An Introduction to the Learning Experience of the Mitzvah Initiative

To talk about mitzvah in the lives of Conservative Jews today, we need an expanded definition of the term. To find that definition, we need to examine:

  • Torah texts
  • Rabbinic texts that expand and explain the Torah
  • Texts of Jewish thought and scholarship of modernity and postmodernity
  • New mitzvah practice by social innovators in the Jewish community
  • The personal reflections and thoughts of individual Jews and specific communities

With multiple possible meanings for mitzvah, Jews today can locate where they stand with respect to Jewish tradition in all its complexities. They can also find new entryways to living a more engaged Jewish life. Along the way, the creation of new definitions leads to more of the shared language and shared vision that build a community.

With these goals in mind, the curriculum at the center of the Mitzvah Initiative (which is both classroom learning and real experiences within each individual community) progresses through the following topics:

  1. Introduction to the Mitzvah Initiative: how does change occur in your life and in your Jewish life? (Including the work of Dr. Barry Holtz)
  2. Where you currently connect with mitzvah in your life: finding your signature mitzvah
  3. How the idea of mitzvah has developed over time, from the Torah to current Jewish thought (From Torah texts to Fishbane)
  4. Beit midrash on mitzvot that express responsibility to others: hashayvat avedah and bikkur holim
  5. Beit midrash on kibud av va'em (Including the work of Dr. Judith Hauptman)
  6. How has the history of the idea of commandedness developed over time? (Texts from Torah, Midrash, Dr. Benjamin Sommer, and Chancellor Arnold Eisen)
  7. How we understand obligation in our lives: a presentation from the hevrah kaddisha
  8. Studying the mitzvah of tefillah through the lens of obligation
  9. Mitzvah goreret mitzvah—finding one mitzvah for total engagement: Abraham Joshua Heschel, heksher tzedek, and contemporary mikveh
  10. Beit midrash on mitzvot that lead to engagement: tzedakah and tikkun 'olam
  11. Mitzvot on the environment: shmirat haadamah
  12. Mitzvah as a way to think about God (Texts from the Torah, Midrash, and Chancellor Arnold Eisen)
  13. Mitzvah as a way to connect to God: Shabbat
  14. Final reflections and siyyum

These lessons are a blend of personal reflection (journaling), group discussion, text study (both facilitated by the teacher and b'hevruta), presentations by community members, and actual mitzvah experiences.