About: TMT

 

Torah Means Teacher (TMT) was created as a byproduct of a class I’ve been teaching at Congregation Beth Yeshurun in Houston, TX.  The “Torah” is the five books of Moses (a.k.a.: Pentateuch):

  • Genesis “Breishit”
  • Exodus “Shmot”
  • Leviticus “Vayikra”
  • Numbers “Bamidbar”
  • Deuteronomy “Devarim”
These comprise the first five books of the Jewish Bible (TaNaKh), also known as the “Old Testament” .  TaNaKh is a Hebrew acronym for Torah (Teacher/Instruction), Nevi’im (Prophets/Spokesmen), Khetuvim (Writings: ie. psalms and proverbs).

My class started in 2010 as an experiment.  I had been doing d’var Torah (basically sermons on Shabbat) for the last couple years, and participating in speeches and debates regarding Judaism and Jewish life.  Apperantly, people liked what I had to say and were at least intrigued enough to want more.  And so my Torah class was created at the Beth Yeshurun for their Akiba curriculum (adult education classes).  The class was experimental in that:

  • I am not Rabbi.
    • Akiba classes have been traditionally taught by Rabbis, and understandably so.
  • I was going to teach the Torah verse by verse.
    • Most classes are thematic, or based on an overview of a Torah portion – not line by line, methodical dissection.
  • I had no prepared curriculum.
    • The rabbi asked that I start with Exodus, so I just started teaching with Exodus 1:1… The Torah is my curriculum.

Thankfully, I have tremendous resources to draw upon.  My education and return to Judaism was initiated by the ChaBaD Lubavitch.  They are a Chasidic group who does tremendous work to get Jews involved with Judaism, and Non-Jews to get involved with Ethical Monotheism.  Along, my way with Chabad I rediscovered my old teacher from childhood, Dennis Prager.  When I was a child living in Los Angeles I listened to Dennis Prager on the radio (Religion on the Line, and the Dennis Prager Show).  Eventually, he taught me the entire Torah as an adult through his verse by verse Torah class at the University of Judaism which is available to purchase (I think over 300 cd’s, link here).  R’Prager’s class and teachings are a wellspring of inspiration and insight into Torah and Judaism, and have been a true resource for my own class.  Thank you rabbi Prager, I would not be who I am today as a man, Jew, husband, father, or son were it not for all you have and continue to teach me and countless others.

Rabbinic Resources Commonly Relied Upon for Torah Means Teacher:

  • Dennis Prager
  • Umberto Cassuto
  • Jacob Milgrom
  • Nahum Sarna
  • Nehama Leibowitz
  • Joseph Telushkin
  • Abraham Joshua Heschel
  • Leon Kass

These are the modern commentaries I most draw from.  Of course, I read and utilize the Chazal (Sages) as well. Rashi, RamBam, RamBan, Ibn Ezra, and Abravanel are  frequently referenced, but more often I look to modern authors as they include the sages in their commentary as well.

I will include a page for reference books here.

Most of the people in class are reading from the same chumashim (Torah books), as they are supplied by Beth Yeshurun, they are called “Etz Chaim”.  Etz Chaim is a decent chumash with a readable translation, and good commentary throughout.  I however use many different books for class, though the ones most often relied upon (because it has the most of my personal notes in them) are the JPS Torah Commentary Series (5 separate books) EXCEPT for Leviticus.  Without a doubt, Jacob Milgrom’s books on Leviticus “Vayikra” are the best in my opinion – nothing else compares.  Thank you Rabbi Milgrom, you changed my life.

At this point in the class you would only need to purchase books about Exodus as this is the book we are still working through. My class at Beth Yeshurun is typically once a week (Sundays from 10:00-11:00am ~ You are invited to attend), though sometimes we miss due to Holy days or other miscellaneous scheduling concerns.

I will be posting the blog and podcast weekly.  There are some where the audio quality is terrible. I greatly apologize… it gets better I promise.  I learned a tremendous amount about audio recording in the process of also learning how to articulate Torah insights.  The quality of my class improves as well… I apologize for my poor performances.

Please continue to listen and post your questions, comments, or ideas.  You can use the comment area. Or if you prefer to keep things private, you can email me at roman@torahmeansteacher.com.

Thank you and may God bless you for engaging with the Torah, the greatest instruction manual ever written.  For it is a tree of life for those who hold  fast to it.

Comments

  1. Tessa Somerville thinks:

    Hi, with reference to your podcast no 15 I would just like to say that with regard to the differing names for meat and the animal it comes from this is due to the days of William the Conqueror. When he invaded England he obviously came speaking French. In those days the Anglo-Saxons could not afford to eat the meat of the animals they farmed so the names come from the french ie boeuf (english cow) beef, mouton (english sheep) mutton, veau (english calf) veal, porc (english pig) pork etc. I am sure though in modern days as you say it does help for some to have the different names. As a farmer’s daughter I know where meat (flesh) comes from and it is much harder to sacrifice the best of the flock/herd as genetically it makes sense to keep the finest specimen to improve your stock but to give the runt of a litter is not a true sacrifice as you would cull it anyway. Thanks again for the instruction.

    • Nahum Roman Footnick thinks:

      Wow thank you so much for your comment and great information. I really appreciate your insights and explanations regarding these terms. Well done. Thank you Tessa!

  2. David York thinks:

    Hi Nahum,

    I hope that all is well with you and your family.

    I am nearly at episode 77 having started again at episode one. Its amazing the things you miss on first listen. It’s great that you have created this resource and I hope you will have the time soon to continue the good work.

    Look forward to the next installment as soon as you are able.

    Kind regards

    David

  3. First let me thank you for taking time to study and share with others your understanding of Torah. I am learning so much even though I have been studying Torah for 5 years. (I truly believe that Torah could teach me something new for another 100 years if I lived so long).

    I just completed episodes 16 and 17. At the beginning of 17 you indicated that you spoke of Milgrom understanding of nacher – to cut off, which you said is not the same as what many sources teach. This is a terms that has confounded me every time it comes up in my studies and I have only been able to come up with one definition – to kill – which just doesn’t fit the text in my mind. Best I could rectify my understanding is that it must means “to separate or isolate” more than anything else. But is it correct?

    I could not find anywhere on episode 16 where you discussed Milgrom’s definition. Would be so kind as to explain this to me? I appreciate and thank you for your time.

    • Nahum Roman Footnick thinks:

      Hi Susy,
      Thank you for your comments. I apologize for my late response.

      In regards to your question:
      A: I think you are referring to Exodus 12:15 (Thank you for telling me which episode) which uses the word ונכרתה v’nikhretah (not sure how to write that in English). The root of that word is כרת kharet which is usually translated as “cut off” or “excised”.

      B: Regarding other incorrect translations and interpretations (i.e. execution) versus Milgrom’s more correct meaning (i.e. spiritual excision) please read what the late Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs wrote about it:

      http://www.myjewishlearning.com Reprinted from The Jewish Religion: A Companion, published by Oxford University Press.

      Karet (‘excision’) is the biblical penalty, for certain offences, of being ‘cut off from the people’; for example, for failing to be circumcised (Genesis 17:14); for eating leaven on Passover (Exodus 12:19); and for committing incest (Leviticus 20:17). The Mishnah (Keritot 1:1) lists thirty-six offences for which the penalty is karet.

      The Problem of Definition
      The chief problem here is the meaning of karet. Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 3.12:1) remarks: ‘To those who were, guilty of such insolent behavior, he [Moses] ordered death for his punishment’, implying that karet is identical with other death penalties in the Pentateuch.

      This view is accepted by many biblical scholars but fails to explain why this term is used instead of ‘he shall be put to death’, that is, by the hands of the court. Other modern scholars hold that karet denotes some kind of exclusion from the community, the offender being ‘cut off’, that is, excluded from the community.

      But, as Milgrom has rightly pointed out, the penalty of karet is limited to purely religious offences and is never enjoined for offences such as murder, the penalty for which is judicial execution. Consequently, the unanimous Rabbinic view, as stated in the Talmud, has much to commend it, that karet is a form not of human but of divine punishment, though it is unclear how karet differs from the other divine penalty mentioned in the sources, ‘death by the hand of Heaven.’

      Divine Punishment and Providence
      In one view, karet means a divine punishment of death before the age of 60, which is why a Talmudic Rabbi had a party on his sixtieth birthday. In another version karet means that the offender will die childless. In the confession of sin on Yom Kippur one sentence reads: ‘For the sins for which we are liable to the penalty of karet and childlessness.’

      The medieval philosophers endeavor to explain how the penalty of karet fits into the scheme of divine providence. Maimonides (Teshuvah, 8:5) identifies karet for the worst sinners as total annihilation of the soul in the Hereafter.

      This whole area is very obscure and is largely ignored in present-day Jewish theology.

      ~ Rabbi Louis Jacobs

      Thanks again for listening and taking the time to comment.
      Shalom uvracha

  4. I have been fascinated with the idea that Torah is a book of monotheistic ethics. I’ve never heard it described as such, but it certainly teaches much about ethics. It’s definitely given me a different way to look at my Torah studies this year.

    In episode 48 you discussed theft and the significance it plays in a society. You used Broken Windows as an example of the value of defeating an escalating criminal mentality by prosecuting lesser crimes. This is so important for people to understand because no person develops personal values, ethics and beliefs in a vacuum; the people in our lives – influence by words, yes, but more so people’s action. Parents, teachers, coaches, the media, politicians, friends, law enforcement officers, etc. all play a huge role in developing the next generation and whether that culture’s ethics will be sustained. A society that is consistent in enforcing all laws will help “raise” each generation with an understanding of the value of an ethical code of law (the idea that it takes a community to raise a child). If a society is lax with enforcement of small violations, it sends a message to people that not all law is valid or important and as such would cause people to question the entire code of law, thus resulting in the degradation of law and ultimately a culture’s ethics.

    Thanks again for your all the work you put into being prepared for teaching. May HaShem continue to bless your efforts.

    • Nahum Roman Footnick thinks:

      Well said. Thank you for listening and your comments. TMT’s popularity has grown because listeners like you share it with their friends and loved ones. I’ve done nothing special to promote it, so I truly appreciate your support.

  5. A Fan thinks:

    Hi, I am converting and your classes are amazing for me (I listen to your podcasts through the Stitcher app). I live in an area who’s largest city has only two synagogues, Reform and Conservative, and am a member of the Conservative shul. I am thirsty for a more Orthodox, politically conservative/neutral approach and your classes are so engaging and exciting. I was disappointed to see that the podcasts are so sporadic though, a lot of Jewish commentators seem to start out strong in the podcast world and then fade away until their most recent addition is a year or more old. I sincerely hope this doesn’t happen with you. Thank you for giving this to the world and to me specifically.

    • Nahum Roman Footnick thinks:

      Well, God willing I’ll keep posting… though it may be sporadic 🙂
      While you may not have an Orthodox community or a politically conservative/neutral environment, you can still seek out and find what you want. Books, internet, and travel allow us to cope with some of these setbacks you mentioned. Go to Israel, find the nearest ChaBaD (usually they are the most available), or you may get lucky and simply find an outstanding teacher you can learn with. But ultimately just be willing to engage in opportunities, and be grateful for the community around you. You can also be of influence within your community. I’ve found that when I offer a contrary opinion to someone’s Left-wing bias two things can happen. A) They admit they’ve never heard that argument, or they never thought of it that way. B) Other people eventually stand up and agree with me, but they were too shy/embarrassed/scared to say it alone. Either way, we all win. Yes, there are opponents who will immediately go into either ad hominem attacks or absurd arguments, but even then its okay. In those cases, someone else eventually comes up to me afterwards and thanks me for saying what other wanted to express. I guess I’m saying, flex your courage and express your opinions thoughtfully.
      Thanks again for listening and leaving a comment. May your conversion go speedily and be a good transformative experience.

  6. Cheers from Brazil. I am learning so much with your podcast. I’m Christian and I have been trying to learn some Hebrew online. Your podcast make every step in this challenging journey more interesting and meaningful. Thank you very much. God bless you.

    • Nahum Roman Footnick thinks:

      Wow! Thank you for your message. When the internet is used well it’s amazing what a blessing it can be. I’m humbled by how far reaching this class has become. I hope you are enjoying Brazil. I briefly lived in Rio about 15 years ago. I have several Brazilian friends (we train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu together), and we have talked about taking a trip back. All the best to you and yours. Continue listening. Stay safe and God bless!
      Obrigado!

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