Jewish learning Centennial Lecture Series: “The Old Made New and The New Made Holy”
Rabbi Art Green
I think there is a good future ahead for us. But we have to work for it self-consciously and overcome some of our own ambivalence, our own fears. And try to build a Jewish life that will speak to American Jews . . . . That means creating a Judaism that is both spiritually powerful and intellectually honest at the same time. Not pretending we believe in things we don’t and yet finding a way to still keep the tradition alive and vital and significant.
As Hebrew College, kicked off its Centennial Year Lecture Series on Thursday, October 21, it was fitting that Rabbi Arthur Green was the first featured speaker. Not only is Rabbi Green the current rector and founder of the Hebrew College Rabbinical School, but, as he described in his introduction “I have been around for a lot of that century.”
He continued, “I took my first class at Hebrew College in 1960-1961, which was only 40 years into that century. I was a senior at Brandeis, and I knew I wanted to study Hasidism, and I went and took a course with Rabbi Mordechai Wilensky at Hebrew College, of course taught completely in Hebrew, and it really was the first formal education I had in the study of Hasidism.”
Rabbi Green began his lecture with a review of the Jewish experience over the past 100 years, describing it as “the period of most drastic change in Jewish life since the first century.” He went on to explain how, in both centuries, historical events and the response to these events “transformed Judaism in radical ways forever.” He also shared how Hebrew College fit into the story.
“If you look at changes in Judaism in our time . . . I must say that an institution like Hebrew Teachers’ College, was very progressive in that sense,” he said. “In 1921, they were educating men and women together for a higher Jewish education. And that was not to be taken for granted in the 1920’s . . . Hebrew College was seen as kind of a secular Hebraist Zionist institution, so there was no question of not including women fully. And that was a beginning of a sort of liberation of women into Jewish education.”
The title of the series “The Old Made New and The New Made Holy” could rightfully serve as a tagline for Rabbi Green’s life work. Rabbi Green has dedicated years to training future rabbis; his many books, translations, and interpretations of Hasidut have given it new life and meaning for 21st century Jewish seekers; and his impact on post-denominational Judaism—from the Havurah Movement to neo-Hasidism—all reflect his mission to make the old new and the new holy.
As Rabbi Green wove his story—and the story of Jewish life—into the events of the past centennial, he explained how the trajectory of his work changed in the 1970’s: “I was trained to be a scholar of the history of Jewish thought, not to be a theologian, but when I looked, I said, ‘What’s the future going to be? Who is going to read these books about the past If Judaism doesn’t go on? Then I began thinking about the future and that is when I began this work of training rabbis, which has been such a big part of my life.”
Marilyn Stern has worked for Hebrew College for seven years in a variety of roles, and is currently associate director of Me’ah and community engagement associate for the Betty Ann Greenbaum Miller Center for Interreligious Learning & Leadership of Hebrew College.
American Jews are still at what I call the post 1780 mode. 1780 was the year when the ghetto really began to break down; when Jews were first accepted into polite company in the Western world; when Jews first began to be able to study towards professions and live outside the ghetto. The question then became How is Judaism relevant to people living in the modern world? How can we make Judaism work? What does it have to say about the great issues of our time—not just narrow Jewish issues? What does Judaism have to say about the environment, What does Judaism have to say about human rights? What does Judaism have to say about various values questions? … That’s the question being a Jew living in modernity.Rabbi Art Green
There is still time to register for the series. (All sessions are video recorded and accessible to registrants including the first lecture with Rabbi Green.)The Centennial series continues on Thursday, December 2, with guest speaker Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, Founder and CEO of Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate. Rabbi Rosenn has dedicated her rabbinate to the pursuit of social Justice, and previously served as the Vice-President of Community Engagement, at HIAS, where she led the Jewish response to the global refuge crisis.