THE ORANGE COUNTY Community Scholars Program (CSP) has been running for 16 years, and in the process, has brought a wide range of Jewish and Israeli speakers to a variety of Orange County-area synagogues and Jewish spaces. This year’s speaker was Professor David B. Ruderman, the Joseph Meyerhoff Professor of Modern Jewish History and formally Ella Darivoff Director of the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. During January, he delivered a series of lectures entitled, “Jewish History, Jewish Thought: A Journey through Space and Time.”
David Ruderman was the son of a reform Rabbi, and at an early age became involved in Young Judaea. He went on to become a reform Rabbi himself, and earned a PhD from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “As an undergrad, I became interested in the early modern period,” he said, “Later I found that I loved writing books, teaching undergraduates and graduate students, and building institutions of higher learning.”
His series of 21 lectures addressed topics such as God and nature in relation to kabbalah and science, Jewish-Christian relations, and the “messianic impulse” enshrined in Jewish history and tradition. Professor Ruderman noted that, “while they’re scattered across Orange County and at different times, because the bulk of the lectures stand alone, people can pick the theme they’re most interested in and attend however many they like.”
Although each lecture could be appreciated individually, some were clustered together according to themes. One such mini-series addressed “Debates that Shaped Jewish Thinking and their Contemporary Significance.” The first pitted Judah Ha-Levi – a Spanish-Jewish philosopher and poet – against the heavyweight Jewish theologian and fellow Spaniard, Moses Maimonides. In another of the cluster, Professor Ruderman analyzed “Three Moments in the History of Jewish-Christian Relations.” The second of the trio focused on “The Christian Discovery of the Rabbis and the Mishna in 18th century England.”
“Some of the lectures are very esoteric,” Professor Ruderman confessed, “and I don’t speak down to my audience. I’m giving lectures that I would give to students at any university.” Despite this, his lectures rarely saw less than 40-50 people, among them a committed, core group of consistent attendees.
“Prof. Ruderman’s series demonstrated the extent to which Jewish ideas influenced early Renaissance thinkers,” said Edward Heyman, a member of the core group. “He made us examine our preconceptions about how history has been taught to us in the past.”
Both Professor Ruderman and Edward Heyman heaped praise on the Community Scholars Program, and specifically one of the program’s founders and Chair, Arie Katz. “I give a lot of credit to Arie and his associates who have worked so hard on behalf of serious learning,” said Professor Ruderman, “and it shows in the hospitable and enthusiastic audience that has consistently shown up.”
“The genius behind CSP is Arie’s use of lectures and cultural programming to build community,” Heyman said, “ He intentionally spreads events out to Jewish venues across Orange County; those of us able to attend many events get to see and meet people from synagogues throughout the region, places and people we might not ordinarily encounter if all the lectures were in a single place. The speakers get this, and frequently comment on how unique and special Orange County is for having CSP. They see the effect Arie’s programs have on the community as well as spreading scholarship.”
If you missed any of Professor David B. Ruderman’s illuminating lectures, you can hear them all – as well as past OCCSP speakers – at http://podcast.occsp.org/. A
Perry Fein is a writer and contributing editor to Jlife magazine.