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March 20, 1987 - Image 2

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-03-20

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Religious Ecumenism On A High Note Of Good

Reinhold Niebuhr

Ecumenism is gaining ground, and
support, for the attainment of the
standards vitally needed for good citi-
zenship and the matching of the basics
necessary in making morality a way of
The dedicated to ecumenism are
the advocates and protectors of the
high principles of uniting peoples of all

faiths into a society that will not
tolerate religious and race hatred. They
aim at the advancement that makes
Good Will a glorious goal in life.
The Michigan community has such
leadership in the Rev. James Lyons,
under whose direction the Ecumenical
Institute for Jewish Christian Studies
is the pride of the interdenominational
When ecumenism embraces a
neighborhood in which two faiths are
masters in the search for and reaching
such high goals in Good Will among
the faiths, they set an example for pro-
per action for the entire nation. This is
what is being experienced at this time
in a two-faith neighborhood in New
"Seminary Row" is the intriguing
title under which 122nd Street is
viewed and notably acclaimed as the
area that practically combines the two
great theological schools, the Jewish
Theological Seminary on the eastern
side of Broadway and the Union
Theological Seminary on the western
side of Broadway.
Two anniversaries, the Union
Theological Seminary's 150th and the
Jewish Theological Seminary's 100th in
the coming weeks, serve as a unifica-
tion of interest, religious devotion and
historical significance.

The uniqueness of the joint event
is its assumption of a balanced role for
both important institutions. One is
Christian and the other Jewish, yet
there has always been a cooperative-
ness of such great force that together
the two theological seminaries have
contributed towards an immense reli-
gious Americanization.
That's why 122nd Street and
Broadway in New York City is the
glorifying street serving as a guide for
Good Will in academia and religion. It
is in the academic elements of the two
great schools that there is the proof of
cooperation embodied in mutual re-
spect. There is a learning from each
other. The Union Theological Seminary
provided the scholarship, the courage
in political thinking, the justice-
inspiring Reinhold Niebuhr. His name
will remain memorable in American
idealism. He had set examples for high
standards from the time he was the
spiritual leader of a church in Detroit
to his national role as a religious
The Jewish Theological Seminary
commenced its spiritual leadership
under the eminent Solomon Schechter.
It secured inspiration from Joshua Hes-
chel, Louis Finkelstein, Louis Ginsberg
and scores of others.
Both great theological seminaries

Solomon Schechter

provided spiritual leaders for
synagogues and churches in Detroit
and scores of other American com-
munities, and also in cities in other
English-speaking countries.
That's how ecumenism has gained
ground, via Seminary Row, from a
street in New York that has gained a
role as a neighborhood Good Will inspi-

Legends As Inspirations For Torah And Mishnaic Studies

Legends are always vital in study-
ing history. There is a fascination in a
good tale, and the facts of history and
of life itself arouse strong links to as-
sure devotion to further study.
For the major part of this century,
the seven volumes of Legends of the
Jews by Louis Ginsberg, which remain
among the classics of the Jewish Publi-
cation Society, have been like textbooks
and historical agenda.
A new collection of legends, just is-
sued by Peter Bedrick Books, adds to
the enthusiasm aroused by the legen-
dary treasures. Jewish Legends is the
new volume, authored by a distin-
guished scholar. Its explanatory essay
and their accompanying stories are the
result of impressive studies by David
Goldstein, the curator of Hebrew books
and manuscripts at the British Library.
He is the author of numerous works of
historic Jewish merit.
Richly illustrated with photos de-
picting early periods of Jewish religious
observances, this collection is in itself
worthy of perusing for a study of
Jewish historical experiences. They il-
luminate the legendary that will in-
spire the interest of the reader.
Dr. Goldstein not only relates
legends. He also expresses the love that
is expressed by Jews toward Torah. He
uses as his theme: "The Torah is be-
loved, of course, not for its own physi-
cal nature, but for its sacred contents.
The Laws, interpreted as they have
been down through the ages in count-
less commentaries, codified, and still
subject to minute dissections and dis-
cussions, are incumbent on every ob-
servant Jew."
Therefore the explanations pro-
vided by this eminent scholar of the
Aggadah as well as Halachah is very
instructive. Dr. Goldstein writes in his
very instructive introductory essay:


Friday, March 20, 1987

And the Biblical narratives
have been analysed, explained
and elaborated to such an ex-
tent that a Jew of the old
school' can hardly distinguish
between what Scripture actu-
ally says and what later ex-
positors have understood it to
say. The legal content of the
Torah is known as Halachah,
while the narratives form the
basis of Aggadah. Aggadah
simply means 'telling', and this
`telling' can cover practically
any aspect of human life.
It can fill in the details of a
Biblical story, reconcile appar-
ent contradictions, answer
questions (and pose them too!),
incorporate fables from other
sources, make moral de-
ductions, add contemporary his-
torical allusions, discuss relev-
ant theological topics, indulge
in biographical anecdotes, and
it can even make remarks of a
legal character which properly
belong to the realm of halachah.
The Aggadah can be pithy
and opaque. It can also ramble,
moving from one story to an-
other, and from one theme to
another, until the reader is in
danger of forgetting the original
starting-point. The Aggadah can
be serious and philosophically
profound, and at the next mo-
ment lend itself to irrational
fantasies, or appear irreverently

The very impressive definition of
the Aggadah already emphasizes the
enthusiasm with which learning is im-
parted to the reader. Fully to ap-
preciate it, it is necessary to read a
very significant illustration of the de-


finitive presented on the subject. The
burial of Abel in the Bible story is thus
explained in the following legend in the
Goldstein collection of traditional

The story in Genesis of how
Cain killed Abel is well known.
But have you ever thought of
how they disposed of the body,
`for they did not know what to
do with Abel since they had no
experience of burial? Then a
raven appeared who had been
bereaved of one of his compan-
ions. He took the dead bird, and

dug a hole in the ground and
buried it. Adam saw this and
said: "I shall do the same as the
raven." He took Abel's corpse,
dug a hole in the ground and
buried it' (Pirke de-Rabbi
Eliezer 21). This is a simple
example of how the Aggadah
supplies 'missing' information.
The legends continue ad infinitum
and much of traditional Jewish history
is depicted in Dr. Goldstein's Jewish


The instructive of Dr. Goldstein's

Continued on Page 34

An artist's engraving of the site of Mt. Sinai.

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