Temple Har Shalom scholar-in-residence will discuss ‘Losing My Religion’
Dr. Maeera Shreiber, Temple Har Shalom’s Scholar in Residence, will give a presentation at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, July 13, at the temple, 3700 Brookside Ct. The event, which will be followed by a barbecue at 7:45 p.m., is free and open to the public. Shreiber will also participate in a free panel discussion at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, July 14, at the temple. For information, visit www.templeharshalomparkcity.org.
Dr. Maeera Shreiber knows what it was like to live life as an Orthodox Jew, and she knows what it felt like when she decided to live a more liberal form of Judaism.
Shreiber, an associate professor of English, affiliated associate professor of the Middle East Center and chairwoman of the Jewish Studies Initiative at the University of Utah, will discuss her experiences as Temple Har Shalom’s Scholar in Residence this weekend.
Her first presentation will be at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, July 13. She will also participate in a panel discussion at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, July 14. Both events are free and will take place at Temple Har Shalom, 3700 Brookside Ct.
“I’ve been interested in talking about what’s lost and what’s gained and what are the challenges and possibilities of being, once, an Orthodox Jew and becoming a Reform Jew,” Shreiber said. “I would like to present that to the Har Shalom congregants, because one of the things that I think is notable of Har Shalom is that it’s grounded in the tradition of Reform, or open Judaism, which is a radically inclusive version of Judaism. It’s not the kind that you would find in Orthodox communities, or maybe even conservative Jewish communities.”
The topic came up through a discussion Shreiber had with Temple Har Shalom’s rabbi, David Levinsky, a few months ago.
“When I have read accounts of Jews leaving the Orthodoxy, they talk about the freedoms gained and there’s a feeling of liberation,” said Levinsky, who, as with Shreiber, was once Orthodox. “There are all of these narratives, particularly in the evangelical Christian world, about finding religion, but we don’t talk enough about losing religion. And Maeera and I have talked a lot about this and we both agree that while we did gain many freedoms by becoming Reform Jews, we did lose a lot by leaving that (Orthodox) world.”
While preparing for her presentation, Shreiber discussed themes and concerns that Park City Jews are facing today, as well as Judaism’s historical grappling with its identity and what makes a Jew with Levinsky.
“To start with, historically, Judaism is a religion that has been, I’ll say, preoccupied with issues of inclusion and who is admitted to fully participate and (to be) eligible for certain kinds of privileges and obligations,” she said. “In light of the fact that we live in a very pluralistic society, Judaism is rethinking its boundaries and borders to not dissolve them, but renegotiate them.”
The reason some Orthodox Jews become Reform Jews is because of life in the United States, Shreiber said.
“Jews have lived successfully in the United States for a very long time because of the different opportunities offered to us,” she said. “And one of the things that has happened as a result is that the feeling of living with your ‘own kind’ and to socialize, work and engage in other ways with people, is no longer limited to the confines of the religion.”
Shreiber has noticed through her studies, however, that this idea is not strictly a generational issue.
“There are many younger Jews who choose to live in the Orthodox tradition, and there are many older Jews who are living liberally,” she said. “As a Reform congregation, these things are what Har Shalom should feel obliged to consider.”
Still, there are some traditional guidelines that Reform Judaism struggles with, Shreiber said.
“Some of those boundaries come in terms of interfaith marriage, which is much less contested and not so much a source of pain in the Jewish community, certainly in Reform movement,” she said. “But the Reform movement is still wrestling with the idea of ordaining a rabbi that is not married to a Jewish partner.”
Another issue is the fundamental question about who is a Jew, Shreiber said.
“It really depends on what part of Judaism a person decided chooses to affiliate with,” she said.
Shreiber believes Temple Har Shalom congregants are in a unique position to discuss these issues because it is located in the Mountain West of the United States.
“It’s off the traditional Jewish radar and there aren’t many external forces looking at it,” she said. “If it was located in a place more dense with Jews, it would have more people to answer to.”
Rabbi David Levinsky said Shreiber is Temple Har Shalom’s third annual Scholar in Residence.
“The program is a partnership with a group called Utahns for Religious Scholarship, and one of its goals is to bring religious scholars to Utah to offer their perspectives of religion,” he said. “We were lucky to have a local scholar this year.”
Levinsky said programs such as Scholar in Residence adds to religious understanding and unity in the greater Park City area.
“I think it’s important that the different religions in Park City are in communication with each other, and that we have open relationships,” he said. “It’s a way we can come together as opposed to talking about boundaries. I do feel that more open religious traditions are a way for people to be religious and still participate fully and equally in contemporary society.”
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