In Hebrew, "Beit" means house. "Midrash" comes from the word root that means to seek, to search out, to dig for meaning. A Beit Midrash is a House of Study. The Swarthmore College Beit Midrash, a joint project of the Libraries and the Department of Religion, offers unique access to the rich tradition of Jewish textual interpretation in the liberal arts environment.
The walls are lined with volumes of Bible, Talmud, Midrash, mystical texts, and codes of Jewish Law. There are commentaries, indexes, translations, and analytical works from every era, including our own, that examine these texts from multiple perspectives. Groups of students work together around tables to decipher and interpret texts.
The culture of Jewish text study is one of intellectually rigorous inquiry that stretches back unbroken for two millennia. It is a culture of teachers and students, textual exegesis, logical analysis, and argument. In Talmudic debate, it is more important to understand both sides of an argument, to express different perspectives in common terms, than to determine once and for all who is right. Engaging with this tradition requires that students learn the art of nuanced reading and careful listening.
Students come to the Beit Midrash with a wide variety of academic interests, including linguistics, literature, interpretation theory, history, classics, and comparative religion. Among the students are Jews and Christians who seek an understanding of their own heritage at the level of sophistication they have come to expect at Swarthmore.