What It Means to Enjoy

What It Means to Enjoy

Sep 23, 2016 By Alan Cooper | Commentary | Ki Tavo

At one of our Shabbat afternoon Talmud classes some 50 years ago, after the usual bout of eating, drinking, and singing, the topic under discussion was what it means to “enjoy” Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and Festivals). We discussed Rabbi Eliezer’s statement that Festival “rejoicing” is obligatory, as well as the two alternative ways he proffers for attaining pleasure: either by eating and drinking or by sitting and studying. Rabbi Joshua interjects that it should be half of one and half of the other (BT Pesahim 68b).

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Arts and Crafts: Commentary on Parashat Ki Tissa

Arts and Crafts: Commentary on Parashat Ki Tissa

Feb 11, 2014 By Alan Cooper | Commentary | Ki Tissa

There are aspects of the Bible’s account of the construction of the Tabernacle in the wilderness that seem incredible; so much so that early critical commentators tended to reject its historical accuracy out of hand.

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Why Did God Flood the World?

Why Did God Flood the World?

Oct 1, 2013 By Alan Cooper | Commentary | Noah

The end of Parashat Bereishit finds God regretting the creation of humankind and resolving to wipe it out along with “beasts, creeping things, and birds of the sky” (Gen. 6:7). A note of optimism creeps into the concluding verse (6:8), however, with the statement that Noah, whose birth and naming were noted in 5:29, “found favor” with God.

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The Torah’s Prescription for Healing

The Torah’s Prescription for Healing

Apr 9, 2013 By Alan Cooper | Commentary | Metzora | Tazria

At a glance, the opening chapters of Parashat Metzora seem like a biblical antecedent of WebMD. Leviticus 13 describes the disfiguring symptoms of צרעת/tzara`at, starting with “a swelling, a rash, or a discoloration” that “develops into a scaly affection” (Lev. 13:1).

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Psalm 27: The Days of Awe

Psalm 27: The Days of Awe

Aug 25, 2012 By Alan Cooper | Rosh Hashanah

The custom of reciting Psalm 27 during the penitential season, variously understood to entail the period from Rosh Hodesh Elul through Yom Kippur, Hoshanah Rabbah, or Shemini Atzeret, is codified in Mishnah Berurah, siman 581: “In our region it is customary to recite [Psalm 27] followed by kaddish at the conclusion of the morning and evening services every day from Rosh Hodesh Elul until Yom Kippur; we customarily recite it until Shemini Atzeret.”

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The Last Day of Passover

The Last Day of Passover

Apr 14, 2012 By Alan Cooper | Commentary | Pesah

Of all the extra festival days that we celebrate in Diaspora (yom tov sheni shel galuyot), perhaps the most irksome is the eighth day of Pesah. The second day of Sukkot adds to the delight of the holiday when the weather cooperates; the second day of Shemini Atzeret brings us the joy of Simhat Torah as a day unto itself. Even the second seder has its pleasures, except perhaps for those who have to prepare the meal and clean up afterward. But the eighth day of Pesah? Enough already! Bring on the pizza and pasta.

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Eating in the Wilderness

Eating in the Wilderness

Sep 24, 2010 By Alan Cooper | Commentary | Sukkot

With Sukkot on my mind, the wilderness controversy prompted me to imagine what the Israelites’ experience of the wilderness might be like nowadays in contrast to biblical times. How much of the hardship of their forty-year trek from Egypt to Canaan might they have been spared if their four-wheel (instead of four-legged)-drive vehicles had been guided by GPS rather than meandering pillars of fire and cloud, or if the signage in the desert had amounted to more than a few indecipherable graffiti (even more obscure than Garden State Parkway markers)?

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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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Realizing Our Human Potential

Realizing Our Human Potential

Apr 25, 2009 By Alan Cooper | Commentary | Metzora | Tazria

This week’s double dose of purity laws is unlikely to top anyone’s list of favorite Torah portions. While the laws may be discomfiting and obscure, however, they also are fundamental to an understanding of biblical theology and anthropology, and they convey a message that transcends their particular details.

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