Jews maintain their heritage in the midst of multi-cultural settings where there may be pressure to assimilate, a Reformed Jewish rabbi argued Tuesday night.
Rabbi Victor H. Weissberg, a nationally-known rabbi from the Chicago area, laid out his view on the enduring value of the Jewish tradition in his talk “Why We Remain Jews,” beginning with Abraham and ending with the creation of the current Jewish state after World War II.
“I’m here to help us understand that because of the way the Jewish saga has unwound, that we’ve tried to make sense of this world, and we’ve tried to make the world an honor to its creator,” Weissburg said.
The event was hosted by the International Club and Hillsdale Chavarah (Hillsdale Jewish Society) as part of a series of talks on world religions.
Weissburg said Judaism is a very “secular” faith and doesn’t claim to know who sits at the right hand of god, separating it from a faith like Christianity. He then gave an abbreviated summary of the Tanakh, which Christians refer to as the Old Testament of the Bible.
“The Torah is a conversation,” Weissberg said, “a very deep and moving conversation, between people and their very highest self.”
While relating the story of Abraham, Weissberg concentrated on what he saw as the story’s universality. He said that all people are children of god and have the power to create and love among other things.
Weissberg also said the story of Moses’ encounter with the burning bush could also be seen as a more universal event.
“If you’re not Jewish, it’s called an epiphany; if you’re Jewish, it’s called an epiphany,” he said.
According to Weissberg, if someone listens carefully — as a Buddhist, a monk, or otherwise — they will hear god.
Much later, in the 1930s and ‘40s, the Jews were betrayed by those they trusted, Weissberg said. Thus, he said, Jews that escaped Nazi concentration camps vowed to never again be placed in a situation where they could be destroyed.
“The people of Israel said ‘never again’ and they prevailed against those who said ‘yet again,’” he said.
Weissberg also touched on the dignity of work, preaching that students are at school to work, not play, drink, or enjoy sexual pleasure. He said once people leave school, they will be asked what they learned which can be applied to the betterment of humanity.
Weissberg concluded by saying that Jews, who are known by some as “god’s chosen people,” are not so different than other people.
“We’re all children of the same god,” he said.
Freshman Josiah Leinbach said he appreciated the insights the speech gave him into the Old Testament.
“I’m a theology nerd and any chance I get to hear talks related to the Scriptures, I always jump at the chance,” Leinbach said.
Freshman Alan Kotlyar, the primary organizer of the event, said he wanted Weissberg to pick a topic that would raise eyebrows at a Christian college.
“I wanted to bring a different perspective about why we’d remain Jews as opposed to assimilating into another society,” Kotlyar said. “I hope people who heard the talk are able to take something from what Weissberg said and incorporate it into their lives.”