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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Here I Am, <em>Tzara’at</em> and All

Here I Am, Tzara’at and All

Apr 1, 2022 By Rachel Rosenthal | Commentary | Tazria | Shabbat Hahodesh

When I was 12, a few weeks before my bat mitzvah I went in to meet with one of the rabbis of my synagogue. At the time, the synagogue newsletter included a “pasuk of the week,” a verse from that week’s Torah portion that was particularly interesting or thought provoking. However, as the rabbi confessed to […]

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Unlocking the Gates of Heaven: The Transformative Power of Grief

Unlocking the Gates of Heaven: The Transformative Power of Grief

Feb 7, 2022 By Rachel Rosenthal | Public Event video

Grief is a primal emotion, often associated with paralysis, but sometimes it has the power to generate great change in the face of loss. In this session, we will study some rabbinic sources that focus on grief and the ways that the rabbis use it to transform their circumstances and their communities.  

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If There Is No Bread, There Is No Torah: The Other Careers of the Talmudic Rabbis

If There Is No Bread, There Is No Torah: The Other Careers of the Talmudic Rabbis

Nov 15, 2021 By Rachel Rosenthal | Public Event video

We often think of the rabbis in the Talmud as having careers as full-time rabbis. However, numerous narrative traditions tell us about their other jobs and their financial struggles. If one cannot make a living learning Torah, how should we balance Torah with more mundane concerns? We’ll study some of these stories together and look at some models for lives that are enriched both by Torah and by work.

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Work-Life Balance in Ancient Times:   <br>Why the Rabbis Left Their Homes  to Study Torah

Work-Life Balance in Ancient Times:
Why the Rabbis Left Their Homes to Study Torah

Aug 9, 2021 By Rachel Rosenthal | Public Event video

We often think of questions about how to balance work and family as modern ones. However, a series of stories in Ketubot show that people have been struggling with these issues for hundreds of years. In these stories, the rabbis leave home to learn Torah, and often return to domestic chaos. Dr. Rachel Rosenthal explores these stories to better understand how the rabbis understood their obligations to Torah, to themselves, and to their families.  

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The Commandments We Need

The Commandments We Need

Jul 23, 2021 By Rachel Rosenthal | Commentary | Va'et-hannan

The act of retelling is, by virtue of necessity, an act of interpretation. Certain details sharpen and others fade as we place a past experience in the context of our needs and thoughts in the present moment. As Yosef Chayim Yerushalmi famously argued in his seminal book Zachor, there’s a difference between history and memory—both are deeply important, but they play different roles in our lives.

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Learning Torah from the Talmud’s Greatest Gentiles

Learning Torah from the Talmud’s Greatest Gentiles

Apr 12, 2021 By Rachel Rosenthal | Public Event video

The Talmud, in Sanhedrin, says that it is forbidden for non-Jews to learn Torah. However, throughout rabbinic literature, the rabbis frequently imagine themselves engaging in dialogue about religious issues with non-Jews, be they kings or merchants. Why do the rabbis use these gentiles as repositories of Jewish wisdom and questions, and what might that tell us about how they understand their relationship to the larger world?

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One Day More

One Day More

Oct 9, 2020 By Rachel Rosenthal | Commentary | Shemini Atzeret

Of all of the holidays in the month of Tishrei, Shemini Atzeret is the most puzzling. Rosh Hashanah celebrates the new year for the world, Yom Kippur focuses on atonement and forgiveness, Sukkot is about joy and vulnerability. Even Simhat Torah, which is not mentioned in the Bible, has a clear purpose and clear rituals. But if asked to explain the purpose of Shemini Atzeret, beyond having the opportunity to pray for rain for the coming season, most people would be hard pressed to articulate what, exactly, this eighth day does for us, for God, or for the world.

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Destiny in the Details

Destiny in the Details

Feb 7, 2020 By Rachel Rosenthal | Commentary | Beshallah

In life’s biggest moments, it is sometimes easy to lose track of the smallest details. I have been to more than one wedding where everything is beautifully set up, from the flowers to the catering to the band, but then when the couple being married reach the huppah, they realize that they had forgotten the kiddush cup for the Sheva Berakhot, or the pen for signing the ketubah.

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How to Challenge Authority

How to Challenge Authority

Jul 5, 2019 By Rachel Rosenthal | Commentary | Korah

When is it appropriate to challenge a leader? While this week’s parashah, Korah, is perhaps the most dramatic attempt to answer this question in the Torah, this question percolates from the beginning of Moses’s tenure. At first glance, the answer would seem to be that Moses should never be challenged. As God’s chosen leader, the Israelites should submit to his authority in all cases. After all, things end badly for those who do not follow this course, as the story of Korah shows.

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Who Belongs?

Who Belongs?

May 4, 2018 By Rachel Rosenthal | Commentary | Emor

Who is the Other? This question, which is asked more and more often in our world, is not often easy to answer. Can one choose to be part of a community? Are people who were once outsiders ever fully welcomed as insiders? In Judaism, these questions are especially important. While Judaism has categories to define and even praise non-Jews, opting into the Jewish community is not simple. However, the Talmud tells us that once someone converts to Judaism, we are supposed to treat them as any other Jew. Unfortunately, this is a mission in which many communities fail.

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The Choice

The Choice

Sep 15, 2017 By Rachel Rosenthal | Commentary | Nitzavim | Vayeilekh

Imagine if you could choose your future—not know it, but choose it. What would happen to you? Would you live forever? Would you choose how you were going to die? What would be your legacy? If you could, would you turn fantasy into reality?

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Power and Love

Power and Love

Feb 17, 2017 By Rachel Rosenthal | Commentary | Yitro

[P]ower without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.

― Martin Luther King Jr., “Where Do We Go From Here?” (1967)

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Moshe Learns to Say Good-bye

Moshe Learns to Say Good-bye

Aug 26, 2016 By Rachel Rosenthal | Commentary | Eikev

One last time
the people will hear from me
one last time
and if we get this right
we’re gonna teach ’em how to say
goodbye.
You and I—

—George Washington in Hamilton: An American Musical

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Here I Am, <em>Tzara’at</em> and All

Here I Am, Tzara’at and All

Apr 8, 2016 By Rachel Rosenthal | Commentary | Tazria

When I was 12, a few weeks before my bat mitzvah I went in to meet with one of the rabbis of my synagogue. At the time, the synagogue newsletter included a “pasuk of the week,” a verse from that week’s Torah portion that was particularly interesting or thought provoking. However, as the rabbi confessed to me, the week of my bat mitzvah was to be the end of that custom. He just couldn’t find anything that fit the bill. That week’s parashah? Tazria.

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Beyond Dreams

Beyond Dreams

Sep 11, 2015 By Rachel Rosenthal | Commentary | Nitzavim

Their moment has almost come. The Children of Israel stand poised on the edge of the Jordan about to enter the Land. The moment of their dreams is about to become reality. However, a new era of responsibility is about to begin as well. The Children of Israel will no longer be able to look to God to fulfill their every need. Instead, they must learn to support themselves and to take responsibility for their own behavior. As God tells the people in this week’s parashah, “It is not in the heavens . . . Rather, the thing is very close to you, in your mouths and in your hearts so that you can fulfill it.” 

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Freedom And Responsibility

Freedom And Responsibility

Mar 26, 2015 By Rachel Rosenthal | Short Video | Pesah

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Who Inherits Abraham?

Who Inherits Abraham?

Nov 14, 2014 By Rachel Rosenthal | Commentary | Hayyei Sarah

It is a well-known, if vaguely uncomfortable, psychological phenomenon that when looking for a partner, people are often attracted to those who are similar to their parents in appearance and personality. It is easy to see the logic behind this; when planning our futures, we seek that which is familiar to us from our pasts. This notion is often thought of as a modern phenomenon, reflecting a time when people choose their own mates. However, closer examination dates this concept back to the Torah, starting with the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca.

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