Monday, December 10, 2007

Still Rabbi After All These Years

For the past year or so I have been thinking about dropping the title ‘rabbi.’ Using it seems to make claims about myself that are not really true. While I am proud and honored to be a Jew, and blessed to be Yisrael (see my blog entry, “Yisrael is a Verb”), when people hear I am a rabbi they assume a level of observance that I choose not to follow. I have changed my mind.

I was teaching in Tucson with my friend, mentor, and teacher Andrew Harvey. Our topic was Spiritual Activism or what we Jews call Tikkun Olam, Repairing the World. Andrew is a dynamic, dramatic, and passionate teacher. He launches into compelling sermons on what is wrong with the world and how to engage it. And while he adds readings to his talks (from Rumi and Teresa d’Avilla among others) he doesn’t teach those texts specifically.

As he and I co-taught for the weekend I realized that while I was no less passionate about the topic I found myself continually referring to and unpacking sacred texts, both Jewish and Christian. It wasn’t that I set out to do that. In fact, I was hoping that teaching with Andrew would push me away from texts and into sharing more of my life experience, which I feel is what makes Andrew’s teaching so powerful and compelling. Yet, try as I might, the text just kept coming back in.

During the various breaks between sessions I spoke with lots of people who complimented both of us on the work we were doing. But when they spoke to me about the material I was presenting they especially thanked me for revealing dimensions to ancient teachings and stories that they had not heard before and that they found incredibly meaningful.

I tend not to take compliments seriously. It may have to do with my bubbe (grandmother) who would spit three times and speak an incantation against the Evil Eye every time she said or heard something nice about someone. Nevertheless, it began to sink in that what the people liked about my work was the very thing that made me a rabbi: love of text.

In my case I love all kinds of texts, Jewish, Hindu, Christian, Moslem, Buddhist, Taoist, etc. I love scripture and folklore, myth, and parable. And I love to investigate them to see what they have to say to me and the way I live, or ought to live. I tend to put my own spin on these texts, seeing everything through the nondual lens polished by my contemplative practice. And this, too, people found valuable.

So I no longer think about dropping the title ‘rabbi.’ Rabbi Rami still speaks to who I am and what I do, even if I do it so far out of the box that some wonder if it’s still Judaism.


rbarenblat said...

I'm glad you're keeping the title. For all of us working to become rabbis, it's good to have you out there as one of our exemplars. If all the rabbis we learned from conformed to the same set of expectations, our learning would be impoverished. :-)

Simcha Daniel Burstyn שמחה דניאל בורשטיין said...

Look who else is commenting! I'll add my half-shekel to Rachel's.

This made me think of Norman Fisher's remarks at ECAMP a while back (here).

Somewhere in there, he speaks about the text thing as one of the main things about the Jewish path.

Daiho Hilbert-Roshi said...

Hello Rabbi,

I have recently suffered a similar small awakening. As a Zen Buddhist priest and a Jew who teaches meditation at our Temple's Hitbodedut class, I have felt drawn to the notion of dropping the title Roshi from my name. But then, I sit Zazen on the street for the environment...or for peace... and I see my true nature is neither Jew nor Buddhist...those are just names we call ourselves at various points in time.

In the end, any name will do because no name is necessary.

Be well.

BTW, I have driven through your town, meet up with a running friend, Karen Bingham, there after a gruelling half marathon in McMinnville. What a beautiful state, Tennessee.