Beth Israel Congregation - Ann Arbor, Michigan
Rabbi’s HaShaliach Article
This past fall, I taught a class at Beth Israel on the midrash on the book of Esther. The major theme of the class was that despite the fact that God’s name is not mentioned in the book, the Rabbis took every opportunity to insert God into the story of Esther and Mordechai.
The Rabbis were not comfortable with the idea that a story as significant as the story of Purim could lack a divine element. The midrashim bring God and God’s angels into the story, introduce Elijah as a main character and present Esther and Mordechai as being spiritual and religiously observant individuals even though there is no indication in the text that such was the case.
Bringing God into a story in this way is not unique in Jewish tradition. Our tradition endeavors to show us God’s role not only in ancient tales but in our contemporary world as well. Our theology may not be the same as that of Talmudic Rabbis but understanding how the presence of God can manifest itself in our lives and in our world is a crucial issue for us today.
On the day of Thanksgiving, I, and Conservative Rabbis around the world, received the sad news of the death of an honored teacher, mentor and friend, Rabbi Neil Gillman. Rabbi Gillman, a professor of philosophy and theology at the Jewish Theological Seminary and former dean of the rabbinical school was an extraordinary teacher and author and a supportive friend for so many of us. He helped me find my way through rabbinical school and I’m sure many of my colleagues would say the same.
Rabbi Gillman’s passion during the last few decades was to bring theology into a more prominent place within our movement. In his books, including Sacred Fragments: Recovering Theology for the Modern Jew, he sought to harmonize Jewish theology with the practices and principles of the Conservative movement and to urge all of us to develop a personal theology which could stand up to serious analysis and would be a supportive and positive force in our lives.
Instead of ignoring or rationalizing theological conflicts, Rabbi Gillman faced them head on and by doing so impressed upon us how much we are missing if we don’t seek to bring God into our lives in ways which work for us. His encouragement to rabbis to talk about God in sermons and classes was an inspiration for me and I have tried to follow his lead in considering personal theology as a critical piece to my Judaism and my rabbinate.
I encourage you to read one of Rabbi Gillman’s books and consider the questions and conflicts he raises seriously. In that way, his memory will live on. May his memory be for a blessing.
To return to the subject of Purim, we look forward to celebrating Purim with you on Wednesday evening, February 28 and Thursday March 1. Purim evening will feature a themed Megilla reading (details will be coming) with the usual fun, jokes and memorable celebration. On Thursday, we will have a Megilla reading at 11 a.m. followed by a lunch and a movie.
Rabbi Robert Dobrusin