11/13/11 Global Day of Jewish Learning Buffalo, NY – The Shema

Shema – Wikipedia

Rabbi Barry Schwartz keynote talk – One People, One Prayer: The Wonder and Power of the Shema


Talk dedicated to memory of Cantor Susan Wehle – “she recited all prayers with such focus and feeling…”

Director of Jewish Publication Society, rabbi at small synagogue M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ
Rabbi, Temple Sinai 1992-1999

Books – Jewish Heroes, Honi the Circle Maker, new book on Jewish values – Judaism’s Great Debates

Involved in interfaith efforts

“If Torah is our DNA, then the Shema is our most important genetic marker”

Deuteronomy 6 | Deuteronomy 6:4 – The Shema | Wikipedia

Shema – entire books on Shema – e.g. The Shema: Spirituality and Law in Judaism

“To hear” – closest to spirituality; Moses heard God but did not see him

“Unity begins with listening, community begins with dialogue… debate is a holy form of communication – makes space for new and unimagined ideas… debate moves things from monologue to dialogue… discussion is good but there is no need for yelling at each other.”

“What does it mean to really hear?”

“Person who stifles his conscience, but thinks he’s done enough already, does not really hear.”

“Shema, first and foremost, words of allegiance; first topic of Talmud; said with eyes closed for total concentration; said when you get up, go to sleep, and die.  The Shema – one prayer, one people.”

Rabbi  Perry Netter talk – Non-Shema Uses of the Shema


” ‘One God’ is really the only true dogma in Judaism”

“All pales in comparison to God because everything else is mortal.”

“Then what is the point of living?  Because we have a special covenant with God symbolized by the bris.  So there is something else that gives life eternal meaning.”

“And Jews have a duty to praise, thank, and glorify this covenant – you have to sing.”

Ashrei (happy) prayer means that we are further along the path

Isaiah was the only prophet who wanted to be a prophet (e.g. Moses and Jonah were reluctant prophets) | Book of Isaiah

Rabbi Netter “Why does God care about the praise of such insignificant beings?”  “Because God is lonely”

Book “God in Search of Man

Humor – Rabbi Netter “The proof of the existence of God is the continued presence of Jews despite how they run synagogues.”

Psalm 49

Raising on one’s tiptoes in the Kedushah is like we are joining the holy angels.

Rabbi Netter – Shema is really saying “We are in love with God…  How do we know God loves us?  Because he gave us the Torah and mitvot…  Shema is saying we love you right back.  It is brought as a free will offering to God.  Replaces, along with the Amidah, the animal sacrifice – we are putting ourselves as the animal on the altar.”

“Torah service purpose is to bring the words of God to the community.  It is a re-enactment of Sinai.  That is why the bimah is elevated (like Sinai).  You are forbidden to study during the reading of the Torah, because it is God’s words being spoken.”

Man and God share intimacy, things not shared with anyone else.  It is not about children, it is about the intimacy.  See Beth Yosef

“Why are we still here?  Because we say the Shema.”

Q&A “What is duty?”,
Rabbi Netter “Like a parent responding to a sick child” (or someone who just wants to do something to make a loved one happy).  Because the nature of your love relationship makes action clear, rather than an imposition or chore.

Rabbi Irwin Tanenbaum talk – Adonai Our God, Adonai is One


Rabbi Emil Fackenheimcosmological argument, purpose to life (where do ideas come from), moral qualities (ethical monotheism), hidden good of bad and evil (e.g. pain as warning of a problem, death to prevent overpopulation, things will be better in the world to come).

Rabbi Milton Steinberg – classic book Basic Judaism, God works toward peaceable kingdom, Jews have special role

Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan – founder of Jewish reconstructionism
Religious naturalism – no real of being distinct from the natural world; God is power or tendency of nature to produce values, and conduit to salvation (achieving an integrated personality); God unaware of humanity; hell is the suffering of being unable to love; all is greater than the sum of the parts, community is greater than the individual; God is the power that makes this happen; can you pray to a process?

God doesn’t micromanage the universe.

Ritual and customs are reminders of how to live a just life.

Martin Buber – Jewish existentialism – live life, and learn from life; “I-Thou” relationship – regarding an object not for what you can get, but what you can give (as opposed to I-It relationship – what each person will get from the other); mutual confirmation from each other; God is found in the realm in between; all real living is meeting.

Also mentioned by Rabbi Tanenbaum – The Sistine Secrets: Michelangelo’s Forbidden Messages in the Heart of the Vatican

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