Not the Same Old Scholar-in-Residence

Not the Same Old Scholar-in-Residence


Back when the information highway was a dusty footpath that led to the public library, people craved “truths.” They sought out books and experts who could tell them what they should believe.

Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman
Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman

But that’s no longer the case, says Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, Temple Sinai 2013 Scholar-in-Residence.

“Now with the Internet, we are super-saturated with truths,” he explained. “So if a scholar comes in and announces, ‘Here are 10 more truths,’ people will say, ‘Who needs this when I can just look it up?!’”

Rabbi Hoffman – professor of liturgy, worship and ritual at Hebrew Union College in New York – prefers to initiate a Jewish conversation with his audiences that helps add meaning to their lives.

“We’re used to talking about tikkun olam, and we love study and charity,” he said. “I’m in favor of all of that, but I try to open the door to serious religious questions Jews tend to shy away from these days.”

Kiddush Cup is Half Full

The reasons for the shift in attitude about Jewish life are among the topics Rabbi Hoffman will address during the weekend of Feb. 1 to 3 at Temple Sinai.

One explanation for the change is that we are living in a period when cultural and ethnic differences no longer define what we believe or how we pray.

“For most of American history until the recent past, we have been ethnic to our core,” explained the rabbi. “That ethnicity drove us to the synagogue, which was the only place we could satisfy the need to be understood as Jews. It was only in a Jewish milieu that we felt really comfortable.”

It was also in that familiar setting that people could indulge their nostalgia for the old country and a simpler past. But today, all that has changed. Assimilation, a 50-percent intermarriage rate and fading historical memory have led to a lack of ethnicity and, with it, an erosion of identity.

Rabbi Hoffman does not bemoan, but rather embraces, these and other transformations. He uses them as a jumping-off point for new ways to be Jewish. Indeed, as co-founder of the “Synagogue 3000” initiative, Rabbi Hoffman is passionate about the subject of tomorrow’s synagogue.

“How can the synagogue engage those who have not only chosen it but others who have not yet found their way there?” he wondered.

One response he offers is a vision of the synagogue of the future as an “intentional community” that focuses on helping people find meaning.

The Move Toward Meaning

To build that synagogue – the one where each individual can find his or her own significance in Torah – Rabbi Hoffman believes modern Jews have to start thinking and talking seriously about religion.

“This doesn’t come easily to Jews from Eastern Europe, many of whom came to this country as atheists and socialists,” he admitted.

It does, however, make sense in America today, where religion is a high priority for many people and is part of the national dialogue. Rabbi Hoffman looks forward to opportunities throughout the coming Scholar-in-Residence weekend to guide congregants and members of the community into these and other areas of thought and discovery.

“The scholar-in-residence I’m trying to represent is not about dispensing truths,” he said. “It’s about exploring the new world in which we all live and the ways we can find significant insights into life in the midst of our busy lives.”

Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, author and speaker, will serve as Temple Sinai’s Scholar in Residence for the weekend of Feb. 1 to 3. Visit to RSVP or for more information.

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