Insightful Jewish Interpretation of the Pentateuch: SBL Panel Discussion of Shai Held, The Heart of Torah

Rabbi Shai Held is Dean and Chair of Jewish Thought at the Hadar Institute, an ecumenical egalitarian study center in New York City that he helped found in 2006, along with Rabbis Elie Kaunfer and Ethan Tucker.

My initial introduction to Shai Held was in January 2015 when he contacted me to discuss the imago Dei in Genesis 1, in preparation for a public lecture he was going to give on human dignity and police violence against African Americans. He had read my book The Liberating Image and wanted to clarify some aspects of the interpretation. We first communicated by email, then had a telephone conversation on the topic.

Since then I have attended the Hadar Institute (previously called Mechon Hadar) for two of their annual Executive Seminars and I wrote an initial blog about my experience.

Middleton with Rabbis Elie Kaunfer and Shai Held at Hadar, July 2016

Shai Held (son of Ugaritic scholar Moshe Held) has written an in-depth study of the theology of Abraham Heschel (Abraham Joshua Heschel: The Call of Transcendence) that explores the complexity of his thought. This is his published dissertation, written under the supervision of Jon D. Levenson at Harvard.

Held’s latest publication is The Heart of Torah, 2 vols. (Jewish Publication Society, 2017). This is a compilation of short theological-ethical essays on selected passages from the weekly Torah portion in the Jewish lectionary cycle. Volume 1 covers texts in Genesis and Exodus, while volume 2 covers texts in Leviticus to Deuteronomy.

I (along with approximately 7,000 others) subscribed to receiving these essays every week by email; and I have been profoundly moved by Held’s insights. So when I found out that the essays would be published in a two-volume collection, I contacted a number of Christian biblical scholars to join me in writing endorsements for the publication.

I have also organized a panel discussion on The Heart of Torah at the Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting in San Diego this coming November. The panel will consist of both Jewish and Christian biblical scholars, who will share their responses to the book and its project. 

The panel discussion is scheduled to take place 9:00 AM to 11:45 AM on November 24, 2019. This the lineup of presenters.

Presiding:

  • J. Richard Middleton, Northeastern Seminary at Roberts Wesleyan College

Participants:

  • Ellen Davis, Duke Divinity School
  • David Frankel, Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies
  • S. Tamar Kamionkowski, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
  • Jacqueline Lapsley, Princeton Theological Seminary
  • Dennis Olson, Princeton Theological Seminary
  • Marvin Sweeney, Claremont School of Theology

Response:

  • Shai Held, The Hadar Institute

This panel discussion is jointly sponsored by the Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures program unit and the National Association of Professors of Hebrew.

Here is a newspaper article (The Times of Israel, September 2017) on Shai Held’s combination of Jewish piety and social ethics

The Ethical Challenge of the Imago Dei—Human Rights and Beyond

I was recently invited to write a blog post on humanity as imago Dei (“image of God”) for the Imago Dei Fund.

My post is now published online, with the title: “The Ethical Challenge of the Image of God in the 21st Century – Human Rights and Beyond.”

After sketching the meaning of the imago Dei and some of its ethical implications, the post concludes by exploring the compassion of God for the foreigner/refugee, which those made in God’s image are called to imitate.

Interestingly, my colleague in New Testament, Esau McCaulley, has recently written a blog post on a similar theme, entitled “The Slave, the Foreigner, and the Compassion of Israel.”

The Imago Dei Fund

Their website of the Imago Dei Fund describes them as “a grant-making organization working with our grantee partners to co-create a more just and more free world in which all human beings can thrive and flourish together.”

One of the issues the Imago Dei Fund addresses is human rights (as part of their commitment to “justice and mercy“). This was the topic I was invited to write about, based on the biblical teaching of humans as imago Dei.

Besides human rights, the Imago Dei Fund addresses matters of ecological justice (“care of creation“) and holistic shalom for persons (“care of souls“).

I invite you to check out the blog page of the Imago Dei Fund, where my post is located (along with other posts on related topics). It has the unusual name of The Inukshuk Blog.

If you want to know what an Inukshuk is, here is an explanation, with a picture.