These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Questions, Reflections, Responses and Resolutions

Posted on July 29, 2015 by Ira Blum

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4 Questions, Reflections, Responses and Resolutions from a Period of Immersive learning with the Future Jewish People.

(While flying back from Tel Aviv to Philly, I struggled through turbulence in time and space, bearing the weight of collective memorial with the Jewish people, while transitioning back to the work place, following a generative period of deep thought and learning at Pardes. Below are some thoughts.)

1) I have a renewed appreciation for the different core values that define Jewish religious institutions. Discussions, studies and seminars have illustrated that in the broadest sense, Orthodoxy provides grounding- tradition, text, practice, while progressive streams assert vision- grappling with contemporary challenges with guidance from an ancient and rigid faith system. Both are fundamentally in tension with one another, and specifically through this push and pull sustain and teach one another. My question is, given the mutual value, how can we foster a deeper respect among ourselves and our students for the “other?”

2) In the Talmud (Kiddushin 29a), the rabbis charge fathers to complete certain tasks for their children (circumcision, redemption, teaching Torah, finding a spouse, teaching a trade, swimming). Some of these are particular Jewish practices or one-time activities like circumcision, but overall responsibilities like teaching Torah, finding a match, teaching a trade, or swimming, dictate the values behind cultural survival. What’s interesting about these responsibilities is that they’re not specifically Jewish. Any community authority can suggest these or related activities (baptism instead of redemption). By placing these terms in rabbinic discourse, the rabbis transform these activities into expressions of Jewish life. Suddenly it is one’s responsibility as a Jew to teach their child how to swim. Do we actually do this though? Are we mindful about the Jewish implications of each choice we make?

3) In the work I do as a Jewish professional of a student led environment, I don’t dictate practice or belief. I challenge, provoke and encourage immersion and exploration, but only after having validated one’s Judaism. Maybe Jewish professionals in my field should further prioritize sharing our practice. Students should be able to learn from our authentic selves, to see how we do prayer, Shabbat, what we think about the state of Israel. They should be exposed to the variety of our Jewish identities, and understand that ultimately pluralism is a value of acceptance, but it demands individual and particular Jewish relationships. Hosting Shabbat dinners, teaching, singing. Students should see us, the staff, especially the non-clergy, in positions of leadership, as models and positive influences of Jewish practice. There is much to be gained from a Dvar Torah from a staff person, or leading Shabbat services or reading Torah. If done properly, students will not feel undermined in their leadership, but encouraged by quality Jewish experiences. Students, what do you think?

4) When I go out for lunch, I have particular religious dietary restrictions, now expressed as “publicly vegetarian.” But keeping kosher for me in America, much like praying, putting on a kippah, etc. are physical reminders that I am part of a unique minority. That’s not what they were intended for. If you go to a summer camp, neighborhood, or country where Judaism is the majority, and you are therefore not marking a difference but rather identifying a similarity, these physical practices have the capacity to take on greater meaning. Blessings before and after meals provide moments for intentionality and mindfulness of sanctifying food. For some, this is always the case, and maybe I would ask you first- how do you sustain the integrity of routine Jewish practices, and instead of using them to assert difference, use them to immerse in rituals that elevate the joy of blessed living?