Rabbi Arnold Rachlis Speaks at Pacifica Institute

Rabbi Arnold Rachlis, from University Synagogue in Irvine, gave a lecture addressing the different categories of Judaism and the characteristics of Jews today in a segment of interfaith dialogue at Pacifica Institute.

He commenced with a brief history of Judaism, dating it back to 4,000 years and explained the term Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible and it being the compendium of Jewish texts corresponding to the Old Testament for Christians. Rabbi Rachlis then went on to list and describe the four contemporary movements: Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, and Orthodox Judaism. The first three of these movements are categorized as being liberal Jewish perspectives, which comprise 90% of contemporary Jews today. Orthodox Jews, on the other hand, make up the 10% and can be seen by those more visible, such as those who wear kipas, or Hasidic Jews, a subset of Orthodox, wearing long black coats sporting long beards, which is.

“When I talk about Judaism from a liberal point of view, that pretty much reflects the majority of Jews in the world, and they way in which they look at Judaism. They view the Bible as being a combination of history, legend and myth,” said Rabbi Rachlis.

He explained that liberal Jews take the Hebrew Bible seriously, yet not literally, which led to him addressing the common belief that Jews are “people of the book”. He clarified that they are really more like “people of the commentary of the book”, bound more by the later interpretations that shed additional light to the original texts. Their approach to the Bible is to glean lessons from the stories of the people and emulate their leadership skills and dedication.

Rabbi Rachlis also talked about how the term Messiah is different in Judaism in comparison to Christianity. In Christian belief, the Messiah is viewed as the Son of God, half supernatural, half natural, and born of a virgin. Whereas, in Jewish tradition, it is believed that the Messiah is a person, like everyone else, characterized by the leadership role, and drive to create a life of social justice and peace.

Following the talk on the chain of Jewish law, Rabbi Rachlis discussed the way Jewish people view Judaism and other religions in the world. He mentioned that Judaism is universalistic in that it doesn’t confine Judaism to be the “only way” or the best religion, necessarily. This makes one religion better or worse than the other, but that they are merely different.

The lecture also consisted of issues regarding the conflicts in the Middle East. He talked about how 70-77% of Jews in America and Israel support the two-state solution yet the issue remains to be resolved because of the fear that paralyzes the Middle East.

He mentioned the puzzling dichotomy in America and how although it is viewed as being one of the most welcoming societies in the world, some incidents that take place can shift our thoughts and belie the things we stand for as a society. He highlighted the importance of the relationship between Jews and Muslims and Americans and for it to not be clouded by these issues.

“One of the issues in America, is the lack of interfaith dialogue, and issues set us off like power kegs. But if we panic at every tragedy, we’re never going to be able to build those bonds that sustain us, and overtime and look past the politics,” said Rabbi Rachlis.

He concluded the lecture with the importance of the efforts to engage in interfaith conversations.

“I thought it was very informative. I thought he did a wonderful overview of Jewish history and made everything very understandable. I’m grateful that Pacifica invited him to come,” said Rev. Dr. Peggy Price.

The lecture was followed by a question and answer session from the audience. He further defined the four movements and also addressed issues such as anti-Semitism, and the importance of education in society.

“I’m very impressed at how knowledgeable the audience was about interfaith questions and how curious they were about they were about the Jewish religion,” said Jacinta Camacho Kaplan, a member of the University Synagogue.

Rabbi Rachlis further underlined the significance of people to demand their leaders to put more effort into being a pluralistic society, especially those in the more traditional form of religions.

“The lecture was very enlightening. I believe that he continuation of these conversations in a series would be very beneficial. I learned a great deal more than I knew before about this topic,” said Ali Fuat.

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