“EMU was blessed with a visit from Rabbi Niles Goldstein on Tuesday, Oct. 29. In conversation, class discussion, and his evening presentation, Rabbi Goldstein presented a winsome picture of Jewish spirituality as humane, open-minded, and passionate.” commented Ted Grimsrud, EMU’s Professor of Theology and Peace Studies.
Goldstein is a potential candidate for a visiting scholar position through the Center for Interfaith Engagement. Goldstein has published numerous books and written essays and articles in Newsweek and the Los Angeles Times and featured in major national publications including Time, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.
He was the founding rabbi of The New Shul in Manhattan, New York, where he served for over a decade.
On Tuesday, he spoke to Justin Poole’s Playwriting & Screenwriting, as well as Grimsrud’s Contemporary Theology students.
Tuesday evening, Goldstein spoke about a course for the spring semester, Spiritual Writing and Spiritual Writers, which would cover a variety of traditions including devotional and confessional writings and feature authors including: Judah Halevi, Rumi, Søren Kierkegaard, Augustine and Thomas Merton.
Goldstein spoke of his early years as a writer and the influence of being in an interfaith setting while working on “the great American novel”, which was -“thankfully”, he says- never published.
He describes the unpublished novel as having been formative in directing him towards rabbinical studies and as a cathartic spiritual act.
CIE Research Fellow John Fairfield reciprocated, “I’d never thought about how the ‘Great American non- Fiction’ that I’m perennially working on might not be an attempt to communicate to the world, but rather a spiritual discipline clarifying my own thinking about life, for internal consumption.”
Goldstein added that the course would provide time for students to work on their own spiritual writing. Senior Andrea de Avila Balboa responded, “I loved how he embraces mystery in his theology. Even when we are from different religions, I was able to deeply identify with his approach of Scripture and even Christ!”
Goldstein is the author of the Quill award finalist book, “Gonzo Judaism,” the title pays homage to Hunter S.Thompson and Newsweek, describes the book as ‘Fear and Loathing on the Torah Trail’.
His most recent book, “The challenge of the soul,” focuses on eight characteristics to approach life with discipline, discernment and self-determination.
Comparative Monotheisms will also be offered in the spring discussing the three Abrahamic religions. Goldstein will co-teach this course in the spring, along with Dr. Amir Akrami, EMU’s visiting Islamic scholar, and Reuben Shank, a Mennonite scholar finishing his Phd. at the University of Virginia.
Senior Evan Knappenberger commented, “Rabbi Goldstein, like Dr. Akrami, has a unique perspective on the Anabaptist ways, and they will both hopefully challenge us in new and unique ways. I think their classes are worth some schedule-re-arranging, and I plan on taking several of them.”
Whether Goldstein will join EMU next semester has not been decided but his invitation into understanding the Hebrew Bible and contemporary Jewish life would be a welcome addition to a campus so diverse.
Ted Grimsrud observed, “Perhaps my favorite insight from Niles was his sense of God as present, involved, enlivening in this world we live in, not distant, wholly other, controlling, and impersonal.”
-Jacob Lester, Staff Writer
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