Finding Our Place in a Universalistic Age

Finding Our Place in a Universalistic Age

Jul 6, 2018 By JTS Alumni | Commentary

By Rabbi Juan Mejia (RS ’09)

Israel and Humanity is the magnum opus of Italian rabbi and polymath Elijah Benamozegh. Born in the cosmopolitan city of Livorno in Italy in the early nineteenth century (only one year before JTS´s founder Rabbi Sabato Morais was born in the same city), Rabbi Benamozegh was a distinguished community leader, printer, kabbalist, and public intellectual both in Jewish and non-Jewish circles. In his erudite but extremely approachable and poetic treatise, Israel and Humanity, Benamozegh presents a bold and refreshing view of Judaism vis-a-vis other religions (with special emphasis on Christianity). 

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Stars that Shine by Their Own Light

Stars that Shine by Their Own Light

Jun 8, 2018 By JTS Alumni | Commentary

By Dr. Aryeh Wineman (RS ’59)

Letters of Light consists of over ninety excerpts translated from Ma’or va-shemesh, a classic Hasidic collection of homilies on the Torah-readings of the year composed by Kalonymus Kalman Epstein of Krakow, who died just short of two centuries ago. While written in a world very different from our own, the work, in some respects, remarkably addresses our own time and the quest for greater depth and spirituality that we witness in many quarters today.

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Sustaining the Popularity of Pirkei Avot

Sustaining the Popularity of Pirkei Avot

May 4, 2018 By JTS Alumni | Commentary

By Rabbi Martin S. Cohen (RS ’78, GS ’82) 

Given its age and the many places it diverges from modern sensitivities, it’s amazing just how popular Pirkei Avot has remained—and, indeed, it would be more than fair to say that no part of our rabbinic heritage has launched more sermons or divrei torah. 

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A Radical Rebbe

A Radical Rebbe

Apr 20, 2018 By JTS Alumni | Commentary

By Dr. Morris M. Faierstein (GS ’75)

Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Kotsk (1787–1859) is one of the most interesting and challenging figures of Hasidism in the nineteenth century. His search for truth and battles against falsehood and spiritual compromise are the subject of many legends. Though he was irascible and demanding, he inspired the loyalty of disciples who went on to become the dominant leaders of Hasidism in Poland from the middle of the nineteenth century until the destruction of Polish Jewry in the Holocaust.

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Maimonides and the Merchants

Maimonides and the Merchants

Feb 9, 2018 By JTS Alumni | Commentary

By Dr. Mark R. Cohen (RS ’70, GS ’76)

In my new book, I explore a relatively unknown aspect of Maimonides’s Mishneh Torah, his comprehensive code of Jewish law. The study offers insight into Judaism’s continued evolution to account for wider societal trends and illustrates how the personal experience of lawmakers influences law.

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Time to Mourn

Time to Mourn

Jan 19, 2018 By JTS Alumni | Commentary

By Rabbi Joseph Krakoff (RS ’98)

Death can make us uneasy. We don’t always know what to say to the bereaved. We may attempt to bring comfort by offering words that, though well-meaning, often fall flat—or worse. The truth, though, is that there are no magical, healing words that have the power to bring instant comfort. Our Jewish tradition brilliantly instructs us to extend sincere wishes of comfort and then remain silent, allowing the mourner to shape the conversation as they see fit. The reality is that our presence and our hugs speak louder and truer than any words we could utter.

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Reading Hosea Anew

Reading Hosea Anew

Jan 5, 2018 By JTS Alumni | Commentary

By Dr. Mayer I. Gruber (RS ’70)

For 41 years, I taught and researched the biblical prophets, first at Spertus College of Judaica in Chicago and later at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer Sheva, Israel. I applied and developed the insights of my teachers at JTS—H. Louis Ginsberg, Robert Gordis, and Abraham Joshua Heschel, all of blessed memory, and, may he be distinguished for long life, Shalom M. Paul—into the intricacies of the biblical book of Hosea. The result is my new translation, introduction, and commentary.

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Restoring a Commentary Maligned

Restoring a Commentary Maligned

Dec 8, 2017 By JTS Alumni | Commentary

By Dr. Morris M. Faierstein (GS ’75)

The Ze’enah U-Re’enah was first published about 1610 and has since been reprinted 275 times. Despite this great popularity, this edition is the first complete annotated critical translation of this classic to be published. Since the end of the nineteenth century, conventional wisdom has held that the Ze’enah U-Re’enah was a Yiddish translation of the humash written for women and ignorant men who could not understand the text in Hebrew. 

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Speaking to God, Speaking to People

Speaking to God, Speaking to People

Nov 17, 2017 By JTS Alumni | Commentary | Text Study

By Rabbi Debra Newman Kamin (RS ’90)

Adonai, open my lips that my mouth may speak your praise. (Psalms 51:17)

My God, keep my tongue from evil and my lips from deceit. (BT Berakhot 17a, based on Psalms 34:14)

At different stages of my life prayer has been a challenge, but I have found it meaningful to think not just about each individual prayer but how the structure of the service helps us experience different facets of prayer. 

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The Spirituality of Solitude

The Spirituality of Solitude

Oct 20, 2017 By JTS Alumni | Commentary

By Rabbi Martin S. Cohen (RS ’78, GS ’82)

It can’t have been easy having Rambam as your dad. But that was how things were for Maimonides’s only son, Abraham, born in 1186 when his father was already 51 years old and widely recognized as one of the greatest Jewish philosophers, commentators, and halakhic decisors ever. A contemporary Arab historian described Abraham as tall and lean, possessed of “pleasant manners and refined speech, and distinguished in medicine” (his chosen profession, as it had been his father’s). 

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Limbs

Limbs

Aug 25, 2017 By JTS Alumni | Commentary | Shofetim

Gavriella Kornsgold, Student, The Rabbinical School, and JTS Alumna (LC ’17, DS ’19)
Limbs (2017)
Sharpie, colored pencil, and acrylic on plexiglass

Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city? (Deut. 20:19)

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Aleph: The First Breath

Aleph: The First Breath

Oct 28, 2016 By JTS Alumni | Commentary | Bereishit

By Joshua Hooper (DS ’17)

My artwork is inspired by the opening verses of Bereishit, when God’s first breath calls forth light (יהי אור) out of the darkness (Gen. 1:3). This holy light (shown in blue) is timeless—the first manifestation of God’s will. The Aleph is depicted as emerging out of the darkness surrounding it while the holy light is concealed within it. The essence of this light radiates outwards (towards the lower worlds, which are expressed by the three colors that surround the Aleph’s form). The light transcends all levels of Creation.

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Dwelling with God

Dwelling with God

Sep 2, 2016 By JTS Alumni | Commentary | Re'eh

By Sonia Gordon Walinsky (LC ’04) and Nina Gordon

From Rosh Hodesh Elul, this shabbat, until the end of the holiday season, Psalm 27 is recited in the daily morning and evening services. It reflects a yearning for closeness with God fitting for the time of year when we seek to make teshuvah—literally, returning to God.

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Back to the Future

Back to the Future

Sep 4, 2015 By JTS Alumni | Commentary | Ki Tavo

By Dr. Jacqueline Gerber Lebwhol (GS ’17)

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (trans. Gregory Rabassa)

My college modern literature professor often began class with a communal recitation of this sentence, and many readers consider it among the best first lines of any modern work. What makes this rather strange sentence so powerful?

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Bodies and Their Critics

Bodies and Their Critics

May 8, 2015 By JTS Alumni | Commentary | Emor

By Yonah Kirschner (DS ’15)

Cassey Ho, a fitness blogger, recently posted a video she created in response to the many body-shaming comments she was receiving from critics online. The video went viral. It first shows Cassey, clearly athletic and healthy, walk over to a mirror, smiling happily. But as the video progresses, a barrage of unpleasant social media comments appear. Cassey’s hand then becomes an image-editing tool, and we watch as Cassey, now humiliated, sadly scrapes away parts of her body. The dejection communicated by the music and her facial expressions makes it a powerful experience for the viewer, difficult to watch as she mutilates her body into a caricature of the “perfect” body.

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The Older Shall Serve the Younger

The Older Shall Serve the Younger

Dec 11, 2013 By JTS Alumni | Commentary | Vayehi

By Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky

The Viennese psychologist Alfred Adler theorized that birth order within a family was a decisive factor in shaping one’s personality. Firstborn children tend to be natural leaders, he theorized, because parents tend to shower them with attention, and younger children tend to look up to their big siblings for guidance. However, firstborn kids tend to struggle with a sense of “dethronement” when a younger one comes along, feeling that this new little interloper has knocked them off their pedestals of parental love.

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Ushpizin in the Sukkah

Ushpizin in the Sukkah

Oct 5, 2012 By JTS Alumni | Commentary | Sukkot

By Rabbi Ayelet Cohen

Immediately on the heels of the intense spiritual work of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Sukkot challenges us to turn our lives inside out again, this time quite literally. The Talmud tells us that for the duration of Sukkot we must leave our permanent dwellings and reside in temporary dwellings (BT Sukkah 2b). By its very nature, the sukkah must feel temporary; we must experience the elements in a way that we do not when we are at home.

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Communion and Closeness

Communion and Closeness

Jun 17, 2006 By JTS Alumni | Commentary | Beha'alotekha

By Rabbi Jay M. Kornsgold

I have always been intrigued when reading the Torah by the out of the ordinary occurrences in the text itself such as dots above words and larger or smaller letters. Often, discussions in my congregation become focused on these anomalies. In the portion of B’ha·alot’kha the Hebrew letter nun is reversed before and after the following passage: “When the Ark was to set out, Moses would say: Advance, O Lord! May Your enemies be scattered, And may Your foes flee before You! And when it halted, he would say: Return, O Lord, You who are Israel’s myriads of thousands.” (Numbers 10:35 36)

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Finding God’s Presence

Finding God’s Presence

Jun 10, 2006 By JTS Alumni | Commentary | Naso

By Rabbi David Greenspoon (RS ’95)

The ancient rabbis were close readers of the Bible, and developed a whole lexicon on how texts were read. Contemporary readers of rabbinic midrash frequently note how the exegetical methods of the rabbis so often presaged modern literary theory. For instance, the rabbis suggested that close proximity of biblical texts, samchut parshiyot, lent itself to appreciating a deeper message from the Bible.

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Life, the Universe, and Everything?

Life, the Universe, and Everything?

May 27, 2006 By JTS Alumni | Commentary | Bemidbar

By Rabbi Murray Ezring

Science fiction aficionados know the answer. The answer is forty-two, or so wrote Douglas Adams in his classic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Numbers have always been important in Jewish tradition. So Adams might be correct. The number forty-two may contain tremendous religious significance. Four plus two equals six, the number of books in the Mishnah. Four times two equals eight, the number representing the covenant we have shared with our creator since the days of our patriarch Abraham. Six times seven, the result of multiplying the six days of the mundane workweek by the sanctity of Shabbat.

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