Monday, July 9 – Conservative BBQ in Israel

One of the amazing things about the Hartman Institute is the assemblage of scholars who teach and write as part of their regular faculty – David Hartman, Donniel Hartman, Moshe Halbertal, Melia Hellner-Eshed, and many, many others.

But equally amazing is the number of international Jewish sages and leaders who fight for the opportunity to teach or present at the Institute. I forget to mention last week that Isaac Herzog, son of the former President of Israel, who is currently the Minister of Social Affairs and Services spoke to us, and he didn’t even make it to be mentioned in this Journal!

This morning started with a great scholar and great mensch. David Ellenson, currently the President of Hebrew Union College, taught the morning’s session. David is a longtime friend, who was part of my Doctoral Dissertation Committee, while such a thing still existed. He was also one of Jennifer's favorite teachers when she was a student at HUC.

David taught from his primary field of research – 19th and 20th century German and Hungarian Orthodox poskim (Jewish legal decisors). He used two Teshuvot (Jewish Legal Responses) to teach about the relationship between Jews and non- Jews. Of special interest to David is the tension when specific laws or the application of specific laws conflict with the principals upon which the Jewish legal system rests.

One of the Teshuvot we looked at was from an early 20th century posek (Legal Decisor) living in Tel Aviv, Rabbi Hayim David Halevy. The Teshuvah analyzes the responsibility of the Jewish state to care for its Arab citizens. In general, Jewish laws teaches that Jews are responsible for all the world’s poor, but our first priority is to our own poor (brothers and neighbors).

In the end, Halevy holds that the Jewish authorities are responsible for the well-being and protection of all of those living within its borders. It is a powerful example, from early in the history of the Modern State of Israel, of a call to care for the Arab citizens of the State of Israel, and it is made in religious terms – a mitzvah, a religious obligation.

The second Teshuvah is also from the early 20th century German posek, Mordechai Halevy Horowitz. It is a fascinating discussion as to whether or not Jews are permitted to donate to the building of a Catholic Church in their community. In the end, he holds that a Jew is permitted and even obligated to assist in providing appropriate worship space for non-Jews, at least non-Jews who are not idol worshippers. (He holds that Christian are not idol worshippers.) Interestingly, the place where he limits this obligation is in a community where there are Jews who have converted out. To assist them would be a desecration of God’s name.

Both of these Teshuvot are much more nuanced and interesting than I am able to portray here. The morning reinforced the study of our Jewish legal tradition and have practical examples of rabbis struggling in changing times to allow the tradition to grow and evolve in a world that is changing while at the same time remaining consistant with the best of the tradition.

Fastastic, thought provoking lesson for anyone who considers her/himself someone who lives in a traditional way in the contemporary world. You can’t stand in two places at once, yesterday and tomorrow, but how does one stand in today, remain faithful to yesterday, and plan for tomorrow?

After lunch we had our next study session about The Kuzari (don’t worry it is almost the last class when I will expound on this part of our program more fully).

After The Kuzari was an author’s roundtable, during which four of the Hartman scholars presented ideas from their books. Very, very interesting.

I was able to go home for part of the afternoon.

That evening, Jennifer’s parents babysat for us and put the three little ones to sleep so we could go somewhere special.

Parenthetically – It is amazing to have Jennifer’s parents and her sister visiting us. In case you missed it last week when they arrived, her parents came out from Los Angeles for about two weeks, and her sister from New York for about the same amount of time. As difficult as it is for Jennifer to be here with the three kids while I am studying all day (and a good chunk of the night), having her parents here makes it much more manageable. Jen is already anxious about what will be when they leave. We will see.

So, with the kids well taken care of by their grandparents and their Aunt Hilary, Jennifer and I were able to go out to . . . a barbecue for Conservative Rabbis sponsored by Masorti, the Conservative Movement in Israel. (Everyone should be a member of Masorti, if you are not, you can get more information at www.masorti.org.)

I know you were expecting something more exciting for our big night out. But trust me, with three little kids, and me gone all day to study, hot dogs with a bunch of Conservative Rabbis would sound very exciting to you too!

The evening was wonderful for two reasons – first, to learn more about the wonderful things being done by the Conservative movement in Israel; and second, to see friends, some of whom I have not seen for a long time.

The Conservative Movement in Israel is doing many incredible things: training Israeli Rabbis, training American Rabbis, training educators to work in Israel, granting graduate degrees in Jewish studies, building Jewish adult education opportunities for Israeli adults, teaching new Olim from Ethiopia and the Former Soviet Union, and hosting wonderful study programs for Americans – some for the summer and some for a whole year (like LeAnne did).

It is incredible the diversity of educational programs the movement sponsors!

And I saw friends. The director of the Fuchsberg Center, Rabbi Jim Lebeau, grew up with my father in Akron, OH.

Rabbi Andy Sachs, the head of the Israeli Masorti Rabbinical Association, was a friend when I lived in Israel, and connected me to the Jerusalem Running Club in 1991, an association which was very important to me that year. Rabbi Einat Rimon, the head of the Masorti Rabbinical College, was the Rabbi in Missoula, Montana while I was serving the community in Butte. Eitan Kuniyoshi, the brother of an Ohr Shalom groom from last year. There also were a number of people there from my program at Hartman.

It was a really nice couple of hours.

Then of course, since the children were asleep, Jennifer and I walked into the center of town for shopping, dessert, and to enjoy being in Jerusalem together. Again, very special moments!

Another very long and very wonderful day!!!

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