Local rabbis team up for pluralistic learning
Clergy from 3 streams to teach traditional approaches to crisis
Rabbis from the Reconstructionist, Conservative, and Orthodox movements will take turns teaching an eight-part course on Jewish leadership at the Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus in Whippany.
The rare intrafaith event will reflect the approach of the Shalom Hartman Institute, a think-tank in Israel that promotes pluralistic study.
The three local rabbis have spent part of their summers studying at Hartman’s rabbinic institute; the classes will begin with videotaped presentations by Hartman scholars.
The classes are intended “to promote high-level Jewish learning in a pluralistic environment, including all denominations and a wide spectrum of Jewish representation,” said Rabbi Amy Small of the Reconstructionist Congregation Beth Hatikvah in Summit.
“Jewish life has been sustained and supported by a strong engagement with our traditional texts in conversation with our current realities,” she said.
Small will share the teaching duties at the first and last sessions with Rabbis David Nesson of the Conservative Morristown Jewish Center Beit Yisrael and Menashe East of the Orthodox Mount Freedom Jewish Center in Randolph. Each will teach two sessions in the series.
Among the specific topics are the biblical book of Job, the sages of the Talmud, and “Jewish theological dilemmas” about God after the Holocaust.
“We will start with the many different applications of texts — Bible and Talmud and Hasidic texts and writings of the mystics — using them as a foundation for rigorous discussions about meaning,” said Small.
“Once you start to see the pictures the text is painting and the ideas that flow from it and the questions the text raises, then you can begin to think about how to apply theses ideas to present circumstances,” she said.
The course is titled “Leadership and Crisis: Jewish Resources and Response.”
Small said the “crisis” in question “refers to the conflicts of war and the turmoil our world is now going through. How have our people responded to those crises, and how have our leaders shaped their positions and led us through these crises in the past? We can learn from their experiences how we can make our way to a place in our day.”
“It is not political,” she insisted. “It is about ideas, but there is absolutely relevance to today’s world with philosophy and religious viewpoints.”
The course is being presented in collaboration with United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ.
Although the entire community is invited to take part, “we are hoping that lay leaders from within the Jewish federation and federation agencies see this as a particular invitation to come and expand the depth of their Jewish learning,” said Small. “We believe, as we have discovered at Hartman, that this learning deepens your capacity as leaders, and we’d like to pass it on to all those who are serving in the leadership in our community.”