In the Spring of 2010, I spoke at the Jewish life center at a local College. A guy came in before I started to speak handing out cards. On the cards were pictures of this guy dressed in various shades and hats to portray himself as a cool and normal- as a greaser, hipster, punk, athlete- and not the Yeshivish guy he was. He promising a free trip to Israel and money to take classes. He was obviously affiliated with the network of kiruv yeshivot in Israel. I wondered what the very informed Jewish Life center rabbi thought of this guy; I didn’t ask.
This year the Jewish Life center is offering its own course and paying $300. This time it is being taught by a liberal Orthodox rabbi educator who is presenting Rabbis Yitz Greenberg and David Hartman as basic Judaism. The ordained Orthodox rabbi does not purport to be teaching orthodoxy and is not interested in carrying a banner of orthodoxy in my educational practice on campus. Moreover, he does not think that orthodoxy is an appropriate educational posture for someone working in my environment.
Unlike the classes by kiruv organizations, these classes differentiate themselves by their pluralism.
Put simply, our goal is to get you to ask “big questions” about being Jewish, not to give you “big answers.” We also have a cooler looking logo.
While JLF is a program rooted in Jewish study and in Jewish community, it is open to all students.. We do not discriminate based on race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. We also make no claims about the “right” way to practice or not to practice Judaism. Our job is to help you explore the tradition in a safe space, and find your own place, on your terms, in Judaism’s Great Conversation.
They are offering two classes. One on Asking Big Questions and one on Sex, Love, & Intimacy. Any thoughts on the content? People are always looking for another course on being modern and observant, what do people think? How does it compare to the Shalhevet course for HS students, which I posted?
I also wonder about the bigger effect. The course ends with the question, taken from Bellah’s Habits of the Heart (1985) – Is observance just a lifestyle enclave or will it be communities of memory? Twenty five years later many who expected Orthodoxy to be a community of memory found themselves in a lifestyle enclave. Even the established institutions acknowledge this is what they created. Furthermore, I know people older 10-20 years older than I am who studied with Greenberg and Hartman at YU in the 1960’s and accepted their Torah, then found themselves out of step with the lifestyle enclave. (Even the liberals are caught in the lifestyle enclave.) Is this rabbi once again promising a vision that he cannot deliver? What happens when these bright and creative college grads who consider freedom, diversity and reinterpretation to be their Judaism, then find themselves saddled with those who give out funny cards?
The sex ethics course may be breaking new ground in discussing pleasuring, desire and the possibility of more than two sexes and more than two genders. (Is there a rabbinic work by a liberal rabbi that already covers this ground?)
ASKING BIG QUESTIONS
Week 1 – Orientation: The Story of the Jewish Family
Big Questions: Who is a member of the Jewish people? What does it mean to be a Jew? What are some of the major narratives Jews tell about themselves? How do Jews today understand themselves differently or similarly than they did in previous ages? In what way does personal history become collective history? Can history “make a claim” on us? What is your story?
Week 2 – The Challenge of Freedom
Big Questions: What does the Bible conceive of God? Is it different or similar to how we speak of God today in popular culture? Are human beings free, or are our actions controlled by forces greater than ourselves? Does it matter?
Week 3 A Partnership to Transform the World
Big Questions: What is the Jewish Covenant and how does it work? How is a Covenant different from a contract? What relationships in contemporary society might we describe as Covenantal?
Week 4 – Radical Rereading: The Rabbinic Revolution
Big Questions: How do the Rabbis understand and reinterpret the theology of the bible? What kind of a new culture is created? In what ways is the rabbinic understanding of the covenant consistent with the biblical? In which ways is it innovative? Can this serve as a model for today?
Week 5 – The Creative Destruction of Modernity
Big Questions: How did the Jewish self-understanding change in the modern era? How was the covenant reinterpreted by Jewish thinkers in the modern era? Is it possible to be “untouched” by modernity? Can a community return to a pre-modern era? What is lost and what is gained by the rupture of modernity?
November 2011 – Retreat at Camp Isabella Freedman
Week 6 – “Zionism: Challenges and Opportunities”
Big Questions: Does Zionism represent a decisive, revolutionary break from the Jewish history or its ultimate fulfillment?
Week 7 – “God in the Ruins: The Impact of the Holocaust”
Big Questions: How are the horrors of the Holocaust to be interpreted in light of the Covenant? Does the Holocaust represent a unique instance of radical evil, or is the Holocaust but another instance of an older theodicy? How does the covenant account for evil and unwarranted suffering?
Week 8 – “Toward the Other: Negotiating Diversity”
Big Questions: What do you do when the demands of your particular culture violate your own moral intuition?
December –Shabbat Dinner at Rabbi’s House
Week 9 – “Doubt and Disbelief”
Big Questions: Must a Jew believe anything? What do we mean by belief in God? What is the difference between belief in and belief that, or what has been called “pragmatic” and “propositional truth”? What role does faith play in an era of uncertainty?
Week 10 – “Judaism in the 21st Century: Lifestyle Enclaves or Communities of Memory?”
Big Questions: Where do we go from here?
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Sex, Love, & Intimacy
JEWISH CONVERSATIONS ON SEX
Week 1 – Orientation
Big Questions: How should we think about sex? Is sex a purely biological act? Should it
be treated as such? Is there anything unique about human sexuality? Can we speak of a
function sex should or should not have? What would that be? Should there be such a thing
as sex ethics?
Week 2 – Creating Sex, Engendering Desire
Big Questions: What do the creation stories tell us about sex and sexuality? What does it
mean to be created in the image of the divine?
Week 3 – Pleasure and Frequency: The “Commandment of Onah”
Week 4 – “But I Can’t Do it Alone”: Auto-Eroticism
Week 5 – Tzniut: Modesty and Immodesty
Week 6 – Niddah: Distance and Closeness in Relationships
Week 7 – Extra-Marital Sex: or, How to Grapple with Tradition
Week 8 – Queerness I: Boys who are Girls and Girls who are Boys
Big Questions: So much of modern sexuality is predicated on two sexes. Can we imagine a
world with more than two sexes and two genders? Can the Jewish tradition? What might
that look like? What would it mean?
Week 9 – Queerness II: Non-Heterosexual Relationships in the Jewish Tradition
Week 10 -“IFAQ: Infrequently Asked Questions”
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