Wednesday, July 23, 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 extraordinary group of rabbis. We have learned a great deal from each other. In this group there are Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Reconstructionist rabbis. I have learned the most from those rabbis who don't share my Reform orientation. In fact a few days ago Adam Scheier, a young Orthodox rabbi from Montreal, led Jonah Layman and me through the winding streets of the Old City's Muslim Quarter. He had studied at yeshiva there some years ago. He brought us to Kotel HaKatan (the Little Wall). There is picture of this site on the Blog's sidebar and in the slideshow. It is a small section of the Wall that runs above the Western Wall Tunnels. There is no plaza there, no throngs of people, no beggars and no one telling you how you should pray. In this small corner of the Old City a Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbi stood together and touched 2,000 year old stones. This moment embodied the summer's most important teaching.