One of the major challenges that I have always faced in my classes is the gap between the academic approach to religion and student expectations. We examine texts and scholarly interpretations in class but at the end of the day many students also want to know how “most” Jews might approach the topic. Frequently, what they really want to do is to talk to a rabbi, ask questions for which they already have scholarly responses, and compare the answers. One solution to this gap is of course simply to bring a rabbi into class, but logistically and pedagogically that often poses challenges, especially when a clergy member coming from one denomination or perspective attempts to offer global answers.
In order to address this issue, a few years ago I set out to collect video clips of rabbis from different denominations (as well as other, non-Jewish clergy) answering a variety of questions. I precirculated the list of questions—all designed around my anticipated teaching needs over the next few years in a variety of courses—and then with the help of a video team supplied by the university went to their offices and conducted an interview that usually lasted about an hour. I ended up interviewing five clergy members, creating about seven hours of raw video footage in digital form. The university’s technicians cleaned the footage and marked transition points.
For a public sample of how I used these clips to create a short video on why people enter the clergy, see the video “Serving God” on YouTube:
When I am teaching a topic, I am now able to quickly find the relevant video clips for each of the clergy, and using image software on my desktop computer, splice together answers. When we are talking, for example, about the meaning of prayer, or abortion, I can then integrate this ten-minute clip into the class, usually either at the beginning or toward the end. This allows me to give “faith” a voice but to do so in a controlled manner.