Studying scripture provides common ground

Analyzing three psalms for everything from the Hebrew roots of words to their Kabbalah symbolism, 30 students from Jewish and Christian groups on campus came together yesterday in the Slifka dining area to discuss scripture.

The participants offered various interpretations of lines from Psalms 23, 149 and 150, segments of the Bible applicable to members of either faith. Each psalm was read in several translations, including the original Hebrew. Chaplain Sang Yun, a member of the Yale Students for Christ, and Rabbi Lina Nancy Grazier-Zerbarini, a member of Yale Hillel, helped moderate the discussion, organized by the Yale Students for Christ, the Yale Christian Fellowship and Yale Hillel.

“It gives voice to the questions we ask, to have this direct venue with God as a person,” Yun said.

During the dinner, students and faculty analyzed Hebrew roots of key words in the psalms. In their comments, students referred to the Kabbalah and the significance of how God is addressed in each passage. Students spoke of the historical significance of several symbols in the text and shared personal experiences with the psalms.

“Psalms reflect the very real, very physical presence of God, through the use of symbolism and anthropomorphic imagery,” Grazier-Zerbarini said.

The discussion is the first in a series that will be offered once a week next semester, as a continuation of a similar weekly event was held during second semester last year. Rebekah Emanuel ’06, one of the organizers, said that the group was significantly smaller last year, averaging only ten participants each week. Jen Thomson, an associate at the Chaplain’s Office, said such interfaith conversations are uncommon but necessary.

“It’s really unique, gatherings like this don’t happen often,” Thomson said. “There can be animosity between our two faiths, yet we do have a lot in common.”

Yun said he believes it is important for Christians to better understand the Torah, the portion of the Bible called the Old Testament in Christianity.

“To call it the Old Testament from a Christian point of view delegates Hebrew scripture to a secondary level,” Yun said. “For me, I feel that sometimes I lack the depth perception in speaking of it.”

Last year the group did a line by line reading of the original texts of Genesis. Emanuel said they have not yet decided what the topics for next semester will be. Molly Zeff ’07, an event organizer, said they may continue to finish the lines of Genesis next semester and move on to Exodus.

“We chose Psalms because we wanted to start with something non-controversial,” Zeff said. “It does not require an intense religious background, you can read it like a poem in an English class.”

Evelyn Tang ’07 said it was great to see people share so many common interpretations and experiences with one another.

“It’s amazing how we are all different yet dependent on one another,” Tang said.

Zeff said there are no concrete plans for the next semester, but she said she hopes it will continue to be casual and comfortable for everyone who wishes to join.

“It’s not meant to be formal or like a class,” Zeff said. “But just a fun and great way to connect with people of a different faith.”

Several students from Jewish and Christian groups gathered at Slifka Center to discuss scripture and common aspects between the two faiths.
Sophie Perl
Several students from Jewish and Christian groups gathered at Slifka Center to discuss scripture and common aspects between the two faiths.

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