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HBHA graduates complete Talmud tractate

Adena Goldberg and Elana Goldenberg celebrated completing Tractate of Megillah during the Class of 2016’s graduation ceremony.

In the Jewish community, we are all — more or less — familiar with the Torah, also known as the five books of Moses. The Talmud, which frequently cites the Torah, is another well-known book — the book of Jewish law. A huge collection of doctrines and laws compiled before the eighth century, the Talmud is the repository of Jewish oral tradition, which contains Jewish civil and ceremonial law.

The Talmud contains 20 huge tomes that included 66 tractates of variant sizes. After it was created, a ritual followed that encouraged people to celebrate the completion of learning one of the Talmud’s 66 tractates. The celebration, called a Siyum (Hebrew for completion), centers around a student reciting and discussing the last paragraph of the tractate in a public forum. At the comletion, the student and teacher leads a special prayer and a unique Kaddish that make a poignant ending to this significant achievement.

Until recently, this ritual was a male domain. However, recent Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy graduates Adena Goldberg and Elana Goldenberg changed that scenario. HBHA seniors can elect to study with Rabbi Avi Weinstein, HBHA’s head of Jewish studies, to complete a tractate during their senior year. This was the first year two female HBHA students assumed the challenge. They completed the Tractate of Megillah, and — as is the tradition at HBHA — fulfilled their ritual obligation in front of their peers, their teachers and the general community when they held their Siyum during the Class of 2016’s graduation ceremony. 

“Tackling the Hebrew and Aramaic, and making certain to understand and pronounce each word is a testimony to their devotion to the Torah, and to lead the way for other men and women to do the same,” Rabbi Weinstein said.

As to how these young women decided to become two of the few young women in high school to have completed a tractate, the answer seems fairly obvious to Elana and Adena:

“My parents study with Rabbi Weinstein and always talk about his vast knowledge and the unique lessons they learn. I knew I wanted to learn beyond the classroom and study with this world renowned scholar,” Adena said. 

Elana agreed, both from the perspective of studying with Rabbi Weinstein, and from the opportunity to try something new before graduating from HBHA. 

“You won’t have many opportunities in your life to learn something like this because it takes so much time. We wanted to see what it was all about,” Elana said.

“I would say that if there’s something you want to study, and it’s not a traditional classroom curriculum, select this option. You can pick any tractate or Jewish text and study it in depth. Rabbi Avi is really funny and really knowledgeable. It’s an experience I wouldn’t want to give up,” she continued.

Both young women are proud to be part of this accomplishment. In addition to setting a good example for other women in Judaism, the students felt that their final academic achievement at HBHA is a testament to the culture of the school.

“It was a good way to end my formal Jewish education. I had something I could quantify and be proud of. The feeling of completing something is important with Jewish studies because it’s a lifelong adventure,” Elana said.

“As a unique community day school HBHA pushes its students in every aspect. From going out to unfamiliar communities in Kansas City to advocate for health care to having two conservative teenage women study Talmud with an Orthodox rabbi, we are breaking down boundaries. I am proud to have had this unique experience … all the way in Kansas,” Adena said.