What Exactly Is a Sukkah?

What Exactly Is a Sukkah?

Sep 24, 2021 By David Zev Moster | Commentary | Sukkot

Have you ever asked yourself what defines a sukkah? Not how to build one or what makes it kosher, but why have one in the first place? What is its purpose? Was the sukkah part of daily life in ancient Israel? Did it have a role outside the holiday that bears its name?

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In God’s Image

In God’s Image

Sep 17, 2021 By Alisa Braun | Commentary | Ha'azinu | Sukkot

What does it mean to be created in God’s image? Or to act in a God-like way? As I reread Parashat Ha’azinu, I was struck by the ways Moses’s song poetically develops God’s care for the Israelites, and I discovered in the vivid and diverse metaphors the beginnings of an answer. From the opening lines, where God’s words are likened to varieties of rain, sustaining and giving life to all, to God as an eagle “who rouses his nestlings” and “bears them along his pinions” (Deut. 32:11), this God builds up, guides, teaches, and protects. God provides for the Israelites’ physical needs with gifts of abundance, nurturing the people with “honey from the crag” as a mother nurses her child (Deut. 32:13). The Israelites’ lack of gratitude inflames God’s anger, but God bestows mercy and forgiveness, despite there being no mention of teshuva (repentance). God gives.

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Atonement: An Interplay Between the Individual and the Community

Atonement: An Interplay Between the Individual and the Community

Sep 13, 2021 By Gordon Tucker | Video Lecture

A central feature of Yom Kippur is the act of atonement, or “at-one-ment.” But with whom should we seek to be “at one”? With God, with Israel, or with ourselves? In this session, we explored both the individual and collective aspects of this holy day, with special attention to Unetaneh Tokef, the Yom Kippur confession, and other liturgical features of the season.

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Moses’s Journey, and Ours

Moses’s Journey, and Ours

Sep 9, 2021 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Commentary | Vayeilekh | Shabbat Shuvah

Whenever I read the opening verse of this week’s parashah, I recall the other parashah that opens with the same verb: לך־לך (“Go forth”). Told to go, Abram heeded God’s call, uprooting his life and journeying—both physically and emotionally—first to Haran and then to the land of Israel. And now, as we near the end of the Torah reading cycle, Parashat Vayeilekh begins by attributing that very same action of journeying to Moses, as he nears the end of his life. What can we learn from the parallel acts of journeying that these two great leaders of our people undertook?

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Choosing to Choose

Choosing to Choose

Sep 3, 2021 By Jan Uhrbach | Commentary | Nitzavim | Rosh Hashanah

The rabbis taught that Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of the world, or by some accounts, the sixth day of creation, the day that humanity was created. Liturgically, the day is seen as more than just an anniversary. We pray “Hayom Harat Olam,” today the world is born, suggesting that the world, humanity, and each of us individually, are created “today,” every Rosh Hashanah.

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Reliving Sinai Every Day

Reliving Sinai Every Day

Aug 27, 2021 By Alisa Tzipi Zilbershtein | Commentary | Ki Tavo

Parashat Ki Tavo opens with Moses addressing B’nei Yisrael: “The Lord your God commands you this day to observe these laws and rules; observe them faithfully with all your heart and soul. You have affirmed this day that the Lord is your God, that you will walk in His ways, that you will observe His laws and commandments and rules, and that you will obey Him” (Deut. 26:16–17). During my years at JTS, one of the themes that always captivated me was the mystical understanding of the concept of time in the Torah. That is why my attention was immediately drawn to this quote. The specific timeframe “this day” occurs twice here and is repeated multiple times in the parashah. What does “this day” mean? Or rather, when is “this day”?

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Traveling to Babylon—For Good

Traveling to Babylon—For Good

Aug 23, 2021 By David C. Kraemer | Public Event video

The first time Jews traveled to Babylon, it was part of a great exile. But when the rabbis returned to Babylon many centuries later, joining a now “native” Jewish community there, they found themselves very much at home. Some did indeed claim Babylon as home, while others traveled back and forth between Babylon and Palestine as rabbinic messengers to ensure that the teachings of each were available to the other. Two confident centers of Jewish life developed, not unlike modern New York and Jerusalem. In this session, Dr. David Kraemer explores the legacy of those rabbis and how their work continues to impact Jewish life today.

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Before Going Out to Fight, Look Inside

Before Going Out to Fight, Look Inside

Aug 20, 2021 By Jeffrey Kress | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

We know that every extra word in the Torah invites exploration to arrive at its deeper meaning. The opening words of Parashat Ki Tetzei require such consideration: “When you go out to war against your enemies . . .” Why mention enemies? Who else would one be going to war against? Rabbinic interpretations focus on the use of the plural (enemies) as signifying a distinction between categories of conflict, each requiring different rules of engagement. This helps explain why the rules of war that open the parashah differ from the closing instructions about how to fight Amalek. The Torah is talking about two different categories of conflict.

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A Journey Without End—<br>The Explusion From Spain and the Age of Perpetual Jewish Migration

A Journey Without End—
The Explusion From Spain and the Age of Perpetual Jewish Migration

Aug 16, 2021 By Jonathan Ray | Public Event video

In the summer of 1492, the Jews of Spain were expelled from their homeland by royal decree. The dispossessed embarked on a series of journeys in search of new homelands – a process that would last generations and transform Sephardic society and culture.

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Making Space for Community

Making Space for Community

Aug 13, 2021 By Rafi Cohen | Commentary | Shofetim

For two weeks this summer, I was a visiting educator at Ramah Sports Academy. My responsibilities were fairly typical for a visiting rabbi at camp: leading classes for campers and staff, supporting a particular edah (age group). But I also had an opportunity to assist the summer mashgiah in assessing and repairing the eruv before Shabbat. The camp’s eruv—a ritual legal enclosure fixed for the purpose of allowing activities such as carrying from one domain to another on Shabbat—was constructed using some of the natural boundaries around camp. To identify the sightline of the trees at the far end of a field or a stream of water that connects one part of camp to another as part of the created boundary, string and small wooden posts (lehim) were affixed along parts of the camp periphery.

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Work-Life Balance in Ancient Times:   <br>Why the Rabbis Left Their Homes  to Study Torah

Work-Life Balance in Ancient Times:
Why the Rabbis Left Their Homes to Study Torah

Aug 9, 2021 By Rachel Rosenthal | Public Event video

We often think of questions about how to balance work and family as modern ones. However, a series of stories in Ketubot show that people have been struggling with these issues for hundreds of years. In these stories, the rabbis leave home to learn Torah, and often return to domestic chaos. Dr. Rachel Rosenthal explores these stories to better understand how the rabbis understood their obligations to Torah, to themselves, and to their families.  

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Can We Mourn Too Much?

Can We Mourn Too Much?

Aug 6, 2021 By Katja Vehlow | Commentary | Re'eh

When someone dies, this week’s parashah tells us, we should not ritually cut ourselves or our hair. In other words: we should not mourn excessively.

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The Early Modern Travel Pass:  <br>Controlling the Plague and Jewish Mobility  in 16th Century Tuscany

The Early Modern Travel Pass:
Controlling the Plague and Jewish Mobility in 16th Century Tuscany

Aug 2, 2021 By Stefanie B. Siegmund | Public Event video

In the wake of the Black Death, governments in the Italian states began to enlarge their departments of health and sanitation in an effort to control the plague. Over time they experimented by banning travel to and from suspect regions and quarantining merchants’ goods. Italian Jews, heavily invested in local and regional commerce, were among the merchants affected, attracting the attention of the authorities.

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A Legacy of Peace

A Legacy of Peace

Jul 30, 2021 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Commentary | Eikev

Why do we still need kohanim? What purpose do hereditary priests—the descendants of Aaron—serve in a culture that appoints religious leaders based primarily on education? Whatever authority rabbis have stems mostly from their knowledge and individual personalities, but the kohanim inherit theirs. Leviticus 21 describes the kohanim as a holy caste who, due to nothing other than heredity, assume the religious leadership of B’nei Yisrael. Their heritage is not land, like the other clans of Israel; rather, their legacy is God, Sanctuary, and sacrifice alone.

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The Spectacular Story Of S. Ansky’s <br><i>The Dybbuk</i> and How it Transformed American Jewish Theatre

The Spectacular Story Of S. Ansky’s
The Dybbuk and How it Transformed American Jewish Theatre

Jul 26, 2021 By Edna Nahshon | Public Event video

Since its premiere in 1920 The Dybbuk has been revived countless times in both Jewish and non-Jewish languages and inspired a substantial corpus of works in various media: it was famously filmed in Yiddish 1936 in Warsaw, and to this day has fired the imagination of artists and writers around the globe. Join Dr. Edna Nahshon to discuss this unique play and its various interpretations, focusing on its two foundational productions and the 1936 Polish Yiddish film. 

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The Commandments We Need

The Commandments We Need

Jul 23, 2021 By Rachel Rosenthal | Commentary | Va'et-hannan

The act of retelling is, by virtue of necessity, an act of interpretation. Certain details sharpen and others fade as we place a past experience in the context of our needs and thoughts in the present moment. As Yosef Chayim Yerushalmi famously argued in his seminal book Zachor, there’s a difference between history and memory—both are deeply important, but they play different roles in our lives.

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Finding Hijar: A Scholar’s Quest to Uncover the History of Her Jewish Community Through the Journey of Its Books

Finding Hijar: A Scholar’s Quest to Uncover the History of Her Jewish Community Through the Journey of Its Books

Jul 19, 2021 By Marjorie Lehman | Public Event video

With Dr. Marjorie Lehman and Dr. Lucia Conte Aguilar of Universitat Pompeu Fabra

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Rebuilding the Temple Within

Rebuilding the Temple Within

Jul 16, 2021 By Eitan Fishbane | Commentary | Devarim | Tishah Be'av

With this parashah, we begin the book of Deuteronomy, the opening of a book of memory—a recalling of the forty years of desert wandering while simultaneously anticipating the entrance of the people into the Land of Israel.

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“The Catastrophist”: A Theatre Talkback

“The Catastrophist”: A Theatre Talkback

Jul 15, 2021 By The Jewish Theological Seminary | Public Event video

Watch the recording of our conversation with the team behind the acclaimed virtual drama “The Catastrophist,” a stirring meditation on scientific discovery, Judaism, family, life, and loss.

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Flight, Return, and Emigration: <br>The Wanderings of a Yiddish Writer During and After the Holocaust

Flight, Return, and Emigration:
The Wanderings of a Yiddish Writer During and After the Holocaust

Jul 12, 2021 By David Fishman | Public Event video

With Dr. David Fishman

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