Scholar helps shuls see beyond denominations

Scholar helps shuls see beyond denominations

Rabbi Arthur Green to speak at synagogues that studied his work

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Last year, three friends who lead three synagogues of different denominations spent the year with Rabbi Arthur Green.

Not literally, of course, since he is the rector at Hebrew College in Boston, but figuratively; they taught adult education classes and offered High Holy Day sermons influenced by Green’s latest work, Radical Judaism. The year culminated when the three synagogues, Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills (Reform), Bnai Keshet in Montclair (Reconstructionist), and Congregation Beth El of South Orange (Conservative) studied Radical Judaism together in March 2011 in a neutral space, at the Cooperman JCC in West Orange.

The three rabbis, Matthew Gewirtz of B’nai Jeshurun, Elliott Tepperman of Bnai Keshet, and Francine Roston of Beth El, each took a different approach to the work, but their camaraderie and respect was evident throughout the session.

Now, in a fitting reprise to that year of study, Green will speak to groups at each synagogue throughout the coming weekend, May 4-6.

Green, once aligned with the Reconstructionist movement, is a transdenominational rabbi and an expert on Jewish thought with a focus on Hasidism who espouses a return to the spiritual and to asking the big questions: Why are we here? What does it all mean?

The answers, Green insists, are not found in any one denomination. Hebrew College is itself affiliated with none of the four major Jewish streams, instead boasting “an openness to all forms of Jewish expression, commitment, and practice.”

“A lot of the best energy is in transdenominational efforts,” Green said in a recent phone interview. “It’s true on college campuses with Hillels and it’s true in adult Jewish learning.” He cited Me’ah, Hebrew College’s adult learning program; the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School; and the Wexner Heritage Foundation. “All reach across denominational lines. We also see it in the growth of community day schools,” he said.

He pointed out the benefits of training rabbis for a transdenominational world at Hebrew College. “In the real world, that’s where we are, even if we belong to a denominational synagogue.”

Not surprisingly, Green expressed delight at the collaborative efforts of the three local rabbis — each of whom he has studied with individually. “I think these rabbis all realize that I have things to say that address all Jews interested in a more serious relationship to Judaism,” he said.

Green described his idea of a “seeker-friendly Judaism, where people on their own personal religious journeys feel welcome by the Jewish community. Often, they feel rejected and turn to religions of the East. I’d like Judaism to welcome seekers. They understand that we are all part of something larger.”

Although ordained by the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, Green went on to serve as dean and president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College from 1984 to 1993.

He spent his early years in the Weequahic section of Newark and later lived in Springfield. He has spoken before at both Beth El and Bnai Keshet, and has his own early memories of B’nai Jeshurun when it was still located in Newark.

He hopes people who come to hear him at any of the three synagogues will come to realize “that religion is about dealing with the biggest issues: what we are doing here, what is the purpose of being here on the planet, and how to respond to those questions. Religion is about seeking questions of ultimate meaning. Sometimes, we get so tied up in small issues that we fail to see the bigger issues, like Who am I?”

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