Saturday, 2 October 2010

A further (Jewish) critical thought on the Oxford Psalms Conference

In my last post I shared some critical thoughts about the recent Oxford Psalms conference. Given that I'm a Christian and one of my issues with the logic of the conference had to do with that fact, I'm delighted that a Jewish friend of mine shared her critical thoughts on the matter in response to the post. She wasn't present for various reasons, but one of them will become clear in her comments (which I post with permission):
I'd like to add my own pesky little issue here which has less to do with the content (although ultimately it most likely does) but rather the organization of the conference. If it was the intention of the organizers to foster a dialogue between communities I do wonder what prompted them to schedule the conference exactly on one of the important Jewish festivals, i.e. Sukkot? By this scheduling blunder they effectively excluded and silenced one particular segment of the Jewish academic and clerical community (namely the Orthodox). I do realize that there were some Jewish participants; however these would not represent, speak for and from that particular segment which is also part of the larger Jewish group. This is interesting because it is exactly that absent group that takes the Psalter (or they would prefer Sefer Tehillim) very seriously as a living tradition, both in liturgy as well as in individual petionary prayer. So, as far as the organizers are concerned – for the umpteenth time in comparable circumstances: it’s their loss. Sad thing though is, they probably don’t even realize that they did suffer a loss and will whisk it away as an irrelevant irritant….
This fact was pointed out at the conference, for which the organizers apologized. I'm not sure of the reasoning, but I think there were organizational complications that couldn't be avoided. However, given that the explicit agenda of the conference was to encourage a mutual "moving beyond" differences in Christian and Jewish exegesis, the absence of an incredibly significant segment of the Jewish population - a segment which stands in most continuity with the traditions that define Judaism - seriously limits the conference's capacity to make progress on its stated goals.

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