Journeying through Jewish History

Journeying through Jewish History

Jul 21, 2017 By Nancy Sinkoff | Commentary | Masei | Mattot

I first encountered this book in my supplementary Hebrew school at Temple Emanuel of Great Neck when I was a teenager. The documents, photographs, newspaper reports and Yiddish language characters entranced me then. . . . and still do. At that tender age, I thought I wanted to grow up to be a marine biologist. Instead, embedded in my young soul, those images of East European Jews, who had journeyed—like our forebears in this week’s parashah (Numbers 33:1-37)—from far away to a land they did not know, propelled me on a lifelong journey as a historian of the Jews of Eastern Europe.

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Fearless Women

Fearless Women

Jul 14, 2017 By Meredith Katz | Commentary | Pinehas

Many narratives coalesce in Parashat Pinehas, and it is challenging to review without connection to the current political and social climate. The daughters of Zelophehad make a proposal to inherit their father’s portion, as part of a land division framework aiming toward equality: “to the more thou shalt give the more inheritance, and to the fewer thou shalt give the less inheritance.” The daughters raise their claim with Moses et al. as women, demanding their right to inherit in the absence of any sons, a significant step for women in ancient times that is then added to the canon.

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Listening to Lions

Listening to Lions

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)

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My Brother’s [and Sister’s] Keeper

My Brother’s [and Sister’s] Keeper

Jun 30, 2017 By Sarah Tauber (<em>z”l</em>) | Commentary | Hukkat

The literature on sibling relationships shows that during middle age and old age, indicators of well-being—mood, health, morale, stress, depression, loneliness, life satisfaction—are tied to how you feel about your brothers and sisters. In one Swedish study, satisfaction with sibling contact in one’s 80s was closely correlated with health and positive mood—more so than was satisfaction with friendships or relationships with adult children. And loneliness was eased for older people in a supportive relationship with their siblings, no matter whether they gave or got support.

—Robin Marantz Henig, “Your Adult Siblings May Be The Secret To A Long, Happy Life,” NPR (website), November 2014

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Korah: Democrat or Demagogue?

Korah: Democrat or Demagogue?

Jun 23, 2017 By Alan Mittleman | Commentary | Korah

Korah is the first left oppositionist in the history of radical politics.

–Michael Walzer, Exodus and Revolution (111)

How shall we read the Korah story? What is his rebellion about?  Is Korah the first left-wing radical? He seems to want to level the distinction between leaders and masses. All of the people are holy, he claims. There is no need for a priestly caste which, in the wilderness setting, is a governance class.

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Do Not Enter

Do Not Enter

Jun 16, 2017 By Captain Soderstrom | Commentary | Shelah Lekha

This week’s parashah includes the story of the scouting of the Promised Land. My photograph Do Not Enter can be seen as a modern representation of what the scouts saw: the beauty and bounty of the Land along with the dangers some were reluctant to face. The female figure can be seen as the embodiment of the Land’s fertility, while the foreboding backdrop of a New York City alleyway and large guard dog represent the strength and ferocity of the people living there.

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A Strong Sign

A Strong Sign

Jun 9, 2017 By Nicole Wilson-Spiro | Commentary | Beha'alotekha

I offered my very first devar Torah on this portion as I became a bat mitzvah 25 years ago. My memory of my early thoughts on this portion is admittedly hazy, but I am quite sure I did not pick up on the age requirements given in the portion for serving as a Levite. According to Numbers 8:24–25, a Levite man was required to be between 25 and 50 years old to perform the duties associated with the Tabernacle. Rashi notes that Numbers 4:3 states that the minimum age for service is 30 years, and not 25, as in our portion. He suggests that at 25 a Levite man began to study the laws of sacrifice, and after five years of study, at the age of 30, he was prepared to take on his Levitical duties.

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What Would You Pack?

What Would You Pack?

Jun 2, 2017 By Tim Daniel Bernard | Commentary | Naso

1 pair of pants, 1 shirt, 1 pair of shoes and 1 pair of socks
Shampoo and hair gel, toothbrush and toothpaste, face whitening cream
Comb, nail clipper
Bandages
100 U.S. dollars
130 Turkish liras
Smart phone and back-up cell phone
SIM cards for Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey

—contents of Iqbal’s backpack on arriving in Lesbos, Greece (emphasis added)

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A Text That Mirrors Democracy

A Text That Mirrors Democracy

May 26, 2017 By David Marcus | Commentary | Bemidbar

The book of Numbers does not start with the word bemidbar, which occurs a little later in the first verse, but rather with vayedabber (“and he said”). In the standard Rabbinic Bible (Mikraot Gedolot), the first word of the book is introduced with an extraordinary flourish: The word vayedabber is printed in giant letters and enclosed in a decorative woodcut border in the shape of a parallelogram. This is surrounded by another rectangle consisting of two lines of Masoretic notations (traditional notes on the Biblical text) on each side; these notations are, in turn, surrounded by two biblical verses, one from Nehemiah and one from Daniel.

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בהר סיני (“At Mount Sinai”)

בהר סיני (“At Mount Sinai”)

May 19, 2017 By Louis Polisson | Commentary | Behar | Behukkotai

At Mount Sinai
We chose Her
And what did She say?

Declare liberty for boy and girl
There shall be a Sabbath of complete rest for the land
A Sabbath
For Being

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