What Blessing Do You Need Now?

What Blessing Do You Need Now?

Jun 14, 2024 By Andrea Merow | Commentary | Naso

In Parashat Naso we learn the blessing used by so many, called birkat kohanim, the blessing of the priests. Amid our longest parashah, nestled between laws of the Nazirites and final preparations for how to use the Tabernacle, our holy space, God teaches that people can use their words and actions to bless one another, all while noting that our blessings come from The Holy One.

Read More
Becoming Like the Wilderness

Becoming Like the Wilderness

Jun 7, 2024 By Eitan Fishbane | Commentary | Bemidbar | Shavuot

With the start of Sefer Bemidbar, the narrative of the Torah turns to the long journey of Benei Yisrael through the wilderness—punishment for the sin of the Golden Calf and preparation for entry into the Land of Israel. Passage into the sacred terrain first requires an arduous ordeal of wandering—a physical process of movement and quest. Penitence, pilgrimage, and transformation are anchored in the space of wilderness.

Read More
The Terrifying Third Aliyah of Behukkotai

The Terrifying Third Aliyah of Behukkotai

May 31, 2024 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Commentary | Behukkotai | Shavuot

Why do we continue to read such horrible curses, and another passage much like it in Parashat Ki Tavo (Deut. 28:1–68), each year? The simplest answer is that we read the entirety of the Torah each year, omitting nothing. However, the Mishnah (Megillah 3:6) already notes something special about the curses of the Leviticus passage: “The section of curses must not be broken up but must all be read by one person.”

Read More
JTS Alumni in the World: Scholarship and Impact

JTS Alumni in the World: Scholarship and Impact

May 30, 2024 By The Jewish Theological Seminary | Public Event video | Video Lecture

Join esteemed JTS alumni to hear about the important contributions they are making through their work as scholars and thought leaders in their fields. Through their engagement with Jewish text, history, and thought, they are enhancing the spiritual and personal lives of individuals, building more inclusive communities, and preparing the leaders of tomorrow, ensuring a stronger Jewish future.  

Read More
What Can a Bird and a Seed Teach Us About Shemitah?

What Can a Bird and a Seed Teach Us About Shemitah?

May 24, 2024 By Yael Hammerman | Commentary | Behar

In Parashat Behar, God tells the Israelites that when they enter the land that God will give them, “the Land shall observe a Sabbath of the Adonai”—veshavta ha’aretz Shabbat l’Adonai (Lev. 25:2). This becomes known as the shemitah year. For six years, you can work to your heart’s content—you can sow, prune, and gather, but in the seventh year, the land shall have a full, complete rest: shabbat shabbaton yihiyeh la’aretz (Lev. 25:4)!

Read More
Gender, the Bible, and the Art of Translation

Gender, the Bible, and the Art of Translation

May 20, 2024

How should English translators of the Hebrew Bible approach questions relating to gender? When should gender-inclusive language (such as “God” or “person”) be used for references to God and human beings, and when is gendered terminology (such as “King” and “man”) called for historically and linguistically? What does it mean to faithfully render biblical Hebrew into contemporary English, and how can translators share their methodologies and choices with readers and communities? We explore these questions, focusing on the newest Bible translation released by The Jewish Publication Society, THE JPS TANAKH: Gender-Sensitive Edition.

Read More
Are We Just Speaking, or Truly Communicating?

Are We Just Speaking, or Truly Communicating?

May 17, 2024 By Loraine Enlow | Commentary | Emor

Perhaps the breaking of the formula for our parashah’s irregular emor is about more than just words. Using its characteristic wordplay, the Midrash connects the parashah’s emor here to omer in Psalm 19:3 (spelled the same way, but as a poetic noun): “day to day utters speech (omer), and night to night reveals knowledge.”  It explains that the day and the night are negotiating the giving and borrowing of time from each other to create the cycles of the year between the equinoxes. Reading the next verse in the psalm, we see “there is no speech (omer) . . .” Or as the Midrash puts it, “they pay each other back harmoniously, without a contract.”

Read More
The Kabbalah of Tzefat

The Kabbalah of Tzefat

May 14, 2024 By Eitan Fishbane | Podcast or Radio Program

After the Expulsion from Spain, a mystical revival flourished in Tzfat, building on the fellowship circles that defined groups like the Spanish Kabbalists of previous generations. These communities, which were built on the cultivation of spiritual friendships and master-disciple relationships, developed kabbalistic theology, poetry, ethics, autobiography, halakhah, and more. Elements from this period and place have become well known in contemporary Jewish practice, from the blessings of Kabbalat Shabbat to the notion of reclaiming the divine emanations that shattered with the creation of the world.

Read More
Praying for the Peace of Jerusalem

Praying for the Peace of Jerusalem

May 13, 2024 By Alan Cooper | Public Event video | Video Lecture | Yom Hazikaron-Yom Ha'atzma'ut

In Commemoration of Yom Hazikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror)

With Dr. Alan Cooper, Elaine Ravich Professor of Jewish Studies, JTS

Read More
Who among Us Is Holy? 

Who among Us Is Holy? 

May 10, 2024 By Talia Kaplan | Commentary | Kedoshim

When God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites קדשים תהיו, “You shall be holy,” the injunction is to be delivered אֶל־כָּל־עֲדַ֧ת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל, “to the entire community of Israel” (Lev. 19:2). This week’s parashah opens with a message that seems easy to get behind. The question, though, of what it actually means to be holy, is answered by commentators in a way that paints a more complicated picture. Rashi explains that being holy entails refraining from forbidden sexual relations and transgressive thoughts, which are delineated both in this and the previous parashah.

Read More
Meditative Kabbalah

Meditative Kabbalah

May 7, 2024 By Eitan Fishbane | Podcast or Radio Program

Kabbalah is not limited to the sefirot and the mystical knowledge of the Divine inner self. In this episode, we examine two other focuses of Kabbalah—Prophetic Kabbalah and the Kabbalah of Names. The Kabbalah of Names derives from a form in which different combinations of divine names can be employed to achieve an altered state of consciousness. This consciousness could be employed to find a prophetic mindset.  

Read More
Art as Witness: The Work and Remarkable Survival Story of Esther Lurie

Art as Witness: The Work and Remarkable Survival Story of Esther Lurie

May 6, 2024 By Shay Pilnik | Public Event video | Video Lecture | Yom Hashoah

The survival story of celebrated artist Esther Lurie (1913-1998), the only Israeli artist to win the prestigious Dizengoff Prize for Drawing twice in her career, was beyond remarkable. After she made aliyah and established herself as a prominent artist in young Tel Aviv, Lurie was caught up in the claws of the Hitlerite monster while visiting her sister. From that point on, she was driven by two motivations—to survive the Kovna Ghetto and several labor camps, and to bear witness to Nazi crimes through a series of brilliant, clandestine sketches and illustrations.

Read More
What Do the Dead Know?

What Do the Dead Know?

May 3, 2024 By Jonathan Boyarin | Commentary | Aharei Mot

This week’s Torah portion begins with the words “after the death,” referring to the death of Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu.  I appreciate the chance to contribute this week’s commentary, since I’m currently teaching a course titled “Death, Dying, and the Dead” at JTS. Much of the course is about Jewish death rituals, but I also aim to convince my students that Jewishness per se is inconceivable without some notion of the continuing presence of the dead in the world of the living. The tradition for the most part seems to take this continued presence for granted, though questions arose about exactly how it manifests.

Read More
<i>Shevi’i Shel Pesah</i>: Living at the Frontier

Shevi’i Shel Pesah: Living at the Frontier

Apr 25, 2024 By Lauren Henderson | Commentary | Pesah

On the seventh day of Passover (Shevi’i shel Pesah), we reached the frontier of our existence: Yam Suf, the Sea of Reeds. We had known slavery intimately, becoming deeply comfortable in Egypt even as we clamored to leave. And after all the plagues and darkness and death, we arrived, trembling, at the water’s edge, about to surface and breathe the unfamiliar air of freedom for the first time.

Read More
In Each and Every Generation

In Each and Every Generation

Apr 19, 2024 By Burton L. Visotzky | Commentary | Pesah

Twice in the Passover liturgy we hear the phrase, “in each and every generation.” We are taught that “in each and every generation a person is obligated to see himself as though he had participated in the Exodus from Egypt.” On the other hand, we are reminded that “in each and every generation they arise against us to destroy us.” The consolation is that The Holy, blessed be God, presumably saves us from their hands.

Read More
The Zohar

The Zohar

Apr 16, 2024 By Eitan Fishbane | Podcast or Radio Program

Dr. Fishbane describes the Zohar as most significant pillars of thought and creativity in the entire history of Jewish civilization. This episode explores its development in 13th and 14th Century Spain and the circles dedicated to its creation and circulation. We explore questions around its language and authorship and how the mystical midrashim or stories […]

Read More
Across the Divide: Tips for Hard Conversations at the Seder Table

Across the Divide: Tips for Hard Conversations at the Seder Table

Apr 15, 2024 By Jan Uhrbach | Commentary | Pesah

Many of us are approaching seder this year with concern about seemingly unbridgeable divides about Israel. It’s tempting to try to avoid difficult conversations, but Passover isn’t merely a holiday of gratitude for a past redemption—it calls us to move toward transformation and freedom internally and externally, individually and collectively, especially with those closest to […]

Read More
From Symposium to Seder: How The Rabbinic Adoption of Roman Party Conventions Became Our Passover Seder

From Symposium to Seder: How The Rabbinic Adoption of Roman Party Conventions Became Our Passover Seder

Apr 15, 2024 By Robert Harris | Public Event video | Video Lecture | Pesah

In the years following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, Jewish observance of Passover underwent a seismic shift. In lieu of the now impossible sacrificial Temple ritual, the rabbis adopted the Roman symposium in order to create a new type of festival meal, one that was rooted in new rituals and intellectual discourse. Together we explore what led to the rabbinic decision to conduct the Seder in this way, rather than opting for a different way to commemorate Passover, such as instructing the Jewish people to perform the sacrifice in their homes. We also examine some of the questions and answers in the Haggadah which are central features of the Roman symposium and core to our Haggadah. 

Read More
Charting a Way Back

Charting a Way Back

Apr 12, 2024 By Ayelet Cohen | Commentary | Tazria

The book of Vayikra can be understood as an exercise in transition; if one imagines the Torah as the lifecycle trajectory of Israel, this The book of Vayikra can be understood as an exercise in transition; if one imagines the Torah as the lifecycle trajectory of Israel, this book represents adolescence/early adulthood. The Israelites are still transitioning from being an enslaved people toward becoming a free people. With their newfound autonomy, they must learn responsibility to one another and service to God. They struggle with faith, patience, ethical behavior, interpersonal relationships, and boundaries—in short, all of the things that are hard about maturation and adulthood.  book represents adolescence/early adulthood. The Israelites are still transitioning from being an enslaved people toward becoming a free people. With their newfound autonomy, they must learn responsibility to one another and service to God. They struggle with faith, patience, ethical behavior, interpersonal relationships, and boundaries—in short, all of the things that are hard about maturation and adulthood.

Read More
The Origins of Kabbalah in Medieval Europe

The Origins of Kabbalah in Medieval Europe

Apr 9, 2024 By Eitan Fishbane | Podcast or Radio Program

Moving from the Middle East to Germany, Spain, and France, this episode explores the practices and intellectual exercises of these communities. During this timeperiod, the practice of Kabbalah (literally received tradition) begins to take shape in Provence, France. One of the primary foci is the development of the Sefirot, the ten radiant dimensions of the inner Divine Self. 

Read More
Reset Search

SUBSCRIBE TO TORAH FROM JTS

Our regular commentaries and videos are a great way to stay intellectually and spiritually engaged with Jewish thought and wisdom.