30 July 2012

Starting a Facebook Page for My Rabbinic Personality

Facebook page for my rabbinic persona I created this month
Earlier this month, I created a Facebook page for my professional persona, Rabbi Drew Kaplan (go ahead, you can 'like' it) and I realized it was worth reflecting on, especially in light of a discussion I had last summer.
     At last year's Hillel Institute (annual staff conference for Hillel: the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life), I was chatting with a new graduate from my rabbinical school and he was bothered by a common phenomenon: often, rabbis seem to strive to have public personas that seem to be about themselves, whether websites or other outlets...   He said that we were taught in rabbinical school that it when we spoke, wrote, etc., we were not supposed to make it about ourselves as rabbis, per se, but to focus on the Torah that we were teaching.  Moreover, there could be a danger of charismatic leadership that might overstep its bounds.  Once he said that, I remembered the exact same sentiment from my time there and that it totally resonated with me that that was what it was supposed to be.   However, when I first arrived in Southern California, it was told to me that I should  strive to be a magnetic personality, as that is what draws people....
          That was my dilemma when I started my job: how to cultivate a magnetic (perhaps charismatic) personality and to draw in people to take part in activities, etc. versus what I had learned in rabbinical school to not strive for my rabbinate to be about me.
        While speaking with a student this past shabbat evening, I did say that I didn't mean this Facebook page to be an egotistical endeavor (e.g. "Look, I've got dozens/hundreds/thousands of people who 'like' Rabbi Drew Kaplan!"), but rather a way for people to connect with my work and me as a rabbi.  She suggested to me that, in this time, people are looking for different ways of connecting with each other, and that it is also true regarding rabbis.  Thus, by creating a multiplicity of platforms for people to connect with us, be accessible to them, or simply for them to follow us, the better and more people with whom we can share our Torah. 
           True, we shouldn't, as rabbis, think of ourselves so high because of what we do, but we do have to recognize that people connect with other people generally and not exclusively about the ideas they espouse.  Meaning: it's not reasonable to expect that people will just simply connect with me because I teach Torah/Judaism, but it also has to do with me, as the medium through which they can access that connection to their heritage.  Thus, as rabbis, we have to be aware and cultivate our personas and attract people if we can to teach them Torah. 
       So, I'm hoping that, as I use my Facebook page (in addition to my twitter account), it can serve as a helpful resource for people to follow my work, stay connected with me, and to continue to see what I have to offer.

09 July 2012

Considering the socio-historical context in Disagreements of the Academies of Shammai and Hillel

Although we only have a few recorded disagreements of Shammai and Hillel from two millenia ago, we have hundreds of recorded disagreements of their followers, the Academy of Shammai and the Academy of Hillel. From these academies, the leaders of the post-Temple destruction era emerged, so they are not insignificant within the intellectual history of Judaism (e.g. they are mentioned the 8th and 9th most times in the Mishnah out of sages).
     The locus classicus for understanding why Hillel's students eventually prevailed is the following (Eruvin 13b):
Rabbi Abba said, "Shmuel said, 'The Academy of Shammai and the Academy of Hillel were divided for three years; these were saying "The halakhah is like us" and those were saying "The halakhah is like us."  A heavenly voice emerged and said, "These and these are the words of the living God, but the halakhah is like the Academy of Hillel."'
And afterwards, they asked if these were the words of the living God, on account of what did the Academy of Hillel merit to have the halakhah established like them?  On account of their being peaceful, humble, and because they taught both their words and the words of the Academy of Shammai.  And not only that, but they also mentioned the opinion of the Academy of Shammai prior to theirs."
While we see that his students embodied Hillel's most distinguishing characteristic of humility, which we see in a set of two beraisos on Shabbat 30b-31a, the statement also mentions peacefulness (which Hillel says one should love and chase (Avot 1.12) and that they mentioned Shammai's words first.
         One of the other most interesting elements of this text is that it says they were both words of the living God. Prima facie, this text underscores the importance of allowing for multiple views within [Rabbinic]* Judaism. However, an often overlooked facet of the academies' disagreements was that they were the leading Pharisaic schools. So we actually don't know much of any opposing views within their camp. However, and more importantly, we don't know what some of the other groups' opinions/views were, which includes the Sadducees, the Essenes, the early Christians, the Boethusians, and more.  What emerges is that when the heavenly voice speaks announcing that these and these are the words of the living God, there may be an implicit exclusion of those and those (or those and those and those, etc.).  Thus, for the rabbis, there is room for disagreements and still be included within the range of acceptable opinions, but it does not mean that all opinions that are voiced fall within the acceptable range.

* I know that the academies were Pharisaic, so they were actually more correctly called Proto-Rabbinic, but they were seen as foundational sages for the rabbis.

02 July 2012

Why I Decided to Go to Rabbinical School [Redux]

Having graduated rabbinical school three summers ago,* I felt it was appropriate to discuss why I decided to go to rabbinical school.  Although I initially posted about this topic over five and a half years ago, I wanted to more fully list out the reasons as to why I decided to go into rabbinical school.
        The first reason actually occurred to me in my second summer of staffing BBYO summer programs (in 2003).  I saw the rabbis as being not only very knowledgeable about Judaism, but also seemed to me to be quintessentially Jewish leaders.  It wasn't simply that I saw them as possessing so much knowledge of our people's traditions, customs, practices, etc., but I saw rabbis as serving as architects of Jewish life.
Spending years learning furthered my knowledge
     The second reason was because I did not come from such a Jewishly-learned background and I sought to deepen and broaden my Jewish learning.  In order to ensure that that occurred seriously for a number of years, rabbinical school was definitely the sustainable path for me to travel.**
     The third reason was that I liked being involved with Jewish leadership activities and roles (e.g. BBYO) and I wanted to further the opportunities for being involved in such situations.
     The fourth reason was that I enjoyed being a part of large gatherings of Jews (such as a conventions and conferences) and thought that becoming a rabbi would certainly enable me to attend such events.
With Rabbi Berel Wein at Ohr Somayach (Spring 2004)
      The fifth reason was that I wanted to share the Jewish way of doing things (i.e. halakhah) with other Jews who might not know how to live Jewishly and I wanted to help them on the path of properly living according to their birthright.
       The sixth reason was that I was inexplicably drawn to the need to serve my people.  Two instances stick out to me where the need for good Jewish leaders was articulated and I felt that I had the opportunity to serve: 1) When I visited YCT in December 2003 and heard Rabbi Avi Weiss address us perspective students on the need for good Jewish spiritual leaders across the North American landscape; 2) One day in between classes at Ohr Somayach in the spring of 2004, hearing Rabbi Berel Wein speaking about a few things that could help American Jewry and one of them being good rabbis.  Although I don't want to claim in any way that I thought I would be a good rabbi (or even currently am),  I did feel that I owed it to my people to at least try to serve them.
*And being asked many times why I wanted to become a rabbi (especially here at ILTC).
**Although I know other people who spent 2-3 (or more) years studying in yeshivos in Israel post-college, I felt that I needed to move on with my life.  (Although, looking back, I think that I probably didn't have to necessarily just move on at that time, yielding me with more time for personal development, Jewish learning, and social networking in Israel.  Ah, well, that's hindsight....)

01 July 2012

Five Reflections on ILTC 2012 Thus Far

As mentioned earlier, I am serving as one of two Judaic educators at BBYO's  54th annual International Leadership Training Conference (ILTC), taking place at the B'nai B'rith Perlman Camp (BBPC) in the Poconos.  I had some assorted thoughts and am going to share five of them with you:
A Shaharit service led by song leaders
1) It is interesting that in such a pluralistic Jewish setting where many of the participants and staff have neither such a knowledgeable connection to Judaism nor follow or care about many elements of Rabbinic/Talmudic-based Judaism, prayer is still something that is incorporated, especially the Shema, Amidah and others. I wonder if there are Jewish camps or groups that entirely re-formulate their interaction with prayer....
Having been at BBPC numerous times, am quite comfortable here
2) While walking with participants and staff from one activity to the next, I realized that I felt very comfortable here and, until that point, it hadn't even dawned on me to feel uncomfortable (I thought about how staff or participants who were here at BBPC for the first time might be feeling (my first summer staffing, there was a cabin staff that cried and eventually had to leave because she felt home-sick)).  I also realized that I have spent some time here at BBPC 8 of the last 15 summers, from the ages of 16-30; as well as serving as BBYO summer leadership program staff for 5 of the last 11 years, from the ages of 20-30.  So, I realized that it made sense that this was a place at which for me to feel comfortable.
3) Typically, the Judaic educators at ILTC are, I believe, usually not so familiar with BBYO. This year is quite different: Emily Hyatt, the other Judaic educator was tremendously involved in BBYO as a teen (including  being on International Board) as well as working for BBYO for a few years following her university time. And I've not only worked at BBYO summer leadership programs before, but was very involved as a teen (not to mention writing about BBYO, as well).  Having staff members at the BBYO summer programs are an asset not only to the program, itself, but specifically being able to help the participants connect to the staff.
4) The socio-economics of the ILTC participants compared to that of the students I generally engage with in Long Beach are quite different.  Many of the students at CSULB (and surrounding community colleges) are not only attending school, but also working to pay for their post-secondary education.  Moreover, many of them seem to be just scraping by.  On the other hand, I know that ILTC costs a pretty penny and many of the participants here are set to go to four-year universities, so it is very different.
ILTC participants listening to a speaker
5) When any single piece of information is shared or an instruction issued to the 190+ teen participants as an announcement (and often when it's not an announcement), it never happens that they remain silent. It's fascinating to me that they have a need to process everything. The question, though, is how to best manage that need to process. They're going to end up needing to talk or say something to their neighbor(s). I don't have a solution, but I found it of interest.