A group of Jewish students met Monday night to mark Thanksgiving with a religious twist, examining and reciting chapters from the Book of Psalms. The program, entitled "Tehillim Across the University," featured a discussion with University Chaplain William Gipson and Shalom Holtz, a graduate student in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, and concluded with a communal reading of the Psalms. According to Hillel Religious Life Committee Co-chairperson Joshua Wilkenfeld, a College junior, people tend to think of Thanksgiving only in terms of family gatherings and turkey dinners. "The holiday is often treated as a secular vehicle, while we were trying to emphasize that Thanksgiving can be celebrated in a Jewish way," he said. One such way, he noted, is through the recitation of Psalms, which mean "tehillim" in Hebrew. At the program, Gipson and Holtz pointed out the many functions of Psalms in both Christianity and Judaism. According to Gipson, Psalms in Christianity "allow for the devout to [engage] a lived experience." Holtz, who also delivers a weekly Bible lecture through Hillel, described the Psalms in Judaism as providing a language for prayer, both as text of the prayer order and as reference for much of the rabbinic-formulated prayers. Holtz also stressed the merits of the Psalms as a literary work, complete with poetic tools like metaphor and occasional meter and acrostics. They also serve functions beyond prayer, he said. The group discussion addressed the diverse theological and literary elements of the Psalms with a specific focus on Psalms 23 and 88. Holtz selected those two as representatives of "ends of the spectrum" of the Psalms. Psalm 23, known for the phrase "God is my shepherd/I shall not want," is an example of praise. Psalm 88, conversely, is a strong "complaint." In a lively discussion, students characterized Psalm 23 as exuding a feeling of extreme confidence in God. The narrator, a metaphoric sheep in the Psalm's opening, expresses the utmost trust that God's "staff and rod will comfort" him, even in the narrow straits of the valley of the shadow of death. Frequently recited at both Jewish and Christian funerals as well as the third meal of every Jewish Sabbath, the Psalm expresses confidence in the face of adversity. Psalm 88, however, was used last night as an example of an extremely desperate plea of suffering, in which the narrator prays to God to no longer isolate or ignore him. Holtz noted that while the Psalm is not recited at fixed times in contemporary religious observance, its introductory verse indicates that it was indeed sung in Biblical times. Gipson mentioned a personal experience in which he witnessed a Vanderbilt University professor direct a distraught student to seek comfort in the recital of such "complaint" Psalms.Comments powered by Disqus
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