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“Practical Theology” for this time of year

I have always rejected the theology of sinat chinam (literally, senseless hatred), the notion employed by classic/traditional Jewish theologians that suggests Gd used the agency of the enemies of ancient Israel to destroy the ancient Temple in Jerusalem and send the Jewish people into exile. Thus, it troubles me when contemporary thinkers suggest that sinat chinam (in this case referring to the animus that exists between various streams in the Jewish community) will once again lead to dire consequences (without regard to the implicit correlate that Gd would once again use others to “teach the Jewish people a lesson”).

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first chief rabbi of Israel, suggested that ahavat chinam (which I translate as “unconditional love”) is the only way to mitigate sinat chinam. Of course, he implied that such a posture would lead to the messianic era, something that I can accept, with its various complements, such as the building of the third Temple (something that really doesn’t interest me at all).

According to the very complicated Jewish religious calendar, it is three weeks after Tisha B’av (literally, the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av) which marks various calamities in Jewish history, including the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. As a result, each Shabbat we read one of a succession of Haftarot of consolation, whose prophetic words are supposed to bring us comfort after such vast catastrophes, as if it were even possible to do so. And now, as we approach the Hebrew month of Elul, which begins this week, anticipating the fall holidays, particularly the healing implicit in Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we are to add on the element of personal introspection.

If we are to respond to sinat chinam with ahavat chinam, then how do we actually do so? What is what I call the “practical theology” implicit in this idea? With the High Holidays approaching, the time of year when the largest number of people will find their way into our Jewish communal institutions, especially synagogues, then what are we supposed to do? How do we respond to the presence of guests, newcomers, first-timers, and others who are new to our institution?

Here are ten suggestions—promises that we will make to those newcomers in our midst, especially those who come from different religious backgrounds who are now within the orbit of the Jewish community.



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