This is the second of two posts about Fall 2018’s experience engaging with speakers representing different approaches to Jewish life. Read part one.
by Talia R., Cincinnati, OH
The Reform Community
After hearing from Rabbi Yehoshua, we met Rabbi Noa, a Reform rabbi who works at the Israel Religious Action Center, much like the RAC in Washington. She was born to a secular family who raised her with strong values based in social action. This led her to work her way to become the head of the Jerusalem Open House-LGBTQ+ Center. She also works to connect Jewish and Palestinian students in order to better relations. The Jewish students, she explained, seemed scared to answer questions from Palestinian students. She wants to change the Jewish-Palestinian narrative and make the students more comfortable around each other because it is our job to bring about equality for everyone. She continued to explain that her work is not counterproductive to the Torah and its mitzvot because the Torah is not historically accurate, it is made of of fictitious stories written by four different editors. The stories in the Torah are meant to teach the Jewish people lessons about how to act and how to create your own moral compass; they contain deep truths. She believes that personal choice is very important, as how we act determines our closeness to God. This is why the Haskalah is also important, it reverses some of the mitzvot that are troublesome (i.e. “man shall not sleep with man”). She expressed that opening our arms to those in need and/or persecuted makes us more Jewish, not less.
On the question of Israel, she responded that she believes there are fundamental problems with the government and that Israel should not be a religious state. This is because the government uses it for its own personal agenda. Those who disagree with the government are deemed as anti-zionists and anti-semites.
The other question asked was about being a female rabbi: how has it affected her? She responded that many people did not want her to perform any ceremonies because she was a woman and Reform, two things which the orthodox community looks down on. Although it is a struggle, it is important for her to represent the community and to work towards creating an equal and free state.
The Conservative Community
Our last speaker was Rabbi Ari. He was born to a single mother who switched from an Orthodox to a Conservative community. She found community in a Conservative synagogue where she later married a Turkish man with whom she raised her child. Judaism had always been an important aspect of his life and he remained involved in the Jewish community as he grew up.
When asked about the importance of Orthodox vs. Conservative vs. Reform, he responded that “denominations are important to how we think but not how we define ourselves”. As important as denominations are, that should not stop the Jewish community from coexisting and thriving.
Another question was raised about the Torah: was it given by God and were the stories historically accurate? Yes, he responded, the Torah was given to us, whether that be metaphorically or by another means, by God. However, the stories are not all historically accurate. They are lessons that reveal truths to us. The world changes all the time and so should the way we interpret the Torah.
At the end of the talks, we divided up into our Jewish History classes to discuss what we had heard. David asked us what we thought. Some people found problems with Rav Yehoshua’s explanation that what he thought was irrelevant, while others found problems with what both Rabbi Noa and Rabbi Ari said. All in all, there was a consensus that the talks were both important and educational. They taught us about the other Jewish communities and the way that they live. We learned about how these communities viewed the others and the separations between all of the communities.
Personally, I feel very lucky to have had this opportunity. It troubles me that the communities have little interaction and conversations between themselves. It was important to me to hear from all of these speakers so that I could form my own, educated opinions about the different connections I have to each denomination. It also gave me an opportunity to learn more about my connection to Judaism and how to deal with the modern topics that the Torah addresses anachronistically.