The final few days have been no less remarkable than the previous few weeks. Our last week of studies included classes with Donniel Hartman in the morning and Melila Hellner-Eshed in the afternoons.
One of the most interesting aspects of our final days was the inclusion of a session with Christian leaders. The Hartman Institute has just begun a 10 day Christian Leadership Conference where Hartman, in conjunction with the American Jewish Committee, has invited a number of the leading Christian thinkers of various Protestant and Catholic denominations for a study mission in Jerusalem. The goal is not dialogue but study and immersion in ancient Jewish texts and contemporary Israeli society. They are a fascinating group and one morning we had a chance to study Talmud with them in Hevruta. I was paired up with the Rev. Dr. Cynthia M Cambell who is the president of the McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. She is the first woman to be elected president of a Presbyterian seminary in the United States. She recently published a book entitled: "A Multitude of Blessings: A Christian Approach to Religious Diversity." I also had the privilege to study with the Rev. Dr. Douglas Mills who is the Associate General Secretary for the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns for the United Methodist Church located in Manhattan. We studied two Talmudic texts together -- one from the Tractate of Kiddushin 39b which explores the age old question of why the righteous suffer and the wicked flourish. We also studied one of the most fascinating sections from the tractate of Avodah Zarah 54b. Our Christian friends had never studied Talmud before and remarked that there was nothing like this in their tradition: A text that raises argumentation to an art form and feels no need for resolution but is satisfied just to allow a multiplicity of opinions interact with each other -- we had a wonderful time. There is nothing like studying together to open a relationship and encourage a deep and honest conversation.
And now it has come to an end.
How do I begin to capture the scope of what I have been involved in these past few weeks? Does the 110 typed pages of notes give you an idea? Or maybe the 225 hours of sessions we were involved in give you another glimpse. How do I share with you the countless conversations with colleagues and scholars, Israelis on the street and opinion makers in various fields from the military to the arts? It has been a remarkable experience that will nourish me (and you) for months to come.
On Wednesday evening we gathered in the apartment of one of our colleagues Rabbi Sam Gordon from Chicago for a wrap up. Sam and his wife are staying in the Guest House at Mishkenot Shaananim. It is one of the most magnificent places in Jerusalem. Originally built by Sir Moses Montifiore in the 1800's to encourage Jewish settlement outside the walls of the old city -- today it has been remodeled and serves as a center for the arts encouraging artists from around the world to use Jerusalem as their inspiration. We sat on his balcony, overlooking the walls of the Old city and with Jerusalem as our backdrop and our inspiration we spoke of the remarkable time we shared together.
We have become quite a close group of some 26 rabbis of all denominations. We respect each other, we have learned from each other and we have developed that special love that can come only from sharing and caring and studying together. We had a wonderful evening. We laughed, shared stories and a lot of wine and scotch and then embraced each other with the knowledge that, God willing, our journey together will continue. In October our video conference learning sessions will start up again, in January we return to Jerusalem for a week of intensive study and next summer we all hope and pray to be back together to rejoice in the special privilege of studying Torah together in Jerusalem.
So as things wrap up here in Jerusalem, I look forward to seeing all our good friends back in Roslyn and I am returning renewed and refreshed and excited about the opportunity to continue all of the wonderful and exciting things we have planned for this coming year. I hope you will be inspired by my studies to renew your commitment to Jewish learning. I hope that the joys I experienced in learning and praying will be inspire you to join in our dynamic community of learning and prayer and fellowship at TBS. I hope to see you soon.
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