Well it is hard to believe that my time in Israel has come to a close -- what a wonderful and special time it was! The learning was at such an incredibly high level (some of you have requested that I share more details as to what exactly I have been studying -- so I have appended some class notes for those who are interested - at the end of this entry.
In addition to the learning, the hevra -- the remarkable collection of rabbis who are participating on this program is also quite special and we have much to learn from each other. So, great learning, a remarkable group of learners, and then throw Israel into the mix – and the time here has been too good to be true.
What a privilege to be in Israel – to drink in the sights and sounds of this remarkable land on a daily basis. The only thing that makes leaving possible is the knowledge that we are at the beginning of a journey together and not at the end. As I explained at the beginning of this blog – rather than take my Sabbatical in one extended period away from the congregation – I decided to use this Hartman Fellows Program which convenes every July for the next several years (with video conferencing from my office during the year etc.) This then becomes a real win/win – for the congregation, the intrusion of my being away is manageable – and for me, it is an opportunity to participate in this wonderful learning experience.
After our last classes this morning –and a concluding luncheon with a lot of hugs and promises to keep in touch (it really is remarkable how close a bond is formed through study) it was off to the city for some last few errands.
One last walk past my favorite bakery.
It has gotten VERY hot here in Jerusalem – and hot here in the Middle East is hot! This is coupled with a nation wide strike that has been called by Histadrut – the Labor Union to which almost all of Israel’s workers belong to. It is a crippling strike and expected to begin at the airport tomorrow at 6 AM. Guess when our flight back to NY is? 6:45 AM!
We called our airlines and they asked us to be at the airport at 2 AM because they hope to move up the flight to get out before the strike? Will Rabbi Lucas make it out before the strike? Will he be stranded at Ben Gurion airport – stay tuned for the dramatic conclusion of our show.
More than likely the strike will be settled – and even if not – we will probably get out before the deadline –so am I worried? Not at all.
So after a quick stop at Mahane Yehuda to pick up my favorite spices, and a stop at Meah Shearim to get some new tzitzit for a friend's tallit , it is back to the apartment for some last minute packing and then dinner with friends and off to the airport. I have so many wonderful stories to share with you over the next few weeks and months and I look forward to seeing you all in shul! Thanks for sharing our experience with us through this blog. See you soon!
Most of our classes were taught in this classroom - here is a picture of a class with Rabbi Donniel Hartman
And for those who asked -- here are some notes from a couple of our classes. I am not sure if you will be able to make much sense of them as you don't have the sources that we studied for hours before the lecture to prepare for the topic -- but it will still give you a feeling for what I have been doing. The first are notes from a class with David Hartman on "Foundations of Moral Obligation", the second is from a class with Moshe Halbertal on "Great Texts in Moral Philosphy" -- Enjoy!
Rabbi David Hartman
July 15, 2007
"Foundations of Moral Obligations"
Bereishit Rabbah, 24
Should be read: First Rabbi Akiva. Then Ben Azzai. Ben Azzai attacks Akiva.
Ben Azzai finds Rabbi Akiva’s klal limited. Is it an extension of self love or is it an extension of humanity?
L’rayecha—refers to behavior. What you would want done to you, do to him.
Ben Azzai understands the neighbor to be you. What if you have self-hate? If it’s an extension of you, not a good source to build an ethic.
But could be, “he is like you—a representative of the human condition.”
“Don’t talk about what you yourself have not experienced. Stay with this nebuch religion called Judaism.”
This awareness of particular and universal—question is what happened to the God of Creation when He went to Sinai?
Fundamental philosophical issue is what happened to God? God wants to destroy world and then falls in love with Abraham and becomes a bloody, tribal God. We take God out of universal role and give him family role. That’s why Genesis is a family story.
Personhood of God by Yohanan Muffs. Psycho-dynamic study of God.
Most tragic pasuk in Bereishit: Lo osif l’kaleil et ha-adam… ki yetzer ha-adam.
“You just found out the people are that way? You created them!”
Heschel: All those who can’t understand God’s emotion in the Bible can’t understand the Bible.
In beginning God brought great expectations and then lowered the expectations. God is learning on the job. Maturing as he goes along.
Humanity of God is only thing Bible gives us.
What type of religious life does Rambam want? Love is based on knowledge and you can’t have knowledge.
“Ehyeh asher ehyeh…” I am in process. Who God is is still unfolding. Have we exhausted all images of God. Ehyeh says you haven’t.
Most serious theological issue you have to face is transition from Genesis to Exodus. From God who understands Sarah’s pain to warrior God who takes on kingdom of Egypt. So they’ll know I am God. How will they know it? Through my power.
Hazal understood that you cannot build theology on divine triumphalism. So they have to make new and different meanings of it.
Most crucial issue in modern Judaism is issue of siddur. Whole siddur has to be re-thought. How can we say the same things after Holocaust that we said before? Have to rethink religious language.
Are Jews at Sinai b’nai noach? If so, re’eicha include ben noach. But if not, question becomes who is re’eicha. (Read article by Akiva Simon from previous booklet)
(DH says: Read Hilkhot Rotzeich)
“I separated you from world so you could be Mine.” What does that mean?
“Those who hate God, I hate.”—issue of where do you draw lines.
13:13. Mitzvah to hate him. But Rambam is prepared to see person not just by his actions but by his beliefs. If you believe right you’re OK.
(But this has changed. Now essence is on religious behavior. This is why people aren’t up in arms about Habad. So they believe he’s the messiah? So what. They keep kosher.)
Hilkhot Avel, 14:2
Ben Zoma says getting it right re: God, is enough. That’s why he says Sh’ma Yisrael.
[Problem in our communities is that they’re disconnected from Torah. ]
Foundations of morality are normative connections in a community. For Rambam, re’eicha is someone you know. You learn to become an ethical person by living with your neighbor. That’s foundation out of which you build the ethical.
Meeting with re’eicha
Biggest problem of being rabbi is that you sacrifice your family for the congregation. Must demythologize the rabbi. There’s no role. You’re just a teacher. You’re a shnooky teacher. Start learning to be ethical by starting to learn to listen to your children. Before you embrace Darfur, there are children in your home who need your love. Ethics of intimacy. Relational intimacy creates ethical personality. There is a running away from intimacy so we gravitate to abstract ideas.
But we need to focus on logic of intimacy.
Election of Israel can be understood by this logic. You don’t make love to a universal woman. You make love to a particular person. Cannot be intimacy without particularity.
Rabbi Akiva challenges you to enter into a love relationship based on intimacy.
Ben Azzai wants you to transcend the personal. See the world through God’s eyes. He doesn’t trust individual and wants powerful corrective—every human being is beloved by God. For him this is the ground to build ethical world.
When Rambam talks about love he talks about love in behavioral terms.
[? About Akiva—how can he leave his wife for so long? DH answers: Not just him. She wanted him to achieve as well. Takes 2 to tango.]
[Hagadah: Shfoch hamatcha and then 5 minutes later we say Nishmat kol chai]
Danger of intense relationships is that they can become either avenues of embracing world or avenues of distancing self from world.
Intimacy becomes possessive. When child says, “Mommy do you love me?” Doesn’t want to hear, “I love all my children.” Wants to know that he in his particularity is loved.
Ben Azzai’s teaching is important because it’s the corrective for the dark side of intimacy.
Rambam, Hilkhot Avadim
Labor must be meaningful. Your creative process is not who you are.
These halakhot give you a refined sense of what the relationship is.
But then you get to chapter 9, 8
Halakha allows it but compassion and reason want you to behave differently. What a critique of halakha! Halakha doesn’t include these things? Din is not midat hasidut? Din is not rachamim?
This shows us that halakhah is incomplete and inadequate. If midat hasidut wouldn’t allow this, how can din be this way?
Look what he does: He poskins that way and then says “no” to it. Doesn’t allow Jew to be defined by halakha. But the Rambam fails. He doesn’t overturn the law. Why doesn’t he? What were the constraints? Why didn’t he? He’s bound by halakhic precedent. He can’t move beyond it. He is only able to offer alternative ways of dealing with it.
[“That’s why I say that all the agunot should marry and flood Jerusalem with mamzerim!”]
Then Rambam quotes Ben Azzai by quoting Job. I can’t act towards the Caananite slave in a certain way b/c of Job.
Then he says cruelty is a pagan quality. Whole foundation here of your faith posture is how you act toward non-Jew. “The way we feel compassionate for every human-being defines our faith.” If you are connected to God then you cannot feel disconnected from any other being. Here the particular halakhah doesn’t manifest the heart of the tradition. Shimon says: This halakhah is Caananite. There are details of the system and then there is the overall gestalt, the spirit of it all, that is not always embodied in every detail.
Torah is supposed to create a certain kind of mensch. How does Torah shape an ethical personality. To be ben Torah is to manifest a certain kind of gestalt.
By doing it this way, Rambam accomplishes something amazing. He shows us his critique of system.
Moshe Halbertal – Great Texts in Moral Philosophy
1. Aristotle – Nicomachean Ethics
2. Kant- Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals
3. Utilitarians- Mills (greatest good for greatest number, etc)
4. Nietzche- Genealogy of Morals (post-modern)
Study these systems and point to connections to Jewish thought and halacha
Speculate about what halacha would say about some of their claims
Aristotle – overview of main arguments
His conception of ethics- not about rules governing our behavior. His question is What sort of life is worthy of pursuing? Philosophy is a lifestyle.
Cultivation of mood, habits, way to appear in the world. For Kant, moral philosophy is much more narrow, about rules of behavior.
In inquiring about what good life is about, accd to Aristotle, we think of the telos of human life is happiness (not the mental sensation of pleasure, which is of limited capacity in most of us and is a dead end b/c we get bored from things that give us pleasure and leads to self destruction) but rather happiness is finding activities which are an aim in and of themselves (not goal oriented). Happiness is this kind of well-being.
When we look at human actions- they are organized as aims. I.e. the art of training horses is an instrument for war. The act of war is an instrument of well being of police. The police are instruments for the well-being of the citizenry. There is a hierarchy of the aims.
When something is GOOD, it fulfills its function. A good car, is a comfortable, gets from point A to point B, smooth. So what is the function of being HUMAN? Then we can answer what a good human being.
Accd to Aristotle: There is an essence of a human being. Our mark is, as distinguished from other creatures, are our capacity to judge between good and bad and between true and false. The fulfillment of human life is to manifest that capacity in our lives: to live a life of reason, to be devoted to deepening that capacity for judgment and reason is the ultimate good. NOTE: category of duty/obligation is not present in Aristotle. Ethics is not about our capacity for self-denial, or sacrifice for others. Ethics is about developing what is most noble in us.
Description of character. Moral life is the training of the whole personality of a person. A moral action flows from one’s character- not the will imposing on one’s. Giving charity in a good human is not painful for him. Moral life is about character formation. Life watching a dancer do a complicated dance and it looks effortless, it flows from her. (MAIMONIDES struggles with this- he says ethical life is the imposition of the will over the instincts to respond to one’s obligation. For RMBM/halacha greatness in moral life is our ability, no matter our desire/feeling is to CONQUER our desires in the name of principles/duties.)
What is character and what is project of character training for Aristotle?
1. Sensations- our capacity to experience pain or pleasure- raw, share this trait w/dogs
2. Emotions- are far more complex than sensations. Emotions are cognitive and propositional. If I am fearful, it is because I have a belief that there is a danger to me. And there is an attachment experienced by my fear- i.e. the thing I am afraid of is important to me. Differentiation of emotions is about the attachments associated with them. Fear is generated by an external attachment. Guilt is generated by an internal attachment, I feel I did something that makes me feel guilty.
RAMBAM- ethics as embodied by the WISE MAN as refuah hanefashot- therapeutic. Neurosis arises from wrong set of beliefs (overly worried that your car is not safe in the parking lot) or wrong set of attachments (stinginess as over-attachment to wealth).
Aristotle- there are proper attachments. Love is the more worthy of attachments. What is worthy of loving in the world? (Stoics pre-empt loss by removing attachment from everything out of your control- only thing we are in control of is our moral self.)
3. Dispositions- habit of experiencing a certain emotion. Way we make an emotion wired into our character.
If moral life is about character formation, construction of virtues, and not about constructing rules of behavior, then what is character? Do we have a full picture of what a person of character should look like? What are his virtues? Moods? Dispositions?
There is a religious mood that tends toward melancholy. Happiness is seen as form of boundary expansion/release. And so you need to control frivolity.
However, too much depression can cause a person to suffer from apathy.
Interesting what Chasidut did to counteract/react this mood- on the other end of spectrum.
Aristotle attacks the virtue of humility (anavah) seriously.
Modern history of Zionism- many issues that we talk about- One that we don’t always talk about is attack on Jewish masculinity of old. Character of Israeli man is not Woody Allen. Macho culture. Assertiveness, emotional responses, way he walks, talks, posture all reflects this.
Clash between duty and overcoming inclination/flaw of self – is part of Jewish ethics
Not part of Aristotle’s concept.
What is our ideal character in Judaism? What is our set of ideal virtues? Differentiation between nobility and piety. Cultivation of civic virtue in Aristotle- versus other worldliness (how difficult civic virtue/acculturation within a Jewish culture which is always suspect/outside of the norms.)
Another clash between Aristotle and Judaism
Golden mean (formulated also by RAMBAM) – there is a middle ground between every extreme.
Courage is someone who takes risk for the proper goal. But not an impetuous risk taker and not a person paralyzed from taking a risk for a vital concern.
Generosity is the middle ground between overspending and stinginess.
Tempered person is the middle between apathetic and gluttonous.
[Problem for Aristotle is that the Golden mean is somewhat subjective. The virtuous path may not be courageous, maybe courageous is the extreme to fearful and cautious is the middle ground.]
If the mean is a rule of thumb is the proper way, then what do you do with a category like piety? What is piety if it is not about going above and beyond? Chassid is an extremist- a religious bohemian reacting against the religious bourgeois. Are they not virtuous?
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It is hard to believe that the month is rapidly coming to a close! So much left to do. We just got back from the reading of Aicha (The Book of Lamentations) to begin the Fast of Tisha B'Av . We went to the Tayelet - the beautiful promenade that overlooks the Old City of Jerusalem. There more than 600 people gathered to begin the saddest day of the Jewish year and sit on the ground and read the Book of Lamentations.
It was a beautiful Service conducted by our friends from Moreshet Avraham – the Mesorti (Conservative) Congregation in Talpiyot. But, it is so hard to be sad on Tisha B’av here in Jerusalem. We read the ancient words of Jeremiah who was an eye witness to the destruction of The Temple more than 2500 years ago and they just don’t apply any more. Aicha Yashva Badad – How the city sits desolate…”
But the city no longer sits desolate – she is alive once again – Jerusalem is no longer destroyed – it is rebuilt and vibrant and alive!! The contrast between the words we chant and the reality that we see with our eyes is stark and confusing.
As we sat on the floor – children were playing in the grass and running and making too much noise behind us. I was about to say something – when I realized that the contrast was precisely the point. These children and their laughter were the reality of a Jerusalem that was filled with life – not the words we were reading in our books.
It was hard to keep my eyes in the book – my gaze kept wandering to the drama that was playing out in front of me – it was one that was much more compelling and certainly more uplifting.
Yesterday I took a break from my studies to attend the Hazkara – the memorial service at the grave of Michael Levin in the Military Cemetery at Mt. Herzel.
Michael some of you may remember was a young soldier who had made aliyah from Philadelphia and was serving with the Paratroopers in the War in Lebanon last summer when he was tragically killed. Michael was a student of mine at Camp Ramah – I remember a few years ago – the last time I saw him – when we bumped into him in downtown Jerusalem and he told us with great joy and excitement that he was entering the army in a few weeks. He was so excited – it was for him a fulfillment of a dream and for him it was clearly the great accomplishment of his life. We gathered at his grave – family, friends, Israelis and Americans -- his fellow soldiers and friends.
We said the memorial prayers and closed with the singing of Hatikvah. This is a land of so many contradictions – the highs are so high and the lows are so terribly low. I hugged his parents – what could I say. There are occasions too deep for words.
If you would like to know more about Michael you can check it out at: http://www.jewlicious.com/?p=2500
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Saturday afternoon we took a walk over to David’s Citadel Hotel and met up with Susan and Alan Zelman who are here on Chancellor Eisen’s trip from the Jewish Theological Seminary. They seem to be having a remarkable experience. We sat in on Seudah Shelishit and met Ari Alon – a good friend of Chancellor Eisen’s from his days back at Oxford. Ari is a formerly Orthodox Jew who refuses to call himself Secular and sees himself as deeply religious and as an author – is attempting to re-appropriate traditional language and sources independent of the existing Orthodox establishment in Israel.
It is fascinating to see Israelis who do not have the wide varieties of Judaism that we do in the States – struggle to find expression here in Israel. The available choices are all or nothing – Orthodoxy or Secularism – and more and more Israelis are rejecting these limiting alternatives and seeking to find ways on their own to express their Jewish identity and their Jewishness.
After Shabbat was over we took a long walk with the Zelmans and showed them our apartment, our neighborhood and we ended up having coffee at a new Aroma that is located in a new shopping mall that overlooks the walls of the old city. It was a beautiful site and a pleasant moment we shared together – but somehow the words: “a new shopping mall that overlooks the walls of the old city…” sticks in my throat. Oh well – progress.
On Sunday, after our studies we took a fascinating trip to Hebron. Hebron is a complicated and troubling place. It is the site of conflicting emotions, conflicting claims and enormous tension. Hebron is one of the four ancient cities in Israel (can you name the other three?) – it contains the traditional site of the burial places of all of our patriarchs and matriarchs save one. (Can you name the one?) It has deep religious and historical connections to the Jewish people.
In 1929 there was a small Jewish community that was living there that was brutally wiped out in the Arab Riots – men, women and children were attacked, raped and tortured. In 1967 Jews returned to Hebron – but it was settled by the very right wing settler movement who had a clear ideological goal of establishing the greater Israel on all the conquered lands. While the politicians of Israel have wrestled with the rights of the settlers – over the years – the army has been left with the responsibility to defend them. Defending a small Jewish presence in the midst of a large and hostile Arab community is not an easy challenge. Whether Jews should be in Hebron at all – is a political debate – the army does not enter into such debates – it’s job is simple and straightforward – to protect Jews.
But the accomplishment of that goal is far from simple and straightforward. Armies are good at fighting wars – but as we in America are learning in Iraq – they are not designed for maintaining civil order. When armies become police forces trouble quickly follows. We were taken on a tour of Hebron by a group called: Shevirat HaShtika – “Breaking the Silence”. These are former Israeli soldiers who are troubled by what they were called upon to do during the course of their training and Reserve Duty. Shevirat HaShtika was formed as a kind of therapy to enable them to talk about these things – what power does to you when Palestinian civilians are under your command. They claim not to have any particular political agenda but merely to sensitize Israel to the realities of occupation and the price of controlling another people.
The problem that everybody recognizes is that there are no good solutions. Israel has tried negotiations, it has tried separation – and now who is there to talk to, even should they decide to talk?? They are a people without any good options – they don’t even have many bad options. But Hebron is a reminder of this situation at its most difficult. The Jews here hate the Arabs, and the Arabs here hate the Jews and each will give you a long litany of reasons as to why the other is at fault and should be removed from the situation – and the Israeli Army is left to try and keep them from killing each other on a daily basis!!
Our learning continued on Monday and Tuesday we are studying the foundation’s of Philosophy: Aristotle, Kant and Nietzche with Moshe Halbertol – but we also are looking at some of the great Jewish thinkers and seeing how these classic philosophers influenced their works. In the mornings we continued out text studies with David Hartman himself.
Tuesday night Edy got tickets for the IBL – the newly formed Israel Baseball League. We traveled to the Yarkon Field outside Petach Tikvah to see the Modiin Miracle play the Petach Tikvah Pioneers. We set our expectations as low as possible and we actually had a wonderful time.
The baseball is hardly even of a minor league quality but still it was baseball! When we first arrived we were shocked more by the crowd than the players. They were almost all Americans and mostly frum. All the announcements were in English!! The few Israelis who were there had stumbled onto the game because they met one of the players in the bar the night before and he gave them a ticket.
Many of the Americans who were there – likewise had some connection to the players: “Put in David Friedman!!” When we asked who was David Friedman – they explained it was their cousin. They had been to several games and hadn’t seen him play once! Total attendance at today’s game? Well we were told not to expect much. Someone who had been at a previous game told us there were only 50 people! At our game – I don’t think there were 50! But this meant that everybody got at least one foul ball to take home – that was until they needed them back for the homerun derby. They play 7 innings and if they are tired after 7 instead of going extra innings they have a home run derby – but at this late point in the game they had run out of balls – so they had to ask everyone to return the foul balls they had collected so they could finish the game!
In the end the Modiin Miracle (my team) won and I got a ball (one I purchased) autographed by the coach of the Petach Tikvah Miracle – Ken Holtzman and by the coach of the Modiin Miracle – Art Shamsky!
Wednesday was a jam packed day as we left early for a tiyul up to the Upper Gallile.
Soon we were back on the road. The agenda was to see the results of last years Lebanon War on the north, speak to the residents and get a feel for what was going on. The most remarkable part of this experience was that we had a meeting with Rachel Rabin – sister of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin z”l. She was one of the founders of the kibbutz Menara that we visited in 1943.
Notice the picture of her brother -- the former Prime Minister -- in the background. Can you see the resemblence?
Situated on the border with Lebanon—Kibbutz Menara really suffered during last year's war but it is a remarkable place and Rachel is one of the true Israeli pioneers. She showed us a film from 1943 of what this hill looked like when they arrived with nothing than their young backs and an incredible spirit – and we then got to see what they built over the years – not only a kibbutz but a country. She spoke honestly about the challenges for the future and here hopes and dreams as well as her frustrations. It was an incredible exchange.
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This morning we went shopping for Shabbat. Wow! Friday early morning at Mahane Yeduah – the outdoor market in Jerusalem also known as the shuk –it is like no other experience in the world! (Be prepared for a lot of exclamation points in this entry!)
How does one describe the shuk ? To experience the shuk is to truly experience Israel. It is so full – full with fresh foods, full with lively colors, full of shoppers pushing and maneuvering for position, full of store keepers hawking their wares.
There is so much intensity, so much vibrancy in the shuk – colors, noises, smells, -- everything is heightened and intensified. The foods are fresh and abundant and so in your face – not wrapped in plastic or hidden on a shelf – they are right there – to taste, to smell to touch.
“Try this!” – shouts one spice dealer as he shoves a spoonful of a mixture for salads with raisins and herbs and nuts in your face. “Carrot salad, please.” “Which one?” – the seller shouts? “Which do you have?” “Spicy, sweet, with lemons, with raisins – here try them, in fact why not take them all?” Next to me a man is buying his fish – fresh for Shabbat – feeling each one, judging their perfection.
So much noise, so many colors, so much movement and activity – so full of life. That is what I love about the shuk – it is life lived intensely. In the span of a minute the shopkeeper will yell at you, laugh with you and educate you. Transactions are not the passive exchange of goods for money but the passionate exchange of opinions and experience and life!
Why purchase fruit from this vendor when right across the way is the same fruit but no line?? “What do you mean the same fruit? How dare you compare my fruit to his fruit!”
“I would like some halava please.” The seller laughs at me – what kind of halava? Coffee halava? Pistachio halava? Chocolate halava? And the list goes on and on – “Here try them all – and then decide!”
The packages get heavier, the crowds get more insistent. It is not easy to live life this way – always on the edge, always at the top of the register – always shouting and pushing for space, for air for the best, the freshest – but it is so alive, it is so irresistible - almost hypnotic. Who would not want to be a part of such a life? Who would not rather shop this way, live this way? Do I prefer to wander in a stupor down the air conditioned aisles of a supermarket – lulled by the sweet sounds of soft music – everything organized and properly placed for optimum convenience and for your shopping pleasure? Here it is all chaos, all choices, everything vying for your attention, your approval. Indifference is not an option in the shuk . Boredom is not an option. Passivity is not one of the alternatives Choices must be made. Decisions must be rendered. Life must be lived.
I love this place! This is how the story of life is told when Jews are the authors. This is how life is lived when Jews do the living. I need a break! And then back out to finish our shopping!
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Our program is now at its halfway point. It has been everything I could have hoped for and more – challenging, inspiring, thoughtful and filled with fellowship and the joy of learning. Each morning we begin with a hevruta study period – reviewing the sources prepared for us and then followed by the scholar of the day’s lecture.
I told you about some of the luminaries we studied with at the beginning – allow me to bring you up to date. Over the past few days we have studied with Noam Zion, David Ellenson, Arnie Eisen, Israel Knoll and Donniel and David Hartman.
Noam Zion is a wonderful teacher and the author of the popular Haggadah that I have recommended for years: A Different Night- The Family Participation Haggadah. Rabbi Friedman and I have been speaking to him about the possibility of his coming in as a scholar in residence at TBS in the next year or so – he is a marvelous teacher.
David Ellenson is the president of the Hebrew Union College and of course Arnie Eisen is the new Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary. They had a wonderful evening of dialogue on the challenges that confront our Movements in North America. Arnie made us all proud – he was a true visionary, dynamic and profound. He laid out a very exciting program for the revitalization of Conservative Judaism and I am proud as a member of his Rabbinic Cabinet that we at TBS are going to be right at the heart of that revitalization.
Israel Knoll is the Yehezkel Kaufman Professor of bible at Hebrew University and his presentation was a fascinating analysis of the First Biblical Story on Tikkun Olom. It is always amazing when you can take a story you have read and studied dozens of times before and in the hands of a skilled and talented scholar see it anew and from a totally different perspective.
This morning Donniel Hartman tied a lot of what we had been exploring together in his lecture on NIMBY – Jewish Sources on Not In My Back Yard syndrome. Using everything from the Talmud, the Rambam’s Mishne Torah , The Book of Esther and so forth he set forth a fascinating dialectic between a life that promotes your own legitimate needs and one that is concerned for the welfare of others beyond yourself. In fact, I was thinking these sources might make the basis of a wonderful Adult Ed Course – I know that Florence Meyers is waiting for my summary for my course for this Fall's Herbert Tarr Institute – I think I might have something for you, Florence!
On Tuesday we took a break from our studies – a tuches can take only so much – and we were able to choose from a number of tiyulim or trips to various parts of the country. I chose a tiyul to Har Gilboa up near Beit Shean in the Galil. The Gilboa was the sight of the Biblical battle where Saul and his three sons’ were killed in the fight with the Philistines. The views from the top are breathtaking, the walk was challenging and we also studied the relevant chapters of the Bible during our breaks!
Your intrepid Rabbi with Rabbi Neil Cooper of Wynewood, Pa. -- an old and dear friend.
The Hartman Tiyul Group
At the end we took an unforgettable walk through Nahal Kibbutzim which is about a half hour walk in a small river where the entire time the water is up to your neck!
Thirty rabbis, walking through water up to their neck -- that was a sight to behold. After the very hot hike the cold water was truly a mehiyah (even if the cleanliness was not exactly up to Roslyn standards.)
We have also found time to take in the Jerusalem Film Festival – tonight we are meeting friends for dinner at a hot new steak restaurant located, in of all places, Mahaneh Yehuda(!) and then to see a Spanish Movie titled: The Other (with English subtitles I hope!) If you are interested in knowing more about the movie, you can check it out at: http://www.jff.org.il/?CategoryID=255&ArticleID=23. Last week we saw a movie called Persipolis http://www.jff.org.il/?CategoryID=257&ArticleID=167 an animated French feature that dealt with a young girls journey in Iran from before the fall of the Shah until she flees to France as a young woman.
I must say Israel is a very different place this summer than it was last summer! Last summer we were in the midst of a war! We were all riveted to our television screens watching the daily bombardment of missiles in the North. This summer, it is life – back to normal. Israelis are nothing if not resilient.
Today was the end of the RTS – the Hartman program that invites hundreds of rabbis each year without any commitment. Now, we are left with the hard core 30 of us in the RLI – the Rabbinic Leadership Institute that makes up the Hartman Fellows program I explained below. It will be a little lonelier without all the others – but now the focus will be wholly on us and I expect things to ratchet up a notch (as if it were possible to get any more intense that it already was.)
There are no classes tomorrow (Friday) but Professor Lee Levine is giving a lecture on the Second Temple Period and taking a group on a trip to the Second Temple Model which is now located at the Hebrew Museum. I studied this material with Prof. Levine 30 years ago when I was a student at the Hebrew University and I am curious to see if the field has changed much since then!
I have spoken to Susan and Alan Zelman who are here as part of a JTSA Study Mission that is being led by Chancellor Eisen. I hope to connect with them on Motzei Shabbat and hear all about their experiences.
So, all continues to go more than well here in Israel and I hope the same is true of you back home. Until next time!
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