Making an argument

This was the first year Shir Hadash has ever held High Holy Day services on our own campus, and it was an excellent experience. There was enough space (the main Sanctuary was nearly full at times, but there were viewing areas on our patio and in the chapel – and lots of people watched on Zoom or livestream from their own homes); there was even enough parking, thanks to the Presbyterian Church across the street.

Yom Kippur services start at 10am and end at sundown, but there usually is a break between 1-3pm; traditionally, we’ve had study sessions during that time. This year, there was only one session, a panel discussion based on Arthur Green’s Judaism’s 10 Best Ideas: A Brief Guide for Seekers. Each panelist (including me) was assigned one of the “best ideas” and given four minutes to talk about it.

My “best idea” was Torah: Text and Interpretation. Green illustrated the idea with a bumper sticker he’d seen: “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” He contrasted that with the Jewish attitude: “God said it. I believe it. Let’s talk about what it means….”

In Jewish tradition (Orthodox, Reform, Kabbalist, you name it), the Torah text is just the beginning – every generation has interpreted the meaning of the text (sometimes turning it on its head). The Talmud is a very long, multi-generational discussion which has spawned countless other discussions. And there’s the concept of the argument for the sake of heaven – where the parties are striving for truth and understanding, not necessarily for agreement; Hillel and Shammai are the canonical example of this kind of argument.

After I presented my brief summary of Green’s text, I invited people to come to Torah Study when it starts in a couple of weeks, and finished by quoting the first couple of lines of Monty Python’s Argument Clinic sketch; I claimed it should have been set in a synagogue instead of an office building, because synagogues are a great place for entire courses of argument. It got a laugh and I was happy!