15318 Pomerado Road, Poway
San Diego Reader: How long do you spend writing your sermon?
Rabbi Nadav Cain: I always preach conversationally, and I don’t prepare a sermon ahead of time. I usually speak without notes or with very few notes. How, then, do I prepare for my sermon? I think about it, I read scripture, and I read commentaries on the scripture — depending on what my mood might be. I might read historical or mystical; I might read the biblical-critical. I think about it during the week and when I actually stand up to deliver the sermon, I just speak.
SDR: What is your favorite subject on which to preach?
RC: If you are truly free, you can love anybody…. We have this illusion that we make free decisions all the time, but I think most of our decisions are not free most of the time…. The real freedom is having the freedom to choose who you’re going to follow — what leader or what code.
SDR: Why Conservative Judaism?
RC: I absolutely believe that Conservative Judaism is the most authentic form of Judaism in the world. I am a passionate scholar of Jewish law and traditional Jewish texts, and when you study rabbinic texts and Jewish legal codes, they are far more lenient and liberal than Orthodox Judaism today…. Originally Buddhism was called “the Middle Way,” and I love Aristotle, who was all about the Golden Mean. The most influential movement in China has been Confucianism — and it essentially translates as the Golden Mean. That’s what Conservative Judaism is. Being in the middle is very spiritual.
SDR: Why did you become a rabbi?
RC: I thought I could make more of a difference in people’s lives, and I think I was right.
SDR: What does the name of your synagogue — Ner Tamid — mean, and how does it relate to your community’s mission?
RC: It means “eternal flame.” It was the eternal flame used on the sacrificial altar in the first five books of the Bible….Wisdom or God or tradition or holiness — they’re interchangeable words — is the flame that you have as a human being. Before you’re snuffed out you want to inspire and enkindle the love of wisdom in another. It is a matter of soul touching soul like one flame lighting another.
SDR: Where do we go when we die?
RC: My personal belief is in reincarnation, which is held by about 15 percent of the rabbis of our tradition, so it’s not a majority position. I believe what the rabbis of the Talmud are saying is that there is a next plane of existence, but it is hubris to pretend we know what it looks like. Anyone that wants to sell you a picture of what it looks like is a charlatan because once we go there we don’t come back to talk about it. I believe that there is some energy or aspect of our existence that passes back into some kind of invisible transcendent realm, but it’s hubris to pretend we know what it looks like. I also believe souls visit the Earth after death in some form some of the time, at least temporarily.
Denomination: Conservative Judaism; nertamidsd.org
Membership: 185 families
Rabbi: Nadav Cain
Born: Philadelphia, Pa.
Formation: Princeton University, NJ; Harvard Divinity School, MA; Stanford University, Stanford; Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, Los Angeles
Ordained: 1 year