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Jan 12, 2018 By Alisa Braun | Commentary
“And now in June 1943 something very strange is happening . . .”
Does Gertrude Stein belong on the “Jewish Bookshelf?” It probably depends on whom you ask. Alan Dershowitz accused Stein of being one of the collaborators who “made [the Holocaust] possible” since she had survived in France due in large part to a friendship with a Vichy government official. I’m guessing he would say “no.”Read More
Jul 7, 2017 By Alisa Braun | Commentary | Balak
[Lions] have personalities, temperaments, moods, and they can be voluble about all this, sometimes chatty, sometimes (when they are working) radiating a more focused informativeness. Nor are the exchanges and the work in question suffering-free. In particular, they are not free of the suffering that accompanies failures of understanding, refusals and denials of the sort that characterize many relationships.
Vicki Hearne, Animal Happiness: A Moving Exploration of Animals and Their Emotions (172–173)
Mar 10, 2017 By Alisa Braun | Commentary | Tetzavveh
Robert Browning, the Victorian poet, puzzled many of his readers when he called one of his collections Bells and Pomegranates. The issue wasn’t that he invoked a biblical type; many poets preceding him had seen themselves in prophetic terms. They were heroic figures whose imaginative powers could transform the world; they spoke truths to inspire others and change society. But what did the design on the hem of the priestly garment (Exod. 28:33-35) have to do with poetry? The poet as High Priest, a figure associated with rules and ritual rather than creativity and imagination, seemed counterintuitive.Read More
Aug 19, 2016 By Alisa Braun | Commentary | Va'et-hannan
The smell of Canaan he has had for all his life; that he should see the land only before his death is hard to believe. . . . Not because his life was too short does Moses not reach Canaan, but because it was a human life.
—Franz Kafka, in a diary entry from 1921
Jan 29, 2016 By Alisa Braun | Commentary | Yitro
sitting amid your litter, feet buried
by accumulated jars of buttons,
glasses lost beneath a decade of bank statements
and funny poems.
The obligation to honor your father and your mother (Exodus 20:12) is never simple, but it’s especially complicated when relations between parent and child are strained. In her moving poem “Mother,” Alicia Ostriker gives voice to the ethical challenge of caring for her mother when the conflicts of the past loom large.Read More
Oct 9, 2015 By Alisa Braun | Commentary | Bereishit
This past week we were again confronted with horrific acts of violence across the globe, followed by a host of attempts to explain why and what should be done. Over centuries, the story of Cain and Abel became a central text through which this reality of violence was explored: how do we account for violence in our world? Can we control our rage, or are we doomed to act on our impulses? With its paucity of detail and conspicuous narrative lacunae, Bereishit’s description of the first murder, when Cain killed Abel, inspired countless visual artists—from the Old Masters to modern expressionists—to respond creatively to these questions.Read More
Apr 15, 2015 By Alisa Braun | Commentary | Shemini
What does a feminist reworking of Leviticus 10 sound like? The Indigo Girls song “Strange Fire” (1987) beautifully illustrates how biblical images and stories weave their way into our lives and the art we create. The song exemplifies their signature style: a second-wave feminist message wrapped in a spare acoustic sound, strong rhythms, and soft harmonies. The lyrics allude to the actions of Aaron’s sons as a way of critiquing those within organized religion who wield power and seek to silence voices of personal spiritual expression.Read More