“Are you going to introduce yourself as ‘rabbi’?” she asked.
“Nah,” I responded. “I’m not a rabbi yet. Could I say ‘rabbinical student?’”
“But you’re almost a rabbi, right?” she responded.
“Well, yeah. But ordination’s still in a couple of months. I’m a Schusterman Rabbinical Fellow… so ‘rabbinical fellow?’”
It’s not everyday that I have the chance to kibitz with a television producer (even one from the warm and welcoming Odyssey Networks), and certainly not before getting on camera. Even less likely was this particular occasion: filming shorts for the new season of the Game Show Network’s hit American Bible Challenge.
The show appeals to a broad base, but I sensed that it was far more geared toward a Christian audience. Not to mention, of course, the fact that it engages discussions of both the Torah and Christian Bible.
Yet there I was, a future rabbi, sharing why I decided to go to rabbinical school and about Judaism more broadly.
And the show is about to get a whole lot more religiously diverse in the next few weeks. This season, three rabbis, known by their team name as “The Rockin’ Rabbis” (Philip Weintraub of Newburgh, New York, Jeffrey Abraham of Nyack, New York, and Eve Eichenholtz of Roslyn Heights, New York) will be competing for up to $140,000.
To my knowledge, it will be the first time the show has had a rabbi, much less a trio of rabbis, competing.
Some might look at their participation as good fun. Others, as a publicity stunt. Still others as the chance for interfaith dialogue (in a most unusual setting!).
But the presence of the new rabbinical team might point to a different phenomenon altogether: an interest on the part of some Jews in reading the Christian bible. Far from an exercise in assimilation, it stems from the increased recognition that embedded within Christian texts are kernels of wisdom about early rabbinic Judaism.
If Jesus was a rabbi, then he and his followers would likely exhibit traits similar to those of other rabbis and their discipleship circles. In learning about one early rabbi (albeit a unique one, whose followers eventually split from the rabbinic tradition), we as Jews might gain insight into our own tradition. While some of us still experience surface tension in reading the sacred texts of other traditions, concern associated with reading the Christian Bible may be decreasing.
With animosity quite low between Jews and Christians in the United States, Jews may grow increasingly comfortable with the insights they gain from Christian texts, even as they recognize the differences inherent to them.
If this trend continues, I wouldn’t be surprised if another team of rabbis or Jewish lay leaders winds up on The American Bible Challenge!
Hopefully, future contestants from our community will be just as menschy. The Rockin Rabbis won’t be pocketing any money if they win. Instead, they plan to donate their winnings to the UJA Federation of New York’ s Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund.