Nov 17, 2023 By Aiden Pink | Commentary | Toledot
In his book The Joys of Yiddish, Leo Rosten defines one of the most useful words in our tradition: “When a schlimazel winds a clock, it stops; when he kills a chicken, it walks; when he sells umbrellas, the sun comes out; when he manufactures shrouds, people stop dying” (347).
In the entire Torah, it seems, there is no bigger schlimazel than Isaac.
At the beginning of his life, he’s nearly killed by his father. At the end of his life, he’s deceived by his son. He barely participates in the courtship of his own wife. Isaac is hapless, passive, an eternal victim—the archetypical schlimazel.Read More
Nov 25, 2022 By Burton L. Visotzky | Commentary | Toledot
In the world of the ancient Rabbis who gave us Judaism—the world of the Talmud and the Midrash, from the first century through the seventh century CE—our Rabbis identified Esau / Edom with the Roman Empire. In doing so, they took on both aspects of that Empire—the earlier pagan Roman Empire and the later Christian Roman Empire, and conflated them into one image of Esau, forever at odds with Jacob / Israel. For the Rabbis, Esau most often was depicted as the enemy, our oppressor, “The Man” who kept us beneath his boot.Read More
Nov 20, 2020 By Amy Kalmanofsky | Commentary | Toledot
Sometimes words fail us. When they do, depending on the cause and our own propensities, we resort to song, dance, or other forms of wordless expression. And sometimes we scream. Primal screams that communicate an agony beyond verbal expression resound throughout the Torah.Read More
Nov 30, 2019 By Marc Gary | Commentary | Toledot
One of the joys of working at The Jewish Theological Seminary is the ability to take courses from arguably the greatest Jewish studies faculty in the world. Last year, I audited a course on biblical grammar in the Book of Genesis taught by one of this generation’s greatest Bible scholars. While I did my best to keep up with the younger and better-educated members of the class—mostly rabbinical and graduate students—I was particularly impressed by the level of class discussion. During one class, a student offered an interpretation of the text which he argued was consistent with the grammar but different from the one offered by the professor. The professor paused for a moment and then smiled: “I never thought of that.”Read More
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.Read More
Nov 17, 2017 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Toledot
The stories of Genesis are presented as family portraits, but simultaneously they describe the origins of a religious civilization. How did the people of Israel acquire and maintain its distinctive religious mission? Genesis offers not only a window into Israel’s past, but a blueprint for its future. Implicit is an invitation to contribute to this unfolding narrative, attaching the threads of our lives to the tapestry woven by our ancestors.Read More
Dec 2, 2016 By Brian Smollett | Commentary | Toledot
Do the Jewish people exist because of a bowl of lentil soup? Toledot presents the story of Jacob and Esau, a sibling rivalry with cosmic implications. The twin brothers who would come to father their own nations struggled even within the womb. Different as they were, they both prized the birthright that the already elderly Isaac would bestow upon his first born.Read More