PS -- after three weeks in Jerusalem -- my still pale skin is ample proof that I have been spending most of my time in doors studying.
PPS I want to thank my good friend and colleague Rabbi Steve Moskowitz of Old Brookville for the use of his Flip Video.
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Here is a picture we took of the 25 or so Rabbinic Fellows who have been studying together for the last few years:
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Clearly one of the highlights of the past week was Jessica Barnoy’s Bat Mitzvah aliyah at the kotel. Jessica was outstanding – she led the davening and chanted beautifully from the Torah. Those of you who traveled with me to Israel may remember the spot that we had our Service at what is being called Hakotel Hamesorati that is located at Robinson’s Arch – it was a wonderful Service and a wonderful simcha.
The program at Hartman continues to occupy ALL of my time. The subject for this past week has been “Pluralism and Diversity and their Limits”. We have studied Jewish sources and had many extensive conversations on the subject of Boundaries and the Limits of Tolerance. Our readings have been as diverse as the Tamlud and Tosefta and of course of the Bible, to contemporary Israeli poets, William James, Charles Taylor and Erich Fromm.
Our faculty is equally diverse. We have studied with Dr. Noam Zohar a professor of Jewish Philosophy at Bar-Ilan University, Rabbi Dov Linzer the Rosh Yeshiva and Den of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, Rachel Korazim a Jewish educational consultant and one of the leading educator on Israeli literature, Ori Goldberg who recently received his PhD from Tel Aviv University School of History – he is interested in religious thought and it role in shaping global culture and politics. With Ori we studied Shia texts on diversity. And the list goes on and on.
Of course all of this is going on against the backdrop of what is happening here in Israel. I don’t know how much the media has been covering it in the states but here in Israel there has been a lot of tension between the very right wing segment off the Hareidi Ultra-Orthodox community in Mea Shearim who have been rioting and demonstrating against the police and local government.
If you want to read more about it you can take a look here:
http://www.ynet.co.il/english/articles/ ... 48,00.html
Last Thursday night we were invited to the home of Professor Jacob Milgrom who is a scholar and professor emeritus in the field of Biblical Studies at the University of California. He is most known for his research on the book of Leviticus and the purity regulations of the Torah. He is also the father of fellow Hartman Rabbinic Fellow Rabbi Shira Milgrom. Prof Milgrom who is now 86 years old and his wife Jo who is an accomplished artist live in a remarkable home in Jerusalem. We were invited into their home for a lovely evening.
You can see Prof Milgrom addressing us in his living room and his wife's artwork on the walls. She is quite a controversial artist using religious artifacts in very provocative ways.
We had a wonderful conversation on the subject of "how do you lead a life of faith and combine it with a critical understanding of Judaism?"
His wife has been involved in a wonderful project of collecting artistic representations of Biblical themes and making them available for educational purposes on the internet -- you can check out her work at:
http://www.tali-virtualmidrash.org.il/A ... px?art=497
Friday was a day to get ready for Shabbat. There is nothing better than Shabbat in Jerusalem - the sounds and smells. We visited our favorite bakery to buy challot and rugelach:
We went to our favorite place to buy ready made foods for Shabbat. The owner Eli makes you taste everything before he lets you buy so by the time you leave you not only have purchased food for Shabbat but taken care of lunch on Friday!
I davened in no less than 5! shuls during the course of Shabbat. Friday night we davened at Shira Hadasha with its wonderfully spirited davening, Saturday morning we davened at the Hildesheimer Shul -- a local small shul in the neighborhood that I have been attending daily at 5 PM we attended a lecture at the Ramban synagogue at 7:20 we went to Mincha back at the Hildesheimer Synagogue and at 8:30 I went to Ma'ariv at the Yehuda HaLevi Synagogue right near our apartment. None of these were more than a 10-15 minute walk.
There is so much more to tell you -- but the hour is late and tomorrow is another full day -- but I did want to try and keep you informed of what was happening here.
I understand that things have been going beautifully back home and I have gotten great reports about the davening on Shabbat. Yashar Koach to Norma Grill and David Rosenthal for leading Services this past Shabbat as well as Moshe Ostad reading Torah and Warren Rubin doing the Haftarah and to Beatrice Karten and Saul Waxman the week before with Madeline Yousefzadeh reading Torah and David Wasserman doing Haftarah -- it is great to know that the shul is in such good hands while I am away!
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What a remarkable experience to see your baby having a baby. To see your daughter responding with love and maturity to the demands of a new life. It is hard to know where to look first at the baby or at the mother – both are an incredible cause for amazement and thanksgiving. We are grateful that our grandson is healthy and well. We are grateful that mother and father are fine and blessed with everything they require to raise our grandson well. We are truly blessed.
And now we are in Israel – studying at the Hartman Institute. I am participating in the Rabbinic Torah Study Seminar, which has as its subtitle: “Foundations for a Thoughtful Judaism.”
The topic for this summer is: Crisis and Uncertainty: Paradigms of Response.
It has indeed been an amazing year and many of us have “felt the ground moving under our feet” – this year it became almost an earthquake. There is an uncertainly and vulnerability in the world that many of us have never experienced before. Things look very different this summer than they did just one year ago – and the future looks much more challenging for us as individuals and for our institutions than it did just a year ago.
As a result our teachers at Hartman decided to focus our learning this summer on how our tradition responds to crisis and uncertainty.
Rabbi David Hartman gave an opening lecture entitled: “The Contingent Feature of the Jewish View of History.” A religious person is tempted to believe that everything that happens is ultimately part of God’s plan. David Hartman showed that is not the only religious response to crisis and that our sacred sources have other complex ways to respond to history – not only by ascribing everything to God’s will. Sometimes it is very much the absence of God that is experienced in the things that happen to us.
In dealing with crisis we recognize that there is personal crisis and national crisis – and while they are very different in some ways – they are also very similar in the responses they demand from each of us.
We have sessions with colleagues from around the country where we speak about our own sense of how each of us is experiencing: “The ground moving under our feet” – there is a comfort in knowing that others are experiencing what you are experiencing and a wisdom that comes from sharing.
On Tuesday and Wednesday Rabbi Donniel Hartman gave a two-part shiur (lesson) on “Ethical Responses to Uncertainty.”
On Tuesday evening we met with the new mayor of Jerusalem Nir Birkat and were briefed on the challenges and opportunities he sees for this most unusual of cities.
Last night we had a most remarkable lecture presented by one of my favorite scholars here at the Hartman Institute, Dr. Michah Goodman – that was titled: “Personal Crisis and Theological Audacity – Job and the Rabbis” It was one of the most incredible presentations on the book of Job that I ever heard. I am sure you will hear much about this in the months to come.
This morning, Thursday July 9 our study session is led by Dr. Melila Hellner-Eshed whose expertise is mystical literature and poetry. We studied Midrashic, Zoharic, and Hasidic strategies for surviving and transforming crisis. We read sections of the Zohar and sermons delivered in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Nazi occupation by Kalonymus Kalman Shapira the Rebbe of Piaseczno. We studied poems by the contemporary Israeli poets Zelda and Yehuda Amichai as well as one poem written after the war in 1945 by a polish Jew, called “The Bridge” – it goes as follows:
I didn’t believe,
Standing on the bank of a river
Which was wide and swift,
That I would cross that bridge
Plaited from thin, fragile reeds
Fastened with bast.
I walked delicately as a butterfly
And heavily as an elephant,
I walked surely as a dancer
And wavered like a blind man.
I didn’t believe that I would cross that bridge,
And now that I am standing on the other side,
I don’t believe I crossed it.
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It is also nice to be back at the Hartman Institute – surrounded by good friends who have become very close friends over the course of this three year experience. By now we have spent several summers together, several winter trips together and shared our videoconferences on Mondays for three years. We know each others joys and challenges and the hugs and kisses are much more than gestures they are signs of real caring and concern.
It is great to be learning once again. The program at Hartman is indeed a strenuous one. One of the reasons it has taken me so long to get to my blog is that they keep us going from early morning to late at night. It is hard in the midst of all the hustle and bustle just to find a moment to sit and reflect.
Minyan begins at 6:30 AM – (and I used to grumble about our 6:45 start at TBS!) I have been experimenting with a few synagogues in the neighborhood and I think I have settled on a minyan that is conducted at the Yehudah HaLevi school that is literally outside the front door of our apartment. It is not only convenient but known for its speed – not always the most appealing of prayer attributes but at 6:30 AM not an unwelcome feature of the davening.
By 8:30 we are in our seats and ready to begin our morning shiur – the professor for the day preps us with leading questions and then we spend the morning in hevruta – studying the prepared texts from the Bible, Talmud, Medieval commentators etc. in small groups. My group usually consists of Rabbi Neil Zuckerman who is a rabbi in Potomac, MD (formally a TBS rabbinic intern), Rabbi Vernon Kurtz a rabbi in Highland Park, IL, Rabbi Sam Kieffer a rabbi in Miami, FL. (his father was a long time rabbi at Old Westbury Hebrew Cong.) With a break for lunch our studies and lectures continue throughout the day. We break at around 4 and resume with dinner at 6 and this is usually followed by an evening program that concludes around 9 PM. This leaves us time for a walk to Emek Refaim – the main restaurant drag – for ice cream, a walk back to our apartment and some welcome sleep before we repeat it all the next day.
I promise to try and keep you informed on what is happening – but as I said – my schedule does not allow for a lot of down time and I will do my best. I am writing this on Thursday morning after Services and before I leave for classes. I will post this and I hope to update it a little later. At that time I will try and fill you in on the topic for this summer and the subject of our studies.
Until then – all our love from eretz yisrael.
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