Why This Rabbi Went to the March for Science on Shabbat

Bloggers note:  I wrote this prior to going to the March for Science on April 22, 2017.  While the march is over, I believe the teaching here remains relevant in helping  to understand the relationship of Judaism to science and its deeper implications for the era of fake facts and willful ignorance that we seem to be entering.

Why I am Going to the March for Science and You Should Too

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Convener and Director of Panim Hadashot-New Faces

Friday, April 21, 2017

I am joining the March for Science tomorrow on my Sabbath day. Why am I going to this march instead of attending Shabbat morning services?

I am going as a human being who feels strongly that this march is the best expression of the value of Earth Day and the call to arms for the looming long-term danger of climate change.

I am going as an American citizen deeply alarmed about the intentional undermining of the role of scientific research and evidence in so many fields by the new administration.

I am going as a Jew because of the repudiation and manipulation of reality by our president and many of his enablers is an affront to Jewish teachings on wisdom and honesty. See Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Sages, Chapter 5, Mishnah 7 “There are seven things that characterize a golem (I will leave this Hebrew word untranslated).  , and seven that characterize a Hacham  (a wise person).

I am going as a rabbi because I believe that the deep and critical study of nature is a precondition for the study of Torah.  In this view, I follow my teacher, Maimonides, the great Jewish philosopher and physician of the 12th century.  Maimonides  “allowed the authority of Jewish revelation (Torah)  to be severely constricted and even undermined in those areas where recent knowledge about the natural world appeared to challenge the wisdom of the rabbis (of the Talmud, 700-1200 years prior to Maimonides).”

Maimonides’ wrote in his classic work, The Guide for the Perplexed,

“Do not ask of me to show that everything they [the rabbis] have said concerning astronomical matters conforms to the way things really are. For at that time mathematics was imperfect. They did not speak about this as transmitters of dicta of the prophets, but rather because in those times they were sages of knowledge in these fields or because they had heard these dicta from the sages of knowledge who lived in those times.” LINK

A rabbi in our time also must also listen to the dicta from sages of knowledge who live in our time. Going beyond Maimonides we must admit that mathematics and other fields of science are never perfect and are evolving as our knowledge increases.  Maimonides lived before the development of modern scientific method, but I am certain his view would have embraced modern scientific method and would have sought its findings in all fields.

Sages of knowledge†in our day test their scientific theories among their peers and their findings are public and subject to experimental challenge  Denial of the efficacy of this method and of the findings it reveals, is one of the most invidious trends in our time now egged on by irresponsible government officials.

This denial and dismissal of the scientific knowledge must be opposed and challenged.

Why am I making an exception to my Shabbat practice of attending morning services and traveling to participate in the march?  I am following Heschel’s example of praying with my feet.  I also understand the Jewish Sabbath as a Zecher Lemaaseh Bereishit-a memorial to the act of creation.  By marching I am intentionally fulfilling one of the purposes of the Sabbath day.

When people with immense power endanger the natural world and undermine the habitability of the world we are dependent on, then it is a Kum V’aseh (Stand Up and Act) moment.  That is why I think that Jews who love the Sabbath should join me in attending the march.  500 marches are occurring not only in the US, but around the world. Let us Sing a Song of Shabbat and Sing a Song for the entire world.

 

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

 

A Description of an Emerging Community: Panim Hadashot-New Faces

Dear Readers,

I invite your comments about this synopsis, especially those who have experienced our gatherings over the past 6 months.  RDG

Panim Hadashot-New Faces

A Synopsis of Our Emerging Community

Version 1.7

New Faces-Panim Hadashot is a new community dedicated to revitalizing the practice of Jewish Hospitality.   The Hebrew term for hospitality is ‘Hachnasat Orchim-bringing in the guest.’  Our name Panim Hadashot-new faces goes back to the Talmud which describes a custom of inviting new faces beyond the family circle to share in the joy of a newly married couple. 

We understand Jewish Hospitality to mean.

1.       Following and conserving an important Jewish tradition going back to the Bible as demonstrated in chapter 18 of Genesis

2.       Sharing our Shabbat/Festival meals with guests and new faces in our homes and common rooms.

3.       Cultivating hospitality through group singing with inspiring music, engaging Torah study, thoughtful conversation, and table fellowship. 

4.       Experiencing the Sabbath and Festivals as “new faces”, as distinctive joyful experiences in which hospitality, is one of the most central elements.   

5.       Sharing our meals and gatherings with Jews who are different than ourselves in practice and orientation.

6.       Sharing our meals with non-Jews of different faiths and predicaments to share in our common humanity and discuss common concerns.

7.       Mastering Jewish Hospitality practices, attitudes, and behaviors that can be repeated on a regular basis throughout one’s lifetime. 

8.       Expressing a concrete commitment to pluralism, tolerance, diversity, and a generosity of spirt through the active practice of hospitality. 

 Our focus on Jewish Hospitality practices is expressed by our emphasis on community singing as a core feature of our Shabbat Hosting Partnerships and our community programs.  As we remind ourselves, “It’s the music, stupid”.   We approach Jewish music and singing as an authentic experience of prayer, gratitude, generosity, and solidarity.  We intentionally seek to revitalize Shabbat table singing which Jews have practiced for generations, but which has declined among many Jews in modern times.   We eschew performing in favor of soliciting soulful and enthusiastic participation.  We seek to revitalize this practice of table singing through the skillful use of live music and an approach to song leading that invites everyone to sing regardless of ability.    We have developed a very talented and skilled ensemble called the Heart of Shabbat for this purpose.   

Panim Hadashot is a pluralistic and purpose-driven Jewish community.   Through our Shabbat Hosting Partnership program, we recruit hosts throughout the Jewish community who host Shabbat gatherings in their homes and common rooms.  Our hosts invite their friendship circle and “new faces” while we bring our Heart of Shabbat Ensemble to their home for an evening of rich Jewish music, group singing, dynamic discussion and authentic Jewish hospitality.  

New Faces-Panim Hadashot is unusual in that it is purpose driven and does not see itself as a full-service synagogue.  Our model is meant to be an attractive and affordable compliment to synagogue membership as well as an alternative to the synagogue model.  Our community is composed of young and old, singles and families. 

We welcome newcomers to Seattle with Shabbat invitations to experience the Jewish Hospitality that is the central ideal of our community.  We offer many programs open to the community such as monthly Friday night services, Shabbat morning study and prayer programs, Tikun Olam activities, classes, special holiday programs, and in 2017 our first High Holiday services.  In all these we emphasize the importance of practicing Jewish hospitality and encourage all our participants to develop their own hospitality practice. 

We are led by Rabbi, Dov Gartenberg, who is a convener, master teacher, and a passionate pluralist.

 

 

 

Closing or Opening the Door on Passover

By Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Erev Pesah, 2017/5771

Several years ago, one of my students for conversion to Judaism was invited with her Jewish boyfriend to a Seder in the local Orthodox community. A few days prior to the festival a guest who was coming to that Seder, upon hearing that a non-Jew was attending, reminded the host that it was forbidden to have a non-Jew attend the Seder.  The hosts consulted their rabbi, who informed them that his understanding of the law indicated that a non-Jew could not attend the Seder.  The hosts apologetically and awkwardly told my student that she could not attend.  She was surprised and hurt by the disinvitation, and ultimately decided against converting several months later.

The source for the practice of excluding the non-Jew at Passover is in Exodus.

“The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, These are the regulations for the Passover: No foreigner is to eat of it. Any slave you have bought may eat of it after you have circumcised him, but a temporary resident and a hired worker may not eat of it. It must be eaten inside one house; take none of the meat outside the house. Do not break any of the bones. The whole community of Israel must celebrate it. An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the LORD’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat of it. The same law applies to the native-born and to the alien living among you”. Exodus 12, 43-49

Many modern authorities have ruled that this passage only applied when the Temple stood when we still performed the Paschal Sacrifice.  Some others have ruled that non-Jews are welcome to attend the Seder, but should not eat of the Afikomen, since it stands in for the Paschal Sacrifice in the post Temple era. Conservative, Reform, and other liberal authorities find the reasoning behind the rule of exclusion no longer applicable or relevant.  The welcoming of non-Jews to a Passover Seder in liberal Judaism is so widespread that many liberal Jews are surprised to hear that a rule excluding non-Jews from a Seder even exists.

Hospitality on Passover is something that liberal Jews and many modern Orthodox Jews have broadly accepted, not only because we have integrated into the American social landscape, but because we understand that the themes of liberation from slavery and freedom are themes that we share with other Americans regardless of faith. 

I teach that Passover should be a festival in which we embrace hospitality and invite our non-Jewish friends to partake with us.  In 2017 the practice of hospitality is even more important as the new president has dramatically increased deportations and attempts to slam to the door on refugees and potential immigrants. 

It is true that Passover historically can be called the Festival of Identity.  It is the festival that marks the birth of the Jewish people. Before Egypt, the Israelites were a small family grappling with the transmission of the covenant with God.  But the sojourn in Egypt is described in the Torah as the birth of a nation, even as it was forced into servitude.  In our liberation we were no longer were just a family, but the people of Israel.

The importance of identity in the festival is reflected in the our parental obligation to tell the story to our children.  Relying on our best pedagogy and storytelling we are supposed to convey to the next generation our people’s experience of slavery and liberation.

I have always embraced and celebrated Passover as a festival of Jewish identity, but I don’t see the need to exclude others as following from the retelling and reliving our story of origin.  I strongly object to that tradition of exclusion. 

But I also do not believe that watering down the Seder and removing the celebration of our identity out of concern for discomfort of our non-Jewish friends robs the festival of its great power and emotion.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks articulates how we can practice hospitality while celebrating our unique tradition in a pluralistic and diverse free society.  

“There is all the difference in the world between the attempt to impose your faith on others and the willingness to share it with others.  Our faiths are different. Judaism is not Christianity; Christianity is not Islam; the Abrahamic monotheisms are different from Eastern mysticisms on the one hand, scientific humanism on the other. Yet when we bring our respective heritages of wisdom to the public domain, we have no need to wish to convert others. Instead, we are tacitly saying: if this speaks to you, then please take it as our gift.  Indeed, it is yours already, for wisdom (unlike revelation) belongs to us all. The willingness non-coercively to share our several traditions of moral insight is, in a religiously plural culture, an essential part of the democratic conversation, indeed of societal beatitude.”  Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, To Heal a Fractured World p. 126  

This teaching on hospitality is critical during these times when pluralism, diversity, and freedom is threatened by hatred, narrow-mindedness, and demagoguery.

Following Rabbi Sacks, it is possible to understand the sharing our Seders with our non-Jewish friends, with those who fear deportation, with those who are fleeing persecution is essential this year.  Let us be generous in our practice of this hospitality not only on Pesah, but throughout the coming turbulent years.    

Hag Same’ah, Happy Passover

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg