Counting the Omer, Counting our Blessings

Counting the Omer, Counting our Blessings

Apr 23, 2020 By Matthew Berkowitz | Shavuot

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Matzah’s Majestic Meaning

Matzah’s Majestic Meaning

Apr 8, 2020 By Judith Hauptman | Commentary | Pesah

I don’t know why we ask the first of the four seder questions—“On all other nights we eat both hametz and matzah but on this night only matzah.” The Ha lahma anya paragraph that immediately precedes the questions already answers it. The opening words, “this is the bread of affliction (lahma anya in the Aramaic) that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt,” suggest that the Israelite slaves in Egypt, who presumably had no time to bake bread, ate matzah. And that is why we eat matzah on Passover. So why ask the first question?

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JTS Seder Supplement for the COVID-19 Pandemic

JTS Seder Supplement for the COVID-19 Pandemic

Apr 6, 2020 By The Jewish Theological Seminary | Collected Resources | Pesah

Selected thoughts on the Haggadah in light of the COVID-19 crisis.

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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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Human Lives and the Natural World

Human Lives and the Natural World

Oct 18, 2019 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Commentary | Sukkot

For many of us who live in dense metropolitan areas, spending time in national parks gives us a unique opportunity to experience in more immediate fashion the majesty of our world. Vacationing in the Canadian Rockies this past summer—hiking in the mountains, walking on glaciers, boating in deep blue lakes, cooling off in the spray of gorgeous waterfalls, identifying rare birds and seeing moose, elk, deer, and the occasional bear (thankfully from a distance)—I felt awed and fortunate to behold this.

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The Value of Doubt

The Value of Doubt

Oct 4, 2019 By Julia Andelman | Commentary | Rosh Hashanah | Shabbat Shuvah | Yom Kippur

The more one invests in trying to have a meaningful and genuine High Holiday prayer experience, the more one stands to lose if the words of the mahzor fall short of one’s aspirations. The mahzor is conceptually and theologically dense. If one takes the time to meditate upon the assertions of the prayers as they go by, one is sure to eventually encounter a text that rings false, problematic, or even alienating.

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We Need Each Other

We Need Each Other

Sep 27, 2019 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Nitzavim | Rosh Hashanah | Yom Kippur

One of the greatest privileges and responsibilities of a rabbi is to train candidates for conversion to Judaism. Such people are often spiritual seekers, and their questions challenge teachers whose Jewish identity and practice are well established. Why do you do this? What do you believe? What does this text mean? Will this practice make any difference? Faced with such inquiries, it becomes harder for teachers to treat ritual as habit, and faith as dogma. The questions posed by converts, children, or adults who are first discovering the depths of Judaism are exciting to those of us who teach Torah, forcing us to reexamine our own beliefs and practices.

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Does the Holocaust Play an Outsized Role in Contemporary Jewish Identity?

Does the Holocaust Play an Outsized Role in Contemporary Jewish Identity?

May 2, 2019 By Edna Friedberg | Commentary | Yom Hashoah

I am a Jewish historian—and that is a deliberately ambiguous label. In one reading of that phrase, I am a historian of Jewish people and their experiences. But I am also proudly Jewish myself and as such not neutral about my subjects. Jewish history is personal for me, as is my daily work at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. When I began to work at the Holocaust Museum in 1999, I was wary that I would contribute to what some see as an unhealthy obsession with Jewish victimization.

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Fear and Faith at the Exodus

Fear and Faith at the Exodus

Apr 25, 2019 By Lilly Kaufman | Commentary | Pesah

As they cross the Sea of Reeds and see the advancing Egyptian army behind them, the Israelites feel terror and cry out to God for help in Exodus 14:10. But in the next two verses they reject God’s wondrous efforts to bring them out of Egypt. The people ask for help and then reject it. Do they want God’s help or not? 

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A Spiritual Caution for This Season

A Spiritual Caution for This Season

Apr 19, 2019 By David Hoffman | Commentary | Pesah

The Shulhan Arukh—the 16th-century law code that serves as the essential scaffolding for the Jewish legal system—introduces its discussion of the holiday of Passover with the Talmudic prescription:

We ask and inquire about the laws of Passover 30 days before the beginning of the Passover holiday. (OH 429:1, BT Pesahim 6a)

Rabbi Moshe Isserles (1530-1572) immediately comments on this law:

It is a custom to buy wheat and distribute it to the poor for the needs of Passover.

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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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Purim Resources

Purim Resources

Feb 27, 2019 By The Jewish Theological Seminary | Collected Resources | Purim | Shabbat Zakhor

A curated listing of Purim and Shabbat Zakhor resources on JTS Torah Online

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Cantillation for High Holidays

Cantillation for High Holidays

Oct 23, 2018 By The Jewish Theological Seminary | Prayer Recordings | Rosh Hashanah | Yom Kippur

Recordings by Cantor Sarah Levine (CS ’17).

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Cantillation for Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and Ruth

Cantillation for Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and Ruth

Oct 23, 2018 By The Jewish Theological Seminary | Prayer Recordings | Pesah | Shavuot | Sukkot

Recordings by Cantor Sarah Levine (CS ’17).

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Cantillation for Lamentations

Cantillation for Lamentations

Oct 23, 2018 By The Jewish Theological Seminary | Prayer Recordings | Tishah Be'av

Recordings by Cantor Sarah Levine (CS ’17).

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Cantillation for Megillat Esther

Cantillation for Megillat Esther

Oct 22, 2018 By The Jewish Theological Seminary | Prayer Recordings | Purim

Recordings by Cantor Sarah Levine (CS ’17). Cantillation for Megillat Esther – Trop Symbols

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When Buildings Fall

When Buildings Fall

Sep 28, 2018 By Julia Andelman | Commentary | Sukkot

From my childhood perspective growing up in an apartment building in suburban Boston, having a sukkah was a symbol of arrival—and our family didn’t have one. Most of our friends lived in private homes, and so, with a mixture of enjoyment and jealousy, we traipsed all around town to have our yom tov meals in other people’s sukkot.

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Metaphorically Speaking

Metaphorically Speaking

Sep 14, 2018 By Amy Kalmanofsky | Commentary | Shabbat Shuvah | Yom Kippur

I am sometimes surprised at how literal liberal Jews can be. Many wonder whether they can refer to God as מחיה מתים, Restorer of Life to the Dead, if they do not believe there is life after death. Many wonder whether they should recite the blessing which praises God for choosing Israel from among the other nations, אשר בחר בנו מכל העמים, if they do not believe that God chose Israel.

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Remember the Children!

Remember the Children!

Sep 7, 2018 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Nitzavim | Rosh Hashanah

The cries of children, and the sobbing of parents, ring in our ears each Rosh Hashanah. The Torah and haftarah readings emphasize the perils faced by sons Ishmael and Isaac, and the terrors experienced by mothers Hagar, Sarah, Hannah, and Rachel. To witness a child in danger evokes a nearly universal response to rush to the rescue. Implicit in this collection of texts is the plea that God look upon us—the Jewish people—as vulnerable children, that divine mercies might be stirred, and forgiveness extended to us all. Just as the mothers of Israel were stirred with mercy, we ask that God be moved to show us love.

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High Holiday Insights

High Holiday Insights

Jul 17, 2018 By The Jewish Theological Seminary | Collected Resources | Rosh Hashanah | Shabbat Shuvah | Yom Kippur

A curated listing of High Holiday resources on JTS Torah Online

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