Rabbi Jack Bemporad in Rome: Reflections on the Hebrew Prophets

Rabbi Jack Bemporad, beloved professor of interreligious studies and Judaism, was welcomed to Rome this May of 2023 to offer academic lectures, meet this year’s Russell Berrie Fellows, and connect with friends and former students from around Italy and the world. 

Rabbi Jack’s two public lectures focused on the Hebrew Prophets—of special significance to Rabbi Jack, who in his first teaching position in Rome at the North American College, taught a course on the Hebrew Prophets.

“The Decisive Significance of the Book of Amos for Understanding the Literary Prophets in the Hebrew Bible” was held on May 17 at the Centro Pro Unione. Rabbi Jack discussed the Prophet Amos’ rejection of sacrifice, a critical point in positioning the human’s relationship to the divine. “Morality is the way to God,” said Rabbi Jack during the lecture, “God is a moral deity…You don’t get to God through sacrifices.” 

A week later, the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas hosted Rabbi Jack’s second lecture, titled: “Virtue in the Hebrew Prophets: Some Theological Reflections.” Rabbi Jack emphasized the fact that “the prophets spoke at times of incessant war”—times that resulted in large numbers of widows, orphans, outcasts, strangers, and more. Within the context of war, the Hebrew Prophets, Rabbi Jack says, oriented themselves around “organizing principles” such as peace, compassion, mercy, and love.

“The Hebrew Prophets are the first to sustain that God cannot be bribed with sacrifices—virtue does not consist in sacrifices or burnt offerings but in morality,” reflects Russell Berrie Fellow Sr. Geraldine Anugwem (Cohort XV, Nigeria), “Some of the virtues which many of the Hebrew Prophets hold up for emulation are: kindness to the needy, benevolence, faith, compassion for the suffering, a peace-loving disposition, and a truly humble and contrite spirit.”

With these lectures, Rabbi Jack hoped to continue to open students up to literature they might not otherwise be exposed to and was pleased when several audience members left his lecture wanting to read the Book of Amos. 

“Part of my work is to help students contextualize parts of the liturgy that aren’t in the spirit of Vatican II,” explains Rabbi Jack. In this vein, the Russell Berrie Fellowship has intentionally offered a wide variety of Jewish perspectives to its Fellows: courses by Rabbi Jack alongside those by Profs. Menachem Lorberbaum, Noam Zion, Israel Knohl, and other Jewish scholars as well as the annual Study Tour in Israel. 

“It was a joy to finally get to meet Rabbi Jack and hear him speak in person,” shares Liz Langan, Russell Berrie Fellow (Cohort XV, USA), “He always offers unique perspectives that help us expand our thinking, this time especially in the area of biblical morality and virtue.”