About me
Marcie Lenk
Dr. Marcie Lenk

How does a nice Jewish girl from the Modern Orthodox community of Teaneck, New Jersey become a lecturer on the subjects of Hebrew Bible, Talmud, New Testament, Patristics and Early Christianity, and Jewish-Christian relations? How did I move from an enclosed world of American Orthodox Jews to a Jerusalem where I connect with Jews, Christians and Muslims in a land called home by Jews and Palestinians?

As a child and young adult I was encouraged to view my Jewish education (Hebrew, Bible, Prayer, Talmud, Jewish History and Literature) as at least as important as my general education (English, Mathematics, History, Science).

A Jewish Teacher of Judaism to Jews

I was taught that being a Jew meant understanding our traditions and being able to transmit them to other Jews in order to protect those traditions from adversaries (especially Christians) who historically either wanted to kill or convert Jews.

Committed to sharing the privilege of my Jewish education with others, I became a teacher of Hebrew Bible and Talmud in the early 1980s, a time when only a handful of women had been allowed to acquire the skills to read, understand, and interpret these ancient Hebrew and Aramaic texts. At the same time, I experienced disappointment when many Orthodox Jewish rabbis looked askance upon me and other female scholars and friends who were critical of their inability to welcome us into the community of rabbinic scholars. The 1980s and 1990s was also a time when we saw abusive rabbis protected by those same Orthodox leaders. I began to sense that some of my own teachers did not properly represent Jewish tradition, and I understood that I would have to think for myself.

Israel and Feminism

I moved to Israel in 1988 as a test of my faith. Did I really believed that Jews are connected to this particular land, as indicated in Jewish Scripture and as reflected in the Jewish daily liturgy? If so, shouldn't I go there to see what that would mean for me?  Living in Jerusalem, I continued to study and teach Jewish texts in Jewish schools and seminaries, acquiring a name for myself as a member of the small cadre of women teachers of Talmud. While my commitment to the tradition of Talmud study was lauded by some in my community, others challenged my efforts as rebellion against a tradition of exclusive male authority.  I stuck with my commitments, believing that mine was the way of the future.

Meeting Christians

In the early 1990s, as a Jewish teacher of Jewish texts to Jewish students, I was invited to participate in an informal study group where Jews and Christians would learn from one other about our similarities and differences. Initially I could not imagine what I would learn from Christians, as my life was suffused by Judaism, but after meeting the Christian men and women in the group, I recognized that I had much to learn from them about faith, tradition, and leadership. I was utterly ignorant about Christianity; the New Testament was considered a forbidden, dangerous text in my tradition. I knew in painstaking detail about the history of Christian oppression of Jews, but I knew nothing about the actual texts of that religion. Recognizing that the people in my study group had no desire to kill or convert Jews, inspired by their ability to respect us, I learned from them what it means to love even someone who is an Other. Wanting to understand what made these people of faith who they are, I began to learn about Christianity.

I began to be invited to lecture in Christian seminaries in Jerusalem on topics related to Judaism and Jewish interpretation of Scripture. Though I lectured in English to English speakers, in time I began to sense a language gap. I was trying to translate “Jewish” into “Christian” without really understanding “Christian”. Realizing that the time had come for one more step in my formal education, I headed back to the USA to study Early Christianity at Harvard University. This was a big move for me – away from Israel, away from the safety of my Orthodox Jewish community. My fellow students were all Christians of one denomination or another, and in my years at Harvard I learned from each of them as well as from the accomplished scholars who were my teachers.

Bringing People Together

I returned to Israel in 2011, PhD in hand, ready to walk through the doors that were now open to me. I began to lecture on Christian topics to Jewish groups, Jewish topics to Christian groups, and even Christian topics to Christian groups. I found that I had learned to become something of a translator – helping each group to better understand the other. In addition to teaching, I began to organize programs for Christian academics, church leaders, and theology students to give them access to the different Jewish traditions and views of modern Israel. Those that I taught offered me new perspectives on faith, struggle, land, nationalism, and even life itself. I continue to believe that a deeper encounter with the other – Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Israeli, Palestinian, male, female, or queer – makes our faith stronger, challenging each of us to truly see the image of God in the other.