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Jewish Thought

Jewish Thought

By Rabbi Robert Harris | Associate Professor of Bible

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This week’s parashah contains some of the most memorable narratives in the entire Torah: the splitting of the Reed Sea, the miracle of the manna, the battle with Amalek. In the midst of all these narratives comes a pithily told “little tale”:

Then Moses caused Israel to set out from the Sea of Reeds. They went on into the wilderness of Shur; they traveled three days in the wilderness and found no water. 23 They came to Marah, but they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; that is why it was named Marah.

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

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Rabbi David Hartman, in his book A Heart of Many Rooms, cites a midrash that draws a clear and (to my mind) profound connection between a major episode in this week's Torah portion and the Revelation at Sinai that follows next week.

Said R. Jose bar R. Hanina, "The Divine Word spoke to each and every person according to his/her particular capacity . . . Now if each and every person was enabled to taste the manna according to his/her particular capacity, how much more and more was each and every person enabled according to his/her particular capacity to hear the Divine Word."

I'd like to

By Rachel Rosenthal | PhD candidate in Rabbinic Literature, The Graduate School ('17) and faculty in the Nishma Summer of Torah Study program, JTS

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When I was 12, a few weeks before my bat mitzvah I went in to meet with one of the rabbis of my synagogue. At the time, the synagogue newsletter included a “pasuk of the week,” a verse from that week’s Torah portion that was particularly interesting or thought provoking. However, as the rabbi confessed to me, the week of my bat mitzvah was to be the end of that custom. He just couldn’t find anything that fit the bill. That week’s parashah? Tazria.

In many ways, all of Leviticus is considered the flyover territory of the Torah, something that one needs to get through as quickly as possible to

By Rabbi Noah Bickart | Assistant Professor of Talmud and Principal, Rebecca and Israel Ivry Prozdor High School, JTS

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Exodus 12:49 reads, famously, “You shall have one Torah for the one who is native born, and for the stranger who dwells among you.” The upshot is clear: the Jewish people, along with noncitizens who are present in their society, are to be organized around a single, egalitarian legal system. The experience of Mount Sinai was not only one of theophany (divine encounter), though it was that, but also of a revelation that continues through law.

By Rabbi Stephanie Ruskay | Associate Dean of The Rabbinical School, JTS

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Semikhah, ordaining of clergy, is on my mind these days as we move closer to my first JTS ordination as an associate dean. No longer the person receiving semikhah, this time I am privileged to help ordain new clergy.

How do we mark the moment when individuals who have studied Torah seriously for years move from being civilians to being people entrusted with the title Rabbi or Cantor? This meaning of semikhah can be understood as “reliance”: By naming someone a rabbi or cantor, we as a community say we rely upon their judgment, learning, and ethical compass.

By Dr. Stefanie Siegmund | Women’s League Professor of Jewish Gender and Women’s Studies, JTS

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I did not wear the crown and satiny dress, or stand in line for the beauty pageant. Queen Esther was not a role model I—or many other children—could choose. Later, in the academy, I understood that Esther’s subterfuge and seduction were the strategies of the weak, the politics of the minority. In Jewish settings, I found  joy in singing along with the children as they restored Vashti to her rightful place, chanting the ebullient song: “She /said / ‘no’ to the king; she said ‘no’ to the king!”

Let’s consider a different Esther. A film called The Last Marranos brought me crypto-Jewish secrets

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In the aftermath of the conquest of the Holy Land by the Romans and their destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, Jews were faced with a world in existential chaos—both they and their God were rendered homeless. In a religious tradition that equated Divine approval with peaceful dwelling on the Land, this situation was intolerable. In response, the Rabbis sought to build new “structures,” new homes for both God and Israel. Rabbinic Judaism: Space and Place offers the first comprehensive study of spatiality in rabbinic Judaism, exploring how the Rabbis reoriented the Jewish relationship with

By Mark S. Young | Director of Alumni Engagement, William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education, JTS

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In parashat Pekudei, the Israelites are on a journey to a new life, having escaped the Egyptians, experienced the revelation at Sinai, and completed the building of the Tabernacle. They are now in the wilderness, sometimes unclear about their direction, sometimes filled with fear, and in need of guidance. However, they had mentors to guide them. They had the cloud that indicated the Presence of God, and they had Moses on their side.

Part of my role at The Davidson School is to advise our students and alumni on their professional growth.

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

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Anyone who has mounted a fund-raising campaign, or sought volunteers for an institution or organization, will immediately recognize the account of the Tabernacle’s construction in this week’s Torah portion as utopian in the extreme.

By Rabbi Tim Daniel Bernard | Director of Digital Learning and Engagement, JTS

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Photo: Raging Bull—Wall Street, Sylvain Leprovost, CC BY 2.0

The metal bovine with a peculiar magnetism that is known as the Golden Calf (Exod. 32) brings to mind Arturo Di Modica’s Charging Bull (1989). A potent Financial District icon, it exerts a remarkable pull on passersby (on its webcam you can see the crowd so often around the statue). According to the artist’s website, it was designed as a “symbol of virility and courage” and “the perfect antidote to the Wall Street crash of 1986,” but it was also created without the invitation of the Wall Street community and was promptly removed

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