Can God Prohibit an Emotion?

Can God Prohibit an Emotion?

Feb 5, 2021 By Sarah Wolf | Commentary | Yitro

Part of my current research focuses on how human emotions are discussed and legislated in the Talmud and other ancient rabbinic texts, and so the last of the Ten Commandments (as counted in the Jewish tradition) raises for me some fundamental questions.

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Expanding the Circle of Revelation

Expanding the Circle of Revelation

Feb 12, 2020 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Yitro

Are women Jews? This shocking question, first phrased by the feminist scholar Rachel Adler, is linked by Judith Plaskow to our portion in her 1990 book, Standing Again at Sinai. When Moses descends from the mountain to prepare the people for revelation, he tells them, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman” (Exod. 19:15). Sexual contact makes one temporarily impure, and God wanted the people to receive the revelation in a state of purity. As Plaskow notes, Moses could have said, “men and women do not go near each other,” but instead he addresses only the men. She writes, “In this passage, the Otherness of women finds its way into the very center of Jewish experience.”

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The Confusion of Revelation

The Confusion of Revelation

Jan 25, 2019 By Barry Holtz | Commentary | Yitro

We have now come to Parashat Yitro in our annual Torah reading cycle, arguably the most significant sedra in the Humash. While Parashat Bereishit has the mythic power of the creation stories and Parashat Beshallah includes the narrative of the Exodus from Egypt and the miraculous crossing of the Sea, it is in Yitro that we see the culmination of that crossing, for here in Parashat Yitro we read about our first connection to the Torah, the single most significant element of Judaism as it later evolved.

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Where Do We Look to Find Our Center?

Where Do We Look to Find Our Center?

Feb 2, 2018 By Adam Berman | Commentary | Yitro

We Jews read the Torah bit by bit, or parashah by parashah, over the course of a year. As a result, traditional Jewish interpretation of the Bible tends to focus on small units such as individual verses or short passages. But the Torah sometimes uses overarching structures in longer units to convey key themes. An important example occurs in this week’s parashah.

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Why Did Moses Listen to Yitro’s Advice?

Why Did Moses Listen to Yitro’s Advice?

Feb 17, 2017 By Walter Herzberg | Commentary | Yitro

Yitro heard that God had done wonders for Moses and Israel and had redeemed them from Egypt. He journeyed from Midian with Moses’s wife and sons to the Israelites’ encampment at the mountain of God. We hear nothing of Moses’s reunion with his wife and children, but rather a detailed account of Yitro’s organizational advice to Moses.

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Whose Revelation Is It, Anyway?

Whose Revelation Is It, Anyway?

Jan 29, 2016 By Stephen P. Garfinkel | Commentary | Yitro

Parashat Yitro is a Torah reading of monumental ideas, foundational concepts, and widely-recognized importance. By all measures, this week’s portion must be considered a highlight of the entire Torah, since it includes no less (and a lot more!) than the Ten Commandments. This seems to be the right place to explore questions such as these: what did the actual revelation (Exodus 20) include? What were God’s commandments? Why were these statements singled out, especially given the amount of law scattered throughout the Torah? What gives these brief pronouncements their distinctive importance? 

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The Bite of Desire

The Bite of Desire

Feb 6, 2015 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Yitro

Do you covet? I do, and it makes me sad. Perhaps I’m too hard on myself. We all see things that we want, don’t have, and wish we did. There is too much in the world that is bright and shiny—offering pleasure and excitement—not to see it and feel the ache of its absence in my life. And I speak not only of the ephemeral delights that beckon. Even more difficult to contemplate are my fellow human beings whose personal and professional lives leave me despondent when measuring myself against them: scholars who have written books that I haven’t, friends who seem to be better spouses or more successful parents, people who have paid off their mortgages, men who still have all their hair. In short, the list is endless.

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Exodus 18: The Proverbial Visit of the In-Laws

Exodus 18: The Proverbial Visit of the In-Laws

Jan 15, 2014 By Robert Harris | Commentary | Yitro

“Come and listen to my story ’bout a man named . . . Jethro!”

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How We Believe in God

How We Believe in God

Jan 30, 2013 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Yitro

The Mishnah and the two Talmuds mostly address details of Jewish observance; they rarely discuss the purpose of individual commandments, nor how the mitzvot mesh to create an integrated religious ethos.

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Torah and the Supreme Court

Torah and the Supreme Court

Feb 11, 2012 By Marc Wolf | Commentary | Yitro

These are all the essential ingredients for the recipe of how we interpret the Torah at JTS—language, history, tradition, precedent, purpose, and consequence. It is these very same principles that define our vision for study, law, and practice.

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Bearing Witness to Torah

Bearing Witness to Torah

Jan 22, 2011 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Yitro

Everything that precedes Sinai in the Torah’s narrative leads up to it. Everything that comes afterward—in the Torah, the Bible and Judaism as a whole—follows from the fact of Covenant and works out its consequences for Israel and the world. Your life and mine are shaped by the account presented in this week’s parashah. I would like to suggest two major ways in which that is so.

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Awakening to the Divine Radiance

Awakening to the Divine Radiance

Feb 6, 2010 By Eitan Fishbane | Commentary | Yitro

This Shabbat we read the most pivotal narrative in all of scripture: the revelation of God to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai, the reception of the Torah as the divine word transmitted through Moses. From this moment forth, everything changes. The people enter into a covenantal relationship with God; they accept the life of mitzvot as their responsibility and the obligation of their descendents. At the heart of this narrative is the transmission of the Ten Commandments (or the Ten Statements [aseret ha-dibbrot]), the core principles understood by later Jewish tradition to be the root and foundation of all the mitzvot, the fabric of Jewish religious life.

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The Electricity of Awe

The Electricity of Awe

Feb 14, 2009 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Yitro

Parashat Yitro is a play in three acts, starting with Act I, a backstory in Exodus 18. Moses reunites with his family, notably his wise father-in-law, Yitro (Jethro), who rejoices at the miraculous reunion and then mentors his inexperienced son-in-law in the art of religious leadership. Yitro teaches Moses how to bless God, offer sacrifice, and administer justice among his restive and distressed people.

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Nostalgia, Memory and the Building of Judaism

Nostalgia, Memory and the Building of Judaism

Jan 26, 2008 By Marc Wolf | Commentary | Yitro

As is often the case with buildings in Lower Manhattan, 211 Pearl Street was caught in the sights of a developer seeking to level the property and replace it with a grand modern building.

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The Challenges of Leadership

The Challenges of Leadership

Feb 10, 2007 By Marc Wolf | Commentary | Yitro

The paradigms of leadership that emerge from the Bible teach us much about the human quotient in leadership.

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Three Mitzvot to Live By

Three Mitzvot to Live By

Feb 18, 2006 By David Rose | Commentary | Yitro

We are each a product of the stories that we carry within us.

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The Power to Serve

The Power to Serve

Jan 29, 2005 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Yitro

Judaism is an elaborate way of relating to God as the source of existence and the provider of ultimate meaning.

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Tasting Heaven

Tasting Heaven

Feb 14, 2004 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Yitro

It takes a long time to acquire a full appreciation of Judaism. Like most rambunctious kids, I found Shabbat constraining, especially without the support system of a large Jewish community. I looked forward to playing ping-pong after shul in the morning or walking over to the nearby YMCA for a game of basketball and a swim in the afternoon. My ambition as a kid was to show the world that Jews could play sports. 

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The Soul of Torah

The Soul of Torah

Jan 25, 2003 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Yitro

Christianity turns on the doctrine of incarnation as formulated famously by the Gospel of John: “So the Word became flesh; he came to dwell among us, and we saw his glory, such glory as befits the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (1:14). It is a doctrine that Jews tend to identify as uniquely Christian. Whereas both Judaism and Christianity equally acknowledged that at creation “the Word dwelt with God” (1:1) as both wisdom and instrument, Judaism refrained from ever endowing it with human form. Though valid, the distinction does not preclude the appearance in Judaism of the doctrine. For Judaism, the Word became incarnate as book.

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A Leadership Checklist

A Leadership Checklist

Feb 2, 2002 By Joshua Heller | Commentary | Yitro

This week we read parashat Yitro, whose primary focus is the revelation at Sinai, and the Jewish people’s preparation for that unique event in the history of the Jewish people. Aside from several spiritual and ritual preparations, the creation of a effective system of leadership is an essential practical component of the readiness for this great event.

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