On Thursday, November 4th, eight people gathered in Ledo’s Pizza to discuss the possibility of building a Muslim center near Ground Zero. This important discussion is only one of the many that the Jewish group “Torah On Tap” participates in once a month.
“Torah on Tap is a once a month event where we meet at Ledo’s Pizza and discuss popular topics in our society today and what Judaism, Jews [in the media], and various other texts say about it,” group leader Cara Kaplan said. “We sometimes draw from direct rabbinical texts from hundreds of years ago, and sometimes we use more current articles. Essentially, we try to take controversial topics that affect our lives today and see what Judaism might say about it.”
This event series started as an attempt by Jews in Greek Life to reach more Jewish students through cultural and worldly discussions. “[It is a way to] provide other avenues of discussing Jewish topics,” Kaplan said.
The group has blossomed since its formation a couple of years ago. “Torah on Tap” is sponsored by Jews in Greek Life, though students don’t have to be involved in Greek life, or even be Jewish to join in discussions. It is an open forum for debate and a setting to share thoughts and ideas. “Sometimes people like having conversations in a laid-back atmosphere, and it’s appealing to be in a restaurant setting having an intellectual conversation that they normally can’t have over dinner,” Kaplan said. “It’s a cool social aspect of Judaism.”
There aren’t a set number of students that show up every time, though about 8 to 20 students arrive at every discussion. “It really varies every time. We had an attendance of over 20 people at the discussion in October, and around 10 people at the November discussion,” Kaplan said. “It isn’t one set of people who consistently come, rather we make a Facebook event for each event and invite Hopkins students of all faiths to come.”
“[I come to ‘Torah on Tap’ because] I just like intellectual debates, especially if they involve Judaism,” freshman Nick Ginsberg said. “I like to learn about history and current events.”
Senior Dan Hochman explains that students mostly show up sporadically and that he participated this week out of sheer interest in the topic. “I thought that the discussion was going to be Jewish-Muslim relations, which is why I went, but it happened to be about the mosque,” he said. “That’s fine though; I have strong feelings about that too. It was a good discussion, I just wish that more people thought differently.”
Topics range from event to event and are all debatable and somewhat controversial. Past discussions include tattoos and body piercings, inter-marriage, homosexuality, the origins of the universe and science versus religion. In the future, students hope to discuss Israel, Obama’s policies, and the question of extremism versus secularism. Students hope to potentially bring in professors to learn more facts and details about their discussion topics and hope to bring more people with varying opinions in to argue.
This week, Muslim students were invited to take part in the discussion of Muslim-Jewish relations, but only Jews showed up at Ledo’s to participate. It is unclear why there was so little diversity at the meeting. Kaplan speculates that maybe it was due to a lack of advertisement. “I believe we tried to reach out, but it’s possible that they simply did not really know about it,” Kaplan said. “I wish we could have had the Muslim perspective.”
“The idea of a discussion, face-to-face, between Muslims and Jews at Hopkins sounds like an intellectual event that would create a bridge of understanding between students,” freshman JHU Muslim Association member Nusaiba Baker said. “Unfortunately, I feel as though the event was not widely advertised, as many of the Muslim students were unaware that it was to occur.”
The next “Torah on Tap” meeting will occur November 29th. The topic of inter-dating will be discussed.