Sunday, January 22, 2012

Limmud Colorado: Dueling Rabbis!

Rabbi Rose, Rabbi Soloway, Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, Rabbi Goldfeder
Well folks, I'm at my first Limmud conference, sitting in my first session (I was helping out this morning with a video blogging session for teens), which many are calling the "Dueling Rabbis." Officially, however, the session is called "Bound, Together." Here's the description:
For the third time at Limmud Colorado, Boulder's Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform rabbis will agree to disagree from a place of deep friendship and respect, as they reflect on the complex question of religious obligation. Rabbi Marc Rose will facilitate a conversation between Rabbi Josh Soloway and Rabbi Gavriel Goldfeder as we explore together the ties that bind us to our ancient wisdom tradition.
So here I am, live blogging some thoughts! Ready? Let's go!

The rabbis were hanging out at Avery Tap House together, and a guy at the bar, looking for a joke about rabbis walking into a bar and lo-and-behold, what showed up was the articles by the three rabbis. 

There has been a lively discussion based on an article that Rabbi Goldfeder (Orthodox) wrote, followed by a response from Rabbi Soloway (Conservative), followed by Rabbi Rose (Reform). The comments online were nasty, so the context for the session herein lies. There is a series of three questions that will be asked and hopefully answered.
  • In what ways does the Jewish tradition obligate you to do stuff? And what is the stuff you feel obligated to do?
Rabbi Rose: Grew up in the Reform movement, and I need to start with saying that there's dissonance between my own practice and my own beliefs and those of the Reform movement. ... But I want to amplify what Marc said ... I am not representing the Reform movement. I grew up in an era, as many of us did, in which autonomy, personal autonomy, was a very deep and significant aspect of Jewish life. I grew up with a deep sense that I had an obligation to the Jewish people, but in the broadest sense. ... My entire religious journey as an adult has been trying to understand what is this very deep sense of obligation and compulsion that I now feel to observe mitzvot. ... 

When it comes to the question to whom or to what am I obligated ...  I am not a person who believes in Torah m'Sinai in the most literal sense. I believe that Torah was constructed by human beings over time. Once you affirm your belief in that, you have to ask yourself, Why am I obligated more to the mitzvahs in the Torah than to say in the Odyssey?

I have a belief that my life has a purpose. My religious journey is understanding what that purpose is. ... I have this deep sense of obligation not only to Jewish history and to the Jewish people, but to some deep point within me -- and what that point is we'll talk about later -- that needs to know what it is and to come to a point of self understanding. Because I believe that w/o a deep hunger to know what my life is about and to know why I am here, there is no way for my life to move in a direction. 

Rabbi Goldfeder: We're all here because, I believe, we're all interesting in learning and hearing perspectives that we wouldn't normally hear. I'm going to guess that my experience and perspective is different than most of the people in this room ... You can use me as a way to understand and filter what you're hearing in the news today. ... I don't think of myself as a standard Orthodox rabbi. 

(Grew up Reform, spent his Junior year of college abroad, telling story about Tzfat and worrying about losing his personality in the mix of becoming religious.)

At that point, I was no longer at the center of my universe. It became true to me that I was no longer the arbiter of what I was going to do in many situations. ... I don't wake up and say, Am I going to daven today? I don't envy those people. 

Rabbi Soloway: I think what I struggle with is the relationship as to what Torah is and what the rabbis think it should be. I feel like the Talmud is a very powerfully rich volume of work that inspires me spiritually and definitely gives me more of an understanding of what my obligation is, but I don't feel that the rabbis of the Talmud are direct descendants of Moses on Sinai. ... I don't believe in Torah m'Sinai. ... I think we are still working out what the details of that covenantal relationship are. 

I feel that part of my obligation is to have serious concern for the environment ... Keeping Shabbat and keeping lights on for 25 hours becomes increasingly problematic for me. What is my obligation in that? I think more than anything else when it comes to the concept of being a mensch, it is about awareness. 
  • What about the obligation on other people in our lives? How do we engage in relationships with other Jews who do not feel obligated in the same way that we feel obligated? 
Rabbi G: I wrote an article for the Boulder Jewish News that left to a conflagration of sorts and what was interesting to me was that many people took it very personally. "You're judging me," is what I got. 

If a woman comes to me and says, "I want to be a rabbi," I say, Amazing. You want to be more involved? More connected to your Yiddishkeit? That's amazing. That's so wonderful. I don't judge anyone. ... I feel a genuine sense that this is amazing. A sense of pride and joy. 

Because when I speak of obligation, I am not referring to observance. I'm referring to growth and literacy. I believe that every one of us is obligated to be growing and becoming more literate. So when a person says I'm done, I'm finished, I know everything that I need to know, that offends me more than if a person says, I've decided to give up pork and I'm only eating lobster now. ...

If you haven't gotten literate about it, then it's like your opinion to me seems so diminished in my own eyes. We're not having a conversation about what's there, but about something you thought about 20 years ago and then forgot about. We're so informed about things in our life ... why not our Yiddishkeit? ...

I think what's preventing people from practicing literacy is rabbis like me. ... If you write a polemic in the Boulder Jewish News laying out points without access it doesn't work. I see myself, more than anyone else, being one of the -- in terms of Torah -- ten most literate Jews in Boulder. ...

Rabbi R: For me, Torah has an existential claim on me. What I mean by that is that I don't start with the assumption that okay, here's halachah and that's binding ... and therefore I'd be crazy not to follow the path. It's not that, it's more existential. I have this very deep need to understand who I am and what I am. 

How do you embody a life where your consciousness is not at the center of the picture, where your life is not what the world is spinning around? ... I can't get to the point of saying to someone, You have to keep kosher! But I do feel like it's my obligation to guide people down the path. Halacha is an expression of walking down a path.

Rabbi G: So, if a Jew walked up to you and said, I'm going to join an Ashram next week ...

Rabbi R: I would do everything in my power to say, Why join an Ashram? I would do everything in my power to keep them on a Jewish path. ... I'm going to do everything to say that there is a truth here, that you were born into [Judaism].

Rabbi S: I have had, like many people in this room, profound other spiritual traditions. Sometimes there's an attempt to make them Jewish, when I'm really happy to just have different experiences. ... Part of my obligation is to be in relationship with people of other spiritual paths and practices. ... Part of my obligation is to listen to people and hear their stories. ...

Heschel talks about radical amazement ... and he also talks about religious behaviorism. When we no longer feel amazed by our tradition, we have the capacity to close our hearts and stop listening to each other. 

Rabbi G: What is more idolatrist: halachah as idol or vehement ignorance of halachah?

Rabbi R: Must there be a choice? Both are things to be avoided. 

Rabbi G: I think that ego as arbiter is a bigger idol, although there is potential damages in each of them. 

And now? Q&A. I'll cut it off here ... interesting stuff, yes? Thoughts?