024: Mystery Rabbi, A Great Book, and Joy

Confession: I’m guilty of overusing Amazon at the expense of local vendors, so when it came time to buy books for my course at American Jewish University I opted for a used book for the first time ever. My copy of Judaism’s 10 Best Ideas said it would arrive like new, and it did; but with an inscription on the inside cover from one Rabbi Eric dedicated to Jamie:

I’ll probably never know who these people are but it touched me so much to have witnessed a small part of Jamie’s learning under Rabbi Eric’s stewardship. Was Jamie a JBC (Jew by Choice)? Returning to it, or born Jewish?

A quick google search of “JLF” brings up Jewish Learning Fellowship, a 10-week seminar for students looking to deepen their understanding of Judaism. How cool! Per their site:

We make no claims about the “right” way to practice or not to practice Judaism. Our job is to help you explore the tradition in a safe space and find your own place, on your terms, in Judaism’s Great Conversation.

That last part was capitalized, so I bit. While that’s not an exact term, more an idea, I had heard the Talmud called a conversation before, too. [Valuing Debate and Conversation: Jewish tradition, informed by the precedent of the Talmud, prefers to promote discussion rather than correctness.]

Judaism as a whole can be referred to a conversation with G-d; “wrestling” with G-d. I love that.


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I wrote last time about Rabbinical Judaism adapting and evolving after 70 CE and the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem; thus began the great tradition of Jewish debate. To be a Jewish scholar especially was a great honor and Rabbis were viewed as legal authorities more than divine connections until very recently (and many still view it that way). To be Jewish is to debate, even if it means arguing with G-d.

I won’t go into detail about the book except to say it’s fantastic and light. Much Jewish reading is not. You could read it in one sitting, and #1 on the list—in no particular order, but telling that it’s first—is simchah, Hebrew for Joy. The enemy of joy is self-doubt, writes Dr. Arthur Green. Don’t ignore your sadness, but chase it until it turns to joy.

You’ve got to sit in it
Take it from me, I hate sitting too
It takes a lot out of me
But that’s what rabbis do
Sitting in the feelings of everybody else

Sit in It [Transparent Musicale Finale]

Reminds me of a couple of tracks from the trusty Transparent soundtrack: Sit in It, your sadness. It’ll find you, so sit with it, get to know it, learn from it. We just had our class on death in Judaism; I’m simmering in that and will write about it soon.

Check out the book I mentioned, Judaism’s 10 Best Ideas. It’s great for non-Jews to figure out what it’s all about and it’s a tremendous intro for New Jews™ whether you were born Jewish or being reborn that way. I actually believe it’s vital for all Christians, atheists/non-theists, agnostics—everyone, really —to educate themselves and others about Judaism, Islam, and other religions whose people are being targeted and oppressed.

And stay tuned because part of my process with Rabbi Susan Goldberg is to write my own list! What a perk and intimidating honor!

Mystery Rabbi, A Great Book, and Joy link list