Thursday, August 14, 2008

Blogging the NHC Summer Institute '08: Workshops

(For an introduction, see National Havurah Committee Institute 2008.)

Well, so much for yesterday's post--much to my surprise, the library closed at 4:30 PM instead of 8, as it had the night before. Unfortunately, my husband's laptop is currently refusing to access the Internet via the ethernet cable, for reasons unclear, so here I am, sneaking in a post while the library is open. There are so many workshops and classes that I have limited time, so I'll try to post some highlights.

The workshop that I chose to attend on Tuesday morning was "Ecology and the Next Jewish Theology, led by David Seidenberg. To describe the workshop while standing on one foot, our teacher encouraged us to see HaShem in all creation, and not necessarily to assume that all creation was made for the benefit of humanity alone. If memory serves me correctly, he mentioned that HaShem calls creation "tov meod, very good" before the creation of humankind.

Fri., Aug. 22, 2008 update--received today via e-mail from David Seidenberg:

Hi Shira,

Just noticed your post about the workshop I taught.

Sorry to say that creation was not called very good before the
creation of the human. Maybe you were thinking of the Rambam's
statement that none of the species, even human beings, is significant
compared to the whole of creation (which of course includes all the
species and people). He says the Torah teaches that by stating that
the whole comple creation is tov meod.

If you go back to edit please add a link to my site,,
from there.



Thanks for the correction, David. (That's what I get for not checking in my Chumash before opening my big mouth.) I like the Rambam's approach.

[End of update]

That afternoon, I attended Marty Seltzer's workshop, "Are Messianic Jews Jewish?" The question with which he opened the session was this: "If a Messianic Jew asked to join your chavurah, would you accept him or her as a member?" As you can imagine, this question generated quite a bit of discussion. One of the issues seemed to be that there are various versions of the Jewish/Christian combo. Some groups, such as Jews for Jesus, are actively seeking converts. Some ("Hebrew Christians?") are Christians taking on Jewish customs. Some who call themselves Messianic Jews are born Jews who practice as Jews but believe as Christians. This group is probably the most difficult to deal with, especially when it involves those born halachically Jewish (Jewish (according to halachah/Jewish religious law)--they appear to be practicing Jews, and don't invoke Jesus in their worship. Naturally, being Jews, some of us answered the question with a question: Should we turn them away or bring them in (on condition that they not proselytize), hoping that they'll eventually change their minds? The final vote was split.

My morning workshop yesterday was "Kashering the Payroll: a peek inside the Conservative teshuvah [halachic/Jewish religious ruling] on workers, wages, and unions. Jill Jacobs, Rabbi-in-Residence, Jewish Funds for Justice, spoke about the approximately five-year process of shepherding her proposal for fair treatment of workers through the (Conservative) Rabbinical Assembly's Committee on Law and Standards, presenting proof texts from the Torah and Talmud to rabbis more accustomed to dealing with questions of kashrut and conversion. In a number of synagogues that she visited in a previous labor-union position, she would start discussing a living wage for janitors with a rabbi only to have the rabbi disappear and return a few minutes later with the shul's own janitor, asking "How much do you earn? Is that enough to live on?" If nothing else, Rabbi Jacob's teshuvah should help raise our conciousness of fair labor practices.

Yesterday afternoon, I chose Drisha teacher Chasiah Haberman's "Clothing and Prayer." The question raised was, "Who must wear how much clothing, and under what circumstances, to pray?" Surprisingly, many of the rabbinic texts presented deal with the tzniut (modesty) of men, apparently because women can cover X-marks-the-spot simply by crossing their legs--according to Mishnah, Challah, chapter 2, verse 3, "The woman sits and separates her bread while naked because she can cover herself, but the man may not"--whereas men, who by anatomical design let it all hang out--literally--can't say much of anything without covering themselves. Who knew? This was certainly a refreshing change of pace from the current obsession with women's modesty in dress.

Gotta run: I'm late for class!


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