Scholar in Residence Weekend Presentations: Faith and Force: Religion, War, and Peace

Faith and Foxholes: Religion in the Military

A presentation combining history and policy with anecdotes and personal experiences that provide a glimpse into the role of the chaplain and the challenges and opportunities facing personnel who want to be loyal to their faith at the same time they are loyal to their country.

Church and State issues, including the Constitutional guarantee of “free exercise of religion,” have led to the current Department of Defense policy to support religious free exercise to the greatest extent possible–given the military situation.  On the other hand, the so-called “separation of Church and State” constantly raises questions about the limits of support the government or the military can provide–including the legitimacy of the Chaplain Corps itself.

This presentation is appreciated by congregants across the board: those with little knowledge of the military chaplaincy–or the military itself–or those with past military experience,  who are often fascinated by the sweeping changes in the military of today.  A number of factors, including the change to a volunteer military, Church-and-State decisions in both military and civilian courts, and the Department of Defense emphasis on Quality of Life (especially in today’s largely “married military”), have had an impact on policies and decisions in every area of military life.

This is a presentation filled with serious information, and yet also filled with warmth and humor, focusing on the real people in today’s military.  It is a perfect talk for a Friday evening, laying the groundwork for the rest of the weekend.

(Scholar in Residence weekend: Recommended for Friday night)

Swords and Plowshares: Jewish Views of War and Peace

This presentation combines Jewish sources–Bible, Talmud, and Codes–with personal experiences in combat settings from Vietnam — to Beirut — to Bosnia — and beyond.

This talk provides a Jewish approach to decisions regarding responses to the threat of violence and evil in our world.  It looks at sources in the Jewish tradition that compel us to “seek peace and pursue it,” in possible tension with those that command us “not to stand idly by the blood of our neighbor.”

This presentation stresses the idea that a firm view of reality must give our decisions foundation, but at the same time the Jewish dreams of peace must give those decisions–and our actions–direction.

This presentation contain a good deal of historic Jewish scholarship, but those ideas are tested against real-life experiences.  Understanding how ancient ideas withstand the test of battle helps us as we try to make decisions for the future based on–or at least touched by–Jewish values.

(Scholar in Residence weekend: Recommended for Saturday morning or lunch)

Dreams from Nightmares: The Jewish Way to Remember

Judaism stresses the command: “zachor” — remember.  And yet Elie Wiesel, in many ways the Jewish poet of remembrance, returned from a trip to the former Yugoslavia with the impression that memory was too often the problem, not the solution:  too many times, people based their decisions — and staked their emotions — on memories of whose grandfather killed whose grandfather.  And so the cycle of hatred continues, paving the way for the cycle of violence it supports.

This tension between the power of memory for good and the danger of memory for evil establishes the framework for this presentation.  Like all sessions over the weekend, this talk focuses on issues that are extremely serious, but manages to introduce a good deal of humor along the way.

This is a presentation that can help congregants understand the Jewish approach to memory: a challenge for the individual–and for a people.  It is a good ending for a weekend, because it deals with questions–and challenges–that face us all.

(Scholar in Residence weekend: Recommended for Saturday afternoon/evening or Sunday morning)

Interfaith Relations: From Diatribe to Dialogue — and Beyond

A lecture on interfaith relations covering (1) challenges, (2) “rules” (“rules of engagement”), and (3) goals — based on four decades of interfaith experience.

Consider coordinating this lecture as a special co-sponsored community event, involving other synagogues and churches, local interfaith councils, universities, JCCs, or your local Federation.

An extraordinarily important topic for our times!

(Scholar in Residence weekend: Special alternative lecture)

If this is the first time that Rabbi Resnicoff has visited, it is strongly recommended that you plan a weekend based on the presentations listed above.¬†These are crafted to give a balance of information and experience–and seriousness and humor. However, there are many additional topics that might be addressed either as part of a weekend or as a one-time presentation.

The following represents a partial listing:

  • Between the Commandments: Struggling with the Values Behind the Commandments
  • Yom HaShoa:  Teaching the Four Children to Remember
  • Terrorist Nightmares and Jewish Dreams: Ethical Responses to Terrorism
  • Leadership: Military Lessons–not just for military leaders!    
  • The Three Israels: People, Faith, and Land (An introduction to Judaism)
  • Not Slaves, But Not Gods: The Lessons of Jewish Holy Days
  • Religious Accommodation: The Military Approach
  • Military Core Values: How They Work — or Should
  • The Seder Behind the Seder: A Passover Workshop

Media Selection:

  • Interview (Veterans History Project, Library of Congress, 2010) (video)

See also Rabbi Resnicoff’s Writings and Prayers