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Archive for March, 2010

Rabbi Goldie Milgram, a graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, has been helping out at the Won Institute, just around the corner from RRC in suburban Philadelphia.

Several years ago, the dean of the school called our Department of Multifaith Studies seeking a professor who could teach homiletics to her seminary students, Koreans newly arrived in this country. Her goal was for them to learn how to deliver sermons in the style that their American congregants would find congenial.

Fortunately, Rabbi Goldie Milgram was able to fit this assignment into her already busy schedule.  Goldie and the Won students preparing for ordination have both been thrilled to connect and  learn from one another.

Not only is Goldie helping them with public speaking skills tailored to a religious setting, she recently invited this year’s class to her home for a Shabbat dinner.

In between the Jewish rituals, the students were able to practice offering impromptu blessings before and after a  meal, invocations and toasts.

Thanks to Goldie for continuing this interfaith adventure, and thanks to Hubbatzin Barry Bub for taking pictures.

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Today’s ReligionDispatches carries an article by Professor Aryeh Cohen of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of American Jewish University.  Cohen does a great job of showing that there is, indeed, a sea change in the Jewish world in the relationship between traditional text study and progressive politics.

My experience in American Jewish communities, dating back to the seventies, confirms Cohen’s claims.  It was rare to find a serious encounter with religious sources going hand-in-hand with left-liberal Jewish activism. The latter was the province of Reform or secular Jews who grounded their thinking less in Talmud than in Kant. The former was pursued almost entirely by Orthodox Jews who were usually conservative or not involved in the political sphere.

According to Cohen—and I happily agree—that situation is changing. Cohen offers a number of examples of Jews who are engaged in “taking back the texts.” He then asks, Why? One reason he notes is of particular interest to readers of this blog. Cohen writes that the move to ground one’s social activism in traditional Jewish text is, among other things, “a way to participate in a multiethnic and interfaith discussion from a grounded Jewish space and in a textured Jewish vocabulary.”

Fascinating! I think Cohen is right.  Much social justice work in this country takes place in coalitions of faith based activists. Religiously inspired Catholics and Protestants have led many of the great social change movements in America, most dramatically the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. When Jews join with Christians to work on issues from homelessness to undocumented immigrants to the environment, they are encouraged and inspired  to bring to the table their own spiritual idioms. They do not want to share the Christian language, but they are moved by Christian faith.  In seeking the language of Talmud, it seems these Jews are looking less  for guidance on issues than a sense of the religious depths from which they hope to act as they  “heal the world.”

Here we see an example of one of the ways interfaith encounter enriches our lives.

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