Practicing “Havruta”

A Sefer Torah, the traditional form of the Heb...

A Sefer Torah, the traditional form of the Hebrew Bible, is a scroll of parchment. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of our BibleWorkbench contributors, Bill Lindeman, passed along a link to an article by Brent Coffin over at the Alban Institute, which describes an approach to Bible interpretation based on an ancient Jewish practice known as havruta. In this process, the text is treated as a “Third Party” in a conversation which connects the participants, the text, and the world around them- very similar to the BibleWorkbench process.

I was particularly struck by Coffin’s comment on the role of silence:

After each one of us speaks, there is silence. This is not a support group, and the unspoken rule is no comments, no expression of empathy, no advice, no questions. It feels counterintuitive not to respond, like someone has jumped off a ledge and is left suspended in midair. But the silence is not empty space. It holds us and our separate stories together. The silence also serves to honor the boundaries set by each member, leaving her free to say what she wants but no more. Tell but don’t ask. Perhaps most importantly, the silence stills our familiar patterns of conversation, and draws us into a deeper kind of listening. We feel our separate lives reconnecting again, today, here and now. The silence will resurface over the two hours, the deep wellspring without which dialogue dries up.

Coffin suggests that havruta offers a different model for the relationship of clergy and laity in building a “community of interpretation”:

The promise of havruta is that it provides a practice that is spiritually sustaining for clergy and laity who together are transformed into a community of interpretation. In this process, clergy do not abdicate authority, but offer a mentoring kind of leadership. We model theological integrity by articulating our own questions and insights in the context of a sustained dialogue. And as we acknowledge our limits as interpreters of the Word, we are empowering laity to recover their voices and to journey through the horizon of faith along side of us. If the church is God’s way of saying we’re not alone, havruta is a way of being the church.

In what ways has BibleWorkbench enabled your group to become a “community of interpretation”?  What role does silence play in your gatherings?


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