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Ethics

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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.

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

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At the very beginning of Parashat Mattot, the topic of words and vows is addressed. The Torah makes the importance of what one utters abundantly clear, lest there be any misunderstanding about it. Rather than addressing the entire people, however, it targets the leaders. The heads of the Israelite tribes are commanded, “If a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath imposing an obligation on himself, he will not break his pledge; he must carry out all that has crossed his lips” (Num.

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

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Recall the troubling and cryptic episode at the conclusion of last week’s parashah: the Israelites encamp at Shittim; they are seduced by Moabite women and attach themselves to an idolatrous cult of Ba‘al Pe‘or. As retribution for this act, God commands Moses, “Take all the ringleaders and have them publicly impaled before the Lord, so that the Lord’s wrath may turn away from Israel” (Num. 25:4). Precisely at the moment of God’s decree, Pinehas, the grandson of Aaron, witnesses a brazen act between an Israelite man and Midianite woman.

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