The Blessings of Curses

The Blessings of Curses

May 27, 2022 By Ellie Gettinger | Commentary | Behukkotai

It is easy to see the last two years as a curse. A million people have died in the US alone; lives have been upended. We are in a constant state of emotional whiplash, responding to whatever new national emergency faces us. Reading the curses at the center of Parashat Behukkotai, I was struck by how chaos and lack of control presented within the tokhehah, or admonition, dovetails with the constant emotional disruption of the pandemic.

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Jewish Theology in America, Today and Tomorrow

Jewish Theology in America, Today and Tomorrow

May 23, 2022 By Arnold M. Eisen | Public Event video

Professor Eisen explores recent developments in Jewish thought about God and what God requires of us as Jews and human beings against the background of past Jewish thought, recent work by non-Jewish thinkers, and Professor Eisen’s own theological reflections in the age of COVID.

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The Limitations of Ownership

The Limitations of Ownership

May 20, 2022 By Yedida Eisenstat | Commentary | Behar

Rashi, the well-known medieval northern French biblical commentator, begins his commentary on this week’s parashah with a famous question, loosely paraphrased as follows: In what way does the matter of shemittah[the sabbatical year] have anything to do with Mount Sinai? In other words, the laws of Leviticus 25—beginning with the agricultural restrictions of the seventh year, the regulations regarding the jubilee year, limitations on sale of land and slaves—are wholly dependent on Israel living in Israel. So why, Rashi asks, were these laws commanded so long before they would become relevant? Of what relevance are the laws of shemittah to the Israelites at Sinai?

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Watering the Soul in Times of Faith and Doubt

Watering the Soul in Times of Faith and Doubt

May 16, 2022 By Mychal Springer | Public Event video

together—is central to a life of faith and often plunges people into doubt. We will make space for the “watering of the soul,” both metaphorically and through exploration of the connection between resurrection and water—in the form of rain and dew. 

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Expanding the Canon: Transforming Judaism in the 21st Century

Expanding the Canon: Transforming Judaism in the 21st Century

May 15, 2022

Jewish learning has long focused on texts by an elite group of ancient rabbis. What would it mean to radically expand our canon, incorporating the voices of women, Jews of Color, people with disabilities, and other historically marginalized groups? JTS scholars will introduce new voices and also offer new lenses through which to read ancient texts. Together we will explore how diversifying our canonical texts can help us create a more inclusive Jewish community. 

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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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Reaching for the Heavens: <br>The Music of Composer Gerald Cohen

Reaching for the Heavens:
The Music of Composer Gerald Cohen

May 10, 2022 By Gerald Cohen | Public Event video

Download Program Amid the Alien Corn Text Reaching for the Heavens featured the vibrant and compelling music of Gerald Cohen, a leading composer of concert and Jewish music, and a faculty member of the H. L. Miller Cantorial School for nearly 30 years, as well as the Cassatt String Quartet and other renowned performers. The […]

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Does Faith Matter? The Ancient Jewish Debate About Faith and Mitzvot

Does Faith Matter? The Ancient Jewish Debate About Faith and Mitzvot

May 9, 2022 By David C. Kraemer | Public Event video

One often hears it said that “Judaism cares what one does, not what one believes.” But this is a distortion, an oversimplification. When one looks at sources from the period of the birth of Rabbinic Judaism (including early “Christian” writings), one finds that there was an active debate about this matter. In this session, we will begin by considering the arguments of those ancient Jews—Paul and James—who raised the important question of faith vs. mitzvot. We will then examine echoes of the same debate in early rabbinic sources.

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Fruit Trees and Foreskins

Fruit Trees and Foreskins

May 6, 2022 By Naama Weiss | Commentary | Kedoshim

In Parashat Kedoshim, the Torah introduces the commandment of orlah (עָרְלָה), where one is forbidden from eating fruit that grows in the first three years after a tree’s planting.
But the use of the word orlah here has puzzled generations of commentators, for though it appears frequently in the Torah, it is not typically connected to trees. Indeed we primarily associate the term with circumcision. How are the two uses of orlah related? And can tracing this relationship reveal something new about the rite of circumcision itself?

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The Gender of God in Ancient Israel

The Gender of God in Ancient Israel

May 2, 2022 By Benjamin D. Sommer | Public Event video

How did the biblical authors, and other Israelites, view the gender of God? Did they perceive God to be male? Did any of them perceive God as female? To answer this question, we examine both several biblical texts as well as archaeological evidence.

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Who is the Stranger?

Who is the Stranger?

Apr 29, 2022 By Linda S. Golding | Commentary | Aharei Mot

What a great invitation, I thought, to write a d’var Torah on Aharei Mot!  The opening verses that include “Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come at will into the Shrine behind the curtain . . . lest he die” came immediately to mind. The directive to be mindful and thoughtful when entering God’s presence and the presence of others certainly aligns with a chaplain’s way of being. When entering a hospital room, for example, I know that the Shekhinah, God’s healing presence, is at the head of the patient’s bed. Holiness is already in the room, and I must be prepared to pay attention. 

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Between the Lines: Hélène Jawhara Piñer on the History of Sephardi Cuisine

Between the Lines: Hélène Jawhara Piñer on the History of Sephardi Cuisine

Apr 27, 2022 By The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary | Public Event video

Scholar and author Hélène Jawhara Piñer discusses her unique books about Sephardi cuisine and demonstrates how to make a delicious muleta. About Hélène Jawhara Piñer Hélène Jawhara Piñer has a PhD in Medieval History and the History of Food. As a research associate of the Research Center CESR in Tours, her research interests include the […]

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Writing Jewish: A Discussion with Nicole Krauss and Joshua Cohen

Writing Jewish: A Discussion with Nicole Krauss and Joshua Cohen

Apr 25, 2022 By The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary | Public Event video

Part of JTS’s Opening Season Jews have always been writers of books—from books for Jews with self-consciously Jewish content to books with no obvious Jewish consciousness directed toward the general reading public. But there are also authors who create worlds filled with Jews (and others) who embody human experiences with a Jewish twist for readers […]

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Because You Hear the Prayers of Your People Israel in Mercy

Because You Hear the Prayers of Your People Israel in Mercy

Apr 25, 2022 By Rachel Rosenthal | Public Event video

We often think of God’s choice to respond to our prayers as an act of mercy, but the rabbis in the Babylonian Talmud believed that God was powerless to ignore certain prayers. We look at five models of people whose prayers God answers and consider how they act as messengers on behalf of their communities.

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Remembering Together

Remembering Together

Apr 22, 2022 By William Plevan | Commentary | Pesah

The celebration of Pesah is an outstanding example of the central role that memory plays in Jewish tradition. Underscoring the importance of memory for sustaining human societies, Elie Wiesel wrote, “Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.” Communal memory, of course, goes far beyond what any one individual can remember and experience. And yet, what makes memory so powerful as a vehicle for communal identity is that it speaks to us on a personal level.

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Which Is “Wiser”: The Story of the Exodus or the Laws of Pesah?

Which Is “Wiser”: The Story of the Exodus or the Laws of Pesah?

Apr 15, 2022 By Jeremy Tabick | Commentary | Pesah

One of the core aspects of the Torah’s Pesah commentary is the education of the participants. In its very introduction, in the reading for the first day of Pesah, the concern of education is placed front and center: “When your children will ask you, ‘What is this service for you?’ you will say, ‘It is a pesah sacrifice to God . . .’” (Exod. 12:26–27). Indeed, justifying the practice of Pesah to children comes up in the Torah no less than four times.

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Evergreen Lessons from the Haggadah

Evergreen Lessons from the Haggadah

Apr 8, 2022 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Commentary | Pesah | Shabbat Hagadol

The Passover seder—the most celebrated Jewish ritual—serves as a symbolic reenactment of the journey of the Israelites from slavery to freedom. The Haggadah commands us to experience it annually as a way of developing historical empathy for all who are oppressed, enslaved, displaced, and hoping for liberation; we have ritualized the recounting of our people’s enslavement and deliverance in part to cultivate a sense of moral responsibility toward those suffering in our own day.

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Jewish Community Voices from Ukraine

Jewish Community Voices from Ukraine

Apr 7, 2022 By David Fishman

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, millions of people have been forced to make impossible decisions. Jewish community organizations responded to the needs of these communities. Dr. David Fishman will moderate a discussion between Tania Batanova, Sasha Nazar, and Reuven Stamov, three leaders from the Ukrainian Jewish Community. They will share their reflections on life before the […]

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The Still, Small Voice: A Journalist and Her Rabbi on Regaining Intimate, Authentic Conversation

The Still, Small Voice: A Journalist and Her Rabbi on Regaining Intimate, Authentic Conversation

Apr 6, 2022 By The Jewish Theological Seminary | Public Event video

Two years ago, when the pandemic first hit, good friends Dahlia Lithwick and Rabbi Jan Uhrbach decided it was time to begin the weekly Jewish study session they’d been talking about for a while.

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Mandatory Fun: The Commandment of Joy

Mandatory Fun: The Commandment of Joy

Apr 4, 2022 By Sarah Wolf | Public Event video

Usually we think of the mitzvot, the commandments of Jewish law, as involving specific actions. Yet the Torah also commands us to feel certain emotions, including love for God and joy on the festivals. Dr. Sarah Wolf to explores rabbinic texts that grapple with questions about what fulfillment of such a commandment should look like.

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