A Sage for Today

A Sage for Today

Dec 1, 2017 By Barry Holtz | Commentary

In my new biography of Rabbi Akiva, I have tried to draw upon the latest scholarship about rabbinic stories to present the outlines of his life anew for our times, in the light of what we know about how to read these stories from our tradition and about the historical context of the ancient Jewish world. My goal was to present the various stories about Akiva’s life in an intellectually serious but accessible manner, highlighting their literary character and trying to discern the ways that Akiva’s story might speak to people today. 

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What Makes a Book “Torah”?

What Makes a Book “Torah”?

Nov 24, 2017 By The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary | Commentary

In the manuscript age, what distinguished “Torah” from other writing? One of the key answers to this question is that manuscripts were fluid and each copy therefore different from any other, while Torah—as the word of God and the source of Jewish tradition—had to be precise and unchanging.

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Speaking to God, Speaking to People

Speaking to God, Speaking to People

Nov 17, 2017 By JTS Alumni | Commentary | Text Study

By Rabbi Debra Newman Kamin (RS ’90)

Adonai, open my lips that my mouth may speak your praise. (Psalms 51:17)

My God, keep my tongue from evil and my lips from deceit. (BT Berakhot 17a, based on Psalms 34:14)

At different stages of my life prayer has been a challenge, but I have found it meaningful to think not just about each individual prayer but how the structure of the service helps us experience different facets of prayer. 

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A Time for Silence and a Time for Speaking

A Time for Silence and a Time for Speaking

Nov 10, 2017 By Matthew Goldstone | Commentary | Text Study

Whoever is able to protest against the [sins of the] people of his household and does not protest is caught in the [sins] of his household; against [the sins of] the people of his city [and does not protest] is caught in the [sins] of the people of his city; against [the sins of] the whole world [and does not protest] is caught in the [sins] of the whole world.

—Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 54b

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The Rabbis, the Romans, and Us

The Rabbis, the Romans, and Us

Nov 3, 2017 By Burton L. Visotzky | Commentary

In my most recent book I take up a quintessentially American Jewish subject: can we adopt the broader culture in which we live and still be Jewish? Is it possible to have a strong Jewish identity while living as Americans who are university educated and share our lives with our gentile neighbors? To answer this I turned to the centuries and texts which birthed Judaism as we know it.

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Distance Learning from the Back of Shul

Distance Learning from the Back of Shul

Oct 27, 2017 By The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary | Commentary

When we think of “the book” (as in “the people of the book”), we picture a bound volume with pages sitting open before a reader on a table or a lap. It we are speaking of the Torah, that book is typically a humash, which will often be found in the seat back of the seat in front of you in the synagogue. The same is true of a prayer book.

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The Spirituality of Solitude

The Spirituality of Solitude

Oct 20, 2017 By JTS Alumni | Commentary

By Rabbi Martin S. Cohen (RS ’78, GS ’82)

It can’t have been easy having Rambam as your dad. But that was how things were for Maimonides’s only son, Abraham, born in 1186 when his father was already 51 years old and widely recognized as one of the greatest Jewish philosophers, commentators, and halakhic decisors ever. A contemporary Arab historian described Abraham as tall and lean, possessed of “pleasant manners and refined speech, and distinguished in medicine” (his chosen profession, as it had been his father’s). 

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From Sarah to Mrs. Portnoy

From Sarah to Mrs. Portnoy

Oct 10, 2017 By Marjorie Lehman | Commentary

From Sarah in the Bible to Philip Roth’s Mrs. Portnoy, images of the mother have been a hallmark of Jewish culture. Hallowed by some, excoriated by others—mothers have been depicted, on the one hand, as all that is good and sacred in the Jewish family, and, on the other, and far more frequently, as overbearing, guilt-inducing, and interfering.

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