I have just returned from Jerusalem, where for the second summer of my three-summer sabbatical, I once again had the privilege of studying the Shalom Hartman Institute. The Institute was founded by Rabbi David Hartman (now of blessed memory), a visionary Modern Orthodox rabbi who believed in the supreme value Jewish religious pluralism.
Today, the Hartman Institute trains Israeli educators in teaching Jewish history and texts from a pluralistic approach; it runs high school programs that, while secular in nature, deal sensitively and responsively with the complexity of issues that have been sources of tension and divisiveness within Jewish communities throughout history, and, more importantly, in contemporary Israeli society.
The Hartman Institute also educates officers in the Israeli military in the ethics and morality of war (including the treatment of those of minority religious or ethnic status under the care of the Israeli Defense Forces). It also offers educational programs for Jewish Communal leaders from abroad, Jewish Campus professionals from North America, and Christian ministers and scholars (about the complexities of both Jewish and Israeli intellectual and contemporary concerns).
The centerpiece of the Hartman Institute, however, is the yearly summertime gathering of rabbis from across the spectrum of Jewish life, who gather together to study the ancient sacred texts of Jewish life and rabbinic tradition.
For most of the year, each and every year of our professional lives, congregational rabbis devote themselves to service delivery, giving of themselves tirelessly and often even selflessly to their congregations and to their individual congregants. It is a sacred privilege, one filled with meaning and spiritual reward. We rejoice and we mourn alongside of members, serving as pastors and gentle listeners; we teach both young and old, and those in between; we address the issues of the day, both from the pulpit, and in the wider community. We share our passion for the wisdom of Jewish tradition, even as we attempt to create enduring bonds between each member of our community and our collective heritage and history.
But the summertime at the Hartman Institute offers an opportunity for rabbis to replenish themselves, to nurture and to nourish their own spiritual growth and their own Jewish souls, in the company of colleagues.
Imagine: It is as if a page of Talmud comes to life. Rabbis debate and discuss issues of Jewish law and meaning; rabbis passionately agreeing and vehemently disagreeing with one another, opening up the throttles of meaningful dialogue and discourse. Like a page of Talmud, all opinions are valued, and respected; like a page of that sacred text, truths can be found in every argument, in each discussion, and among every rabbi and every rabbinic conversation. It is a truly invigorating environment, highlighted by the fact that these rabbis vary from Modern Orthodox practice to classical Reform orientation. Men and women, young and old, gay and straight, veteran and newcomer all gather together to reflect upon and remember the sacred scholarship at the heart of Jewish continuity and community. Nearly 200 rabbis convene in the sacred city of Jerusalem in pursuit of this sacred enterprise and delight.
The program also includes evening programs that focus on issues of concern regarding contemporary Israel society and Jewish Communal life. Among others, we heard from Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and from and Anat Hoffman, the courageous female attorney behind the Women of the Wall initiative and leader of the Israeli branch of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center. We spent a day exploring the tensions and the innovative and hopeful resolutions to the Israeli-Jewish and Israeli- Arab complexities, as well as the ongoing developments of the “Arab Spring,” unfolding just across the borders to the east and to the west of the Jewish homeland.
And I got the chance to be a student, once again, a backpack on my shoulders, wandering the streets of the Holy City on breathtakingly beautiful (and cool) Jerusalem mornings and nights.
As we say at the seder table: Next Year in Jerusalem. I was fortunate enough to say it and to fulfill that age-old hope of our people. I come back renewed, reinvigorated, refreshed and replenished, ready to go, and to give of myself, fully, in the New Year ahead.
I am profoundly grateful to my congregation for allowing me the privilege and the joy of completing that journey.
May the New Year be one of blessing, and of peace, for each of us, for our people, and for Jerusalem.