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American Jew or Jewish American?

Yesterday I had the great privilege to study with Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. He is the greatest Talmud scholar of our times.  He has been working on a new version of the Talmud in both Hebrew and an English version for many years.  The Hebrew version will be completed next November and he was here in Los Angeles to promote a Day of Global Jewish Learning on November 7, 2010!   Stay tuned for more details for the Los Angeles area!  We had an intimate luncheon and study session with the great teacher as part of the Board of Rabbis yesterday. 

Steinsaltz is known for his deep scholarship but also for his quick tongue and cynicism. All were visible yesterday along with a good sense of humor!  We studied a wonderful passage from Ta’anit 14b of the Talmud.  This section of the Gemara poses a question from the People of Nineveh (present-day Iraq). They ask the great Rabbi Judah HaNasi, the leader of the Babylonian Jewish community when they should include the prayer for rain in their prayers.   The prayers for rain are tied to the climate of the land of Israel and its rainy season.  But in the deserts of Iraq they cry out for rain in the drought driven, oppressive heat of summer. 

The question in the suggyah suggests the heart of the matter: Are we regarded as a group of individuals each of who is asking that his own personal needs be met,or are we regarded as a community petitioning for the collective need?   In other words  are we tied to the land of Israel as our home, our origins or do we have local needs and see ourselves as part of the place we live? 

This is still a relevant question for us today.  Are we part of a larger communal world-wide group tied to a place? Or are we of the communities in which we live.  For us –the question might be phrased are you a Jewish American?  Or an American Jew?  Which is the noun and which the adjective?  Do we have some responsibility to Jews elsewhere or is it every Jewish community for itself? Is there a responsiblity to the community or is it every person for his or herself? 

What’s your answer? 

The Talmudic answer was that it was each community where it was and it was to the larger group. Both/And!

It is a never ending balancing act between who we are and where we are. Local need and the Jewish people.

1 thought on “American Jew or Jewish American?”

  1. What an honor 4 u 2 b able 2 study w/ the Rabbi & 4 us 2 benefit from ur study as u pass it on 2 us – ur question is thought provoking but 4 me I would have 2 answer that I am a Jewish American – I am a Jew 1st – my country is 2nd – in the eyes of the world I believe that is how we are viewed as well both historically & now

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