Beth David’s monthly Luncheon Speaker Series will resume in person on Saturday, November 12, and is scheduled to take place the second Saturday of each month after Shabbat morning services, except for when Shabbat is a holiday. The November guest speaker will be Professor Randy Friedman of Binghamton University’s Judaic Studies Department, whose talk is titled “It is Not in Heaven” and is based on a talmudic tale taken from the Bava Metzia tractate. The luncheon and speaker take place after Shabbat morning services and are open to the community. People are encouraged to attend the morning service, which will begin at 9:30 am. There is no charge for the luncheon.
“I will be dealing with the famous story of the oven of Akhnai (Bava Metzia 59b),” Friedman says. “Like many passages in rabbinic writing that are open to interpretation and where the arguments are often at loggerheads, this one is no exception. In this particular tale, we deal with a dispute between a group of rabbis and God, in which God ‘admits’ that the majority of rabbis, and not God, should determine halachah [Jewish religious law].
After reading through the story of the other rabbis’ refusal of Rabbi Eliezer’s ruling and ultimately of the Divine intervention in support of Rabbi Eliezer, Friedman will discuss issues that the tale raises, including the nature of revelation, religious law, interpretation and authority. “This passage is of particular interest to me,” Friedman continues, “because, as far as Jewish religious law is concerned, it opens the door to both fundamentalism and progressivism, depending on who the rabbis are.”
Friedman majored in philosophy at Yale University, where he earned his undergraduate degree in 1993. He spent the following three years at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in the Department of Philosophy. In 2005, he was awarded his Ph.D. from Brown University’s Department of Religious Studies. He has been teaching at Binghamton University since 2005 in the Department of Judaic Studies, with a specialization in the philosophy of religion, and has also taught in the Department of Philosophy. Since 2013, he is an associate professor of Judaic studies and comparative literature. As of 2015, he also holds the position of director of the Center for Israel Studies, housed in Binghamton University’s Department of Judaic Studies. He and Brenda Schlaen have lived in Binghamton for 17 years, and are the parents of Ellie, Mika and Zohar, all former students of Hillel Academy. Friedman also serves on the boards of the Jewish Federation of Greater Binghamton and Temple Israel.
“Those of us who have heard Randy Friedman speak before already know what a gifted teacher he is, with that special talent of making all subjects engaging and thought-provoking,” organizers say. “His talk at the first in-person luncheon speaker series is sure to generate a lively discussion!”
Since the monthly series’ continuation depends on the generosity of contributors, Beth David welcomes and appreciates donations to the Luncheon Fund in order to keep the program going. Donations as well as sponsorships can be made in honor of or in memory of someone, or to mark a special occasion. Those wishing an acknowledgment to be sent to the person being honored, or to the family of someone being remembered, can indicate that, along with the necessary information. Donations can be sent to Beth David Synagogue, 39 Riverside Dr., Binghamton, NY 13905, Attention: Luncheon Fund.