Monday, June 4, 2007


Keleigh and I are off to Israel for three weeks, leaving late June and returning mid-July. From July 2 - 12 I will be attending the Rabbinic Torah Study Seminar at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

According to the notice I got last week from Hartman, 120 rabbis from all over the world -- from many different branches of Judaism -- will be participating in the seminar.

The Hartman Institute is headed by Rabbi David Hartman. If you are a Beth Jacob member, you have heard me quote him in my sermons and in an occasional “Rabbi’s Message” for our synagogue newsletter. I am excited to have the privilege of learning from him in Jerusalem.

The seminar faculty includes Rabbi Hartman, his son Rabbi Donniel Hartman, and Prof. Moshe Halbertal of the Hebrew University, who is perhaps Israel’s leading scholar of Jewish philosophy. The guest faculty includes the new chancellor of JTS, Prof. Arnold Eisen, as well as the President of HUC, Rabbi David Ellenson.

The Hartman Institute is dedicated to the proposition that intensive study of Jewish texts will lead to a meaningful Jewish identity. Indeed, it may be the only thing which can do that. We Jews do not agree on much. Not only across denominational lines, but even within each denomination, we disagree on just about everything. What we have in common are our texts. The Torah, the rest of the Tanach, rabbinic and philosophical literature and even belles lettres are the inheritance of every Jew. I am hopeful that taking two weeks to study Torah with master teachers from Israel and the United States will strengthen me in my own role as a teacher and a provoker of questions, which are the rabbi’s most important roles.

It has been five years since I was last in Israel. In June, 2002, when I presented a paper at the Center for the Study of Christianity at the Hebrew University, it was right after a number of high-profile suicide bombings and there were very few tourists. Of the 133 rooms in the hotel where I stayed, only three were occupied. Today the security situation is much improved and tourism, which suffered a hit last summer because of the second Lebanon war, is on the rebound. We will be staying in the same hotel where I stayed last time – it was the Windmill then and is now called Prima Royale – and I hope it will be a bit more crowded.

I am also looking forward to sharing this trip with you. I’m hoping to be able to post my impressions of my studies at the Hartman Institute, our travels and encounters in Israel, and even some digital photos on this blog while we are in Israel. My ability to do so will depend on the availability of time and Internet access so I cannot say for certain that this will all happen, but this first post is at least a symbolic start of the effort.