Unleashing the Haftarah

Unleashing the Haftarah

Jul 13, 2018 By Jan Uhrbach | Commentary | Tishah Be'av

One of the most remarkable aspects of the Tanakh is its self-critical character. Like the narratives of the Torah, the “former” prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings) feature only flawed heroes. The “latter” prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the twelve minor prophets) raise the stakes. Soaring and searing, they rail against the injustices and failures of society, holding a mirror to structural inequities that create poverty and oppression. The prophets lay bare the systemic corruptions within even biblically-created institutions—the priesthood, monarchy, and nation—revealing hypocrisies, false pieties, and breaches of the public trust.

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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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The Poet’s Hand

The Poet’s Hand

Jun 29, 2018 By The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary | Commentary

Beginning with Siddur Sim Shalom, Conservative prayer books began including a slightly different version of the much-loved Sabbath evening hymn Yedid Nefesh. The changes, though mostly slight, caused—and sometimes still cause—confusion, disrupting those who learned the traditionally printed version of this hymn with different grammatical forms and a few different words. What caused the change and why was it deemed sufficiently important that it should supersede the better-known version?

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Renewing the Covenant

Renewing the Covenant

Jun 22, 2018 By Stephanie Ruskay | Commentary | Text Study

God will return to us when we are willing to let Him in—into our banks and factories, into our Congress and clubs, into our homes and theaters. For God is everywhere or nowhere, the father of all men or no man, concerned about everything or nothing. Only in His presence shall we learn that the glory of man is not in his will to power but in his power of compassion. 

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Whose Opinion Is It Really?

Whose Opinion Is It Really?

Jun 15, 2018 By Tim Daniel Bernard | Commentary | Text Study

In capital cases, we do not hear the words of the senior [judge] until after everyone else, as if the senior [judge] were to start, the others would be forbidden to disagree, as [the Rabbis understand the Torah to say] “Do not speak against the greatest [judge]” (Exod. 23:2). (Moses Maimonides, Commentary on the Mishnah to M. Sanhedrin 4:2)

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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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The Beauty of the Word

The Beauty of the Word

Jun 1, 2018 By The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary | Commentary

Take a look at these pages from a volume in our collection that includes the Pentateuch and Psalms, along with Masoretic notes and a grammatical introduction. It will not surprise you to learn that it was written in Yemen in 1325. Locating the manuscript in this time and place doesn’t surprise, because, stylistically speaking, it is so similar to Islamic art of the same period. As you may know, Muslims overwhelmingly avoided representation of living creatures in their art (the same cannot be said of Jews, who habitually ignored the second commandment), preferring to create their “images” with the words of scripture (in their case, the Quran).

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Reading Ourselves into Rabbinic Readings of Scripture

Reading Ourselves into Rabbinic Readings of Scripture

May 25, 2018 By Jeremy Tabick | Commentary

Wherever Midrash is taught, we are trained in two schools of reading: Rabbi Yishmael’s stuck to straightforward readings of the biblical texts; Rabbi Akiva’s spun far-fetched interpretations, relying on the smallest of details.

This picture has been incredibly influential in Jewish life and discourse. Reactions are strong to both approaches. 

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Making Torah Our Own

Making Torah Our Own

May 18, 2018 By Galeet Dardashti | Commentary | Text Study | Shavuot

The piyyut below was written by Rabbi Ya’akov Abihatzeira, an important religious figure in 19th-century Morocco. Sung in Moroccan communities primarily in honor of Shavuot, the piyyut portrays the Israelites’ acceptance of the Torah at Sinai. It depicts God as the beloved bridegroom entering into a figurative marriage with Israel, the bride, and playfully riffs on the Ten Commandments.

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A History of Holiness

A History of Holiness

May 11, 2018 By Alan Mittleman | Commentary

The term “holy” (kodesh as a noun or kadosh as an adjective) appears frequently in the Bible. The more abstract idea of holiness (kedushah) appears in rabbinic literature. We use holiness-language in everyday speech in English, as well as words such as “sacred.” But do we know what we mean when we use these terms?

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