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Congregation gives members ‘Food for Thought’ about Dead Sea Scrolls and more

 
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The Dead Sea Scrolls have been invaluable in helping scholars understand the Bible. Yet for each question they answer, they raise many others, says Shalom Paul, professor emeritus in the Department of Bible at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Answers to each question “would comprise a lecture in and of itself,” said Paul, who on Nov. 15 will speak on the topic at Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff.

Thanks to the scrolls — the first of which was found in 1947 and the last, “so far,” in 1956 — “a whole new Jewish literature came to light which sheds light on a period that was similar to a dark age in our history and our literature.”

“It opened up entirely new vistas on the understanding of Judaism and Christianity,” said Paul, the first speaker in the Wyckoff congregation’s second annual Food for Thought distinguished speaker series, sponsored by the Fred Emert Memorial Adult Education Fund.

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Shalom Paul

A trustee of the Albright Institute of Archaeology and chair of the Dead Sea Scroll Foundation, the speaker received his rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary and received a doctorate in Oriental Studies from the University of Pennsylvania.

“We always knew that early Christianity was [affected] by Judaism, but we did not have the sources available to prove it,” said Paul, adding that the scrolls have been helpful in this regard.

In his talk, he will deal with such questions as: When were they discovered? How? How many were found? What languages were they written in? What materials are they written on? He will also address literary genres in the documents and “why there was such difficulty initially publishing them and how a drastic change took place after the 1967 war with the reunification of Jerusalem and the scrolls being totally within our hands.”

Paul said he will also explore different versions of the Bible and show that the scrolls represent “an intermediate stage in the development of the Bible.”

“Who are these people who produced these scrolls?” asked Paul. “Who are they, living at Kumran, by the Dead Sea, who produced these scrolls [and] composed a Judaism that heretofore was unknown to us? What was their social organization, the rules of their community?”

Paul described his most recent book, “A Study Guide to the Bible,” as a “popular book” on “how [the Bible] came to be, history, literary genres, poetry — everything you ever wanted to know about the Bible.” He said he agreed to the project because he realized that such a book was not available, with existing texts “either highly technical or else not written by competent scholars.” He will sign copies of his book at the Nov. 15 presentation.

Also scheduled to speak at the Wyckoff synagogue is Rabbi Michael Chernick, Deutsch Professor of Jewish Jurisprudence & Social Justice at Hebrew Union College (May 14) and Andrew Silow-Carroll, editor of the New Jersey Jewish News (May 2).

Sharon Weiss, chair of the shul’s adult education committee, explained that the idea of a three-part lecture series was developed to accommodate the congregation’s diverse membership.

The scholar-in-residence program “got a little challenging,” she said, noting that the shul chose to discontinue that approach last year. “We relooked at the model and decided to vary the offerings.”

Now, rather than commit to an entire weekend highlighting one speaker, congregants — and members of the public — can choose among different speakers, talking on different themes.

“We did a little survey of what would interest people and gathered some topics,” said Weiss, noting that Paul is a scholar while the other two speakers will address current events and issues specific to the Jewish community.

“We put a lot of thought into it,” she said, pointing out that the series is dubbed “‘distinguished speakers’ rather than ‘distinguished scholars’ to avoid intimidating anyone.” The series name, Food for Thought, was also consciously selected to indicate that the Sunday morning lectures will be preceded by breakfast.

“Our intention is to make this a time to come together socially as well as for Jewish learning,” she said. “The whole concept in reinventing and growing the model is for more people to be exposed to Jewish learning,” she added. “We’ve got about 460 family units including people from traditional Conservative to Reform and interfaith couples. What we’re trying to do is develop the educational component of synagogue life and be known as a center for lifelong learning.”

For additional information, call (201) 891-4466 or visit www.bethrishon.org.

 
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Walling off, reaching out

Teaneck shul offers discussion of Women of the Wall

It is not an understatement to say that the saga of Women of the Wall is a metaphor for much of the struggle between tradition and change in Israel.

Founded 25 years ago by a group of Israeli and non-Israeli women whose religious affiliations ran from Orthodox to Reform, it has been a flashpoint for the fight for pluralism in Israel, as one side would define it, or the obligation to hold onto God-given mandates on the other.

As its members and supporters fought for the right to hold services in the women’s section, raising their voices in prayer, and later to wear tallitot and read from sifrei Torah, and as their opponents grew increasingly violent in response, it came to define questions of synagogue versus state and showcase both the strengths and the flaws of Israel’s extraordinary parliamentary system. It also highlighted rifts between American and Israeli Jews.

 

‘It’s valuable to hear both sides’

Ridgewood man discusses Israeli, Palestinian narratives

Jonathan Emont — a 2008 graduate of Ridgewood High School who celebrated his bar mitzvah at the town’s Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center — always has felt a deep attachment to the state of Israel.

Still, the 23-year-old said, he never expected that country to be at the center of his professional life.

Things changed, however, when the recent Swarthmore College graduate went to Israel on a tour the America-Israel Friendship League offered to young journalists.

“I did journalism in college,” he said, explaining that although he majored in history, he also was the editor of Swarthmore’s Daily Gazette.

 

Yet more Pew

Local rabbis talk more about implications of look at American Jews

The Pew Research Center’s study of American Jews, released last October, really is the gift that keeps on giving.

As much as the Jewish community deplores the study’s findings, it seems to exert a magnetic pull over us, as if it were the moon and we the obedient tides. We can’t seem to stop talking about it. (Of course, part of that appeal is the license it gives us to talk, once again, about ourselves. We fascinate ourselves endlessly.)

That is why we found ourselves at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly last Wednesday night, with the next in the seemingly endless series of snow-and-ice storms just a few hours away, discussing the Pew study yet again.

 

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Fighting for Israel’s kids

Nirim brings survival treks to tough neighborhoods

Shlomi Avni thanks his parents for keeping him on the straight and narrow.

He grew up in Or Akiva, a small city halfway between Haifa and Tel Aviv, just inland from Caesarea. His neighborhood was poor, with many of his peers tempted to drop out of school and turn to crime.

But his parents — his mother from Morocco, his father of Turkish descent — made sure he studied and took school seriously.

In high school in nearby Hadera, he was exposed to wider horizons and broader aspirations — in particular, the desire to be accepted into an elite combat unit in the army.

As someone who loved the sea, his choice was Flotilla 13 — the special forces unit of the Israeli navy — in other words, the Israeli version of the U.S. Navy SEALs.

 

Menendez on Iran: Keep up intense pressure

At JPost conference, senator reaffirms U.S. support for Israel

The West should continue to pursue a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue, but that process should be reinforced by a continuous commitment to international sanctions against the Islamic republic, according to Senator Robert Mendendez.

“It is clear to me that only intense punishing economic pressure has influenced Iranian leaders to come to the table,” New Jersey’s senior senator said while addressing the Jerusalem Post’s annual conference in New York on Sunday.

Mr. Menendez, a Democrat, heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is one of the Senate’s prime supporters of sanctions against Iran. On Sunday, he also called for a credible military option to remain on the table in the Iranian negotiations. The threat of U.S. military action can be a force for attaining national security goals, he said, crediting his committee’s authorization of military force in Syria last September for convincing Syrian President Bashar Assad to give up control of his chemical weapons arsenal. The United States must reassure its regional allies that the military option will remain on the table with Iran, he added.

 

‘Shave for the Brave’

There is not much that anyone can do to comfort colleagues whose son has died of cancer.

Nor is it intuitive to think that if anything could help, it would be a line of rabbis getting their heads shaved.

But that is what 54 Reform rabbis did in Chicago on April 1. The so-called Shave for the Brave was in response to the December death of 8-year-old Samuel Sommers — Superman Sam, as he was called.

Sam’s short but joyous life was chronicled by his mother, Rabbi Phyllis Sommers, who blogged about his struggle; she and Sam’s father, Rabbi Michael Sommers, were the first to have their heads shaved onstage during the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ meeting last week.

 
 
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