Study Updates – Hebrew College and Web Yeshiva

Neal Walters - Hebrew College Graduation - June 2013

Neal Walters – Hebrew College Graduation – June 2013

I’m going to try to start blogging again here more often. Back in June of this year, I finished my Master of Arts in Jewish Studies at Hebrew College in Boston. I actually started with Hebrew College back in 2005 because of their online (remote study) Hebrew classes. They fit my schedule and lifestyle perfectly, as I’m a software consultant, and I often work out of town. After that, I took a few classes in the masters program for credit, because I thought they looked interesting. After accumulating 14 hours of credit, I was told that I really needed to apply, so I finally did. When I started, it was a 45 hour program, which I think they recently lowered to 36 (I graduated with 44 hours).

The photo below shows graduates from three schools: The Master of Arts programs, The Master of Jewish Education programs, and the Rabbinical Studio, along with those receiving certificates. I think there were 11 of us in the Master of Arts in Jewish Studies.

Hebrew College Graduating Class of June 2013

Hebrew College Graduation June 2013

Below are the actual classes that I took.  One of my regrets is not blogging monthly for each class.  I would strongly encourage masters or PhD students to blog as they go, and share some of the information they are learning on the web.

2007-Fall Aggadah (Midrash) [Text]
2008-Spring Genres of Biblical Literature
2008-Summer Modern Jewish History (and Memory)
2008-Fall Intro to Talmud [Text]
2009-2010 (Took a break here because didn’t have work for a while)
2010-Fall Bible Text and Context
2011-Spring Shabbat Nusach (Leading the Prayer Service)
2011-Summer Intensive One-Week OnSite: Music and Prayer in the Jewish Tradition
2011-Fall Piety and Creativity: Jewish Liturgical Texts
2011-Fall OnSite: The Master and Disciple Relationship in Jewish Tradition (a great intro to Chasidism)
2012-Spring Reading Maimonidean Texts [Text]
2012-Spring OnSite: After the Kabbalah (also covered a lot of Chasidut)
2012-Fall Pirqei Avot [Text] [The Ethics of the Fathers]
2012-Fall Audited Only: Trope (Chanting the Torah)
2013-Spring Masters Paper/Seminar (usually only offered in Spring)

The classes flagged with [Text] indicates they involved reading primarily Jewish sources in Hebrew, sometimes with translations, and sometimes not.  Most people take more introductory classes before the text, but for some reason, I just jumped in with Text classes before I officially enrolled and before I had an adviser.

One of my “claims to fame” is that I worked in the following cities while taking classes there: Colorado Springs, Santa Fe, San Francisco, Boston, Dallas.  I actually had a consulting job in Boston for about 8 months, which allowed me to attend a few classes on campus.

Hebrew College Building/Library

Hebrew College Building/Library

My masters paper was entitled “The Challenge of David and Goliath”, a play on words, because I was referring to the textual challenges of the passage.  I will be posting a video where I go over my paper soon.

After graduation, I was slowly looking for what to do next, but they couldn’t really interfere with my consulting work.  The two choices were moving on to a PhD or possibly some Yeshiva.   Spertus in Chicago is one of the few schools with advanced Jewish studies doctoral level programs offered via remote study (students go there 2 to 4 times a year to take an intensive week of classes).

Also, most PhD programs expect you to be full time, and/or teach while you learn. I noticed that the SMU in Dallas had a PhD in Bible, which required four languages: Hebrew, Greek, plus two others.   A large number of both Jewish and Christians works were written in German.

I was somewhat casually taking an intro Talmud class and a class on Rambam’s “The Guide to the Perplexed” with Web Yeshiva, just two nights a week.  I did began studying some Greek, but then…

Web Yeshiva, an orthodox online school, announced it’s Halachic Mastery program, in which I enrolled. This is a three year program that meets from the end of the fall holidays until Passover each spring.


Year 1 Kitchen and Kashrut Laws of Kosher (e.g. Meat and Milk, forbidden mixtures)
Year 1 Kitchen and Kashrut Laws Relating to Cooking/Heating and re-warming food on Shabbos (The Sabbath)
Year 2 Orach Chayim Mastery of the laws of tefillah and blessings; the “positive” mitzvot of Shabbat and holidays.
Year 2 Shabbat and Technolgoy Muktzah, issues presented by technology and halacha, electricity and “modern” issues; overview of laws of medical treatment and pikuach nefesh on Shabbat.
Year 3 The House and the World Mezuza and tefillin, eruvin, bikur cholim, tzedaka and intro to Jewish financial laws.
Year 3 Orach Chayim on Yomim Tovim Overview of the laws of the cycle of the year, with an emphasis on Pesach and its preparations.
Year 3 Hilchot Niddah Laws of family purity

The three year program above is open to both men and woman. The fourth year is an optional extra year for men wishing to pursue Smicha (Rabbinical Ordination).

Prior to this, Web Yeshiva had been offering many other wonderful courses.  Although I was enjoying the courses I was taking, they seemed to lack a direction.  Interaction with the professor was available by email, but there was little to no class interaction (that was a part and parcel of Hebrew College).  As far as I know there were no tests, and little accountability.  On one hand, that is Torah Lishma – learning Torah for its own sake. However with the Halachic Mastery program (they are charging more for it, other classes are by donation only), there are tests, and they have begun using Google Groups for the class to interact with the Rabbis teaching the classes.

Apparently, getting into some Yeshivot are like getting into Harvard or Yale.  A child has to be taught Torah and Judaism since a young child, and has to have advanced skills to get in the door.  From what I can see, Web Yeshiva is more open to adult learners who have a desire to learn, but may not have an extensive background.   I’m sure some level of Hebrew is required for the Halach Mastery program, but I’m not sure the minimum.

With just the two classes, it’s keep me extremely busy, but that will be the topic of one of the next blogs.  I soon hope to write about the type of Hebrew we are learning.

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