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Professor David Shneer, Singer Chair in Jewish History at CU. (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)
Professor David Shneer, Singer Chair in Jewish History at CU. (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

When Three Rabbis Agree to Disagree

Three Rabbis and a Professor Walk Into a Bar…

Professor David Shneer, Singer Chair in Jewish History at CU. (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

The Boulder Jewish community I have come to know and love was never on more amazing display than this week.  This online newspaper published the at-times vitriolic debate about the idea of separation and holiness in Judaism, which was at heart what Rabbi Goldfeder was addressing in his initial missive (or salvo, as some read it).

I loved the questions he was asking, even though I fundamentally disagree with how he comes down on the core questions of hierarchy, power, and separation.  And I was so impressed that Rabbi Rose and Rabbi Soloway, to whom Goldfeder’s first letter was indirectly addressed, took Goldfeder to task in his equally headstrong letter.

As the head of Jewish Studies at CU Boulder and co-chair of the upcoming Limmud Conference (January 21-22, 2012, and registration is still open, although to guarantee a spot, register by Wednesday January 18, www.limmudcolorado.org), I am personally much more moved and engaged by the kind of vigorous debate that these two rabbis opened up on the pages of this newspaper than I am about proving myself correct.  If a provocative letter drives readers to think more deeply about what they think, all the better.  And it would be even better if readers then educated themselves, so that they would not just have feelings and opinions, but would know more about how to justify them.  (On this point, I’m more of a Litvak than a Hasid.)  Bottom line–it took guts for Rabbi Goldfeder to make his comments, which he knew would be a minority opinion in a place like Boulder.  And it took guts for Rabbis Soloway and Rose to take Goldfeder to task point by point.

It is this kind of debate and conversation that has made Boulder a model Jewish community around the world, something I heard over and over again when I was at Limmud UK a few weeks ago.

Next week, the Boulder rabbis, including Rabbi Rose from Har Hashem, will once again model what community conversation should look like at Limmud, when they sit on a panel together, something that rarely happens in the Jewish world. Limmud is a special place, one set up more towards liberal rabbis’ approach than to Goldfeder’s, since Limmud favors non-hierarchical engagement among Jews, their friends, and family (in other words, it is much less interested in separation, hierarchy, and boundaries).

In this context Rabbis Goldfeder, Soloway, and Rose will be Gavriel, Marc, and Josh, but I want to emphasize that it is the context that shapes the human relationships.  In the same way that in my classroom, students call me Professor Shneer, any of those students who come to Limmud will call me David, because in the Limmud learning environment, we are all learners together.

So while it is true that Rabbi Goldfeder took public what had been a private, and undoubtedly painful, conversation between himself and Rabbi Soloway, it behooves all of us to take seriously the core arguments about the nature of Judaism at hand here, which in fact have little to do with denominations and everything to do with our own relationship to Judaism and Jewish community.  And next weekend, you can join in this conversation in person, face to face, in an I-Thou kind of way, when Boulder will be on amazing display at Limmud CO.  Don’t miss the conversation.  Register now (www.limmudcolorado.org)

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  1. Rabbi Marc Soloway

    Professor! What a wonderful and insightful piece that has both penetrated and transcended the shmutz. Hassidism teaches of gadlut (expanded consciousness) and katnut (contracted consciousness.) Thank you for helping steer us back to gadlut, or what the Buddhists might call "big mind." I really hope that many readers will come to Limmud and witness the evolution of these conversations and get to hang out with over 300 Jews in the delightful breadth and colorful spectrum of their diversity and unity (but definitely not uniformity.)
    Shabbat Shalom Professor Shneer from Rabbi Soloway, but mostly David from Marc

  2. Keep talking all . . . that's what we Jews are all about . . . wrestling with God, wrestling with Torah, wrestling with each other. If we weren't wrestling, we would be dead! With much love, reverence, and blessings to dare I say, Marc, David, Gavriel, and Josh!