A clearer view of Judaism

Will Berkovitz lived with his family in Israel for two years, though he says his two sons, Nativ and Edan, speak better Hebrew than he does. An ordained Jewish rabbi, Berkovitz now lives in Seattle, where he works with Jewish young adults at the University of Washington (UW).

Berkovitz, the executive director of the UW Hillel Center, answered questions about the Jewish faith as part of a forum held Thursday for a Jewish faith forum in Library Seminar Room.

Nineteen students and faculty sampled refreshments and posed questions for Berkovitz during the forum, which was hosted by SPU’s Theology Student Union (TSU).

The Hillel Center works mainly with the 1,500 to 2,000 Jewish undergraduates attending UW, Berkovitz said. Many of these students feel disconnected with their Jewish heritage, he said.

"The first thing you hear is ‘Hi, rabbi, I’m not religious. I’m sorry.’ My reaction is ‘I don’t really care,’" Berkovitz said.

"Judaism isn’t really a religion," Berkovitz said. It is difficult to dissect out what is Jewish culture from what is Jewish religion, he explained.

God in Judaism is not just an old man with a white beard, Berkovitz said. The typical Jewish UW student does not see God in any other way, he said. Berkovitz strives to create venues for these questions to be addressed, he said.

"Will brought a very clear perspective on things," said theology professor Jack Levison, who invited Berkovitz to speak. Levison noted that this perspective can be quite different from what SPU students are used to hearing.

For instance, Berkovitz said that a Messianic Jew, one who believes in Christ as the Messiah, is not really a Jew at all.

Also, Berkovitz feels offended when Christians take long-standing Jewish symbols and naively adopt them for Christian use, he said.

"[We were] listening to someone who is obviously a rich adherent of another religion," Levison said. "I sense that students valued the open air," he said.

Much of Christian history has brought an ignorance and persecution of the Jews, Levison said. Over the centuries, Jews have been referred to as "Christ killers," Levison said. Even the works of esteemed theologian Martin Luther contain anti-Jewish thought, he said.

"The 20th century gives ample evidence of what happens when people misunderstand Judaism," Levison said.

Even today, Christians and Jews carry against each other an underlying bias rooted in ignorance, Levison said. This makes intelligent discussion between the two groups very important, he said.

"I think SPU students need to be engaging Jewish partners in conversation," Levison said.

Bo Lim, theology professor and TSU faculty advisor, helped to coordinate the faith forum. Most of the theological discussion he’s seen at SPU has revolved around only the Christian faith, Lim said. "This is by no means outside our interests in the School of Theology," Lim said of the Jewish faith forum.

"Two-thirds of the Christian Bible is Hebrew scriptures," Lim said. Since the Christian faith is deeply rooted in Judaism, an understanding of Jewish beliefs is critical, Lim said.

"We recognize that there can be much we can learn," he said of such inter-faith discussion.

It is important for Christian students to remember that the New Testament of the Bible does not simply replace the Old Testament, Lim said. "If it did, it wouldn’t be in our Bible," he said.

Only half the forum’s attending students were from the School of Theology, Lim said. The other half came purely out of interest, he said.

"That’s something we want to do at TSU, to be a vehicle to expose and invite non-theology majors and minors into theological conversation," Lim said.

Though freshman Ross Anderson isn’t taking theology classes, he is part of a cadre focused on systemic theology. Anderson and fellow cadre member sophomore Molly Murphy both attended the forum.

It was personal curiosity that brought him to the event, Anderson said. He saw the forum as an opportunity to compare and contrast Christianity with Judaism.

"I’ve had a couple of Jewish friends, but there wasn’t much discussion of deep issues of religion," he said.

He appreciated hearing a Jewish perspective on Judaism, not just a Christian or secular perspective, Anderson said.

"I desired to really be able to hear more from a Jewish scholar or rabbi and create a clearer image of what Judaism looks like," Anderson said.

Anderson credits the forum for giving him a broadened perspective on religion. "I think I’ve come closer to understanding at least one aspect of the Jewish worldview," he said.

There are many service-oriented activities for engaging the culture at SPU, Anderson said. "We need to engage with all our faculties, including our intellect," he said. "This faith forum is one of many ways to go about doing so."

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Title: A clearer view of Judaism | Author: Beth Douglass | Section: News | Published Date: 2008-01-30 | Internal ID: 6248