A Dress Code for Judaism

A Dress Code for Judaism

Feb 4, 2014 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Tetzavveh

I received a valuable insight into this week’s Torah portion over lunch one day about 20 years ago at the Stanford University Humanities Center. Across the table sat a female professor from China, newly arrived on her first visit to America. I was the first Jew she had ever met, and at some point the conversation shifted from the books we were writing to how Judaism differed from other faith traditions and communities in America. That’s when she startled me with an observation I shall never forget. “You can’t be significantly different from anyone else in this country. You are dressed exactly the same as they are.”

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For Millennials and Their Families

For Millennials and Their Families

Apr 10, 2014 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Pesah | Shabbat Hagadol

I gathered six students from JTS’s undergraduate Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies in my office last week to talk about the ways in which family dynamics add meaning—and tension—to family Passover seders. I wanted to find out how these dynamics play out at the seders of my students, and share their insights with you here—millennials and college students, teens and tweens—in the hope that our discussion about the holiday will enrich yours.

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Peacemaking and the Quest for Holiness

Peacemaking and the Quest for Holiness

May 9, 2014 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Behar

The book of Leviticus could not be clearer on the point that extraordinary action is called for as part of the Israelite’s calling to be “holy unto the Lord your God.” 

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Doing Violence for God

Doing Violence for God

Jul 11, 2014 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Pinehas

What are we to think about Pinehas, son of Eleazar son of Aaron the high priest, after whom this week’s Torah portion is named?

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To Go Out of the Wilderness

To Go Out of the Wilderness

Sep 1, 2012 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

This week’s Torah portion is directed at Israelites about to “go out” of the wilderness; next week’s portion offers guidance to those about to “come in” to the Promised Land. Deuteronomy is anxious for the Israelites to build a society distinct from the one that had enslaved them and no less distinct from the other societies and cultures that will surround them in the Land of Canaan. It wants a people united in their new nation-state—and, to that end, propounds a series of wide-ranging laws designed to bring and keep them together.

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Choose Life and Torah

Choose Life and Torah

Sep 19, 2014 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Nitzavim | Vayeilekh

The Torah wants to speak to Children of Israel in every time and place, in a way that leads them—leads us—to carry forward the project that Moses has directed. It succeeds in that effort: we too are stirred by Moses’s language, compelled by his vision, moved to undertake responsibility for his Torah. Four passages in Parashat Nitzavim seem to me especially crucial to Moses’s teaching and our response.

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His Father’s Son

His Father’s Son

Dec 12, 2014 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Vayeshev

We stand in a very long line of children of Israel who have been fascinated with Joseph, the first person to have stood in that line. It’s hard in 2014 to see him, like the Rabbis, as a great tzadik, even if he did resist the temptation of betraying Potiphar by sleeping with his wife; brought his brothers to teshuvah (repentance) through an elaborate and risky ruse; forgave them for selling him into slavery; and apparently administered the entire wealth of Egypt without ever profiting personally from his position. Joseph seems too worldly for the role of tzadik, too complex, too much a man of action rather than reflection.

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Innovation and Tradition

Innovation and Tradition

Jan 30, 2010 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Beshallah

I’d like to suggest that from the first words of this week’s portion to the last, we find lessons of direct relevance to issues of revelation and commandment, faith and covenant that have been on the minds of thoughtful Jews for centuries and remain matters of concern today.

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