July 20, 2012

Practicing Havruta

We are not the only group at the Shalom Hartman Institute this week. A large group of Israeli officers is also here, as well as a contingent of rabbis from the US. The Institute works with the Israel Department of Defense to provide instruction on moral concerns. In particular, they are helping soldiers understand how to serve within a religiously plural context
Havruta is the ancient practice of reading texts out loud with a partner or group and then together seek ways to interpret the text for greater insight. Fellows of the Christian Leadership Initiative were paired with a rabbi yesterday, and I had the good fortune of being paired with a young woman from New Jersey. It was a lively challenge to read sections of Genesis and Job together, bringing our discrete perceptions to the text.
Job is not located in the same place in the Tanak (Hebrew Bible) as in the Christian Bible, so I feared I look a bit like a slow student when I could not find the book easily! Thankfully some of us theologians know our way around the texts--once we have located them.
Yesterday's first lecture focused on God and History. Our teacher helped us see the tension between Genesis 6, which is the story of Noah, and Job 38, when God speaks to Job. Noah's world view was that if one is just and righteous, God will providentially take care of you. Job was just and upright, and God did not take care of him. How is one to regard God's role in the shaping of history when such a contradiction is present? Suffice it to say, this will be an ongoing conversation!
Of particular interest to me yesterday was a lecture by Dr. Melila Hellner-Eshed, Professor of Jewish Mysticism and Zohar at Hebrew University. She is a master teacher, indeed. Leading us through complicated texts that reflected emerging piety after the destruction of the Temple was a bracing exercise. How does one engage God when the geographical center of worship has been taken away? What images of God sustain when holy presence seems to be in retreat?
Her reflection on the indwelling and journeying presence of God, the Shechinah, was a perceptive meditation. I could not help but think of ways in which my understanding of the Spirit of God expresses this awareness. Common ground and distinctive perspectives of Jews and Christians deepens our respect for the other and our grounding in our own tradition.
Tonight we will attend a Shabbat service at an orthodox synagogue. Afterwards we will be welcomed into a home to share Shabbat dinner with a family. I look forward to this experience of worship and hospitality.
How grateful I am to be the recipient of this learning! It is fun to be back in school.

Molly T. Marshall

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