Remembering Together

Remembering Together

Apr 22, 2022 By William Plevan | Commentary | Pesah

The celebration of Pesah is an outstanding example of the central role that memory plays in Jewish tradition. Underscoring the importance of memory for sustaining human societies, Elie Wiesel wrote, “Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.” Communal memory, of course, goes far beyond what any one individual can remember and experience. And yet, what makes memory so powerful as a vehicle for communal identity is that it speaks to us on a personal level.

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Which Is “Wiser”: The Story of the Exodus or the Laws of Pesah?

Which Is “Wiser”: The Story of the Exodus or the Laws of Pesah?

Apr 15, 2022 By Jeremy Tabick | Commentary | Pesah

One of the core aspects of the Torah’s Pesah commentary is the education of the participants. In its very introduction, in the reading for the first day of Pesah, the concern of education is placed front and center: “When your children will ask you, ‘What is this service for you?’ you will say, ‘It is a pesah sacrifice to God . . .’” (Exod. 12:26–27). Indeed, justifying the practice of Pesah to children comes up in the Torah no less than four times.

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Purim Eve On (and Off) Broadway!

Purim Eve On (and Off) Broadway!

Mar 16, 2022 By Jan Uhrbach | Public Event video | Purim

Watch the parody songs: View the whole service: For Ma’ariv (Evening Service) and Megillat Esther (Book of Esther), we will be using the Rabbinical Assembly’s newly published volume featuring a new translation of Esther by Dr. Pamela Barmash, an alumna of JTS’s Rabbinical School, and the translation of the evening service from Siddur Lev Shalem. […]

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Six Days Shall You Labor: Shabbat and the Meaning of Work

Six Days Shall You Labor: Shabbat and the Meaning of Work

Oct 4, 2021 By David C. Kraemer | Public Event video

Shabbat, a day on which “work” is forbidden, also offers a commentary on work—on its place in our lives, its importance, and its limitations. Notably, the rabbinic Sabbath—that is, the “traditional” Sabbath—offers a perspective that differs from that of the Torah, both original and unique. Join Dr. David Kraemer to explore biblical and rabbinic views of the Sabbath as commentaries on the significance of work.

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The Values of a Jewish Home

The Values of a Jewish Home

Apr 16, 2021 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Metzora | Tazria | Yom Hazikaron-Yom Ha'atzma'ut

In the precious days “Before the Coronavirus Era” (B.C.E.), the parshiyot of Tazria-Metzora seemed wholly disconnected from our lives, presenting the perennial challenge of relevance (or irrelevance) to even the most talented darshan (sermonizer). How are we to connect leprous plagues attacking both body and abode to our daily lives? And to what extent does the experience of quarantine resonate with our modern reality? These are only two of the many questions that we would have posed in a pre-Covid world.

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Learning from God to Anticipate the Reactions of Others

Learning from God to Anticipate the Reactions of Others

Apr 2, 2021 By Walter Herzberg | Commentary | Pesah

Why do we eat matzah on Passover? According to the instructions that God conveyed to Israel prior to the Exodus we eat matzah because we are commanded: “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread (matzot)” (Exod. 12:15). However, according to Exod. 12:39, where the narrative of the events is related, we eat matzah because the Israelites, having been driven out of Egypt, were unable to linger to allow time for the dough to rise: “And they baked unleavened cakes (matzot) . . . because they were thrust out of Egypt and could not tarry.” If so, why does the Torah present the mitzvah (the command) before the Exodus has actually taken place? 

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A Holiday of Contradictory Emotions

A Holiday of Contradictory Emotions

Mar 26, 2021 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Commentary | Pesah | Shabbat Hagadol

Preparing to celebrate our second Pesah under the grip of a global pandemic, our hearts are filled with both sadness and hope. No one has been untouched by COVID-19. We’re grieving a loved one, friend, or neighbor whose life was cut short. We’re experiencing its social and economic toll—overtaxed first responders, teachers, and food providers; overwhelming social isolation; devastating financial insecurity—all exacerbated by underlying inequities. Thankfully, millions have received the vaccine, though many have yet to receive it, and new variants temper our expectations.

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The Masks that We Wear

The Masks that We Wear

Feb 26, 2021 By Ofra Backenroth | Commentary | Tetzavveh | Purim

Growing up in Israel, Purim was a wonderful experience, full of fun and games. Dressing up, putting on masks, going to parties, and attending the Purim Parade in Tel Aviv—the Adloyada. This name is derived from a rabbinic saying in the Talmud that one should revel on Purim by drinking “until one no longer knows [how to distinguish between ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordecai’]” (BT Megillah 7b). Attending the parade was great fun, but also had a mysterious aspect. Who are the people hiding behind the masks? What are they concealing and what are they trying to reveal? It was all very colorful and happy but, in equal measure, scary and confusing.

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Chancellor’s 5781 Hanukkah Message

Chancellor’s 5781 Hanukkah Message

Dec 11, 2020 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Short Video | Hanukkah

Chancellor Schwartz shares her thoughts for Hanukkah.

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Miracles of Today

Miracles of Today

Dec 11, 2020 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Commentary | Hanukkah

One of the things I love most about Jewish holiday observances is their evolution over time and space even as core rituals remain. Hanukkah exemplifies this phenomenon. Established by the Hasmoneans to commemorate the victory of the Maccabees over Antiochus, Hanukkah in the Talmud (composed several centuries after these events) focuses on celebrating the miracle of the Temple oil lasting for eight days. With few prescribed mitzvot associated with the holiday, Hanukkah has long been ripe for creative interpretation: theological, sociological, culinary, musical, and artistic. The Hanukkiah itself illustrates its generativity, for it has been hewn from the humblest potato or the most ornate, intricately designed sterling silver; it can take the form of a tiny travel jigsaw puzzle or an enormous outdoor display.

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Borukh Ate

Borukh Ate

Dec 7, 2020 By The Jewish Theological Seminary | Short Video | Hanukkah

“Borukh ate” zingt der tate—a father sings the opening words of the blessing, and kindles the light, and its soft rays fall on his pale face. With just a few words, the poet Avrom Reisen paints a picture of a slightly stooped, weary man, who somehow finds meaning and holiness in a simple act of lighting the Hanukkiah. The gentle melody, almost a lullaby, reminiscent of a folk song, yet soaring with emotion, was written by a composer Solomon Golub.

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One Day More

One Day More

Oct 9, 2020 By Rachel Rosenthal | Commentary | Shemini Atzeret

Of all of the holidays in the month of Tishrei, Shemini Atzeret is the most puzzling. Rosh Hashanah celebrates the new year for the world, Yom Kippur focuses on atonement and forgiveness, Sukkot is about joy and vulnerability. Even Simhat Torah, which is not mentioned in the Bible, has a clear purpose and clear rituals. But if asked to explain the purpose of Shemini Atzeret, beyond having the opportunity to pray for rain for the coming season, most people would be hard pressed to articulate what, exactly, this eighth day does for us, for God, or for the world.

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We are All Sukkah-Dwellers

We are All Sukkah-Dwellers

Oct 2, 2020 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Sukkot

Since the accidental discovery of X-rays by Wilhelm Röntgen in 1895 and the subsequent creation of X-ray machines, we have been able to view our bodies through two different lenses. The first is what we see in the mirror—a body of flesh, which takes various forms and distinguishes one individual from another. The second is not visible to the naked eye; it is the skeletal structure that supports the flesh and organs that surround it. Though both are necessary constituent elements of our physical being, we are generally much more conscious of our outer being than our inner one. And yet, our bones are more durable than our flesh. Long after we die and our flesh has wasted away, our skeletal structure continues to exist.

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Tip the Scales

Tip the Scales

Sep 18, 2020 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Commentary | Rosh Hashanah | Yom Kippur

“—who will live and who will die . . . who will come to an untimely end . . . . who by plague . . . who will be brought low, and who will be raised up?” (U-netaneh Tokef, from the High Holiday liturgy)

In my earliest memory of this prayer, I am a young girl standing between my mother and grandmother in synagogue amidst hundreds of others. Both women are sobbing uncontrollably, as they recited these words. I was puzzled by their outward display of anguish but knew enough not to interrupt them to ask what caused it. They grasped in a way I had yet to comprehend just how tenuous life is; they understood that this one prayer more than any other captures the fragility of human life that the Days of Awe magnify.

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5781 High Holiday Message

5781 High Holiday Message

Sep 18, 2020 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Short Video | Rosh Hashanah | Yom Kippur

Chancellor Schwartz shares her thoughts on the 5781 High Holiday season.

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Faith, Forgiveness and Prayer: Finding Meaning in the Days of Awe

Faith, Forgiveness and Prayer: Finding Meaning in the Days of Awe

Aug 31, 2020 By Jan Uhrbach | Public Event video | Video Lecture | Rosh Hashanah | Yom Kippur

A series of online classes with JTS faculty and staff

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The Wholeness of a Broken Tablet

The Wholeness of a Broken Tablet

Jul 31, 2020 By Naomi Kalish | Commentary | Va'et-hannan | Tishah Be'av

Parashat Va’et-hannan (Deut. 3–7) is always read on Shabbat Nahamu—the “Shabbat of Comfort”—which falls immediately after Tishah Be’av, the day when we commemorate the destruction of the First and Second Temples. It receives its name from the opening line of the Haftarah: “Comfort, comfort, my people” (Isaiah 40:1).

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Ruth’s Torah Matters Now

Ruth’s Torah Matters Now

May 28, 2020 By Amy Kalmanofsky | Commentary | Shavuot

Like every Jewish holiday, Shavuot has seasonal and historical components. It celebrates the gifts of Torah and of the spring harvest. Both bounties manifest God’s glory, sustain Israel, and are captured masterfully by our liturgy. 

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The Ten Commandments in 20/20

The Ten Commandments in 20/20

May 26, 2020 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Public Event video | Video Lecture | Shavuot

The Ten Commandments, read on the first day of Shavuot, are a foundational text of Judaism. But their prominence is also a puzzle. Why were these statements singled out from all other mitzvot to be publicly proclaimed to all Israel? What gives these brief pronouncements their distinctive significance?

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Counting the Omer, Counting our Blessings

Counting the Omer, Counting our Blessings

Apr 23, 2020 By Matthew Berkowitz | Shavuot

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