According to the Talmud, "a dream left without interpretation is like a letter left unread."
More than 200 people turned out recently to "read" such letters, so to speak, at "The Gift of the Dream," a one-day conference at Germantown Jewish Centre that examined the content of dreams, what they mean and their role in Jewish life throughout history.
Topics included a number of sessions on archetypal dreamwork, which examines images and feelings to determine what a dream is saying, as well as "Contemporary Theory of Dreaming," and more Jewish-related topics, such as "The Dreams of Joseph's Journey," and "Dreams in the Torah and on the Couch."
While the speakers and workshop leaders often tackled different material, the notion of the divinity behind dreams served as a unifying thread. Indeed, this was touched on in the keynote address given by Rodger Kamenetz, author of The Jew in the Lotus and, most recently, A History of Last Night's Dream.
The day's offerings included a pair of "Archetypal Dreamwork Demonstrations" (one for each gender) led by Marc Bregman and Christa Lancaster, founders of North of Eden, a dreamwork collective in Vermont.
A contingent of more than 20 members of North of Eden re-enacted one member's dreams before the crowd, while Bregman led an analysis of the dream's content. As the dreamer detailed his or her dream, Bregman called on the troupe to act out various roles, whether as a spouse, animal, attacker — whatever the dream drummed up. He often stopped the process to discuss the importance of feelings stirred by the imagery as a way to recognize what message was being conveyed.
"Dreams are about the divine trying to get our attention and reconnect with us," Bregman said during one session.
In a session on "Dreams in the Jewish Tradition," a trio of panelists pointed out the role dreams have played in Judaism — what Germantown Jewish Centre's Rabbi Leonard Gordon called a "panoramic view of the postbiblical history of the dream."
The topic makes up the "longest single story about anything in the entire Babylonian Talmud," stated Jewish Theological Seminary professor David Kraemer, who led a group through different talmudic passages dealing with dreams and their interpretations. That text, he said, is characterized by diversity and conflicting ideas, and is "very skeptical of the enterprise of dream interpretation."
Noting what seemed to be the theme of the day, Joel Hecker, a professor at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, said that Jewish mystics saw dreams as a way "to be intoxicated with divinity," citing a number of passages taken from the Zohar.
The study of dreams has often been a "silent topic" in Jewish life, said Roxborough resident Jordan Shapiro, who at 31 was one of the younger attendees.
He added that if there's one thing the economy has shown, it's that "there needs to be some source of meaning other than what we buy or see on TV."