A thought-ful rabbi

A thought-ful rabbi

Beth El Synagogue to host scholar of Jewish philosophy

Rabbi Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi says the Jewish community is at a “watershed moment” regarding gender issues, theology, and ties to other faith groups.
Rabbi Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi says the Jewish community is at a “watershed moment” regarding gender issues, theology, and ties to other faith groups.

Steeped in contemporary Jewish thought and its application to the daily life of communities and organizations, Rabbi Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi will offer three workshops as scholar-in-residence at Beth El Synagogue in East Windsor.

Her talks will focus on gender issues, theology, and Jewish ties to the Christian and Muslim communities. “I see that we are at a very significant watershed moment on all those issues,” she said in a phone interview with NJJN.

Synagogues wrestle with these subjects, she said, because they pit tradition with “their own thinking about policies and about their own future and the future of Judaism in North America and Israel.” For instance, she said, the Conservative movement has been “wrestling within its legislative practices and its thinking about the role of the other,” regarding women and members of the LGBTQ communities.

Sabath’s Jewish professional experience and academic affiliations straddle denominational divides. She’s worked at the pluralistic Shalom Hartman Institute and Clal: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. She also served as pulpit rabbi at a nondenominational congregation on Nantucket Island, Mass.

Her academic background includes a doctorate from the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary and rabbinic ordination from the Reform Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, where she recently served, in Cincinnati, as the seminary’s national director of recruitment and admissions.

In addition to her speaking engagements, Sabath is an author at work on two new books. One of them, about gender and ethics, is being done in partnership with Rachel Adler, author of “Engendering Judaism: An Inclusive Theology and Ethics.”

The other book, about the Jewish covenant theology of Rabbis Eugene Borowitz, David Hartman, and Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, grew out of her dissertation on Jewish philosophy. What interests Sabath, who studied with these philosophers and religious leaders, is their creative engagement “with a new reality following World War II and the Shoah,” she wrote in an email. “Each one of them knew that the stance toward God and community and statehood was radically shifting and that the way Jews thought about each was changing and needed to change.”

The scholar-in-residence weekend begins Friday evening, after Shabbat services, with a study on “the core tension in the Bible about the question of gender,” she said.

Looking at the first and second chapters of Genesis, she said, “There’s a clear ambivalence about the role of men and women, and that ambivalence about the extent to which we are both the same and different — in a very binary understanding of gender — is something that then carries through to today.”

At kiddush following Shabbat morning services, Sabath’s session on “Prayer and Theology” will involve “a close study of how different biblical characters are employed to demonstrate how we should and shouldn’t approach God.”

She will focus in particular on the question of heresy. “Heresy does not lie in people not keeping kosher, but in why they don’t and what they say about it,” she said.

Sabath’s interfaith work when she was director of the Hartman Institute’s Christian Leadership Program inspired her Saturday evening session, whose two sources are essays written decades apart by Martin Buber and Abraham Joshua Heschel.

“I’m talking about the larger meta-political and global context,” she said — “why it is important to know each other and work together, and what it means to really trust each other.”

If you go

Who: Scholar-in-residence Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi

What: “Jewish Ethical Challenges of this Hour”

Where: Beth El Synagogue, East Windsor

When: Friday-Saturday, Feb. 15-16
Friday, about 7:15 p.m. — Shabbat dinner, “Gender, Judaism, & Ethics
Saturday, about 12:15 p.m. — kiddush, “Prayer & Theology”
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. — “Jewish, Christian, & Muslim Relations: Why We Need Each Other Now”

Cost: Fee for Friday night dinner, RSVP required; Shabbat lunch and Saturday evening sessions are free of charge.

RSVP: Contact admin@bethel.net or 609-443-4454

The weekend is supported by the Jack and Francine Gang Adult Education Fund.

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