But last night undergraduates quizzed their teachers on a more personal subject.
For the roundtable discussion called “Jewish in 2007,” some 60 people gathered at Hillel to hear Law School Professor Alan M. Dershowitz, former Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71, and Professor Stephen A. Marglin talk about how they have merged their intellectual and spiritual lives.
In Dershowitz’s case, the famed law professor claims that he hasn’t.
A self-described “agnostic at best,” Dershowitz was the first to explain the nuances of his “secular, perverse, and confrontational” Judaism.
“I am absolutely sure that there is no God who writes Bibles and answers human prayers,” Dershowitz said. “The God I don’t believe in is very much the Jewish God.”
Organizer Asher A. Fredman ’08 said he hoped the discussion, part of a week of events called “Jewbilation,” would give students a chance to reflect on the role of Judaism in their lives.
During the talk, Marglin reinforced Dershowitz’s emphasis on personal choice in religious practice.
“We all have to make our own decisions in light of our own histories and exceptions,” he said.
Dershowitz defended his controversial public persona as a staunch supporter of Israel.
“Because I am a Zionist, and my last name is Dershowitz, which rhymes with Wolfowitz, I am perceived as extremely right-wing,” he said.
He lamented the fact that “it is no longer in or sexy or cool to be viewed as a Zionist.”
Dershowitz also commented on what he perceives as “an increase of anti-Zionism, bordering on anti-semitism—an increase in everything anti-Israel.”
Marglin also considers himself to be culturally Jewish, but his beliefs make him a “secular humanist.”
He added that he continued to practice Judaism for the sense of community it provides.
“Through Judaism, I learned that I could be something other than a self-interested individual, that I could be a member of a community, a link in a chain that went from family to clan to village,” Marglin said.
“This was something that nothing had prepared me for: not my upbringing nor my work at Harvard,” he said.
Gross echoed Marglin’s words, saying, “What I feel most powerfully about being Jewish is being a member of a community.”
“This community has sustained me throughout much of my life,” Gross said.
CORRECTION: The Nov. 7 news article "Profs Discuss Jewish Identity" incorrectly referred to economics professor Stephen A. Marglin as Margolin in some instances. The original version of this article has been changed to correct these errors.