What Did He Say? Exploring the Power of Words

Join the 10th Annual Global Day of Jewish Learning Sunday, November 17th, 2019.

Curriculum now available for registered communities.

By Karen Klieger Sponder

What did he say? What do you think he meant by that? A word can have many connotations and possible meanings, making it difficult to decipher intentions.

We are experiencing a moment when history is being intentionally obscured with #fakenews, divisive rhetoric, and clickbait. How do you even begin to speak with someone who disagrees with you, and how do you hear someone else’s opinion? How can we engage people in meaningful conversations when there is less trust and less listening?

Start by bringing people together, in person, and encouraging conversation around something they share. That’s what the Global Day of Jewish Learning proposes: that we can use Jewish texts as a starting point for constructive discussion. This year the Global Day study theme is “Speaking Volumes,” because words matter in relationships, in society, and in how we understand the world. We provide a curriculum of text-based study sessions that can launch your conversations with learners of all ages.

The most memorable news article I’ve read so far in 2019 is about the high school principal in Florida who said “Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened.” Beyond the immediate impact of this disturbing statement, there is a more troubling point: when you say something is true or untrue, expressing your opinion is more important than the reality around you.

In the Talmud (Babylonian Talmud Bava Metzia 84a) we meet two close friends and colleagues, Rabbi Yohanan and Reish Lakish. They banter and challenge each other, questioning the other’s interpretations of the law and pushing each other to consider things from new angles. Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz uses this relationship to illustrate how “disagreement can be the beginning of the world,” when we use disagreement as a means to shift our perspective and discover new possibilities.

The 2019 curriculum looks closely at core Jewish texts through the lens of “Speaking Volumes”; we explore what Jewish texts can teach us about critical thinking, being better listeners, and making meaning. And in this time when words are being used to wound, learning Jewish texts together can help us to take care in how we choose and use our words.

This Global Day of Jewish Learning will take place on Sunday, November 17. A project of the Aleph Society and Rabbi Steinsaltz, the Global Day continues to spark a love of Jewish learning in participants around the world. Whether in a synagogue, JCC, Hillel, school, or living room, Jews of all ages and from all walks of life and backgrounds are welcome to join in the learning. To participate, host a local in-person event that invites community members to learn together in a day of text-based learning sessions. It’s free and easy: communities of all sizes and shapes learn at the same time around the world, making Jewish learning fun, accessible and personal.

We invite you and your community to come together for lively conversations – and even disagreements! – about what our texts are saying. After all, Jewish texts speak volumes. Add your community’s voice to the global conversation – register your community at theGlobalDay.org/register.

To learn more visit theGlobalDay.org or contact Karen Sponder, Project Director: karen@theglobalday.org.