Have a little faith

Book review and personal reflection by Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish

I recently reread the wonderful little book by Mitch Albom called Have a Little Faith, originally written in 2009, in the midst of the economic downturn in the U.S., which affected his home city of Detroit very badly.

In this book, Albom, renowned author of the best-seller Tuesdays with Morrie,  interweaves the personal life stories of two clergymen whom he came to know very well. One is his childhood rabbi from New Jersey, Rabbi Albert Lewis, of blessed memory, who asks Albom to delivery his eulogy, which leads to the author and the rabbi spending much time together in the last 8 years of the rabbi’s life.  The other is an inner city minister in an African-American church in Detroit, who has an amazing life history which Albom finds captivating and in some ways similar to his rabbi’s story, notwithstanding totally different content and context.

The invitation to write a eulogy for his hometown rabbi is the inspiration for this book.

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Studying Torah in Jerusalem at the Shalom Hartman Institute

During the first two weeks of July, I was privileged to study with 135 other rabbis from North America and Israel at the Shalom Hartman Institutes Rabbinic Torah Study Seminar, including my daughter, Rabbi Dahlia Kronish, Director of Jewish Life for the Heschel High School in New York

The theme of this year’s seminar was “Faith”.

What is faith?  How do people believe? Is belief about knowledge of the world or is it an internal experience? Can faith be proven? Can other people share it? Does it happen willingly or is it forced on the believer? Can faith be structured (psychologically, sociologically, historically), or only understood from within the world of faith? Is it possible to believe in a being that is a reflection of powers bigger than oneself? Is faith a situation or a process? Is there a believing type? Does humanity have a need to believe? Does belief stand in opposition to doubt? Are we still believers?

Each morning featured world-class shiurim on Dilemmas of Faith: God and Spirituality in the Modern World, with Donniel Hartman, Yehuda Kurtzer, Micah Goodman, Moshe Halbertal, Melila Hellner-Eshed, and Israel Knohl. In order to prepare for these superb lectures, we studied wonderful collections of sources in “hevruta” style in pairs or small groups for 2 hours each morning.

A wide variety of afternoon electives was also offered by outstanding Shalom Hartman Institute faculty as well as visiting scholars, including Elisha Ancselovits, Blu Greenberg, Yitz Greenberg, Rachel Korazim, Benyamin Lau, Michael Marmur, and Avivah Zornberg.  I was able to study the book of Jeremiah with Rabbi Beni Lau, which was an inspiring experience.

This was a great experience for me to recharge my intellectual and spiritual batteries. It was  a real gift. Much credit goes to the administrative and pedagogic staff of the Shalom Institute for a job well done, enriching the lives of so many colleagues.

Ron Kronish