Monday, July 16 – Egalitarian Judaism

Thank God for normal days.

Thank God that my normal days are filled with incredible gifts from God (chen) and blessing.

I have been known to say during the middle of family vacations on the beach, ‘Just another day in paradise.’

So if that is paradise, that how to describe the blessing of the life that I have, and my family has, here in Jerusalem?

I am not so situated in this world to call it Heaven on Earth, or even Gan Eden, but I would certainly say that love, thank God, at the moment and for this month has a wonderful flavor/fragrance/taste/color/frequency/vibration/reality that is certainly a hint of the World-to-Come – please God may we all enjoy such blessings, soon!

So today was a normal, nearly miraculous day. I woke up in Jerusalem, the Holy City, too early because my little children, who are big blessings, haven’t learned yet how either to sleep later, or at least let daddy do so. So I played with them, read to them, and fed them – three beautiful blessings, accomplished almost before sunrise!

The morning at the Institute began with another brilliant lesson by David Hartman concerning the foundations of moral obligations. He took a look at texts related to Jewish understanding of Imitatio Dei – imitating God – which in the Jewish idiom becomes, walking in God’s ways. Just as God is compassionate, we should be compassionate. Just as God is merciful, we should be merciful.

He is brilliant.

In the course of the lesson, somebody raised our experiences from the previous day, looking for some processing time and his insights into that dark reality.

He offered some very deep, yet terse wisdom:

“So you saw something in the world yesterday that was very ugly, that you don’t like. Okay, now you know the world is like that.” (This in a pedestrian, nonchalant tone.)


“They are willing to die and kill for the graves of the dead. That is stupid.”

And then we returned to a discussion of how as Jews are obligated to behave ethically, and how we learn the ethical in an age and world in which God’s will is not easily discerned.

How do you imitate a God you cannot see?

After lunch, we had our next session with Moshe Halbertal, a brilliant teacher.

He built from his previous lesson concerning Aristotle, which I missed on Monday in order to be at the dedication of the school (life is about trade-offs), and looked at the way in which Maimonides adapted Aristotelian ethics into a Jewish world. Very interesting.

Up until this day it has been true, if David Hartman taught, David was the great lesson for the day, but I am not so sure about this day. David was brilliant in the morning, but his daughter was truly outstanding in the afternoon.

Tova Hartman has just completed a stint as a professor on the faculty of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and in the fall will be starting as a Professor of Gender Studies at Bar Ilan University. She is also a member of the teaching faculty at the Hartman Institute – and she is brilliant.

She is also the founder of Shira Hadashah, an Orthodox minyan in Jerusalem struggling to map out a new place of Orthodox egalitarianism on the Jewish map – egalitarian and authentic to the Jewish legal tradition. It is where we davened our first Friday night in Jerusalem.

Tova explained how she came to found Shira Hadashah: After shlepping around “Shul shopping” for a long time in Jerusalem and not finding a good place for herself and her three daughters, she realized that she was looking for a Rabbi who would approve of her reading of the tradition and allow some of the changes she wanted in a synagogue. During the process, she found a few who were willing to complement her learning, and even to acknowledge that her ideas could be defended and supported, but none of them were interested in making those changes. Finally, she realized that she didn’t need approval or validation from any of these Rabbis, what she needed was a new shul. So she started one.

When she sums it up in brief, she says that she started Shira Hadashah so that her daughters will be able to say of her, that “in the face of adversity, mommy tries.”

Her lesson was a close-reading of a number of important texts that she labels as exceptional – that is, texts that do not represent the main stream, but are codified within the tradition.

She included some of the Talmudic texts of Bruria, the wife of Rabbi Meir – incredible stories of a woman of great Torah learning and leadership. She also included a very famous comment of Rashi concerning her death.

She taught a piece from a Teshuvah of the Choffetz Chaim arguing that women should be taught Torah. Perhaps the most interesting piece she included was a short story, somewhat Yentl-esque from S.Y. Agnon.

I anticipate that all of the texts and stories she taught will be showing up at Ohr Shalom in the coming year!

Monday night was Jennifer’s parents last night in Israel, so we went out to a nice Italian dinner with the kids.

After dinner, while the grandparents were getting ice cream for the kids, Jennifer and I went to pick up new wedding bands that we had ordered a few nights earlier.

Jen and I decided it would be very special to have a second set of bands that we could wear on Shabbat or other important days that would connect us to Israel and the time we spent/spend together here.

We found the bands in a small store on Ben Yehudah Street. The bands read: Matzati et she’ahavah nafshi – I have found that which my soul loves. The words come from a beautiful little story in the beginning of Chapter 4 of the Song of Songs. I encourage you to read there.

After getting our rings and the kids’ ice cream, we headed home and my in-laws put the kids to bed for their last time this summer in Jerusalem.

Their presence over these past two weeks has been such a wonderful and important part of our family Israel experience that we are all very sad that they are leaving!

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