Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Jewish Take on World Issues

This blog was supposed to be published on Wednesday but I was still thinking about what to write. Over the past ten days I have been directing a ten-day scholar in residence program at the Jewish Community Center of Houston (where I work) entitled A Jewish Take on World Issues. The scholar, Dr. Alick Isaacs is a professor at the Melton Centre for Jewish Education at Hebrew University and a faculty member at the Hartman Institute. The series included lectures both at the JCC and in private homes. Each night Dr. Isaacs explored a Jewish take on issues such as Universal Humanity, Community, Peace, Progress, Feminism, and the role of the State of Israel in the Modern World. The program was well received and every night participants went home with a little bit of a brain ache from working hard to understand the challenging ideas presented by our presenter. Since I attended all ten lectures I had a lot to think about and so this post is late.

In the lecture entitled A Jewish Take on Progress, Dr. Isaacs shared with us the Western understanding of progress as a linear development that will inevitably results in an improvement of conditions. He then proceeded to explore a Jewish understanding of progress, in which traditionalist and anti-traditionalist movements support one another in the mutual development and conservation of Judaism’s most important ideas and ideals.

In the lecture A Jewish Take on Feminism, Dr. Isaacs explored how the modern Feminist tradition is at odds with Judaism while a reading of Jewish texts supports a Feminist ideology based not on rights, but responsibilities both for men and women. Dr. Isaacs is an ardent feminist, and one of the founders of Congregation Shira Hadasha in Jerusalem, where women lead portions of the service and read Torah in an Orthodox environment.

The big idea I took away from this series is that I am guilty of trying to make an accommodation for Judaism to fit neatly into the Western tradition. I need to work harder to explore Judaism on its own terms and not as a tradition that can so neatly fit into the surrounding culture I wish to belong. I walked away recognizing that Judaism at odds with a Western tradition can serve as form of protest against a tradition that needs a genuine critique in order to maintain its own authentic voice. In this way, both Judaism and the Western tradition are forced to evolve.

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