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© 2019 Union for Reform Judaism. 

HUC-JIR Biennial
Beit Midrash

World-class Jewish Learning with scholars from
Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion

Wednesday | 1:15 - 2:30 PM

A Smorgasbord of Jewish Learning with the HUC-JIR Biennial Scholars

HUC-JIR President Andrew Rehfeld will moderate a panel that provides a taste of the types of topics that the four HUC-JIR Biennial Scholars will explore in subsequent study sessions. Leah Hochman — "Pow! Ka-Blam! Hai-Ja! Comics, Graphic Novels and Jewish Superheroes for the 21st Century." This talk investigates the role superheroes have played for American Jews in their attempts—successful and not—to design, create and use superheroes to explore their complex roles in American society. Alyssa Gray — "Tzedakah: Giving, Doing, Being." People often equate “giving tzedakah” with “giving charity” — but what does the word tzedakah really mean? Many are aware that its Hebrew root is related to the word tzedek (“justice”); but, as we will see, there are other understandings of tzedakah, especially in rabbinic literature. Mark Washofsky — "Look for the Union Label: Workers' Rights and the Halakhah." The right of workers to form unions and to call strikes for the improvement of their wages and working conditions has been a major feature in the struggle for economic justice in modern times. Does Jewish law support this right? The short answer is “yes,” but the long answer is (as always) complicated.  Jeremy Leigh — "HaSippur Hagadol: Contemporary Israeli Music and the Politics of Identity." All generations of Israelis have asserted their identity through music and song, especially in recent years as a cultural revolution is afoot. We will sample a selection of contemporary Israeli music to explore the dynamics of self-examination and protest.

  • Rabbi Mark Washofsky 

  • Dr. Alyssa Gray 

  • Leah Hochman

  • Jeremy Leigh 

  • Dr. Andrew Rehfeld

Wednesday | 3:00 - 4:15 PM

American Anti-Semitism: From Gentleman’s Agreement to the Alt-Right 

This session will trace the development of anti-Semitism in the United States from the end of World War II to the present day. We will discuss what makes anti-Semitism in the U.S. distinct and what it means to confront this phenomenon here and now.

  • Leah Kaufman

Wednesday | 3:00 - 4:15 PM

Healing Division through Dialogue: Lessons Learned from American Values, Religious Voices 

In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, the “American Values, Religious Voices: 100 Days, 100 Letters” campaign sent a letter a day to the President, Vice President, and Members of the 115th Congress for the first 100 days of the Trump administration. We will read selected letters and discuss what we can learn from this multifaith project, now published as a book, and how it can provide an antidote to the acrimony and discord that pervade politics today.

  • Rabbi Andrea Weiss

Thursday | 9:00 - 10:15 AM

“If I Were a Rich Man”: Jewish Tradition on Wealth and Poverty

In “The Fiddler on the Roof,” Tevye the dairyman famously asked God for wealth, noting the many worthy things he would do if he had a small fortune. Knowingly or not, Tevye touched on a big issue in Jewish social and religious ethics. As we study a range of Jewish texts that consider what it means to be rich or poor, we will consider how these texts inform and challenge the financial choices we make today.

  • Dr. Alyssa Gray

Thursday | 9:00 - 10:15 AM

Making the Impossible, Possible: Building a Culture of Creative Thinking

Do you aspire to be an “innovator”? Are you jaded by the buzzword “innovation”? Or are you intimidated by the risk of failure? While cultural barriers often make innovation feel unattainable, there is a new movement in education to foster the possibility of creative thinking, something HUC-JIR currently is incorporating into the training of Jewish educators. This session will introduce you to several strategies for fostering cultures of collaboration and creative thinking—the bedrock of a thriving learning community. We will explore insights and tools culled from the latest research in affective neuroscience and organizational psychology, classic educational philosophies of caring, and creative producers like Pixar Studios and the Daily Show, all presented through the lens of Jewish sensibilities.

  • Dr. Miriam Heller Stern

Thursday | 2:00 - 3:15 PM

“Let My People Go”: Making the Case for Global Jewish Travel 

When you plan a vacation, what role—if any—does your Jewish heritage play in your travel plans? This session will make a case for contemporary Jews to expand their Jewish horizons and strengthen their Jewish identities by engaging in global Jewish travel. Drawing on relevant scholarly literature and a personal, ongoing professional engagement in this field, we will explore how visiting the sites of Jewish life around the world can unlock our imaginations and strengthen our sense of self, thus transforming travel into an important emerging Jewish ritual.

  • Jeremy  Leigh

Thursday | 2:00 - 3:15 PM

The Ethics of Intervening in Nature (Part 1): Human Genetic Engineering in Jewish Law 

Are human beings entitled to “play God”? Do the ancient and medieval texts of Torah and Jewish law offer substantive guidance on the science and technologies of human genetic engineering? We will examine how different rabbinical scholars arrive at some very different answers.

  • Rabbi Mark Washofsky

Thursday | 3:45 - 5:00 PM

Shirei Zimrah: Unpacking Jewish Song with Richard Cohn and Dan Nichols 

Cantor Richard Cohn and singer-songwriter Dan Nichols will lead an exploration of the connections and contrasts among different musical styles. We will sing alternative settings of the same liturgical texts and dive into the meaning behind the notes. Join the commentary and the song as we learn about the inner world of Jewish music.

  • Cantor Richard Cohn

  • Dan Nichols 

Thursday | 3:45 - 5:00 PM

The Ethics of Intervening in Nature (Part 2): Jewish Views on Genetically Modified Foods

How might your Jewishness determine what you eat? This session continues the discussion of the ethics of intervening in nature by exploring the connections of Jewish thought to GMOs and other contemporary food dilemmas.

  • Leah Hochman

Friday | 9:00 - 10:15 AM

The Beatles and the Intersectionality of Jewish Philanthropy, Civic Responsibility & Synagogues

How are generational shifts redefining the ways Jews give, govern, and gather? Come find out how the music of the Beatles can inform a discussion of what these generational shifts mean for Jewish communal life and what you can do to strengthen your congregation.

  • Dr. Erik Ludwig

  • Dr. Andrew Rehfeld 

Friday | 9:00 - 10:15 AM

The Politics and Practice of Israel Education 

At a time when Israel can stir up deep emotions in students, parents and educators alike, how do we approach Israel education so that learners feel a deep connection to Israel, educators feel well-equipped to teach and parents and others in the community feel heard and validated? Using their extensive experience creating learning opportunities for rabbinic, cantorial, and education students at HUC-JIR, Jeremy Leigh and Lesley Litman will share their guiding principles, the questions they regularly face, and the ways they approach ever-arising challenges to Israel education.

Jeremy  Leigh

Dr. Lesley Litman 

 

Friday | 2:00 - 3:15 PM

“At What Price Amos?”: Rabbinic Voices and the Fight for Civil Rights in America

This session will explore how leading American rabbis responded to the great struggle for Civil Rights in the 1950s and 1960s. This will be a rare opportunity to hear a series of remarkable vocal recordings of several towering rabbinic voices, all of which come from the American Jewish Archive's extraordinary historical collection.

  • Gary Zola

Friday | 2:00 - 3:15 PM

Truth(s) and “Freedom of Speech” in the Rabbinic Tradition 

While Jewish tradition does not view “freedom of speech” in the way it is expressed in the U.S. First Amendment as a value, it does promote interpretive freedom and the airing of differing points of view (within limits). This session pairs two preeminent scholars of rabbinics and Jewish law to explore how Jewish tradition navigates the tension between the existence of one “truth” versus multiple “truths” while balancing interpretive freedom with the need to provide clear answers to questions of religious practice.

  • Dr. Alyssa Gray