In May, the DePaul University College of Law Center for Jewish Law & Judaic Studies (JLJS) held its Interactive Law Symposium entitled "A Comparative Analysis of Law through Biblical, Talmudic and Scholarly Texts." As the only law school center in the Midwest dedicated to promoting Jewish scholarship, JLJS is in a unique position to advance multi-disciplinary Jewish education from a broad spectrum of perspectives.
This was evident at the Symposium, where attendees were able to attend lectures by notable Jewish scholars from around the country on a variety of subjects, including the intersection between rabbinical courts and secular courts, a comparison of Jewish and legal ethics, Jewish law perspectives on reporting child sexual abuse to secular authorities, and women's issues related to Jewish traditions.
The Symposium culminated with a keynote lecture by Rabbi Capers Funnye, Jr., rabbi and spiritual leader of Beth Shalom B'nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation (one of the largest African-American congregations in America), about "Anti-Semitism on the College Campus and Free Speech."
Pointing to San Francisco State University and other universities that have become havens for anti-Israel and, at times, anti-Semitic behavior, Rabbi Funnye warned against the growing potential for the development of the "uncivil university" wherein hate-speech is fomented and inflammatory tactics reign free. He railed against universities where anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism is not only tolerated, but allowed to flourish because he believes college campuses are not the place for extremist views or hate speech. He urged universities and colleges to balance academic freedom with academic responsibility, and argued that faculty should serve as examples of how to communicate cordially while maintaining both professionalism and professorship.
"Teaching and research must be free of politics and propaganda," and academic openness, with the ability to dissent, hear both sides, keep an open mind and even, perhaps, change one's mind, is crucial to maintaining a civil university, according to Funnye.
Citing that Jewish groups, including the JUF's Jewish Community Relations Council, have made great strides in interfaith relations, Funnye argued that to "affect a greater understanding of the State of Israel, we must reach out to the leadership in other communities." He stated that it is up to Jews to demonstrate to the Latino and African American communities, among others, the importance of the relationship between America and Israel.
Funnye also encouraged the Jewish community to expand its understanding of "who is a Jew" and lauded Israel for being a haven for people from around the world, including African Jews. Rabbi Funnye stated, "The Jew is neither white as Ashkenazi, nor black as Ethiopian. When we as Jews embrace that idea, then kol Yisrael arevim ze b'ze (all of Israel is responsible for one another) will occur." He closed by encouraging greater inclusiveness amongst Jews, and said, "We must recognize diversity among the Jewish people."
Stephanie R. Dykeman is the director of Domestic Affairs for the Jewish Community Relations Council. She is also an advisory board member of the DePaul University College of Law Center for Jewish Law & Judaic Studies.