Our Story

The Jewish Learning Fellowship (JLF) is a 10-week experiential, conversational seminar for students looking to deepen their understanding of Judaism on their own terms. We’re interested in asking big questions. You know, the big stuff — like Who am I? What communities am I a part of? What is worth committing myself to, and why? And we don’t purport to have any of the big answers. JLF was founded in 2007 at the Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU. Since then, JLF has graduated over 3,000 fellows.

We make no claims about the “right” way to practice or not to practice Judaism. Our job is to help you explore the tradition in a safe space and find your own place, on your terms, in Judaism’s Great Conversation.

What People Say

When we ask JLF alumni to describe their experience, they use words like: Inclusive, Alive, Expansive, Warm, Exploratory, Stimulating, Personal, Welcoming, Diverse, Intriguing, Non–Judgemental, Deep, Inspiring, and Unforgettable.

"Prior to participating in JLF, I was embarrassed about my lack of knowledge of Judaism and felt uncomfortable participating in activities at Hillel. I can confidently say I now have a community of Jewish friends who accept 'my' Judaism. I have found a comfortable home at Hillel through this amazing learning experience." — Roslyn S.

"The most important thing JLF gave me is a sense of community and a much larger appreciation for my Jewish identity. To be honest, I wasn't very involved with Judaism (like, ever — besides holiday parties and bar/bat mitzvahs), but JLF really changed that for me! It made me feel more connected to Jewish people and my personal fatih. — Rose K.

Our Vision

JLF graduates have:

1. Jewish friends.

Let’s be real: Jewish life doesn’t happen by yourself in your dorm room or apartment. It happens with other people. We want Fellows to have a bigger Jewish social network at the end of JLF.

2. A Jewish community.

It's powerful and transformative to feel part of something bigger than yourself. We hope Fellows will feel a part of Jewish community on campus at the end of the Fellowship.

3. A newfound love for Jewish learning and exploration.

The wisdom found in Jewish texts, both ancient and contemporary, can be surprising, complicated, delightful, weird, mysterious, perplexing, and fun. We read these texts broadly and generously in JLF, and we count on Fellows adding their unique voices and perspectives to our conversations.

The Program

JLF is a 10 week seminar. We break bread together each week. We also invite Fellows to reflect on their own big questions over coffee with our rabbis and educators and to spend Shabbat together. Fellows can earn a $300 scholarship at the end of the program. Here’s a peek at how all of this looks:

Course

Click to read course descriptions and review syllabi for each of JLF’s seminar tracks.

  • Life’s Big Questions, Or How to Get More Out of College

    College is not only a time to meet new people or to learn the skills of a profession. It is also a time to explore some of the big questions that orient a life well-lived. Who am I? What communities am I a part of? Who am I responsible for and why? What is the difference between love, lust, and intimacy? What is worth committing myself to and why? While these are universal questions, we believe they can be illuminated through the unique light of Jewish texts and traditions. In this class we will explore the big questions of life as refracted through the Jewish tradition.

    • Syllabus

      Week 1 ­- How Big is Your Story?
      In what way does personal history become collective history? Can history “make a claim” on us? What is your story?

      Week 2 ­- Community of Memory or Lifestyle Enclave?
      What is the difference between a community, a group of friends and a social network? What makes a community a community?

      Week 3 - The Sabbath, or How Do I Rest?
      The Sabbath, as a time of rest, is inherently counter-cultural. We will explore various ways that we might interact with the idea of a Sabbath.

      Week 4 - Friendship, Honest, and Betrayal
      What are the challenges and opportunities of a deep friendship? What are necessary qualities in a good friend?  What are the disqualifying qualities in a good friend?  What role does honesty play in friendship?

      Week 5 -­ Where is Home?
      What is the difference between being at home and having a home in the world? Where is your home? Does a person have one home? Is it important to have a home?    

      Week 6 -­ How Do We Disagree?
      How do we disagree? How do we engage conflict? Can we imagine disagreement as a critical part of uncovering truth?

      Week 7 ­- Collaboration
      How can relationships change us? What are the ingredients of a good partnership or collaboration? How does one cultivate this type of relationship?

      Week 8 -­ Intimacy
      Can we imagine a  post-modern sexual ethic that is at once deeply rooted in Jewish law and tradition, but innovative and capacious enough to encompass the different configurations of sexuality in our lives?

      Week 9 ­- Continuing to Learn While Living the Questions
      How can we encounter big questions, serious internal ambiguity, or wrestle with fundamental ideas and concepts, and still continue to learn and grow?

      Week 10 -­ On Saying Goodbye
      How do we say goodbye to one another in a way that honors the time we have spent together?

  • Sex, Love, and Romance: Toward a Postmodern Jewish Ethic

    Sexuality and intimacy are central to our identities and experiences as human beings, yet we have few opportunities to speak about them in a frank, open, and explicitly Jewish way. In this seminar, you are expected to read — broadly and generously — traditional Jewish texts on intimacy, gender, sexuality, and other related topics. Thoughtful participation on your part requires active listening, speaking up to contribute in class, and talking from your own experience while being open to the experiences of others. This course explores the ethics of human relationships and sexuality in the Jewish tradition.

    • Syllabus

      Week 1 - What’s Sex Got to Do with It?
      How should we think about sex? Are sexual acts purely biological? Should they be treated as such? Is there anything unique about human sexuality? Can we speak of a function sex should or should not have? What would that be?  Should there be such a thing as sexual ethics? Is there—or should there be—such a thing as a Jewish sexual ethic?

      Week 2 - Intimacy and the Image of God
      This week we will be discussing the notion of intimacy and sexuality. We will be trying to cultivate a post-modern sexual ethic that is at once deeply rooted in Jewish law and tradition, but innovative and capacious enough to encompass the different configurations of sexuality in our lives.

      Week 3 - Male and Female [He] Created Them?
      So much of modern sexuality is predicated on the idea that there are two (and only two) sexes. Can we imagine (or do some of us already live in) a world with more than two sexes and two genders? Can the Jewish tradition? What might that look like? What would it mean?

      Week 4 - Setting Aside: Jewish Marriage
      “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Baby in the baby carriage!” Does contemporary society assume a direct line from romance to marriage to parenthood? What does the Torah say about marriage? How do the Rabbis develop a ritual, a ceremony, and a legal institution? We will explore a few concepts to guide us in understanding Jewish marriage: what it’s for, whom it’s for, and what Judaism’s ideal for it might be.

      Week 5 - Tzniut: Modesty
      What are humility and modesty? What does it mean to behave in a modest way? Can one be ambitious and modest? What is modesty in the context of human sexuality? What is immodesty? How might modesty differ for men and for women? Should it differ?

      Week 6 - Ona'ah: Pleasure and Frequency
      How often should a person have sex? Does frequency make a difference? What is the role of pleasure in sex? How important is pleasure? Is pleasure a physical sensation or something else?  Should pleasure for its own sake be encouraged or discouraged when developing a sexual ethic?

      Week 7 - Niddah: A Time to Embrace, a Time not to Embrace
      What is Niddah, or Jewish laws of family purity? What is the theology behind it? What is a mikveh and how is it used? Can these laws be relevant to a contemporary couple?

      Week 8 - Devek: Or, Sex with Intimacy and Sex without Intimacy   
      Does separation from one’s partner generate intimacy and longing or alienation?  What does it mean to ‘cleave’ to one’s partner?  Is this experience of extreme intimacy unique to sexuality, or can it exist in other settings?

      Week 9 - Queerness: Non-Heterosexual Relationships in the Jewish Tradition
      How are non-heterosexual relationships understood in the Jewish tradition? Is there a place for them today? What are some of the ways Judaism has confronted this human reality?

      Week 10 - Infrequently Asked Questions
      In this final session we compile all the questions we never felt comfortable enough to ask and try responding to a few of them. We draw from the texts we have studied and the ideas we have explored to offer mature, thoughtful responses to our own questions.

       

  • Judaism as Art: A Search for Congruity

    Can Jewish spiritual practice be understood as a kind of art? How can the artistic process illuminate Jewish living? To address these questions, we will look at some of the themes that have occupied modern art production and consumption, in particular — the presence or absence of the author; the possibility of creations going out of control; the tension between discipline and creative spontaneity in art production, and the poetics of darkness and light. It is our hope by showcasing some of the common themes between classical Jewish texts and modern art that we might begin to imagine a new intersection between Judaism and art. No prior experience in art production necessary, though personal experience is welcome.

    • Syllabus

      Week 1 - The First Creator
      Creation involves giving life to something independent of the creator. What happens when this new entity takes on a life of its own? What happens when creations are misunderstood or misappropriated? What happens when a work of art, a creation, disappoints its creator?

      Week 2 - How Big is Your Story?
      In what way does personal history become collective history? Can the past, or larger narratives, “make a claim” on us? What is your story?

      Week 3 - Why Create?
      What is the role and responsibility of the artist in the world? To whom is she accountable? Have you ever felt called to do something, or to create something?

      Week 4 - The Sabbath
      The Sabbath, as a time of rest, is inherently counter-cultural. We will explore two different ways that we might interact with the Sabbath and consider together the relationship between the Sabbath and creative acts.

      Week 5 - To Sin Against the Medium: Sages and Artists in Rebellion
      Sometimes an artist must break the boundaries of her preferred mode of production. She must sin, as it were, against the very medium she works in. Can this be done in religious life? In what ways do we sometimes sin for the sake of the greater medium we are working in?

      Week 6 - Discipline and Inspiration
      Is art production a function of being inspired or honing a craft? In what way does inspiration serve as a hindrance to art making? Is inspiration necessary?

      Week 7 - Solitude and Collaboration
      Some of the greatest works from the 20th century are the products of artistic collaboration (Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Walt Disney and Salvador Dali). What might famous collaborative partnerships in Jewish tradition and contemporary art tradition teach us about this special relationship? Conversely, what is best achieved in solitude?

      Week 8 - Inner Struggle
      One of the great themes of modern art is the attempt of the artist to “find herself.” The artist struggles with inner psychic demons, past experiences, or neuroses to arrive at a sense of self as a person, as an artist. What might contemporary art and Jewish tradition teach us about the process of self-actualization?

      Week 9 - On Giving and Receiving Feedback
      Often an artist must open herself to critique. Similarly, the artist may use her art as a form of critique. We will consider some models for the critical process in Jewish tradition and in modern art production.

      Week 10 - Infrequently Asked Questions, and Saying Goodbye
      In this final session we compile all the questions we never felt comfortable enough to ask and try responding to a few of them. We draw from the texts we have studied and the ideas we have explored to offer mature, thoughtful responses to our own questions.

Coffee Date

We want to get to know our Fellows beyond the walls of our seminar. JLF educators and interns invite Fellows to coffee over the course of the semester to hear their stories, debrief their JLF experience, and to learn about their interests, ambitions, and passions.

Shabbat Experiences

Fellows spend 1–2 Friday evenings together during JLF, either on campus or in the home of their JLF educator. This is a chance to share time with one another outside of our seminar, break bread together, and experience Shabbat...whether it's our first time or our fiftieth.

Support Us

Thank you for your vote of confidence in what we do! If you are able to make a financial contribution, we would be honored by your support of JLF broadly, or by your support of JLF at a particular campus. Please contact us so we can help direct your gift.