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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Mapping our Love

Mapping our Love

Jun 22, 2022 By Rabbi Brent Chaim Spodek | Commentary | Shelah Lekha

Moses had no idea what he was getting into.

It wasn’t just when he was talking to shrubbery and confronting tyrants at the beginning of his journey that he was in the dark about what his future held. Even deep into his leadership, even after he had weathered rebellion and despair, even after he had personal encounters with the Divine, he had no idea what was coming next.

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(FAR FROM) ALL ABOUT EVE

(FAR FROM) ALL ABOUT EVE

Jun 20, 2022 By Alan Cooper | Public Event video

the diverse ways that readers fill those gaps engender remarkably divergent interpretations. What do we learn about biblical storytelling when we confront a text that can be interpreted in diametrically opposite ways? And what do we learn about ourselves from the interpretive decisions that we make? 

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How Should One Shine One’s Light?

How Should One Shine One’s Light?

Jun 17, 2022 By Rabbi Luciana Pajecki Lederman | Commentary | Beha'alotekha

In the past few years, technology and social media specialists, neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers have been discussing the ubiquity of distraction in our modern lives. As Joshua Rothman puts it, “like typing, Googling, and driving, distraction is now a universal competency. We’re all experts” (The New Yorker, June 16, 2015). These specialists have been warning us about the personal perils of distraction to our learning, professional performance, financial stability, creativity, mental health, social skills and civic engagement, and even to our physical lives. And as should be expected, some suggest strategies to “reclaim attention” in this age of distraction. 

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Does God Speak?

Does God Speak?

Jun 10, 2022 By Benjamin D. Sommer | Commentary | Naso

The final verse of Parashat Naso is easy to miss. It comes after a long passage that describes the gifts the leader of each tribe presented at the Tabernacle or Tent of Meeting (both names are used for the structure) in the wilderness. Twelve times we read six verses listing the exact same set of items donated from each tribe. The substantial amount of repetition may lead readers to lose some focus as they move through the passage. But Numbers 7:89, the verse that comes right after those twelve sets of six verses, is highly significant. It provides crucial information about the nature of revelation as understood by the kohanim (Priests) who wrote this section of the Torah.

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Counting With the Full Severity of Compassion

Counting With the Full Severity of Compassion

Jun 3, 2022 By Beverly Bailis | Commentary | Bemidbar

Bemidbar, which opens the book of Numbers with a census in the wilderness, was going to be my son’s bar mitzvah parashah. His bar mitzvah had been scheduled for May 16, 2020, a date that coincided with the beginning of the 2020 US decennial census. Initially, the rather administrative biblical verses seemed dry and perfunctory: lists of names and numbers, first of a military census, followed by a census of the Levites, and then the family of Kohath, a Levite subclan. Yet as we became increasingly aware of the importance of these biblical censuses, we came to understand our own current moment and the 2020 census in a new light. Censuses capture a moment in time, as valuable points of data help to paint a picture of what a society is like, who we are as a nation, and our identity as a People

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The Blessings of Curses

The Blessings of Curses

May 27, 2022 By Ellie Gettinger | Commentary | Behukkotai

It is easy to see the last two years as a curse. A million people have died in the US alone; lives have been upended. We are in a constant state of emotional whiplash, responding to whatever new national emergency faces us. Reading the curses at the center of Parashat Behukkotai, I was struck by how chaos and lack of control presented within the tokhehah, or admonition, dovetails with the constant emotional disruption of the pandemic.

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Jewish Theology in America, Today and Tomorrow

Jewish Theology in America, Today and Tomorrow

May 23, 2022 By Arnold M. Eisen | Public Event video

Professor Eisen explores recent developments in Jewish thought about God and what God requires of us as Jews and human beings against the background of past Jewish thought, recent work by non-Jewish thinkers, and Professor Eisen’s own theological reflections in the age of COVID.

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The Limitations of Ownership

The Limitations of Ownership

May 20, 2022 By Yedida Eisenstat | Commentary | Behar

Rashi, the well-known medieval northern French biblical commentator, begins his commentary on this week’s parashah with a famous question, loosely paraphrased as follows: In what way does the matter of shemittah[the sabbatical year] have anything to do with Mount Sinai? In other words, the laws of Leviticus 25—beginning with the agricultural restrictions of the seventh year, the regulations regarding the jubilee year, limitations on sale of land and slaves—are wholly dependent on Israel living in Israel. So why, Rashi asks, were these laws commanded so long before they would become relevant? Of what relevance are the laws of shemittah to the Israelites at Sinai?

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Watering the Soul in Times of Faith and Doubt

Watering the Soul in Times of Faith and Doubt

May 16, 2022 By Mychal Springer | Public Event video

together—is central to a life of faith and often plunges people into doubt. We will make space for the “watering of the soul,” both metaphorically and through exploration of the connection between resurrection and water—in the form of rain and dew. 

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Expanding the Canon: Transforming Judaism in the 21st Century

Expanding the Canon: Transforming Judaism in the 21st Century

May 15, 2022

Jewish learning has long focused on texts by an elite group of ancient rabbis. What would it mean to radically expand our canon, incorporating the voices of women, Jews of Color, people with disabilities, and other historically marginalized groups? JTS scholars will introduce new voices and also offer new lenses through which to read ancient texts. Together we will explore how diversifying our canonical texts can help us create a more inclusive Jewish community. 

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For What Should I Compromise on Religious Observance?

For What Should I Compromise on Religious Observance?

May 13, 2022 By Alan Imar | Commentary | Emor

To what extent should we be flexible in our adherence to religious precepts, and to what extent can we remain steadfast in our commitment to certain principles, even if they exclude others? With this dilemma in mind, I want to consider the opening lines of this week’s parashah, which discuss cases where a priest may allow himself to receive tumat met (impurity from a corpse), something he is not usually permitted to do

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Reaching for the Heavens: <br>The Music of Composer Gerald Cohen

Reaching for the Heavens:
The Music of Composer Gerald Cohen

May 10, 2022 By Gerald Cohen | Public Event video

Download Program Amid the Alien Corn Text Reaching for the Heavens featured the vibrant and compelling music of Gerald Cohen, a leading composer of concert and Jewish music, and a faculty member of the H. L. Miller Cantorial School for nearly 30 years, as well as the Cassatt String Quartet and other renowned performers. The […]

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Does Faith Matter? The Ancient Jewish Debate About Faith and Mitzvot

Does Faith Matter? The Ancient Jewish Debate About Faith and Mitzvot

May 9, 2022 By David C. Kraemer | Public Event video

One often hears it said that “Judaism cares what one does, not what one believes.” But this is a distortion, an oversimplification. When one looks at sources from the period of the birth of Rabbinic Judaism (including early “Christian” writings), one finds that there was an active debate about this matter. In this session, we will begin by considering the arguments of those ancient Jews—Paul and James—who raised the important question of faith vs. mitzvot. We will then examine echoes of the same debate in early rabbinic sources.

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Fruit Trees and Foreskins

Fruit Trees and Foreskins

May 6, 2022 By Naama Weiss | Commentary | Kedoshim

In Parashat Kedoshim, the Torah introduces the commandment of orlah (עָרְלָה), where one is forbidden from eating fruit that grows in the first three years after a tree’s planting.
But the use of the word orlah here has puzzled generations of commentators, for though it appears frequently in the Torah, it is not typically connected to trees. Indeed we primarily associate the term with circumcision. How are the two uses of orlah related? And can tracing this relationship reveal something new about the rite of circumcision itself?

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The Gender of God in Ancient Israel

The Gender of God in Ancient Israel

May 2, 2022 By Benjamin D. Sommer | Public Event video

How did the biblical authors, and other Israelites, view the gender of God? Did they perceive God to be male? Did any of them perceive God as female? To answer this question, we examine both several biblical texts as well as archaeological evidence.

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Who is the Stranger?

Who is the Stranger?

Apr 29, 2022 By Linda S. Golding | Commentary | Aharei Mot

What a great invitation, I thought, to write a d’var Torah on Aharei Mot!  The opening verses that include “Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come at will into the Shrine behind the curtain . . . lest he die” came immediately to mind. The directive to be mindful and thoughtful when entering God’s presence and the presence of others certainly aligns with a chaplain’s way of being. When entering a hospital room, for example, I know that the Shekhinah, God’s healing presence, is at the head of the patient’s bed. Holiness is already in the room, and I must be prepared to pay attention. 

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Between the Lines: Hélène Jawhara Piñer on the History of Sephardi Cuisine

Between the Lines: Hélène Jawhara Piñer on the History of Sephardi Cuisine

Apr 27, 2022 By Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary | Public Event video

Scholar and author Hélène Jawhara Piñer discusses her unique books about Sephardi cuisine and demonstrates how to make a delicious muleta

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Because You Hear the Prayers of Your People Israel in Mercy

Because You Hear the Prayers of Your People Israel in Mercy

Apr 25, 2022 By Rachel Rosenthal | Public Event video

We often think of God’s choice to respond to our prayers as an act of mercy, but the rabbis in the Babylonian Talmud believed that God was powerless to ignore certain prayers. We look at five models of people whose prayers God answers and consider how they act as messengers on behalf of their communities.

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