New rabbi brings history to county
Michael Oblath first began his love affair with ancient biblical history while studying physiology as an undergraduate at the University of California in Davis.
Attending college in the 1960s, Oblath said, he was constantly dodging attempts by fundamentalist Christians to convert him to their faith. To counter their arguments that he was destined for eternal damnation, Oblath began reading ancient religious texts, and the rest, he said, is history.
With a doctorate in biblical history from UC Berkeley, Oblath is the newest rabbi of Nevada County’s Jewish congregation.
“I was going to school when the Crusade for Christ was getting big, so I began reading up on religious history in order to argue with fundamentalists who were trying to convert me,” Oblath said. “But, studying biblical texts evolved into an appreciation for ancient Jewish history.”
Oblath enrolled in Hebrew Union College and was ordained as a reform rabbi in 1978.
Oblath replaces Rabbi Matt Freidman, whose two-year contract with Congregation B’nai Harim at the Nevada County Jewish Community Center ended this year.
Members of his new congregation are excited that Oblath, who they say comes to them after serving as an interim rabbi at two respected synagogues in the Sacramento area, will be available on a full-time basis and be able to offer an expertise in biblical history.
“Oblath is very well-known and well-liked in this area and seems very knowledgeable about biblical studies,” said Gail Atlas, a member of Jewish community center since 1994. “I’m confident he’ll be a good leader for our congregation.”
Oblath, who recently moved to Alta Sierra, said he accepts his responsibility to be available to the congregation “24 hours a day,” but also hopes to continue with his research of ancient Jewish history and to begin teaching at Chico State University next spring.
In his sermons, Oblath said he would take an approach he classifies as neither completely orthodox nor reformist.
By using passages from actual ancient biblical texts, he said his sermons would allow for the congregation to form its own interpretations based on tradition and shaped by the unique circumstances of its life today.
“I want to show people that there is a dynamic in the interpretation and how we approach the texts and that it changes based on the circumstances we live,” he said. “I’m trying to understand the process and evolution of Jewish history and life, and trying to be a part of that tradition.”
Outside of the synagogue, Oblath likes to play video games with his sons, go camping and study astronomy.
“I’m at a point right now, where I can really continue on with my life,” he said. “I can tell this is a good community with a lot of warmth.”
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