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Showing posts from July, 2008

Studying in Jerusalem

Today marks the last day of my studies at the Shalom Hartman Institute. It has been an extraordinary month of learning. We begin our day with hevruta study. We gather in small groups and study texts from the Bible, Talmud and often Maimonides. We then hear the master teacher's analysis and insights into the texts. After breaking for lunch we study Jewish mysticism. Often we have a few hours off during the heat of the afternoon before making our way back to the Institute for a lecture about Israeli society and culture. The theme for the month was God and spirituality so we spent most of our days debating questions of Jewish theology. We learned with David and Donniel Hartman, Yisrael Knohl (whose controversial theory about Jesus was recently reported in The New York Times ), Moshe Halbertal, Melila Hellner-Eshed and Rani Jaegar to name a few. As impressive as our teachers are I am most impressed with my fellow participants in the Rabbinic Leadership Initiative . It is an extraordina

The Zohar and Our Questions

For the past week we have studied Jewish mysticism with Melila Hellner-Eshed. The esoteric world of Jewish mysticism begins to unfold before my eyes. In the opening chapters of the Zohar, the seminal Jewish mystical text, Rabbi Shimon, expounded on the meaning of God's name "Elohim." This name is a combination of "elleh--these" and "Mi--who" (when the last two Hebrew letters are reversed). Elleh represents the structures of religious life, the letters of the alphabet, the texts of our tradition. Elleh represents the fixed, the halachah, the edifice. Mi represents the questions. All of us bring questions and doubts to our religious lives. We have many questions, many unsolved riddles. God is the combination of the structures and the questions. Without institutions, without laws Judaism would be lost. Without questions, without doubts Jews would be bereft. God embraces both. God is both. Elohim is the combination of structures of Jewish life and our ques

Funerals, Rallies, Markets and Bars

All week I have been mulling over the scenes from the news. Wednesday morning we watched in silence as two black coffins were handed over by Hezbollah. The sound of the coffins touching the ground was the first confirmation the Regev and Goldwasser families received of the deaths of their sons. Two black coffins drove silently from the northern border to the grieving families. Israel turned over the bodies of 199 Hezbollah dead and five captured terrorists, the most astonishing of all was Sumar Kuntar who was granted an official pardon in order to facilitate his release. Kuntar received a hero's welcome in Lebanon. He walked off the airplane on a red carpet to cheers and praise. This brutal murderer received accolades in Lebanon while here in Israel there were only tears and bewilderment. The image of two black coffins and red carpets remain seared in my heart. The light of the full moon illuminated the distinction between good and evil. The chasm between those on either side of ou

Shabbat in Jerusalem

Shabbat is descending on Jerusalem. Hallah and flowers are sold on the street corners. Stores close early. Young students are picked up on street corners by family and friends to make their way to their Shabbat destinations before the setting of the sun. The sound of traffic dissipates with the approach of evening. Shabbat menucha (rest) and oneg (joy) descend on the city. Soon families will walk to friends' homes for dinner. Tomorrow morning the streets will be filled with men hurrying to synagogue with the sails of tallisim flowing behind them. There is a fervor of Shabbat joy among the people of Jerusalem and the feeling of Shabbat rest on its streets. Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem! ADDENDUM Saturday evening the city and its streets return to life. Shabbat goes out around 830 pm. By 9 pm people, cars and buses return to the streets. By 11 pm crowds fill the restaurants and cafes. Here the rhythm of Shabbat is mirrored in its architecture. The pulse of Jewish life moves through t

Prisoner Release

I arrived in Israel to news of the upcoming prisoner release. Israel has signed an agreement to exchange captured terrorists (including Samir Kuntar who brutally murdered a father and his four year old daughter in 1979) for the bodies of its soldiers, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. Israel has agreed to release many Lebanese prisoners even though it means not the return of its soldiers but the bodies of these soldiers killed in the attack that precipitated the 2006 War with Lebanon. That the exchange lacks balance is clear. Despite this fact as of today's writing 60% of Israelis support the deal. There are a great many problems with the deal. We are negotiating with terrorists. We are repatriating terrorists with blood on their hands who will surely receive a hero's welcome orchestrated by Hezbollah in Beruit. Hezbollah and in particular Hamas who still holds Gilad Shalit (and who it seems clear is still alive) will no longer have the incentive to keep their hostages alive. Ye