Today’s New York Times contains a story about the Community Synagogue in NYC (east 6th Street), and its hiring of a Lubavitcher rabbi, Simon Jacobson, to attract the spiritually curious, and thus help save an aging congregation. Part of the theological provocation of the story is that what many would consider a theologically conservative rabbi is being brought in to minister to a spiritually diverse, and particularly liberal, secular, and/or religiously indifferent, neighborhood. This is the kind of experiment in ministry and theology that should be of particular interest for those of us raised in the climates of post-Vatican II Catholicism.

In my work with more “conservative” (these terms are always problematic) and especially younger Catholic theologians and ministers, as well as with more traditionalist (again, especially younger) evangelical clergy, I have learned that the intellectual and emotional vibrancy that comes with their seriousness can be at home with more “progressive” ministerial goals.

The Times article indicates that it is an intellectual and emotional spaciousness that comes with a learned reverence for Judaism as a way of life that might be at work in allowing Chabad to help revitalize the Orthodox Community Synagogue. Rabbi Jacobson speaks of creating a “spiritual Starbucks,” and therein lies a challenge for Catholicisms, in the West anyway, as well.

Now, when Catholic churches not only become known for such dynamic experiments, but invite rabbis to assist in that revitalization—then we will know that something is being made truly new, on the path to all things being made new.

Tom Beaudoin
Hastings-on-Hudson, NY

Comments

Anonymous | 9/29/2008 - 12:48pm
I am a decidedly liberal Roman Catholic who has been very influenced by Hasidic thought. For instance in the Hasidic tradition there is a great stress put on the idea of not hiding. The Hasidim stress the idea that Adam and Eve hid after eating the forbidden fruit. Also after they ate the forbidden fruit, God doesn't ask Adam and Eve "are you being good or evil?". Instead God asks, "Where are you?". For the Hasidim transformation for men and women begins after they stop hiding. I highly recommend Martin Burber's "Hasidism and Modern Man". For twenty years I have gone back to it again and again.
Anonymous | 9/30/2008 - 11:15am
I though we have already had a Rabbi revitalize the Church: Jesus???
Anonymous | 9/29/2008 - 12:56pm
"The 'names' are God's powers of manifestation, his 'measures' or qualities ('midot'). Of these the name ELOHIM designates the quality of power and judgment; the not-to-be-pronounced name represented by the consonants YHVH designates the quality of grace and mercy; the former signifies the limitation of the divine to 'nature,' infinite wonder to law, the incomprehensible light to the comprehensible; the latter the becoming present to the creature of Being itself that is nothing other than grace, but that enters into the restriction because all that is created perishes before the divine fullness of grace. The woman or man who with their soul unites the two names prepares within themselves a place for unification and works for redemption." - Martin Buber "Hasidism and Modern Man"
Anonymous | 9/29/2008 - 12:54pm
While I support efforts to mend historical, political-driven divisions between Christian churches, I'm hard-pressed to see the value of bringing rabbis into the Catholic Community as a means of "revitalization". No doubt more opportunities for bridging between the more "liberal" and "conservative" groups within Catholicism are needed; I enjoy reading AMERICA precisely because it acts as such a bridge, a forum for a range of opinions and debates. But arguing that a rabbi can "revitalize" a Catholic community seems to stem from two difficult assumptions: one, that Catholicism is somehow so desperate that it can only benefit from those outside its community; and two, that ignoring fundamental differences in theology somehow leads to enlightenment. Let's face it - Judaism and Catholicism differ on fundamental theological points. A rabbi can certainly have interesting insights to offer on day-to-day topics (prayerfulness, meditation, etc.), but it's difficult to look for "revitalization" of a Catholic community from an individual who debates the nature of the core of Catholicism. Despair over the status of various debates within the Catholic Community shouldn't lead us to desperate acts. Yes, as Catholics we should have an open ear and an open mind for those of other faith traditions. We should make ourselves available for open discourse on a wide range of topics; discussion and debate are often the path to enlightenment. And we should always be open to new insights from those outside the Catholic Community. But looking to leaders of other faith traditions for leadership and "revitalizaton"? We have plenty of great minds and great leaders in the Catholic Community. Perhaps challenging ourselves to follow their leadership instead of constantly questioning it may lead to the "revitalization" some see as necessary.