Sh’ma Topic Discussion Guides
Bringing together myriad voices and experiences in a sacred conversation provides Sh?ma readers with an opportunity in a few very full pages to explore a topic of Jewish interest from a variety of perspectives. To facilitate a fuller discussion of the ideas, we offer the following questions:
Teens: Boys and Girls and Education
- How might Jewish communities and educational opportunities reach out to boys without putting aside the needs of girls?
- Do boys step back and away as girls step up into leadership roles?
- As educators, what might be the impact on students of our unexplored gender biases and attitudes toward sexuality?
- Has greed played a role in the recent financial failure?
- How is the free market limited by moral sensibilities?
- What core Jewish values guide us in making economic decisions?
Writing the Jewish Conversation
- How might Judaism be different had the Bible ended with Joshua, with Moshe and the Israelites entering the Land?
- What do we gain, as Jews, from the “profound humility” of talmudic discourse and argumentation?
- How might it enrich Judaism to think not as a “people of the book” but as a people engaged with a multilayered and multidimensional text?
Families & Conversion
- How does our understanding of Judaism — as a people, an ethnicity, a religion — impact the process of conversion?
- Can Judaism be more solicitous of the hyphenated identity of Jews-by- Choice?
- Is the “doorway into Judaism” a welcoming experience? How so, or if not, why not?
A Jewish Lens on Trafficking
- What is the relationship between gender-based oppression and the trafficking of women?
- Why is trafficking a Jewish issue?
- How might Jewish communities draw on human rights and Jewish textual sources to address the issue?
- Is energy conservation a matter of “personal virtue”? How is what we think, linked to what we do?
- How does our notion of stewardship inform our environmental practice?
- Should Israel renounce its nuclear energy program?
- Is there a connection between Judaism and neoconservatism? Between Judaism and liberalism?
- Does the detail & extensiveness of Jewish law suggest that Judaism is inherently conservative?
- How do our religious and political thinking help us address evil?
- How is your identity as an American Jew tied to the State of Israel?
- Can a reimagining of the teaching of Israel recreate a new Zionism for the 21st century?
- Why have many millions of dollars been spent to send young Jews to Israel? Does a trip to Israel definitively instill something in a young Jew’s soul?
A Changing Landscape
- How might Jewish community life change if we stop thinking about a “center” and peripheries, and think instead of multiple centers, or “nodes”?
- How does a stronger diasporic culture impact the relationship of American Jews to Israel?
- What is the impact of individuality and new trends in social networking on synagogues as central addresses of American Jewish life?
A Different Sexual Revolution
- How might the goals of the feminist and transgender movements work to further a more inclusive Jewish communal life?
- What do Jewish texts, such as the Song of Songs, teach about sexual ethics?
- How might Judaism be more welcoming to gender diversity?
Reforming Reform Judaism
- What is the next “frontier” for Refoem Judaism?
- Should Reform Judaism return to its earlier emphasis on social justice, or place greater emphasis on ritual?
- What is the relationship between autonomy and authority for Reform Jews?
Capturing holiness on the page and canvas
- Why have Jewish communities been so forthcoming in the anti-genocide in Darfur movement?
- Given Jewish history, and Israel as an ingathering of exiles, should the Israeli government open its doors to Sudanese refugees?
- Is divestment a strategy that works in pressuring governments to change policy? Might it be deployed against Israel? Should that impact Jews involved in the anti-genocide in Sudan movement?
Place, Space, and the Shaping of American Judaism
- Kedusha, holiness, speaks primarily to the concept of separation. What role does separation play in making our daily lives holy?
- How does the sound of the shofar inspire you at the High Holidays?
- For those that believe that God permeates the entire universe, is anything mundane?
- What stands in the way of teshuva, atonement, and forgiveness at the High Holidays?
Place, Space, and the Shaping of American Judaism
- What impact does the size of a Jewish community have on the nature of Jewish community and does it influence Jewish identity?
- How is Jewish culture determined by the urban or suburban setting?
- What are some of the enduring influences of the move of Jews into suburbs?
Evangelicals, Jews, and Israel
- Should Jews embrace “Evangelical friends” and their support of Israel?
- What are the dimensions and limitations of that “friendship”?
- How is the Evangelical-Jewish relationship similar to and different from the relationship between Jews and Catholics?
Jewish Lens on Immigration Reform
- In discussing immigration reform, what factors should inform the communal positions of our faith communities?
- What can we learn from immigration models in other countries?
- Which key Jewish texts speak to issues of resettlement and welcoming the stranger?
- Does modernity collide with an ultra-religious life? How do we integrate tradition with freedom?
- How does the concept of “Divine sparks” explain the outreach efforts of Chabad?
- Does religious-state separation preclude the wearing of religious garb in the military?
- What is the difference between social action and social justice?
- Should synagogues engage with other faith groups — in public arenas — to promote social change? What are the advantages and disadvantages of such public actions?
- How is success in a synagogue measured?
Leadership and Charisma
- What are the responsibilities of belonging to the Jewish people? What
are the mitzvot of peoplehood?
- What factors contribute to the making of a charismatic leader?
- Can rabbis and other communal leaders continue to serve in leadership positions after they have admitted previous sexual misconduct?
- How do we safeguard the close, and heirarchical, relationship of student and rabbi?
- Can charisma be taught?
Peoplehood and Justice
- In such a globalized world, how do we define peoplehood today?
- Is there a core value system that underlies the notion of peoplehood,
and what are those values?
- What makes Jews in Israel, Europe, Africa, America, and other places
part of the same people-religion, ethnic traditions, a sense of
High Holiday: Private and Public Prayer
- How do you make each Rosh Hashana new? How do you infuse the holiday prayers with a newness that captivates your attention?
- Al cheyt is the communal recitation, the litany that begins, “We have sinned…” Why do we recite this prayer in the plural? What is today’s greatest sin?
- What is the tension running through the High Holiday liturgy between private, individual prayer and communal prayer?
- How do we, as Jews, balance our historic support of civil liberties (privacy) with our sense of caution as the world becomes more threatening?
Sustainable Innovation in Jewish Life
- What’s new about innovation in 2006?
- How is Internet and digital technology changing Jewish life?
- Jews have often been thought of as residing “on the margin,” a fertile place for creativity. Has that changed? How has it impacted Jewish innovative practices?
Inside Holocaust Education
- Should Jewish schools use the Holocaust to teach moral lessons? If so, which ones?
- How do we integrate the observance of Yom haShoah into Jewish educational curricula?
- What is the rubric for teaching about the Holocaust in Jewish schools?
- Does Holocaust education focus too much curricula attention on death?
- Are there boundaries for a Jewish pluralist stance? What are they?
- How can we stretch to include a wider variety of modalities within which to express one’s Judaism?
- Why is Judaism sectored into denominations, and what are the obstacles to collaboration among the various movements?
- How does the idea, that we are all made in the image of God, influence pluralism?
“Letters” to the New JTS Chancellor
- How will Conservative Judaism accommodate change without losing its identity and sense of itself as a movement?
- How does the Conservative movement straddle the “middle” between Orthodoxy and Reform Judaism?
- Are Conservative Jews “commanded” by God or do they “choose” observance?
Globalization and Jewish Identity
- Why is globalization a Jewish issue?
- How is Jewish identity preserved in an era of cultural sameness?
- How will Zionism emerge from an age when nationalism is quickly going out of fashion? And how will that impact Israel’s Jewish identity?
- How are the benefits of a consumer society measured against the economic and social changes brought about by globalization?
- Is theology relevant today?
- Does pluralism dilute the “truth” of Judaism?
- How do recent discussions about Intelligent Design fit with your understanding of the creation of the world?
- How might our communities continue to acknowledge destruction and danger but refocus primary resources on celebrating Jewish endurance and vitality?
- What is the impact of a changing Jewish demography? Can we reimagine Jewish identity as a culturally dispersed and vibrant interconnection with multiple homes?
- Should Jewish communal groups focus on Jewish continuity projects or put forward programs that stress service, the arts, and other avenues that empower next-gen Jews to lead fully integrated lives?
Jewish Social Action Month
- What are the implications of ¡§covenantal society¡¨ for Jewish organizations and individuals engaging in justice work?
- What role does the Jewish value of ¡§peoplehood¡¨ play in mobilizing Jewish justice initiatives?
- How do you discern the differences between chesed, acts of lovingkindness, and tzedek, justice?
- How might our communities emphasize, and our schools educator toward, individual obligation to the community and communal obligation to the individual as fundamental Jewish values?
Inside the High Holy Days
- What is the essence of Rosh Hashanah, and how is it expressed through prayer?
- How might nature serve as a sanctuary for prayer?
- Does a gendered God language encumber prayer? Is your prayer encumbered by changing language?
- What role does music, movement, silence, and art play in your celebration of the new year?
- What is the power of teshuvah, the act of self-re.ection, of turning, of forgiveness, during the High Holy days?
New Jewish Rituals
- What is the impact of the feminist movement on Jewish ritual? How have new rituals created by women impacted traditional rituals?
- What makes a ritual authentic?
- Will changes in ritual, and the ritual lives of Jewish men and women, transform Judaism? How so?
- Do rituals legitimize new behaviors, and if so, how?
Arts & Culture
- Many Jews assert that Judaism is primarily about holiness in time. How does art impact and create holy space?
- What would an artistically integrated Jewish educational program/school look like?
- Jewish tradition acknowledges the seductive nature of the visual. How do Jewish artists address this?
- What is the relationship between Jewish books and Jewish lives?
- Does popular culture and the tempo of contemporary living preclude serious engagement in Jewish reading?
- How might Israeli literature serve as a window into Israeli culture, politics, and life?
Hope and Text
- Are we strengthened, as Jews and as a Jewish community, by the trials of life?
- What Jewish texts, and which Jewish experiences, continue to sustain your hope in the Jewish people?
- How does the talmudic genre of conversational argumentation inform our communal politics, leadership, values, and ability to listen to and draw upon our diversity?
- What role do Israel’s settlements play vis-?-vis the future of the State?
- Can Israel hold onto the West Bank and Gaza and remain a demographically Jewish state? How?
- How are the settlers similar to and different from Israel’s early pioneers?
Lay and Professional Leaders in Relationship
- How do we employ “vision,” as Jewish lay and professional leaders, to create vibrant Jewish communities?
- What are the most salient features that draw you into community? What impinges on that involvement?
- What are the most compelling answers to the question: Why be Jewish? And how has this changed over the last decade?
- How does our observance of mitzvot relate to our relationship with God? Are we covenantal partners with God in the transmission of mitzvot?
- How do we approach a mitzvah that unsettles our Jewish sensibility?
- How does Jewish law broaden the scope of personal responsibility?
- What is the interplay between ethical behavior and the observance of mitzvot? Has the category of ethical ideal lost its power to obligate?
Jewish Women and Leadership
- What are the fault lines in the relationship between Jewish professional and lay leaders? And how can they best be addressed?
- What is the impact of feminism on volunteerism? Are Jewish organizations losing a needed pool of volunteers? How might they restructure to adapt to new social, technological, and communal realities?
- Should business practices play a role in the governance of nonprofit organizations such as synagogues and schools?
Ten Jewish Sensibilities
- How would you characterize and chart a list of ten sensibilities to guide
Jewish life today?
- In a society ever more connected to popular culture, how do we transmit core
Jewish values to our children?
- How have Jewish values influenced contemporary American ethics, and how much have contemporary American cultural values informed Jewish sensibilities?
Fragile Diaspora Communities
- Are Jewish organizations, synagogues, schools, federations, marketing Judaism or are they marketing their individual missions, programs, appeals?
- How will marketing effectiveness be measured?
- In a society so embedded in popular culture, how do we appeal to unaffiliated, especially young, Jews without subverting our message in a cultural malaise?
- If Jews are commanded to be “A Light to the Nations,” should we engage in proselytizing? How do we interpret this verse?
Jewish Reflections on the 2004 Election
- Should American Jews embrace the Christian Right as a political ally?
- How do Jewish values influence your political thinking and the choices you made about the 2004 election?
- How might the Jewish community and its myriad institutions help America heal from the divisiveness of the recent election?
- Is knowledge of Hebrew essential to be a literate Jew?
- What makes a book Jewish?
- In what way does the reading of Jewish books influence your sense of self ? that is, your Jewish identity?
Muslim – Jewish Dialogue
- What is the relevance of Muslim-Jewish dialogue and what might come from that dialogue? Will dialogue impact the future of the Middle East? If not, why bother? What are the obstacles to dialogue?
- How can we trust that our partners in dialogue are honest and not making antisemitic comments in other forums?
- What are the crucial factors leading to periods of flexibility and openness to other religions, and periods of rigidity and closure?
- What is the nature of religiously articulated responsibility within Judaism toward others?that is, toward the community existing beyond its boundaries?
- What are the most important Jewish values that bear on your personal openness to engage the other?