Watershed Event in World Judaism and Jewish Study: Nearly 700 Rabbis and Scholars From Around the World and the Continuum of Movements Explore Texts and Issues Face-to-Face

The World's First International, Pluralistic Jewish Beit Midrash (Study Program) Occurred in Jerusalem in Conjunction with the 120th Annual Convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), Which Represents the Reform Rabbinate

JERUSALEM--(Marketwire - March 2, 2009) - In an unprecedented, international coming together of thinkers representing a full range of approaches to Judaism, 350 rabbis, scholars and lay leaders from Israel and Europe from the Conservative, Orthodox and Reform movements sat in circles to explore texts and issues with Reform rabbis from North America.

Together, they used modern and ancient writings to debate and discuss issues of Jewish peoplehood in the context of three themes -- Shabbat (observance of the Sabbath), tradition-and-renewal and Israel-Diaspora counterpoints and touch points.

Friday's half-day Beit Midrash (study program) was a centerpiece of the 120th Annual Convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) which took place in Jerusalem through March 1. CCAR is the representative organization of nearly 2,000 Reform rabbis, the world's largest group of clergy.

"This is the beginning of a new relationship among colleagues from America, Israel and elsewhere. It's taking place over texts, enabling us to understand Judaism in new ways. We now enter Shabbat with a sense of renewal," said Rabbi Peter Knobel, president of the CCAR.

Said CCAR member Rabbi Michael Weinberg, who led the design of the event, "We set out to offer a unique and invaluable opportunity to bridge gaps and increase mutual understanding."

In just one circle of four rabbis -- two from Israel and two from the U.S. -- a provocative text prompted deep, constructive conversation over some difficult issues and thoughts. The text, translated, was, "It's better to live among heathens in Israel than among Jews in the Diaspora." Some of the resulting comments and questions were: "With God in Israel, you can just breathe the air in Israel and be connected"; "In the Diaspora, you really know you're Jewish"; "How does one help congregants in the U.S. express and handle ambivalence about Israel"; "In Israel, you don't have to build an identity, you just are"; "If you're in Israel, you can observe and be part of Yom Kippur by going to the beach, because you're in Israel"; "How can you discuss and solve civil rights issues when State and religion are together?"

Sources for texts included Franz Rosenzweig, Yehuda Amihai, Menachem Rosensaft, S. Kushner, Abraham Ibn Ezra, the Psalms, Amir Gilboa and many others.

The program included key questions, emanating from the texts, designed to inspire discussion. Among those questions, "How important is the Hebrew language to the Jewish identity?" "Do we have a right that stems from the Bible?" "Out of the approaches to tradition represented by the prophets and the Great Synod, which do you choose?" "What are the three legs of your telescope tripod? Which stars are you focused on?" "What is the role of the child in relation to his parents?" "How can the Shabbat plant the bud of angels in a heart of raving flesh?"

Said Rabbi Weinberg, "We believe this program will be a catalyst and model for continuing study and relationship building between Americans and Israelis dedicated to a pluralistic approach to the study of Jewish texts and issues."

About the Central Conference of American Rabbis

The Central Conference of American Rabbis (www.ccarnet.org), founded in 1889, is the oldest and largest rabbinic organization in North America. As the professional organization for Reform Rabbis of North America, the CCAR projects a powerful voice in the religious life of the American and international Jewish communities.

Since its establishment, the CCAR has a rich history of giving professional and personal support to Reform rabbis, providing them opportunities for study, professional development and spiritual growth beginning while they are still in seminary, through mid-careers, and into retirement. The CCAR is uniquely positioned to meet the ongoing needs of its 1,850 member rabbis (virtually the entire Reform rabbinate) and the entire Reform Jewish community.

To schedule a conversation with Rabbi Knobel, Rabbi Weinberg and/or other leaders of the Beit Midrash, please contact Itay Engelman at Sommerfield Communications at 212-255-8386 or itay@sommerfield.com.

Contact Information: Media Contact: Itay Engelman Sommerfield Communications, Inc. 212-255-8386 itay@sommerfield.com