Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Dr Micah Goodman

Yesterday we studied with one of the emerging stars among Jewish scholars, Dr. Micah Goodman.  In addition to his extraordinary mastery of traditional and philosophical texts, he hosts a weekly TV show on Jewish values and directs an institute (located in Ein Prat) where secular and religious Israelis study together.  It is a joy to study with him.  I hope we can one day welcome him to our adult education program.  We studied with him the biblical books of Ezra and Ruth.  These two books represent radically different approaches to Jewish identity.  Ezra claims that Jewishness is defined by birth and by a "holy seed."  Ezra angrily banishes the foreign wives of Israelites when he returns to the land of Israel from Babylon in the fifth century BCE.  He outlaws intermarriage and even more importantly institutes the public reading of the Torah, a ritual we still perform 2,500 years later.  Ruth on the other hand opens the doors to Jewishness wide.  Ruth converts to Judaism because of her commitment to her mother in law, and by reciting but a few words.  "Your God shall be my God and your people my people..."  Ruth was a Moabite, one of Israel's sworn enemies and about whom Deuteronomy absolutely forbids positive relations.  At the end of the book that bears her name we learn that King David and therefore the messiah descends from her line.  What is most interesting about these two books is that they are both part of the same sacred book, namely the Bible.  Our Bible canonized a disagreement that continues to this day.  Our Bible's first opinion is to advocate a pluralism of ideas and to leave the disagreement undecided.  What makes one a Jew remains a complicated question.  I remain grateful that the Bible raises more questions than it answers.

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