally, virtually, and ultimately worldwide. You'll be shocked as to who pops up as part of your new learning community.
Breadth + Depth
The arc of 929 saw me studying the classic texts of Bereshit and Shemot [Genesis and Exodus] and adding my own analysis and commentary, and also gave me a chance to familiarize myself with often overlooked parts of Tanakh. I've read all 150 psalms (that was a long seven months), the major and minor prophets, and even Chronicles, which I'm 100% sure has never come up in any of the Jewish learning institutions I've spent time in over the years. I've given myself a [crash] course in Jewish sources, delving deeply into some and admittedly remaining surface level on others. But on both sides of that spectrum, I've been given the chance to make those choices and probe the layers of Jewish text that form the bedrock foundation of our tradition.
Having your own study practice is an endless source of knowledge, both Jewish and otherwise.
So what now?
Project 929 is officially done, and it's bittersweet. I'm glad to be done with this endeavor, but I'm not ready to be finished with the overall ritual and outcomes that it brought me. So I'm on the hunt for a new project and would love suggestions. Things I've thought about include daf yomi, the 7+ year study of a page of Talmud a day, going back to the Torah and reading it by parasha, rather than by chapter [to get a better sense of the overall arc], or picking a commentator and reading through their lens. But I am open to any and all ideas that you have! Above all, I'm ready for a new challenge, and can't wait to share it with you once I figure out what's coming next in my own learning.