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Ethics

Ethics

By Dr. Ismar Schorsch | Chancellor Emeritus of The Jewish Theological Seminary and Professor of Jewish History

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This year I will not be celebrating Hanukkah at home. I'm off to Israel on December 6, and will not be back till the seventh day of the festival, just in time to light a full complement of eight candles on the last night in the midst of family. It is hard to capture the beauty of this holiday or any other on your own. Neither synagogue nor prayer begins to exhaust the repertoire of ritual that enlivens the distinctive character of every Jewish holy day. The home is the great aquifer of our Judaism, indispensable but undervalued.

Many years ago I spent another Hanukkah alone.

By Dr. Ismar Schorsch | Chancellor Emeritus of The Jewish Theological Seminary and Professor of Jewish History

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The opening verse of our parasha conveys a degree of finality. "Now Jacob was settled in the land where his father had sojourned, the land of Canaan (Genesis 37:1)." His exile is over. The text depicts a man drained by unrelenting stress who has come home to die. The abuse heaped upon him by Laban, the prospect of facing Esau, the rampage of his sons against the inhabitants of Shehem, and the loss of his beloved Rachel in childbirth has left him groping for the solace and security of home. The words of King Lear suggest the mood:

and 'tis our fast intent To shake all cares and business from

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David Arnow, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, received his doctorate from Boston University. He has extensive leadership experience in the nonprofit world. He served as president of the New Israel Fund and as vice president for volunteer human resource development of the UJA-Federation of New York, and he was selected to participate in the Wexner Heritage Foundation Leadership Program. David is an investor and a writer. He is a scholar of the festival of Passover and the author of many articles and two books on that subject, including Creating Lively Passover Seders: A Sourcebook of Engaging

By Rabbi Joel Alter | Director of Admissions, The Rabbinical School and H. L. Miller Cantorial School and College of Jewish Music, JTS

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A rabbi and an astronomer have the middle and window seats on a long-haul flight while the fellow on the aisle is a champion sleeper. As neither of our sophisticated travelers is taking a stroll anytime soon, the astronomer begins to talk: “Tell me, rabbi. What, essentially, is Judaism for?” The rabbi thinks a bit, casting about for a reasonable response. He offers a few broad strokes and believes he’s done about as well as might be expected. The traveler responds, “All these rules and teachings and traditions, rabbi!

By Rabbi Judith Hauptman | E. Billi Ivry Professor of Talmud and Rabbinic Culture, JTS

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When kids in Hebrew School read the story of Joseph, he looks very good. He saves the lives of many Egyptians by storing grain in the fat years and dispensing it in the lean years. But when an adult reads the same verses, Joseph appears unscrupulous. We ask: when the hungry people come to him during the years without crops, does he have to make them sell him all their cattle? And when they come back a second time, does he have to make them sell him all their land and also offer themselves as slaves (Gen. 47:13-26)?

As moving as the reunion between Joseph and his brothers at the beginning of

By Rabbi Eliezer Diamond | Rabbi Judah Nadich Associate Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics

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For all of us, there is no going without leaving; and so it was for Abraham: “Go forth from your land, your birthplace, and the house of your father to the land that I shall show you” (Gen. 12:1) [emphasis added]. And when we leave places, we leave people as well. When Abraham departed for Canaan he left behind, among others, his father Terah. And it was always thus: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother” (2:24).

But the Rabbis do not let go of Terah so easily. Terah is, after all, a father, who deserves his son’s honor and reverence.

By Professor Arnold M. Eisen | Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary

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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.

By Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz | Director of Israel Programs, The Rabbinical School, JTS

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As the fragile ceasefire between Israel and Hamas continues to hold and war is waged against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), we turn our soul’s attention to Parashat Ki Tetzei. Quite fittingly, this week’s Torah reading opens by teaching one of the biblical ordinances related to ethical conduct in war. Specifically,

[W]hen you take the field against your enemies and the Lord your God delivers them into your power and you take some of them captive, and you see among the captives a beautiful woman and you desire her and would take her to wife, you will bring her into your house . .

By Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz | Director of Israel Programs, The Rabbinical School, JTS

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This coming Shabbat, we begin the fifth and final book of Torah as we read Parashat Devarim, the opening of the book of Deuteronomy. Moses addresses the people in Moab just as the next generation under the leadership of Joshua is about to enter the Land. It is both a time for retrospection as well as introspection. The narrative of the Israelites and laws of Torah are repeated as Moses delivers his final charge. In Deuteronomy 1:37 to 38, Moses declares, “Because of you the Lord was incensed with me too, and God said, ‘You will not enter either.

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