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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What Can Jewish Music Do?

What Can Jewish Music Do?

Apr 13, 2018 By Nancy Abramson | Commentary

Music allows us to navigate through the loudness, to find the silence. Music organizes the loud sounds so that we can recognize the power of the quiet, acting as an intermediary between God’s loud, external “persona” and the quiet, holy, inner being where truth is found. Music hangs in the subtle balance between sound and silence. It is music that tunes up our beings, that tunes up the entire world, to allow for an interchange between the soft, inner and the loud, outer manifestations of truth.

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The Pogrom that Endured

The Pogrom that Endured

Apr 5, 2018 By Barbara Mann | Commentary

The sun shone, the blossom bloomed, and the slaughterer slaughtered.

The image of the slaughterer in springtime is an indelible part of the DNA of twentieth-century Jewish experience, juxtaposing as it does the casual brutality of history with the most mundane of natural events. Its source is Bialik’s epic poem about the Kishinev pogrom of 1903. Despite the many words written about the events of that April—personal testimony, journalistic reportage, memorial texts, poetry, and even a Broadway play (The Chosen People by Evgenii Chiriko)—the warp and woof of this particular incident simply won’t let us alone.

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Jews Behaving Badly

Jews Behaving Badly

Mar 30, 2018 By JTS Alumni | Commentary

By Dr. Edward Portnoy (GS ’08)

As a graduate student, I logged many, many hours in the old JTS Library (which has a special place in my heart) reading the seminal texts of Jewish life and history. I hunkered down next to my most beloved Jewish texts, Yiddish periodicals. While Yiddish newspapers and magazines may not be considered among traditional Jewish texts, they comprise an incredibly rich resource for the study of Jewish life from the 1860s through the 1930s.

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Heroes of Jewish Heritage

Heroes of Jewish Heritage

Mar 23, 2018 By David Fishman | Commentary

Several months ago, I gave a lecture in Lviv, Ukraine, on my new book to a young non-Jewish audience. There are very few Jews left in Lviv (formerly Lemberg), even fewer than in Vilnius (formerly Vilna), where my book’s events take place. The audience listened attentively as I described the rescue of cultural treasures from the Nazis by a group of ghetto inmates nicknamed the Paper Brigade: a diary by Theodore Herzl, rabbinic manuscripts, Sholem Aleichem’s letters, paintings and sculptures.

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God, Judaism, and Divine Law

God, Judaism, and Divine Law

Mar 9, 2018 By Matthew Goldstone | Commentary

We all know that divine law is supposed to be true, unchangeable, universal, and make sense . . . right? Wrong. In fact, for the Rabbis, precisely the opposite may be the case. As Christine Hayes argues in her book What’s Divine about Divine Law, many of our preconceptions about what makes Jewish divine law “godly” are, in fact, incorrect.

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Cosmopolitan Scholarship in Provence

Cosmopolitan Scholarship in Provence

Mar 2, 2018 By Tamar Marvin | Commentary

The intellectual achievements of the vibrant Jewish communities of medieval Provence—what is today the superlatively lovely Mediterranean coast of France—were largely lost to subsequent Jewish conversation. Situated at the crossroads of Sefarad and Ashkenaz, Provençal Jewry was influenced by northern European currents of thought while absorbing insights from the Judeo-Arabic sphere. The expulsions suffered by European Jews in the late Middle Ages included the dispersal of Provençal communities.

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A Precious Hebrew Manuscript

A Precious Hebrew Manuscript

Feb 23, 2018 By The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary | Commentary

Knowing almost nothing about this beautiful manuscript, what would you guess it is? Finely decorated with gold leaf, Hebrew, small for easy carrying (these qualities are all obvious from the photo)—all of these characteristics suggest that it is a dear personal item, one that a wealthy Jew commissioned because of the importance of what it records. Knowing that it is a fifteenth-century manuscript, produced in Spain—before the age of printed books—would only highlight for us how rare it was.

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What’s the Masorah for?

What’s the Masorah for?

Feb 16, 2018 By David Marcus | Commentary

The Masorah reflects the combined efforts of thousands of scribes known as Masoretes, working over hundreds of years, to establish a uniform and fixed version of the Hebrew Bible in the 6th-10th centuries CE. In order to ensure that the text they established would be transmitted correctly, the Masoretes counted every word, made copious lists, and wrote thousands of notes on the margins of the manuscripts.

I have transcribed, translated, and annotated some ten thousand of these notes in my multi-volume work, the first volume of which has just recently been published. 

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