What Does the Torah Really Say about Cross-Dressing?

What Does the Torah Really Say about Cross-Dressing?

Sep 9, 2022 By Joy Ladin | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

Every year, Ki Tetzei returns us to the only verse of the Torah that seems to speak about transgender and nonbinary people, particularly about those like me who used to be known as “transsexuals,” people born physically male or female who identify so strongly with the opposite gender that we can only live authentically as that gender: A woman must not put on man’s apparel, nor shall a man wear woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is abhorrent to your God. (Num. 22:5)

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Prophets of Faith

Prophets of Faith

Sep 2, 2022 By Amy Kalmanofsky | Commentary | Shofetim

I often distinguish between faith and belief and consider myself to be a person of faith. Whereas belief implies a degree of certainty that I am uncomfortable with, faith embraces doubt. To my ear, the statement that I believe something to be true communicates that you know something is true. The statement that I have faith that something is true suggests that you desire or suspect something is true. Belief seems restrictive to me—confined by only what is known or can be known—and is at risk of dogmatism.

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The Meaning of Repetition, Repetition

The Meaning of Repetition, Repetition

Aug 26, 2022 By David Zev Moster | Commentary | Re'eh | Shabbat Rosh Hodesh

When it comes to reading the Tanakh, much is lost in translation, so even a bit of knowledge of Biblical Hebrew can go a long way. Here is one grammatical insight into this week’s parashah, Parashat Re’eh. According to Deuteronomy 14:22, Israelite farmers must tithe the produce of their field שָׁנָה שָׁנָה, shanah shanah, which […]

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The Stories that Objects Tell

The Stories that Objects Tell

Aug 22, 2022 By Barbara Mann | Public Event video

Download sourcesBibliography | The Object of Jewish Literature Book Information Part of the series, “Stories and Storytelling” With Dr. Barbara Mann, Chana Kekst Professor of Jewish Literature This session is generously sponsored by Yale Asbell, JTS Trustee ABOUT THE SERIES Join JTS scholars to explore a selection of stories drawn from across ancient, rabbinic, medieval, and modern […]

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Raising Children in a Land of Plenty

Raising Children in a Land of Plenty

Aug 19, 2022 By Gavriella Kornsgold | Commentary | Eikev

The book of Hosea captures the problem of human nature in Parashat Eikev when God proclaims, “I did know you in the wilderness, in the land of great drought. When they were fed, they became full; they were filled and their heart was exalted; therefore they have forgotten me” (Hos. 13:5–6). There are endless historical and contemporary examples that mirror this cycle, such as the immigrant parent who achieves worldly success and becomes worried about the spiritual well-being of their children. Or, to take a scene from popular culture, after the beloved Rocky wins the heavyweight boxing title, he succumbs to the lure of fame, spoils his child, and loses his edge—the eye of the tiger. A close reading of chapter eight in this week’s parashah teaches us how our tradition responds to the perennial problem of raising children in a land of plenty.

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Alexander, Was He Great? <br>Rabbinic Criticism of Rome through Alexander Narratives

Alexander, Was He Great?
Rabbinic Criticism of Rome through Alexander Narratives

Aug 15, 2022 By The Jewish Theological Seminary | Public Event video

The rabbis of late antiquity did not write books of theology or political treatises. Rather, they composed stories that would draw the heart and guide the mind to communicate those ideas and practices they deemed essential to Jewish continuity and growth after the destruction of the Second Temple. To accomplish this the sages often redesigned existing literature from the surrounding culture. In “Alexander, was he great?” Ben Levy explores the ways that the rabbis of late antiquity lampooned stories of Alexander appearing in the popular Greek Alexander Romance to criticize Roman imperialism and creatively resist their rule.

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Never Too Late to Get Close

Never Too Late to Get Close

Aug 12, 2022 By Benjy Forester | Commentary | Va'et-hannan

From a young age, I knew I was supposed to like Neil Young. The stereo was turned up whenever his signature falsetto voice came on the radio, and before my bar mitzvah I was taken to see the 2006 documentary concert/film Neil Young: Heart of Gold. My initiation was complete with my first Neil concert […]

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The Protest Literature of Mizrahi Writers

The Protest Literature of Mizrahi Writers

Aug 8, 2022 By Beverly Bailis | Public Event video

Download Sources With Dr. Beverly Bailis, Adjunct Associate Professor of Jewish Literature   Dr. Bailis discusses protest literature written by different generations of Mizrahi writers and examine how these literary works give voice to these writers’ experience in Israeli society, from the Great Immigration in the 1950s to today. In particular, considering how the stories these writers […]

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Moses’s Retirement Speech

Moses’s Retirement Speech

Aug 5, 2022 By Raymond Scheindlin | Commentary

Deuteronomy, which we begin reading this week, is devoted to Moses’s farewell to his people. Deuteronomy is preeminently Moses’s book; in it, Moses mostly speaks in his own voice, so that instead of the ever-recurring third-person opening line “And the Lord spoke to Moses . . .,” we read “The Lord spoke to me” (Deut. 2:2). Deuteronomy contains not one but a series of farewell speeches and prophetic poems in which Moses recalls the forty years since the Exodus from Egypt and looks ahead to the future in the promised land.

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What Six Short Stories in the Babylonian Talmud Tell Us About Jewish Law and Life

What Six Short Stories in the Babylonian Talmud Tell Us About Jewish Law and Life

Aug 1, 2022 By Judith Hauptman

By reading six very short stories in the Babylonian Talmud, we discover that not just rabbinic pronouncements established Jewish law, but so did reports of rabbinic performance of the law. We will see Rabbis complying with, and sometime rebelling against, earlier stated rules. As we read these texts, we will tease out details of everyday life and relations between the sexes. Whether these anecdotes actually took place or not makes no difference. They are an invaluable source for understanding how the Rabbis viewed and modified transmitted traditions.

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Do Women’s Vows Count?: A 21st Century Problem

Do Women’s Vows Count?: A 21st Century Problem

Jul 29, 2022 By Stephanie Ruskay | Commentary | Masei | Mattot

In Parashat Mattot Chapter 30, we learn that if a woman makes a vow, her father or husband can invalidate it on the day on which he hears about it. If he does not invalidate it that day, he is culpable if she breaks it. The only women who can make their own vows and not have them invalidated by a man are divorcées and widows. At other moments in my life, I would have glossed over this section, determined to focus on something more inspiring, and less offensive. Now, I am leaning into it.

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A Jewish Doctor in Medieval Spain and His Demon: <br>The Book of Delight by Joseph Ibn Zabara

A Jewish Doctor in Medieval Spain and His Demon:
The Book of Delight by Joseph Ibn Zabara

Jul 25, 2022 By Raymond Scheindlin | Public Event video

Joseph, the protagonist of this proto-novel, at the urging of a mysterious companion, undertakes a journey that takes him to the land of the demons. We will read and discuss some of the stories that the travelers tell each other along the way and will attempt to unravel who the mysterious companion actually is. 

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The Liberator and the Zealot

The Liberator and the Zealot

Jul 22, 2022 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Pinehas

In his recently published book, The Zealot and the Emancipator: John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, and the Struggle for American Freedom,  H.W. Brands contrasts the attitudes of Brown and Lincoln toward slavery, and the methods used by each to end it. In doing so, he makes the case that the terms “liberator” and “zealot” accurately encapsulate the role of each in abolishing slavery.  

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Protected: What is Pluralism and Why is It Important?

Protected: What is Pluralism and Why is It Important?

Jul 19, 2022 By Gordon Tucker

There is no excerpt because this is a protected post.

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Passion and Violence:<br>The Sacrifice of Isaac as a Philosophical Story

Passion and Violence:
The Sacrifice of Isaac as a Philosophical Story

Jul 18, 2022 By Dr. Miriam Feldmann Kaye | Public Event video

Download Sources The Sacrifice of Isaac is a paradigmatic episode in Jewish philosophy, ethics, and interpretation. But new ideas in modern and postmodern philosophy call us to re-read this narrative, and change the ways we have often read the story. We will re-tell this story according to an “old-new” method, amalgamating historical and emblematic ways […]

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The Thrill and the Terror of the Foreign Prophet

The Thrill and the Terror of the Foreign Prophet

Jul 15, 2022 By Aaron Koller | Commentary | Balak

Prophecy among the nations fascinated and terrified ancient Jews. It must exist: If there is only one God, God of the whole world, why should divine inspiration be limited to the members of one nation? There is no reason that God cannot speak with the Greeks through an oracle or the Arameans through seers just as he spoke to the Israelites through their prophets. But while prophecy among other peoples testifies to the universality and all-encompassing power of God, does it not also challenge the uniqueness of Israel?

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How Jewish Storytelling Shapes the Religious Imagination

How Jewish Storytelling Shapes the Religious Imagination

Jul 11, 2022 By Mychal Springer | Public Event video

When we tell the story of coming out of Egypt, it is not a story of then and there; it is a story of here and now. We ourselves came out of Egypt. The eternal immediacy of the telling invites us to understand our lives inside the timelessness of Jewish experience. We will explore the drama of living in this story enriched by narrative theory that helps us understand the redemptive role that sacred stories can play in our lives.

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What if Moses Was Supposed to Hit the Rock?

What if Moses Was Supposed to Hit the Rock?

Jul 8, 2022 By Rabbi Ilana Zietman | Commentary | Hukkat

In trying to make sense of the infamous “Moses-hitting-the-rock” episode in this week’s parashah, one can find an overwhelming number of attempts to explain why Moses (and Aaron) are punished with the Divine decree that they will die before entering the Promised Land. It is a perfect example of “Turn it and turn it for all is in it” (Pirkei Avot 5:22). The catalyst for so much interpretive work is that here, God’s reason for punishing Moses and Aaron appears particularly unclear and therefore, unfair. 

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Your Authority Is an Illusion

Your Authority Is an Illusion

Jul 1, 2022 By Joshua Rabin | Commentary | Korah

Every time I read this parashah, the hypothetical questions I ponder are endless: What exactly is wrong about Korah’s critique of Moshe? Would the Israelites not make it to Canaan if they were led by someone else other than Moshe? However, a deeper exploration of the parashah reveals that our tradition wants us to focus less on the hypotheticals and more on the powerful statement about leadership made by choosing Moshe and rejecting Korah.

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Telling Difficult Stories

Telling Difficult Stories

Jun 27, 2022 By David C. Kraemer

If stories express and transmit values and identities, contested values or identities will find expression in complex, challenging stories. This is certainly true of Philip Roth’s Operation Shylock, which gives expression to discomforts in Diaspora identities vis-à-vis Israel during the first intifada—and beyond. Join David Kraemer in exploring Roth’s recounting of the conflicts of this time, as Jews asked questions that are as pertinent today as they were then. 

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