‘Dangerous religious ideas’ inspire visiting Temple scholar

Rabbi Rachel S. Mikva
Rabbi Rachel S. Mikva

Religious ideas can be used both constructively and destructively, says Rabbi Rachel S. Mikva, Ph.D., the upcoming Rabbi Albert T. Bilgray scholar-in-residence at Temple Emanu-El. Mikva aims to encourage critical thinking about “Dangerous Religious Ideas” in the 29th Bilgray Memorial Lectureship series from Feb. 5 to 7, in collaboration with the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies and the University of Arizona Hillel Foundation.

Serving as the Herman Schaalman Chair in Judaic Studies and director of the Center for Jewish, Christian and Islamic Studies at the Chicago Theological Seminary, Mikva teaches an interdisciplinary course on the three Abrahamic faiths. She hopes students will learn that “their own religious ideas can be dangerous too, not just somebody else’s.”

The center’s goal is to train religious leaders in a multicultural society to build interreligious understanding through study, social justice and collaborative engagement, she says.

A graduate of Stanford University, Mikva received her Ph.D. from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2008, after serving as a congregational rabbi for 13 years. She is the editor of “Broken Tablets: Restoring the Ten Commandments and Ourselves” (Jewish Lights, 1999), and the author of “Midrash vaYosha: A Medieval Mid­rash on the Song at the Sea” (Mohr Siebeck, 2012) and many articles.

Mikva’s first Tuc­son lecture, “Dangerous Religious Ideas,” will take place on Thursday, Feb. 5 at 7 p.m. at the UA Hillel Foundation, 1245 E. 2nd Ave.

“Reward and Punishment: How We Distort the Biblical Perspectives on Justice” will be her second topic on Friday, Feb. 6 at Temple Emanu-El’s Shabbat service at 7:30 p.m.

Mikva will address “You Shall Not Commit Adultery: Does God Belong in the Bedroom?” at Temple’s Rabbi’s Tish on Saturday, Feb. 7 at noon.

The book she’s currently working on — “you guessed it,” she says — is titled “Dangerous Religious Ideas: A History of Scriptural Exegesis and its Impact in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.” It begins with a provocative quote by Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu monk who died in 1902:

The most intense love that humanity has ever known has come from religion, and the most diabolical hatred that humanity has known has also come from religion. The noblest words of peace that the world has ever heard have come from men on the religious plane, and the bitterest denunciation that the world has ever known has been uttered by religious men. … No other human motive has deluged the world with blood so much as religion; at the same time, nothing has brought into existence so many hospitals and asylums for the poor; no other human influence has taken such care, not only of humanity, but also of the lowest of animals, as religion has done. Nothing makes us so cruel as religion, and nothing makes us so tender as religion. This has been so in the past, and will also, in all probability, be so in the future.”

By having this straightforward conversation about how any religion “can be interpreted in different ways,” says Mikva, “I’m trying to improve the religious camp, not abandon it like in the new atheist camp where every bad thing is attributed to religion.”