HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal

From the Editor: Teaching About God: Hows and Whys

by Barbara Davis, Executive Editor Issue: The God Issue
TOPICS : Jewish Studies

In focusing on God, HAYIDION does not presume to answer the Big Question, the one even God couldn’t answer.

In a time when religious strife disturbs our world as greatly as it did in the Middle Ages, dedicating
an issue of HAYIDION to the theme of God is perhaps audacious. The atrocities in Paris and Nigeria, the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, all carried out in the name of God, are reminders,
as Gandhi wrote, that “the most heinous and the most cruel crimes of which history has record have been committed under the cover of religion.”

A friend recently asked the following question on Facebook: “How do I explain to my children why they do not have to take their shoes off when we go through airport security?” This is a heartrending question, because to answer it honestly means raising many terrible issues that no parent ever wishes
to address with a child. Similarly, how do teachers explain what happened at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, or why Israeli families have gas masks, or how a loving God can permit evil in the world?
How do teachers explain God at all? How do they do so in a Jewish school?

The authors in this Passover issue of HAYIDION wrestle with these and other issues, in articles that are sometimes deeply personal and always professionally relevant. We can see clearly how the thought leaders and teachers and heads of school who are featured in these pages have spent many hours pondering, examining, questioning and debating the hows and whys of teaching about God in the classroom. The views expressed are very diverse, reflecting the nature of RAVSAK schools, which are pluralistic community schools, embracing students with diverse backgrounds and goals.

And it is perhaps this personal approach that is most compelling. Those who chose to work in the Jewish day school world are very special and very committed individuals. In this issue of HAYIDION, they exemplify the message expressed by New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who wrote, “Don’t speak to me about your religion; first show it to me in how you treat other people. Don’t tell me how much you love your God; show me in how much you love all His children. Don’t preach to me your passion for your faith; teach me through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I’m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell or preach or teach, as I am in how you choose to live and give.”

In focusing on God, HAYIDION does not presume to answer the Big Question, the one even God couldn’t answer. Exodus tells us that when Moses persisted, “Who shall I tell the people you are?” the response was the dimensionless “Ehyeh asher ehyeh.” Thus you will find some provocative queries in this issue of HAYIDION, and also some responsible answers, but at the end you will still be left with questions.

Perhaps the best way to deal with these ambiguities is summed up in the following story. Two rabbis argued late into the night about the existence of God and, using strong arguments from the scriptures, ended up indisputably disproving His existence. The next day, one rabbi was surprised to see the other walking into the shul for morning services. “I thought we had agreed there was no God,” he said. “Yes,” replied the second rabbi, “but what does that have to do with it?”

Dr. Barbara Davis is the secretary of RAVSAK’s Board of Directors, executive editor of HAYIDION and principal emerita at the Syracuse Hebrew Day School in Dewitt, New York. bdavis74@twcny.rr.com

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The God Issue

In Jewish tradition, God alone is the Creator of all and the ultimate embodiment of unity, Oneness. In the 21st century Jewish community, however, God can often be a source of contention and divisiveness. Our community is far from united around questions of God's existence, nature and way of acting, the ways that we can understand God and relate to God. The authors in this issue approach the Big Questions from a wide variety of perspectives and thinkers, but they are united in their concern to bring the God Issue within the classrooms and halls of Jewish day schools.

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