Elu v’Elu: The Sacred Power and Limits of Conscience

For three years Rabbi Shammai and Rabbi Hillel disagreed. One said: The law is in accordance with our opinion, and the others also said: The halakha is in accordance with our opinion. Finally, a Divine Voice emerged and proclaimed: Both these and those [Elu v’Elu] are the words of the living God. Conscience is a powerful thing, one that Emerson so famously explored in Self-Reliance. At the same time, a passionate conviction that one is right and doing good and holy work is shared by both the BLM protesters and those who stormed the capital. So Conscience is important, but democracy can quickly be turned by fear, trend or anger. How then do we balance the principle of Conscience when it buts up against other core principles?

David Edleson grew up going to synagogue, church, and to Unitarian Fellowships in the deep south.  His experiences of anti-Semitism were also formative. Born into an assimilated Jewish family, David was removed as drum major of the band in high school because parents didn’t “want a Jew leading the band down Main Street.   David became very active in the Jewish community, was president of his college Hillel and William and Mary, and after living and working as a Jewish educator in Jerusalem,  was ordained by Hebrew Union College in 1990.  While in seminary, he successfully lead the student fight for the ordination of LGBT rabbis in the Reform movement. David served as the rabbi for the Hebrew Association of the Deaf for 25 years, leading services in ASL and adapting services to be participatory and inclusive for hearing and deaf.  While serving as a rabbi, David also worked as a leader at several social service agencies, including Vermont CARES, the AIDS service and advocacy agency in Vermont.  He was awarded his Doctor of Divinity in 2015.  David now serves as the rabbi at Temple Sinai in South Burlington, Vermont. In addition to his work as a rabbi, David has taught in a variety of spiritual traditions, and taught courses in literature, religion and ethics at the Community College of Vermont, and Middlebury College, where he served as a dean for eight years.  David grew up in rural Georgia where he met his husband Tim in ninth grade; they now live with their standard poodle Ginsberg  in a  house they built by hand in Lincoln.