Maimonides and the Merchants

Maimonides and the Merchants

Feb 9, 2018 By JTS Alumni | Commentary

By Dr. Mark R. Cohen (RS ’70, GS ’76)

In my new book, I explore a relatively unknown aspect of Maimonides’s Mishneh Torah, his comprehensive code of Jewish law. The study offers insight into Judaism’s continued evolution to account for wider societal trends and illustrates how the personal experience of lawmakers influences law.

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Jews, Gentiles, and Other Animals

Jews, Gentiles, and Other Animals

Feb 2, 2018 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Commentary

The most controversial tractate of the Talmud is undoubtedly Avodah Zarah, which discusses non-Jews and their religious practices. Most of the Talmudic passages in Justinas Bonaventura Pranaitis’s 1898 anti-Talmudic screed, Christianus in Talmud Iudaeorum (The Christian in the Talmud of the Jews) are drawn from this tractate. A surface reading of Avodah Zarah can be a demoralizing experience for modern Jews. Even though the Talmud is replete with more broadly humanistic statements, most of us would be scandalized by the provincial and xenophobic attitude toward non-Jews that one could take away from a rapid read through Avodah Zarah.

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Finding the Golden Apple

Finding the Golden Apple

Jan 26, 2018 By Tim Daniel Bernard | Commentary | Text Study

The Sage has said, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings (maskiyyot) of silver” (Prov. 25:11). Hear now an elucidation of the thought that he has set forth. The term maskiyyot denotes filigree traceries . . .  When looked at from a distance or with imperfect attention, it is deemed to be an apple of silver; but when a keen-sighted observer looks at it with full attention, its interior becomes clear to him and he knows that it is of gold. The parables of the prophets, peace be on them, are similar.

—Moses Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed (trans. S. Pines) (11–12)

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Reading Hosea Anew

Reading Hosea Anew

Jan 5, 2018 By JTS Alumni | Commentary

By Dr. Mayer I. Gruber (RS ’70)

For 41 years, I taught and researched the biblical prophets, first at Spertus College of Judaica in Chicago and later at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer Sheva, Israel. I applied and developed the insights of my teachers at JTS—H. Louis Ginsberg, Robert Gordis, and Abraham Joshua Heschel, all of blessed memory, and, may he be distinguished for long life, Shalom M. Paul—into the intricacies of the biblical book of Hosea. The result is my new translation, introduction, and commentary.

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A Jewish Response?

A Jewish Response?

Jan 12, 2018 By Alisa Braun | Commentary

“And now in June 1943 something very strange is happening . . .”

Does Gertrude Stein belong on the “Jewish Bookshelf?” It probably depends on whom you ask. Alan Dershowitz accused Stein of being one of the collaborators who “made [the Holocaust] possible” since she had survived in France due in large part to a friendship with a Vichy government official. I’m guessing he would say “no.” 

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The Life of a Book

The Life of a Book

Dec 15, 2017 By The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary | Commentary

Every book has a life of its own, sometimes mundane and sometimes astonishing. The life of the book in which this page is found has been quite extraordinary. The book is a Hebrew Bible. It was born of fine parchment and ink, shaped by craftsmen and scribes who spared no effort to make it the best of its kind. It was written for a wealthy family in Toledo, Spain, in the 15th century, in order that they “and their children and their children’s children” might study it forever. Remarkably, it has survived to this day.

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Shylock and the Jews

Shylock and the Jews

Dec 22, 2017 By Edna Nahshon | Commentary

In 1960, a global wave of anti-Semitic incidents led Orson Welles, known for his daring Shakespeare productions, to cancel his plans to star in The Merchant of Venice even though playing Shylock had been his lifelong ambition. He had been thwarted twice, he said. First, “a man called Hitler made it impossible,” and now, again, he felt he needed to give up the project as “hate merchants started scribbling swastikas all over the place,” referring to the onslaught of synagogue desecrations that had begun on Christmas Day 1959 in Cologne, Germany.  

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Time to Mourn

Time to Mourn

Jan 19, 2018 By JTS Alumni | Commentary

By Rabbi Joseph Krakoff (RS ’98)

Death can make us uneasy. We don’t always know what to say to the bereaved. We may attempt to bring comfort by offering words that, though well-meaning, often fall flat—or worse. The truth, though, is that there are no magical, healing words that have the power to bring instant comfort. Our Jewish tradition brilliantly instructs us to extend sincere wishes of comfort and then remain silent, allowing the mourner to shape the conversation as they see fit. The reality is that our presence and our hugs speak louder and truer than any words we could utter.

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Restoring a Commentary Maligned

Restoring a Commentary Maligned

Dec 8, 2017 By JTS Alumni | Commentary

By Dr. Morris M. Faierstein (GS ’75)

The Ze’enah U-Re’enah was first published about 1610 and has since been reprinted 275 times. Despite this great popularity, this edition is the first complete annotated critical translation of this classic to be published. Since the end of the nineteenth century, conventional wisdom has held that the Ze’enah U-Re’enah was a Yiddish translation of the humash written for women and ignorant men who could not understand the text in Hebrew. 

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The Life of a Hebrew Poet

The Life of a Hebrew Poet

Dec 29, 2017 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary

Born in 1873 in Zhitomir, Ukraine, Hayim Nahman Bialik went on to become the greatest Hebrew poet “since the time of Yehudah Halevi.” Holtzman identifies what made Bialik a national poet of the Jewish people: “a biography of epic, symbolic dimensions; a profound sense of involvement and identification with the national drama; and incontestable literary genius” (62). From humble beginnings in a family involved in the lumber trade, Bialik left at age 17 for the Volozhin yeshiva in Lithuania. There he immersed himself in yeshiva learning while simultaneously expanding his secular knowledge in preparation for academic studies in Berlin. 

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