Rabbis, Academics, and Binaries // CAJS Blog

posted November 29, 2018   

This week, the Katz Center welcomed a cohort of rabbis to begin a year-long collaboration. They are participating in the LEAP program, a partnership now in its fourth productive year with Clal, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. This remarkable, interdenominational group will visit the Center three times this year and learn from a variety of fellows and colleagues to explore the depth of research being carried out in the area of our current fellowship theme, Jewish culture in modern Islamic contexts. 

Participating rabbis come from all over the country, and after each visit return to their congregations and constituencies to interpret and extend what they have learned. This session, featuring seminars with current fellow Yuval Evri, Penn professor (and shaper of the theme) Heather Sharkey, and Katz Center director Steven Weitzman, exploded any preconceived notions we may have had about Jewish history in the Near and Middle East, relations with Muslim neighbors there, and ripples of that history today.

One participant, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, writes a well-known blog as the Velveteen Rabbi and blogged about the experience. She wrote that Evri “invited us to think beyond easy and simplistic narratives, both the pretty story of interfaith utopia and the ugly story of inevitable persecution, as we engage with the ideas and realities of Jews in Arab lands.” Click through to read the rest of her post, “Arab Jews, and complicating our binaries.”

Barenblat’s comments encapsulate not only the content of this week’s LEAP seminar, but also its achievement in softening the boundaries that often separate academic discussions from rabbinic ones.


Anne Albert is the Center’s Klatt Family Director for Public Programs.

Katz CAJS Blog