Organizing a Sh’ma Salon


The Sh’ma Salon is a forum for adults to discuss issues of contemporary Jewish thought. The uniqueness of the Sh’ma Salon lies in the fact that it necessitates no prior Jewish knowledge or in depth reading on the part of the coordinators, presenters, or participants.

Instructors / Coordinators

The sole requirements for coordinating a Sh’ma Salon are the ability to lead a group discussion and to remain open to diversity of thought in the community. Some communities may wish to have a man and a woman co-facilitate their Sh’ma Salon so that greater inclusivity is created in the group dynamic. Synagogues may also wish to experiment with a “round robin” format in which a different participant takes responsibility for each session. It is important that the session leader not monopolize the session or view it as a platform for expressing his/her opinion on any range of subjects. The session leader is a facilitator – available to guide traffic and make sure that every one gets his/her turn.

Prior to each session, the instructors / coordinators should make certain that they are well versed with all of the articles in the particular issue of Sh’ma that they are addressing.

A coordinator can organize the Salon as an ongoing program, or a special event. Guest speakers can be invited to share their “expertise” or participants can reflect and respond to the issues from their own experiences. The coordinator can choose a “topic” from this catalogue, and order copies of the Sh’ma issue (photocopying is not permitted), or subscriptions can be purchased for Salon participants and an issue will arrive by mail each month in time for the Salon. Publicizing the Salon in the synagogue, school, or JCC, bulletin, as well as the local Jewish newspaper is helpful.

The coordinators may choose to highlight specific articles in each issue or to offer a list of questions that they would like to address when the group gathers. This will enable those who do not have time for “homework” to spend several minutes immersing themselves in the subject while not needing to read all of the views presented in a specific issue.

The following sample session illustrates how this could be done. The October 2002 issue of Sh’ma was dedicated to the subject of the death penalty. Articles included:

Abner Mikva – Legalized Murder
A retired Chief Judge of the US Court of Appeals discusses the death penalty and the reasons for execution.
Stephen R. Greenwald – Defending Death Row Inmates
A pro-bono attorney reflects on his decision to defend death row inmates.
Nathan Diament – Judaism and the Death Penalty: Of Two Minds but One Heart
Murder is a sin against society for it tears at the foundation upon which an orderly, productive and moral society is built.
Shmuel Jablon – Supporting the Death Penalty in America
When one looks at the violence in society, one can have little choice but to believe that the use of the death penalty is, at least, a justified hora’at sha’ah that is necessary to protect members of our society.
Daniel Sokatch  – Abolishing the Death Penalty
One must conclude that the death penalty as it exists in the US is broken and immoral and should be abolished.

Questions that could be offered to the group include:

  1. In what way is the death penalty an ethical challenge vs. a challenge in implementation?
  2. What unique perspectives does the Jewish world view offer on the death penalty?
  3. What responsibility does the United States have to the international community that continues to veer away from use of the death penalty?

Each session should be structured with a five-minute introduction of the subject and a five-minute closing. The remainder of the program should  be made available for free flow discussion. There is no need to address all of the articles appearing in the specific issue of Sh’ma.

The Mission of a Sh’ma Salon: Creating Inclusive Conversations

The Salon is a formal, moderated small-group discussion on specific issues facing contemporary Jews.

The Salon brings light to dark places by advancing the understanding of complicated issues.

The Salon creates a dialogue built on mutual respect and intellectual excitement about our differences.

The Salon offers opportunities to teach and be taught, listen and be listened to, inspire and be inspired.

The Salon provides a mini-think tank, a creative laboratory of ideas.

Shma Salon