2512 Third Avenue, San Diego
Membership: 350 families
Rabbi: Scott Meltzer
Born: Akron, Ohio
Formation: Harvard University, Mass.; Hebrew Union College, Jerusalem, L.A., N.Y.
Years Ordained: 14
San Diego Reader: How long do you spend writing your sermon?
Rabbi Scott Meltzer: I tend to give a sermon or something that would fall into that category almost every single day. In Hebrew the sermon is called a brashah. Then on the weekends for the Sabbath I will give a bigger sermon. I tend to try to be learning every day, whether studying traditional texts or reading something from a contemporary author. I like to think I spend one or two hours a day reading or writing.
SDR: Can you think of a time when you gave a brashah that completely flopped?
RM: People tend to be polite. It’s rare that someone will be as honest with me as I am with myself, with some exceptions. I’ve been at Ohr Shalom for seven years, and there have been a few exceptional Friday nights when it would have been better had I not opened my mouth in the first place.
SDR: What is the most prevalent sin you observe or hear about from your congregants?
RM: The challenge especially poignant at this time of year during the Jewish high holy days is that most of the congregation lives the Judaism that they espouse in a meaningful way and it’s not merely lip service. The reality is that people have jobs, mortgages, commitments, a family — so it’s really hard on any given regular day to be able to live out all the things that are truly sacred for us.
SDR: Where do you go when you die?
RM: That’s a great Jewish question because the reality of the Jewish tradition is two-fold. A human being made up of body and soul, and Judaism knows exactly where the body’s supposed to go.… The body is supposed to go back to the earth and decompose. In the same way, the part of us that is not physical body — the part we lump together in the word “soul” — goes back to the world beyond. If we bury the body down six feet, then the soul travels up to the world beyond. The amazing thing about the Jewish tradition is that there is no uniform belief about what that world is like. I can show you a serious half dozen or dozen Jewish contemplations of it that are fundamentally different or mutually exclusive but all exist in the same tradition. We have a certain humility about our ability to know and comprehend that world beyond without denying its existence.… It’s also a traditional Jewish belief that someday my soul will be put back into my body and we’ll all get to celebrate in a redeemed physical world.
SDR: What’s the Jewish doctrine on a literal heaven and hell?
RM: In a generic kind of way, the world to come is related to talk of heaven…. The interesting thing is that…to my knowledge, with complete consistency, there’s no place in the Jewish tradition for eternal punishment. Even for those who most abuse life in this world, their souls are still a part of that life beyond. So, their soul’s punishment involves delaying their reentry into the world to come.