Where Are We Now?  Rethinking Exile, Diaspora and Home in Israel and America

Where Are We Now?  Rethinking Exile, Diaspora and Home in Israel and America

Jan 29, 2024 By Arnold M. Eisen | Public Event video | Video Lecture

For many Jews in Israel and America, the war with Hamas has provoked a reconsideration of long-held assumptions about Israel, the Diaspora, and the relationship between the two. This lecture considers whether America can be a true home for Jews or whether is it another instance of exile, albeit different in some respects from all others—and it aska these same questions regarding Israel. We examine a variety of responses to these questions by Americans and Israelis, Zionists and non-Zionists, that sharpen debate and challenge convictions that we hold dear. 

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Taking Life’s Journey with Torah

Taking Life’s Journey with Torah

Jul 21, 2023 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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Jewish-American, American-Jew: The Complexities and Joys of Living a Hyphenated Identity 

Jewish-American, American-Jew: The Complexities and Joys of Living a Hyphenated Identity 

Mar 13, 2023 By Arnold M. Eisen | Public Event video | Video Lecture

The Pew Reports and many scholars use the first description of who we are;  JTS (and I myself) prefer the second.   It matters a great deal to a person’s identity whether “Jew” and “American” are adjective or noun; it matters still more how Jews and non-Jews understand the hyphen that links the two parts of these (and other religious and ethnic identities) one to another. We explore that “liminal space” of the self through analysis of a wide range of books, essays, films and literary characters.   

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Joseph, Hanukkah, and the Dilemmas of Assimilation

Joseph, Hanukkah, and the Dilemmas of Assimilation

Dec 23, 2022 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Miketz | Hanukkah

Ruminations about assimilation come naturally to Jews in North America during the winter holiday season. How much should a parent insist that Hanukkah is part of public school celebrations that give students a heavy dose of Christmas? How often should one remind store clerks who innocently ask Jewish children which gifts they hope to receive from Santa this year that there are other faiths observed in our communities, and other holidays? Intermarried couples are familiar with conversations about having a Christmas tree at home, or going to midnight mass, or allowing their kids to open gifts Christmas morning under the tree at their cousins’ home. The Hanukkah story is the perfect stimulus for such reflections, especially when read, as some historians do, not as a conflict between Jews and a tyrannical government, but as a dispute among Jews themselves over which Greek customs are acceptable and which cross the line to assimilation or apostasy.

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Making Every Word Count

Making Every Word Count

Oct 7, 2022 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Ha'azinu

Ha’azinu is remarkable in two respects: what it says, and how it chooses to say it. My focus here will be the latter, but let’s note with regard to the former that in this, his final address to the Children of Israel before a set of farewell blessings, Moses reviews all of his people’s past, present, and future. He begins by calling on the God who had called Israel into being and called him to God’s service. He reminds Israel that God has chosen them and still cares for their well-being. He prophesies that despite all that God and Moses have said and done, Israel will abandon God, as they had in the past. God will punish them, as in the past, but never to the point of utter destruction. In the end, God and Israel will reconcile.

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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 | Video Lecture

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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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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Two Nations Struggling in the Womb

Two Nations Struggling in the Womb

Nov 9, 2018 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Toledot

The map of the United States is divided almost equally between red and blue as I write this column on the morning after the 2018 midterm elections. The Republicans have increased their majority in the Senate, and lost their majority in the House. Many races were too close to call far into the evening, and were decided in the end by the narrowest of margins—even as the two major parties and their supporters apparently stand farther apart from one another than at any time in recent memory. The results confirm the widespread view that Americans have rarely been less united.

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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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