April 14, 2011
Jews and Mormons and Harvard—Oh My!!
As Avishai Don of the Harvard Crimson duly noted, last Friday night at Harvard Hillel was a special evening. Jewish and LDS students gathered for a Wild West-themed Shabbat dinner presided over by Orthodox Rabbi Ben Greenberg and his lovely wife Sharon. The Moshe Safdie-designed Hillel building was the most beautiful one I had ever seen, and the entertaining cowboy skit proved to be a great ice-breaker. It also proved to be informative: I had no idea that Yale had recently admitted two horses as freshmen.
Following the dinner, we adjourned to a nearby classroom, where I made a presentation on LDS-Jewish themes and took questions with Rabbi Greenberg serving as the moderator. This being Harvard, the questions were thoughtful ones: What role does a prophet play in LDS theology? How does personal revelation differ from prophetic revelation? What about posthumous proxy baptisms? Do Jews need to be converted? I sensed that the students really wanted to know the answers, and I did my best to provide them.
The following morning I had the high honor and privilege of delivering the D’var Torah (sermon) at Hillel’s Orthodox minyan (worship service). I will always treasure this invitation from Rabbi Greenberg. The Torah portion discussed ways in which a leper could be cleansed with the help of a priest, and I related this to the concept of kehillah (community worship) in both of our traditions. I also focused on the commandment in LDS scriptures to be clean when we bear the Lord’s vessels, which I identified. The worshipers could not have been more gracious and welcoming.
I am enormously grateful for the efforts of the Hillel and LDSSA students who made the evening possible, and I would love for it to serve as a catalyst for more meaningful Jewish-LDS interfaith events on campus. Many of the Hillel students will become leaders in the Jewish community, and it is my hope that they will remember the Mormon community when conducting interfaith outreach to Christians. Flying across the country on a red-eye flight and making two presentations require a lot of time and effort, but as generations of Latin scholars in Cambridge have said, sine labore nihil.