In grades 10-12, our students can sign up for Jewish mysticism as one of the Judaic studies electives. Students choose from a number of options in Tanakh, rabbinics and Jewish humanities, and they are allowed to choose a concentration by taking five courses in one of these areas during this three-year period.
Designed as a text-based class, Jewish mysticism (which falls under the Jewish humanities concentration) encourages students to think outside the box and use free association and interpretation. It begins with some of the prophetic visions of the Tanakh and looks at Mishnah, Gemara, and Hekhalot literature as well as Sefer Yetsirah, Sefer Bahir, Lurianic mysticism, hasidic stories, and if time, the Tanya, for a historical view of Jewish mysticism. Students come to recognize that Jewish mysticism has been far more significant in Judaism than modern history has had us believe.
In addition to the texts, students learn some of the basic theoretical aspects of mysticism, such as levels of the soul, the worlds, gematria and the sefirot. To help students perform some of the practical aspects of mysticism, most Fridays we incorporate time for meditation in the Beit Knesset. Here, we try out various meditation techniques, using music (niggunim), text (Zohar) or guided imagery to draw on their imagination. Afterwards, we often take time for written reflections.
Specifically designed to meet during the second semester, the timing of the course allows students to develop an entire sefirot chart for the school, using mystical meanings that Jewish mysticism students put up each day (except weekends, which they fill in on Monday). Thus this class ensures that the entire school knows which day we are up to in the counting of the Omer. Since each sphere has a particular quality that is reflective of how God created the world, each pair of students takes a week to create images either using drawings or online images that reflect those qualities, such as chesed, strength, harmony, endurance, sovereignty and persistence. Our large chart in the hallway, created in conjunction with our art teacher Bethanie Watson, allows students to post their sphere for the day and explain their image choice to the class.
Our students truly look forward to this class. It is a rewarding way for us to enrich and enhance their critical thinking skills and deepen their ability to reflect and interpret different facets of Jewish mysticism.