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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Struggling to Celebrate

Struggling to Celebrate

Apr 30, 2021 By Naomi Kalish | Commentary | Emor

While Parashat Emor contains one of the Torah’s discussions of holidays and instructions for their observances, rabbinic literature provides guidance for their observance in the context of the complexities of the participants’ lives, even those who might be struggling to celebrate.

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Opportunities in Jewish Time

Opportunities in Jewish Time

May 8, 2020 By Abigail Uhrman | Commentary | Emor

I had to think twice about what day it was today. In fact, since we’ve been sheltering at home, there have been many days when I have had to think twice. Like most families with children, I have our daily schedule posted prominently in our kitchen to add some much-needed structure to this time, but still, the days seem to stretch on. When Friday rolls around, though, there is a welcome interruption to our normal rhythm as we begin our Shabbat preparations. Despite the benefits of our carefully orchestrated routine, and there are many, Shabbat offers us a 25-hour window to think, do, and be differently than the rest of the week.

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Counting Whole Jews

Counting Whole Jews

May 17, 2019 By Arielle Levites | Commentary | Emor

We are in a season of counting. Beginning on the second night of Passover, Jews around the world began a collective counting project, marking the days from the Exodus from Egypt to the holiday of Shavuot, which celebrates the Israelites’ receiving of the 10 Commandments at Sinai.

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Who Belongs?

Who Belongs?

May 4, 2018 By Rachel Rosenthal | Commentary | Emor

Who is the Other? This question, which is asked more and more often in our world, is not often easy to answer. Can one choose to be part of a community? Are people who were once outsiders ever fully welcomed as insiders? In Judaism, these questions are especially important. While Judaism has categories to define and even praise non-Jews, opting into the Jewish community is not simple. However, the Talmud tells us that once someone converts to Judaism, we are supposed to treat them as any other Jew. Unfortunately, this is a mission in which many communities fail.

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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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Law, Compassion, and Justice

Law, Compassion, and Justice

May 12, 2017 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Emor

In the fall of 2012, I taught a course at the Princeton Theological Seminary entitled “An Introduction to Rabbinic Literature.” I saw my mission as twofold. My stated goal was to familiarize my students with the intellectual and spiritual world of the Rabbis through the study of representative texts from each of the genres of rabbinic literature: Mishnah, Tosefta, the Talmuds, and the halakhic and aggadic midrashim.

However, my study of text had a subtext: to disabuse my Christian students of the pernicious stereotypes of rabbinic Judaism that, some would argue, were first fostered by the apostle Paul and that persist to this very day in many Christian circles.

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The Blasphemer’s Twin

The Blasphemer’s Twin

May 20, 2016 By Tim Daniel Bernard | Commentary | Emor

This week’s parashah ends with a sin:

וַיִּקֹּב בֶּן-הָאִשָּׁה הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִית אֶת-הַשֵּׁם וַיְקַלֵּל.

The son of the Israelite woman pronounced the name [of God] and cursed. (Lev. 24:11)

Maybe we don’t need to overthink why a law code seen as given by God would determine that cursing God is problematic, but how severe a crime is this? Evidently, Moses was uncertain: the culprit was detained while Moses checked in with God (Lev. 24:12). Perhaps the negative consequence of this act seems unclear. After all, what harm can possibly come to God through human words?

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An Illustration of <em>Kiddush Levanah</em>

An Illustration of Kiddush Levanah

May 20, 2016 By The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary | Commentary | Emor

The middle of this week’s parashah (Lev. 23) details the cycle of the Jewish holidays. Each holiday is listed according to its month and its day. The months of the Hebrew calendar are strictly lunar, from new moon to new moon. Kiddush Levanah, a selection of prayers in honor of the new moon, is traditionally recited at the end of the first or second shabbat of each month.

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The Rigors of Leadership

The Rigors of Leadership

May 8, 2015 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Emor

In the wake of violent religious extremism that plagues our world today, why are some religious leaders not expressing their opposition to bloodshed in the name of God? By turning a blind eye and silencing their voices, religious leaders tacitly give their approval to the violence—both tarnishing their reputation as leaders and diminishing God’s presence in this world. Leadership, especially religious leadership, demands scrupulousness and accountability.

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Bodies and Their Critics

Bodies and Their Critics

May 8, 2015 By JTS Alumni | Commentary | Emor

By Yonah Kirschner (DS ’15)

Cassey Ho, a fitness blogger, recently posted a video she created in response to the many body-shaming comments she was receiving from critics online. The video went viral. It first shows Cassey, clearly athletic and healthy, walk over to a mirror, smiling happily. But as the video progresses, a barrage of unpleasant social media comments appear. Cassey’s hand then becomes an image-editing tool, and we watch as Cassey, now humiliated, sadly scrapes away parts of her body. The dejection communicated by the music and her facial expressions makes it a powerful experience for the viewer, difficult to watch as she mutilates her body into a caricature of the “perfect” body.

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Call Them by Their Names

Call Them by Their Names

May 2, 2014 By Joel Alter | Commentary | Emor

When I’m at a hotel over Shabbat, I have a set Friday afternoon ritual.

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Pride, Power, and Corruption in the Name of God

Pride, Power, and Corruption in the Name of God

May 2, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Emor

In the wake of religious fundamentalism that plagues our world today, why aren’t religious leaders vocal in their opposition to bloodshed and corruption in the name of God?

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The Spirit of Jewish Leadership

The Spirit of Jewish Leadership

Apr 23, 2013 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Emor

Two themes in this week’s Torah portion strike me with particular urgency and force: how Israelites should mourn the dead, and the qualifications required for the priesthood.

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Uncertainty and the Omer

Uncertainty and the Omer

Apr 23, 2013 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Emor

As we journey through these days and weeks, we find ourselves in the midst of Sefirat Omer, the counting of the Omer (the sheaf of barley offering, a ritual that took place in Temple times).

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Cultivating Gratitude

Cultivating Gratitude

May 12, 2012 By Charlie Schwartz | Commentary | Text Study | Emor

According to the rabbinic imagination described in this midrash, the messianic era will not be accompanied by a full return of the Temple service and various sacrifices described in this week’s parashah. Rather, in the opinion of Rabbi Menachem of the Galilee, in the messianic era no act of sacrifice will be practiced, save the thanksgiving offering. This vision of a future, idealized religious practice is a little surprising.

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Regulating Holiness

Regulating Holiness

May 12, 2012 By Marc Wolf | Commentary | Emor

As much as we learn about ritual practice, the search for holiness, and Jewish belief from the litany of rules that unfold in these chapters within the Holiness Code, from the exceptions to those rules we can begin to understand how Judaism negotiates conflicting values. Sometimes, it is the exception to the rule that offers the deepest insight.

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The Cycles of Nature

The Cycles of Nature

May 7, 2011 By Abigail Treu | Commentary | Text Study | Emor

A midrash for any attorney or accountant to love, the last line of which already rings with the oy vey iz mir tone which has come down to us via Tevye and Seinfeld as a quintessentially Jewish mode of wry humor.

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Bringing Compassion into Our Lives

Bringing Compassion into Our Lives

May 7, 2011 By Andrew Shugerman | Commentary | Emor

Late this past Sunday night, Erev Yom HaSho’ah (the Eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day), I heard the news that Osama bin Laden was dead, that the most infamous nemesis of the United States since Hitler and Stalin had been killed in an American military operation to capture him. While watching the television reports of celebrations outside the White House and near Ground Zero, I felt mixed emotions: relief for the end of the manhunt; elation over the retribution for innocent lives lost; and discomfort with my pride in the violent end of another human life, even one as murderous as this adversary’s was.

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A Nation with Priests

A Nation with Priests

Apr 30, 2010 By Alan Cooper | Commentary | Emor

Many Conservative synagogues no longer distinguish between members who claim descent from the priestly castes (kohenlevi) and ordinary Jews (yisra’el). The priestly blessing is recited by whoever happens to be leading the prayer service; the first two aliyot to the Torah are handed out democratically and dubbed rishon/sheni (“first/second”) instead of kohen/levi. Nevertheless, it is important to keep the old distinctions in mind as we read biblical priestly law in general and Parashat Emor in particular. Distinctions between priests and their fellow Israelites, like those between Israel and the nations, are fundamental to the biblical concept of holiness.

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