Chevruta is a new column named for the traditional method of Jewish study, in which a pair of students analyzes a religious text together. In each installment, Jewish Currents will match leftist thinkers and organizers with a rabbi or Torah scholar. The activists will bring an urgent question that arises in their own work; the Torah scholar will lead them in exploring their question through Jewish text. By routing contemporary political questions through traditional religious sources, we aim to address the most urgent ethical and spiritual problems confronting the left. Each column will be accompanied by a podcast and a study guide (linked below).
In our debut Chevruta podcast, rabbinical student Allen Lipson explores debt’s moral implications with Sparky Abraham and Eleni Schirmer—organizers from the Debt Collective, the nation’s first debtors’ union. Lipson chose a rabbinic responsum from 14th-century Spain by Rabbi Isaac bar Sheshet Perfet, generally known as the Rivash, on the question of whether a debtor can be seized and imprisoned according to Torah law. By tracing the Rivash’s ambivalence about debt enforcement, Lipson, Abraham, and Schirmer consider questions about state force and economic consent raised by the text that still resonate today.
You can find the column based on this conversation and a study guide here. The full Hebrew text of the letter and Lipson’s translation are available here.
Thanks to Jesse Brenneman for producing and to Nathan Salsburg for the use of his song “VIII (All That Were Calculated Have Passed).”