Monday, June 30 - Streak Continues, Much Better Circumstances

Like I said before, I hesitate to write about the flight because you are not going to believe me. Today is an anniversary we don’t really want to acknowledge. Today is the first day of the Hartman Summer Rabbinic Institute, which means it is one year since the first day last summer. For those who don’t remember, we spent the first day (and night) of the summer program in the Emergency Room of Hadassah Hospital after Maital fell and hit her head.

Thank God she was fine then, and a year later she is still fine, but a scary anniversary nonetheless.

Thankfully, this year’s first day was much less exceptional, though still somewhat ironic.

As I mentioned before, Nadiv and Maital will be in a daycare program this summer at the Hartman Institute. This is a brand new daycare program created because a number of us from last summer mentioned that we had a challenging time finding daycare programs for our younger children.

As an incredible exemplar of a nurturing and responsive institution, the Hartman Institute rose to the challenge and is providing daycare this summer for children who are too young for camps around the city. It is emblematic of how wonderful the Hartman Institute is, and paradigmatic as the level for which all institutions will strive.

Having said all that, we found out just a few days before my program’s scheduled beginning that daycare would not begin until Tuesday, the first complete day of the program.

Which left me in a bit of a pickle. Jennifer had Ulpan until 12:30, and I was set to begin at 11:30, and there were three kids to be cared for.

So in consultation with the powers-that-be, Jennifer and I decided it was okay for me to miss the first hour of my program, caring for our three angels.

So once again, I missed the orientation session for this summer! That makes it two years in around, but this year was much less traumatic, even fun!

In fact, I took a long walk with the kids – past the President’s house, past the Prime Minister’s house, past the Prime Minister’s office, to the Fuchsberg Center of Conservative Judaism – where Jen was in her second day of class. So that as soon as she was done, we did the old “three kid hand off” and I double-timed it to the luncheon for the first day at Hartman.

I am already setting goals for next summer – I want to attend the orientation!

It was great being back at Hartman. Just walking of the ground of the institute brought back such wonderful memories of last winter and last summer – memories of friends, conversations, teachers, texts and lots of beautiful Torah.

After lunch, the afternoon session begin with the Electives for the first week. In the past, those who attended Hartman as part of the three year Rabbinic Leadership Institute were not able to participate in the electives, but this year the decision was made to free up enough room in our schedules to allow us to do so.

And a good thing. This week’s Electives are stunning! Avi Weiss, the head a new Modern Orthodox Rabbinic Seminary and a political activist, Noam Zion the editor of the wonderful “A Different Night” Pesach Haggadah and many other books, David Ellenson the president of Hebrew Union College and one of my professors from years ago, and Avivah Zornberg.

As amazing as that listing of scholars is, I didn’t choose any of them. Instead, I chose to spend 90 minutes each day for the first week with Dr. Melila Hellner-Eshed, one of Hartman’s two brilliant and engaging scholars of mysticism.

Her subject – the Idra Rabba of the Zohar. Where to begin and how to explain? The Idra Rabba is a section of the Zohar that tells the story of the Idra Rabba – the Great Assembly. This was a gathering of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his disciples – late one night, in the middle of the forest, convening a mystical gathering to teach each other Torah.

Idra Rabba is a very difficult, odd section that discusses the Torah they shared that night, an exposition on the two heavenly faces. (It would take a whole lot of Internet space to even try to explain.)

It was a treat, an incredible treat, to get to spend 90 minutes reading the Idra with Melila and a group of colleagues. This is a story of a group that was willing to lay it all on the line, to be willing to risk their lives for the Torah they could create together. In fact, two of the participants in the Idra Rabba die in the process!

If you are interested in breaking your teeth or blowing your mind on some of the Idra text, let me know and we will find the opportunity to do so!

After Melila’s class, my group of 27 of the Rabbinic Leadership Institute (RLI) spent an hour together, starting to catch up on all that has happened since we last saw each other in the winter.

The life of a rabbi is very full and often filled with crazy vicissitudes of great and moving joys, and painful, deep pains. Many of my colleagues have experienced life-defining moments over the previous six months – some in their professional lives, some in their families, some with their own health.

We have developed into a very tight knit caring community together, and our group consciousness is a very important part of my love of my involvement in RLI. This is a group that the Talmud would call Chevra, striving to achieve what the Zohar would call Chevraya.

There is no way to really capture the essence of our community of colleagues, friend and confidantes. It is like no other rabbinic circle in which I have been a part.

Late in the afternoon, we had a wonderful panel discussion on the Conversion Crisis currently facing the State of Israel. Three incredible presenters, dealing with a very difficult subject. Each presented a different piece and perspective on the issues.

It is difficult to present a two-hour panel discussion in a couple of paragraphs, but the issue of conversion has become a core issue. The “official” rabbinate has not only functionally discredited almost all, if not actually all, conversions from the United States. There are a number of different pieces to it.

Perhaps the most challenging is the relatively new practice of annulling conversions. It is not simply that one rabbi, one beit din, or the official Chief Rabbi and Beit Din of the State of Israel does not accept conversions, but the practice of (legally) claiming instead that a person’s conversion had been a kosher conversion, but nevertheless the conversion has not held is a relatively recent and highly problematic development.

The three presenters each approached the subject differently. David Ellenson, the President of the Hebrew Union College, gave an historical analysis of the development of the halakhah of conversion from both a traditional Jewish legal perspective and from a social historian perspective. He is brilliant and gifted teacher.

Einat Rimon, the Dean of the Masorti (Conservative) Rabbinical School here in Jerusalem, gave a wonderful plea for why compromise is necessary to maintain a unity of conversion and the Jewish people.

Donniel Hartman, a Co-Director of the Hartman Institute, gave the most visionary of the three presentations on why a unified process and universal acceptance are not necessary. He argued that the state needs to accept all that come through a process/Beit Din recognized by the community (understood broadly) and that given rabbis or micro-communities don’t need to accept the conversions of others. The only place it becomes difficult is when two people want to marry, but it is much easier for two people (or two families) to resolve this issue than for the entire Jewish people. (This is functionally the American situation, but in the US the issue is not confused by having Jewish religious authorities sanctioned by the state.)

Three incredible presentations, very little time for exchange with the audience.

After dinner at the Institute, we had a session with David Hartman. Every time he opens his mouth wondrous Torah issues forth.

He took a look at Rambam (Maimonides) and argued that he sees the development of the world through history, and Jewish history in particular to be through growth and not explosive change. This is why God originally commanded sacrifices, because it was reflective of where the people were at the time. They would not have (could not have?) accepted including abstract prayer. Instead, revelation at Sinai controls their pagan expectations – sacrifices, but only in one place, only by one group of people and only at certain times and situations.

This is a radical view since it argues that sacrifices were not necessarily part of God’s commands for the Jewish people for all times, but were a sociological necessity determined by the time and place in which Torah was given.

Anybody interested in learning more about any of the sessions, texts or scholars discussed above, please ask me, or there are wonderful things to be found on the Hartman Institute’s website.

I made it home close to 10:00 PM and since I hadn’t really seen Jennifer much at all, we had a lovely evening of chatting – sharing stories from her second day of school and my first.

I went to sleep very happy but very tired, to think this was only a half day of learning!

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