Casting Call: Leaders Wanted

Casting Call: Leaders Wanted

May 12, 2017 By Avi Garelick | Commentary | Emor

For the stage, an actor works himself into a role… In this respect, a role in a play is like a position in a game, say, third base: various people can play it, but the great third baseman is a man who has accepted and trained his skills and instincts most perfectly and matches them most intimately with his discoveries of the possibilities and necessities of third base. On the stage there are two beings, and the being of the character assaults the being of the actor; the actor survives only by yielding.

—Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film, 1971

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Leftover Scraps

Leftover Scraps

May 5, 2017 By Julia Andelman | Commentary | Aharei Mot | Kedoshim | Shavuot

The Torah exhorts us in this week’s parashah: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest…you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger” (Lev. 19:9-10). This mitzvah plays out in beautiful narrative form in the Book of Ruth, read on the upcoming holiday of Shavuot. But Ruth is the exception; she is rescued from her destitute state by Boaz, the owner of the field where she gleans, who marries her. What of all those who remained gleaners—whose survival depended on the daily toil of gathering other people’s leftovers?

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Guarding Our Tongues

Guarding Our Tongues

Apr 28, 2017 By Abigail Uhrman | Commentary | Metzora | Tazria

Becoming is better than being.

—Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

This week’s parashah discusses tzara’at, a skin disease understood in rabbinic tradition as punishment for lashon hara, evil speech. The public castigation that the metzora suffers is a powerful warning for us to “guard our tongues.” It was with words that God created the world, and our words have potential to build, create, and sustain life and human dignity, or to be a source of pain and destruction.

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Making Meat

Making Meat

Apr 21, 2017 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Shemini

Dr. Mark Post of the University of Maastricht stunned the world several summers ago by producing the most expensive burger in history. Working from stem cells taken from a live cow, his team cultured muscle tissue that they then turned into an edible product resembling ground beef. Amongst all the specifications for kosher animals in this week’s parashah, lab-grown meat is unsurprisingly absent. Jews therefore want to know—is it kosher? Could it even be pareve?

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A Scroll of The Song of Songs

A Scroll of The Song of Songs

Apr 14, 2017 By The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary | Commentary | Pesah

This decorated scroll of Shir Hashirim (which is read on the Shabbat of Pesah) is a product of the circle of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, dated to circa 1930, though the scribe and artist are unidentified. The artistic movement associated with this school was informed by the Zionist ideals of the society in which it was immersed.

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Two New Tunes for the Seder

Two New Tunes for the Seder

Apr 7, 2017 By Nancy Abramson | Commentary | Pesah | Shabbat Hagadol

I have fond memories of my grandfather at the head of the table, chanting the Haggadah straight through in Hebrew. My grandmother, mother, and aunts would be busy in the kitchen while all of us kids were fidgeting, waiting for our cue to sing Mah Nishtanah, the Four Questions. The night of the first seder was always magical for me, and still is, as I try to infuse the tradition with contemporary ideas and some new melodies.

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The Freshest Grain

The Freshest Grain

Mar 31, 2017 By Ofra Backenroth | Commentary | Vayikra | Shavuot

In a long narrative dedicated to sacrifices we find one hidden command to offer only the freshest and best grains, mixed with oils and scents. Through a multi sensory description the reader can sense the heavy kernels of grains, smell the scents, and vicariously participate in the powerful event of giving thanks to God with the offering of the first fruit.

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The Sanctuary and the Bomb

The Sanctuary and the Bomb

Mar 24, 2017 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Commentary | Pekudei | Vayak-hel

The US gave the codename “Ivy Mike” to its first full-scale experimental thermonuclear device. Designed by of two the century’s most significant nuclear scientists, Stanisław Ulam and Edward Teller, Mike’s design was a strangely beautiful one. As historian Richard Rhodes wrote in Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb: “Steel, lead, waxy polyethylene, purple-black uranium, gold leaf, copper, stainless steel, plutonium, a breath of tritium, silvery deuterium effervescent as a sea wake: Mike was a temple, tragically solomonic, invoking the powers that fire the sun.”

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Is It Right?

Is It Right?

Mar 17, 2017 By Yehudah Webster | Commentary | Ki Tissa

Cowardice asks the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: is it politic? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular—but one must take it simply because it is right.

—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “A Proper Sense of Priorities”

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The Poet as High Priest

The Poet as High Priest

Mar 10, 2017 By Alisa Braun | Commentary | Tetzavveh

Robert Browning, the Victorian poet, puzzled many of his readers when he called one of his collections Bells and Pomegranates. The issue wasn’t that he invoked a biblical type; many poets preceding him had seen themselves in prophetic terms. They were heroic figures whose imaginative powers could transform the world; they spoke truths to inspire others and change society. But what did the design on the hem of the priestly garment (Exod. 28:33-35) have to do with poetry? The poet as High Priest, a figure associated with rules and ritual rather than creativity and imagination, seemed counterintuitive.

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