Global Day of Jewish Learning examines concept of beauty

Posted on: September 30th, 2017 by tgregory

By Kathy Carlson 

Rabba Yaffa Epstein

Among the familiar faces at this year’s Global Day of Jewish Learning will be one of two visiting scholars teaching on this year’s theme, Beauty and Ugliness. 

“I’m always honored and thrilled to learn with the Nashville Jewish community,” Rabba Yaffa Epstein of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies said in a telephone interview. The community “works so beautifully together. It’s very inspiring. The unity is quite beautiful.”

(The Observer will interview Global Day visiting scholar Rabbi Michael Hattin, who teaches Tanakh and Halakha at Pardes in Jerusalem, in next month’s issue.)

This year’s Global Day of Jewish Learning will be the sixth for Nashville, and Libby and Moshe Werthan have once again agreed to sponsor both scholars. It will be held at the Akiva School on the campus of the Gordon Jewish Community Center on Sunday, Nov. 19. The day begins at 9:30 a.m. and ends at 2:45 p.m. Complimentary lunch is included, and online registration begins on Oct. 9 at

Rabba Epstein is the director of education, North America, for the Pardes Institute, and she has been a teacher of Talmud, Jewish law, and Liturgy at Pardes for more than a decade.

She first taught in Nashville two years ago, during Passover, as scholar in residence at Congregation Sherith Israel. 

Since that initial visit, she taught during Global Day 2016 in Nashville and focused on Talmudic passages exploring the moral implications of the Biblical concept that each human being is created in the image of God. She will be in Nashville even more following this year’s Global Day.  

Her presentation this year is titled “If You Would Have Been Ugly You Would Have Studied More: The Talmud’s Take on Beauty.” 

Asked how to prepare for the session, Rabba Epstein said, “I don’t know if there’s any way people can prepare. Just come with an open mind. I know that the Nashville Jewish community is open to learning.”

Her sessions use chavruta, paired partner learning, in which two students together study a text before joining a larger group that learns with the teacher. “It allows people to have their own perspectives on the text without hearing my perspective. Then they hear what I have to say. It’s a great way to learn, and a big part of what we do at Pardes. Everyone has the capacity to think critically about Jewish texts, which is great.”

Her presentation will be first in a ten-part series, presented in partnership with Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee and the Gordon Jewish Community Center, covering Talmud. The classes begin later this year and extend through next year.

She describes it as “We’re going to be doing some of the greatest hits of the Talmud.” People can learn what the Talmud says on various topics and life lessons. Five classes will be online and five will be in-person sessions with Epstein at the GJCC. •