Guided by the Covenant

Guided by the Covenant

Jan 8, 2021 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Shemot

There is a wonderful midrash in Pesikta Derav Kahana that suggests a profound relationship between the arrival of the manna described in Parashat Beshallah and the giving of the Ten Commandments recounted in the following parashah, Yitro. Just as the manna tasted different to each and every Israelite, Rabbi Yosi teaches, so each was enabled according to his or her particular capacity to hear the Divine Word differently at Sinai (12:25).

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Reflections at a Time of Crisis and Change

Reflections at a Time of Crisis and Change

Jun 15, 2020 By Arnold M. Eisen | Public Event video | Video Lecture

A conversation between Chancellor Arnold Eisen and Rabbi Micah Peltz of Temple Beth Sholom (Cherry Hill, NJ) about the challenges of COVID-19, racial injustice, and other issues confronting our world and the Jewish community today.

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Passover in the Time of Coronavirus

Passover in the Time of Coronavirus

Apr 3, 2020 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Pesah | Shabbat Hagadol

What a difference a year makes—or a week, or a day. Last year at this time, reflecting on a period of rising anti-Semitism in America and Europe, I wrote that “discussion at your seder table will be different from all Passovers past.” This year, many of those discussions will happen virtually, and attendance at physical seder tables will likely be limited to close family or friends. Many people may be sitting at the seder table alone. The plague is upon us, striking every part of the world without regard to national border or religion. The holiday will not be the same, because we are not the same.

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Leveling the Field

Leveling the Field

May 24, 2019 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Behar

Growing up in Philadelphia, I often went with classmates to Independence Hall, where I swelled with pride to see that the Liberty Bell bore engraved words from the Torah:

 “Proclaim liberty throughout the land, to all the inhabitants thereof.” (Lev. 25:10)

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Passover after Pittsburgh

Passover after Pittsburgh

Apr 12, 2019 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Pesah | Shabbat Hagadol

“Why is this night different from all other nights?”

Whether you are a twenty-something, a Millennial, a Boomer, or a member of the Greatest Generation; whether you are attending your first Passover seder this year or the latest in a long line of sedarim, chances are good that the discussion at your seder table will be different from all Passovers past. The Jewish community of North America has markedly changed since last Passover, shaken to its core by the synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh and a significant spike in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States as well as in Europe that seem part of a larger outburst of racism and prejudice. 

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Holy Work for God’s Creation

Holy Work for God’s Creation

Feb 15, 2019 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Tetzavveh

The most important headline of the week (and perhaps the year) did not appear in the top right column of the New York Times last Thursday. That spot—traditionally reserved for the lead story—was given over to the troubles facing the governor of Virginia, a scandal likely to be resolved and forgotten in a matter of weeks. Not so the fact that “the five warmest years in recorded history have been the last five, and that 18 of the 19 warmest years have occurred since 2001.” This story is likely to shape human history—and the life of the planet—for many years to come; it now seems indisputable that “the quickly rising temperatures . . . correspond with the scientific consensus that climate change is caused by human activity.”

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A Wall “To the Right of Them, and To the Left”

A Wall “To the Right of Them, and To the Left”

Jan 18, 2019 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Beshallah

For many years my favorite line in Parashat Beshallah—the section of Torah that I studied at age 11 while learning to chant with proper musical notation from the scroll—was the Israelites’ sarcastic complaint to Moses when they found themselves trapped between Pharaoh’s army advancing from behind them, and the sea blocking their way forward.

What? There weren’t enough graves in Egypt, so you took us out to die in the wilderness? (Exod. 14:11)

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Both/And: 250 Years of Conservative Judaism in 80 Minutes

Both/And: 250 Years of Conservative Judaism in 80 Minutes

Aug 31, 2018 By Arnold M. Eisen | Podcast or Radio Program

Learn how Conservative Judaism became what it is today in this accessible mini-series adaptation of Chancellor Eisen’s semester-long class for JTS students.

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Taking Life’s Journey with Torah

Taking Life’s Journey with Torah

Jul 20, 2018 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Devarim

“Hear, O Israel,” the book of Deuteronomy proclaims over and over, the verb always in the second person singular. The Torah wants every one of us to listen carefully, whoever we are, at whatever stage of life. It knows that each person will hear its words somewhat differently—and will perhaps listen differently—this day than in the past.

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Politics as a Jewish Vocation

Politics as a Jewish Vocation

May 18, 2018 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Bemidbar

The book of Bemidbar, which aims to help its readers navigate the chaotic wilderness in which the Children of Israel have always lived and wandered, deals more directly than any other book of the Torah with what the great sociologist Max Weber called “Politics as a Vocation.”

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Is it Time to Rethink the Israel-Diaspora Relationship?

Is it Time to Rethink the Israel-Diaspora Relationship?

Apr 19, 2018 By Arnold M. Eisen | Public Event video | Video Lecture | Yom Hazikaron-Yom Ha'atzma'ut

A provocative discussion with Chancellor Arnold M. Eisen and Dr. Hillel Ben Sasson about how Israel and Diaspora Jewry influence each other—and how we can develop a new vision for working together.

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Israel at 70: Bridging Divides

Israel at 70: Bridging Divides

Apr 17, 2018 By Arnold M. Eisen

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Four New Questions from the Four Children

Four New Questions from the Four Children

Mar 23, 2018 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Shabbat Hagadol

Here’s a challenge for the rising generations seated around the seder table this year: make sure your Four Questions address the ways in which things truly are different in 2018 from how they have been at Passovers in the past.

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Leviticus on Love

Leviticus on Love

Mar 16, 2018 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Vayikra

I was on a small cruise ship with my family in Alaska this summer, when a couple whom I had come to like and admire asked me with great respect a question that Jews have been been hearing from Christians for many centuries, one that had been put to me more than once by students at Stanford: “How can Jews worship the God of the Old Testament, so full of harsh judgment and wrath, and so unlike the God of the New Testament, who calls to human beings in love?”

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Summoning a People

Summoning a People

Jan 5, 2018 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Shemot

Two very different stories about who we are as Jews are forcefully presented in the opening chapters of the Book of Exodus. One of them—captured in the Hebrew title of the book, Shemot or “Names”—declares that we are the Children of Israel: a nation, a people, defined in the first instance and forever after by our ancestors and the paths they travelled. The other story teaches that we are disciples of Moses, the human protagonist of the book, and, like him, are servants of the God Who called to Moses out of the Burning Bush and bound us in covenant at Sinai.

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Can the Tribes of Modern Israel Dwell Together?

Can the Tribes of Modern Israel Dwell Together?

Nov 29, 2017 By Arnold M. Eisen | Public Event video

On the 70th anniversary of the UN Partition Plan for Palestine, a major step in the creation of Israel, the partitions within Israeli society threaten the very future of the State. Can the divisions be bridged between Israel’s secular, national religious, ultra-Orthodox, and Arab citizens? Can they talk to each other and work together to forge a new partnership? And what is the role of caring Diaspora Jews in achieving this goal?

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A Year Without Second Chances

A Year Without Second Chances

Oct 11, 2017 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Bereishit

One of the greatest gifts that Judaism offers its adherents is multiple opportunities for starting over. The first ten days of the New Year are devoted to teshuvah: repentance, renewal, return to one’s best self and to God. On Simhat Torah, the final day of the fall holiday season, we read the last words in the Torah and then without pause scroll back to the very first word, bereishit, “in the beginning.”

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Retelling the Story

Retelling the Story

Apr 7, 2017 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Pesah | Shabbat Hagadol

Here’s a fifth question to ask at the seder this year, in addition to the usual four—a question likely to provoke discussion about the meaning of Passover that is especially timely in April 2017.

Why on all other nights (and days too) do we recall the Exodus from Egypt, but on this night, which is dedicated to the telling of that story, the Haggadah says little about what actually happened at the Exodus, and how it happened?

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Wonderment and Order: A Path to the Heart

Wonderment and Order: A Path to the Heart

Mar 24, 2017 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Pekudei | Vayak-hel

The Baal Shem Tov posed a question about Parashat Pekudei that I too find most puzzling. Why are we told over and over again—10 times in the course of Exodus chapters 39–40, by my count, in addition to a declaration at the start of Parashat Vayak-hel (35:4)—that the Israelites did all they did for the Tabernacle, gave what they gave, built what they built, “as the Lord had commanded Moses.” Why not just tell us once, at the end of the account, that all they did was done in this way, for this purpose? 

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