Frisch Literature and Aggadata Classes Overlap For Deep Conversations

November 14, 2019

At Yeshivat Frisch, students in English Department Chair Dr. Meryl Feldblum’s “Family Structures in Literature” senior elective and Gemara faculty member Rabbi Yaakov Blau’s Bava Kamma course recently got to experience firsthand how an interdisciplinary approach can lead to fruitful and insightful conversations in the classroom.

Earlier in the semester, Dr. Feldblum’s students read Lisa Genova’s novel “Still Alice,” about a family struggling with the effects of the matriarch’s dementia. Rabbi Blau joined in the classroom discussion of the novel, which included a comparative analysis of similar challenges faced by the talmudic sage Rav Ashi in the Gemara. In a series of stories about Rav Ashi, he confronts the challenges of kibbud av v’em when his mother’s condition deteriorates.

Last week, Dr. Feldblum joined Rabbi Blau’s Gemara class in their discussion of Aggadata, the narrative portions of the Talmud that feature hundreds if not thousands of instructive, colorful and fascinating stories. Dr. Feldblum discussed with the class the role that stories play in our lives, leading to a deeper understanding of the importance of Aggadata, both religiously as well as culturally. The class read an article about how scientific studies have shown that reading stories increases empathy; the class discussed why that might be, and how reading leads to a layered understanding of the human experience. The class came away with a deeper understanding of how, while the Gemara is a legal document, it also contains a deep understanding of the multifaceted nature of human life.