Kevah: Philosophy

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Human beings have a fundamental need for a sense of meaning in their lives. This sense can come in many different forms. People find meaning in their values, in their relationships, in their faith, in their identity, and in countless other ways. But in the hustle and bustle of life in the 21st century, we have access to a daily deluge of information and entertainment, but we struggle to find outlets for meaning.

At Kevah, we believe that the study of Torah--the corpus of Jewish sacred writings from the past 3,000 years--is an activity that is uniquely capable of generating meaning. Indeed the whole of the tradition of Jewish text study can be seen as one long, valiant search for meaning. And the rich fruits of those labors are waiting to be tasted by a new generation.

In order for us to develop a true and lasting sense of meaning, we cannot be handed it on a platter. Rather, we must make meaning for ourselves. Kevah sees the learning atmosphere, therefore, as a meaning-making space, wherein participants have an encounter with ideas, and are able to interpret those ideas for themselves in a way that is personally transformative.

However, Kevah groups are not simply spaces for solipsistic personal exploration. They are first and foremost opportunities to encounter--often for the first time- the richness of the Jewish textual tradition. A Kevah educator aids participants in building Jewish literacy and navigating a stream of ideas that flows from the ancient past, throughout Jewish history, and into the present. The texts act as a grounding agent around which a dialogue can take place between self and other, human and Divine, the particular and the universal. What’s more, these texts are terse, dense, and multi-faceted, such that their complexity reveals itself most easily in an interactive environment. Consequently, the meaning-formation that results from such a interchange is often deeper and more nuanced than what can be generated in isolation.

In order to create this sort of dynamic dialogue, Kevah groups operate largely on a conversational model of education. A Kevah group is like an expanded chevruta (pair) of partnered study, in which each participant is encouraged to actively engage the material, to first understand it on its own merits, and then begin to offer original insights and interpretations. The educator acts as both the learned source of deeper knowledge as well as the skilled guide in the conversational journey, balancing carefully the tasks of presentation and facilitation, holding the reins enough to keep the group conversation from veering too far away from the text, but rarely falling solely into lecture mode. In this Talmudic style of teaching, questions are the tool for moving the conversation forward.

The "movement" of these conversations progresses as follows: first, each participant encounters the text and learns to understand it; next, participants are encouraged to come up with their own interpretations of the text; finally, participants attempt to personalize and internalize the insights that have emerged. Through this process, Kevah learners are able to rediscover Jewish tradition and, from it, create meaning once again, as students of the Torah have been doing for centuries.

Photographs by Laura Turbow