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Nowadays, there is my news and your news, your truth and my truth, and consensus about facts is increasingly elusive. Even the university, once the place where young minds pursued “veritas,” is more likely today to teach its students the postmodern prioritization of subjectivity over objectivity, discourse over reality, perspective over universal truth. Against this backdrop, HUC-JIR Symposium 2 will explore the various ways in which contemporary Jews–especially liberal Jews–grapple with the concept of the truth.
Marc Brettler, Ph.D., Duke University
Christine Hayes, Ph.D., Yale University
David Makovsky, Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Rabbi Dalia Marx, Ph.D., HUC-JIR
Rabbi Geoffrey A. Mitelman, Sinai and Synapses
Benjamin D. Sommer, Ph.D., The Jewish Theological Seminary
Rabbi Dvora Weisberg, Ph.D., HUC-JIR
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, Ph.D., Valley Beit Midrash
*As of January 29, 2018. List in formation.
On October 17, 2005, comedian Stephen Colbert famously offered up the term “truthiness” to satirically expose attempts, especially by politicians, to pass off assertions as true despite their patent falseness. “Who’s Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914?” his conservative persona quipped. “If I want to say it happened in 1941, that’s my right!” Colbert specifically targeted certain unsubstantiated claims about the war in Iraq, but the “truthiness” term spoke to a broader anxiety among American viewers about the status of truth in contemporary society that speaks even louder today. What was emerging as a problem in 2005 has now become a full-blown epistemological crisis. A nation founded on self-evident truths seems now to esteem truth less and less with each passing day. Politics today is more about crafting narratives or enacting spin than wrestling with facts. News media of all stripes slant and package party arguments, in some cases even propagating so-called fake news for financial gain. Nowadays, there is my news and your news, your truth and my truth, and consensus about facts is increasingly elusive. Even the university, once the place where young minds pursued “veritas,” is more likely today to teach its students the postmodern prioritization of subjectivity over objectivity, discourse over reality, perspective over universal truth.
Against this backdrop, HUC-JIR Symposium 2 will explore the various ways in which contemporary Jews—especially liberal Jews—grapple with the concept of the truth. Historically, of course, Judaism presented itself as a possessor of the truth revealed to the Israelites at Mt. Sinai and preserved for posterity in torat emet, the Torah of truth. Jews prayed daily to a God of emet (truth) as well of emunah (faith). Liberal Jews, however, no longer seem so sure of these truths and assertions of faith. A revised understanding of Judaism, its history and its texts, has led many liberal Jews to interrogate particular religious truths and convictions in the light of competing values of pluralism, universalism, and personal conviction.
The symposium will therefore pose challenging questions, asking first and foremost whether the truth, in any universal sense, remains a worthwhile concept in America, in general, and in liberal Judaism, in particular. If so, on what grounds might liberal Jews lay claim to the truth? Is the Torah still a source of truth? If so, in what sense? Does our prayer book speak the truth, and by extension, our theology? What role does the truth play when liberal Jews engage with more traditional Jews or with practitioners of other faith traditions and their competing claims about issues of ultimate concern? How does one reconcile pluralistic commitments and the ideal of freedom of speech with a desire to maintain integrity and morality in public discourse? As leaders in the Jewish community, engaged with matters of current events and communal concern, are there absolute truths or inviolable standards upon which we can agree? Together we will mine the resources of our tradition and of current thinking to address this pressing current concern--to cut through the truthiness and take hold of some real, enduring values.
Please contact us at Symposium2@huc.edu.