A Sukkah Remembers

A Sukkah Remembers

Oct 4, 2017 By Ofra Backenroth | Commentary | Sukkot

In his poem “The Jews,” Yehuda Amichai (1924–2000) bestows on us a full typology of the Jewish people—from the standpoints of both Jews themselves and outsiders. Some of those images remain with us: the Jew wearing a Turkish turban in a Rembrandt painting, the Chagall Jew holding a violin as he flies over rooftops, and other vivid images. In the middle of the poem, Amichai mentions a sukkah—his grandfather’s sukkah, in particular. Amichai turns the memory of the Israelites’ wanderings in the desert that the sukkah usually evokes on its head, and describes the sukkah as an object that itself remembers and reflects back to us the history of the Jews.

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Teshuvah / Repentance

Teshuvah / Repentance

Sep 29, 2017 By Joanna Katz | Commentary | Yom Kippur

“What you can change is looking at and approaching the things in your life differently.”
“This Elul, I have had an opportunity to examine and reexamine my life so I might do things differently.”
“All the teshuvah work we do is inner work; the system does not care about the work we have done.”
“I want to be a better person.”

—Remarks made to me by Jewish inmates during the month of Elul

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Beyond Reach

Beyond Reach

Sep 20, 2017 By Barbara Mann | Commentary | Ha'azinu

Attentive the heart. The ear listening:
Is anyone coming?
Every expectation contains
the sadness of Nevo.

One facing the other—two shores
Of a single river.
The rock of fate:
Ever far apart.

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Woodcutters and Water Drawers

Woodcutters and Water Drawers

Sep 15, 2017 By Shira D. Epstein | Commentary | Nitzavim | Vayeilekh

The opening verses of this week’s parashah pronounce that the entirety of Israel stands before God to enter into the covenant: the leaders, the elders, the officers; every man, child, woman, and convert, as well as the “woodcutters and water drawers” (Deut. 29:9–10). Unlike some other Torah excerpts that clearly demarcate mitzvot reserved for a particular classification of people, all people are told to show up in this moment. They are beckoned to view themselves as integral parts of an expansive and inclusive community.

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Curses and Blessings

Curses and Blessings

Sep 8, 2017 By Galeet Dardashti | Commentary | Ki Tavo

I just recorded this riff/improvisation on a Moroccan rendition of the piyyut “Ahot Ketanah.” The piyyut (liturgical hymn)—particularly beloved by Sephardim as the first piece sung for Rosh Hashanah—references Ki Tavo’s many curses and pleads that this year’s curses come to an end. When I chant it for the High Holidays, the entire kahal holds the drone underneath. The Talmud (BT Megillah 31b) explains that Parashat Ki Tavo ends with incessant curses so that we leave them behind and begin the New Year with only blessings.

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Facing Reality

Facing Reality

Sep 1, 2017 By Alex Sinclair | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

And so another school year begins. After a summer of camp, travel, or relaxation, reality bites. Schedule. Classes. Papers. Reality.

Ki Tetzei contains many moments which deal with cold, hard reality. You like that woman you took captive in war? Sorry, mate, you have to face reality, with rules and regulations (Deut. 21:10–14). Think that the son of your preferred wife can inherit, even though he’s not the first-born? No sirree: you have to deal with legal reality (21:15-17). 

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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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Licensed to Kill (Kosher Animals)

Licensed to Kill (Kosher Animals)

Aug 18, 2017 By The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary | Commentary | Re'eh

In Deut. 12:20–25, explicit permission is given for the slaughter and consumption of meat outside of the sacrificial system. The passage includes the phrase “as I have instructed you” (v. 21), and the Talmud identifies these words as the source of the various prescriptions for kosher slaughter (shehitah) (BT Hullin 28a).

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Just One Mitzvah

Just One Mitzvah

Aug 11, 2017 By Noah Bickart | Commentary | Eikev

At the heart of this week’s parashah, we find the following:

All the commandments (כָּל־הַמִּצְוָה) which I command you this day shall you take care to do, that you may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the Lord swore to your fathers. And you shall remember all the ways (כָּל־הַדֶּרֶךְ) which the Lord your God led you these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you, and to prove you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments, or not. (Deut. 8:1–2)

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Walking in God’s Paths

Walking in God’s Paths

Aug 11, 2017 By Tim Daniel Bernard | Commentary | Eikev

Walking at our own pace creates an unadulterated feedback loop between the rhythm of our bodies and our mental state that we cannot experience as easily when we’re jogging at the gym, steering a car, biking, or during any other kind of locomotion. . . . When we choose a path through a city or forest, our brain must survey the surrounding environment, construct a mental map of the world, settle on a way forward, and translate that plan into a series of footsteps.

—Ferris Jabr, “Why Walking Helps Us Think,” The New Yorker (September 2014)

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