Skip directly to content

Jewish Thought

Jewish Thought

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

posted

This week’s portion contains some of the highest highs and lowest lows in the entire Torah—or in any other work of literature, for that matter. At the start of the parashah, Israelites in the wilderness are asked to picture what it will be like to testify, from inside the Land of Israel, that they have seen God’s promises of blessing fulfilled. At the end of the parashah, those same Israelites are subjected to 54 verses of terrifying curses detailing the punishments awaiting them “if you fail to observe faithfully all the terms of this Teaching” (Deut.

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

posted

Parashat Ki Tavo begins with a description of the ceremony for bringing the first fruits to the Temple. As part of this ritual, the following is to be recited by the pilgrim bringing the produce:

A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he descended to Egypt. There he became a great and mighty nation. The Egyptians did us harm and caused us suffering; they placed upon us the burden of hard labor. We called out to the Lord the God of our ancestors; God heard our voices, and He saw our suffering, our hard labor and our oppression.

By Rabbi Lilly Kaufman | Director of the Torah Fund Campaign of Women's League for Conservative Judaism, JTS

posted

What makes the Jews God’s people? On Yom Kippur, when we sing Ki anu amekha ve’atah Elohenu (For we are Your people and You are our God), what are we talking about? Is this triumphalism, elitism, exclusivity? Or could it be an ethic of communal, legislated kindness?

In the third aliyah of Ki Tavo, Moses begins his second retrospective discourse (of five in Deuteronomy) with the word hayom (today; Deut. 26:16). It is said for emphasis, to impress on the wandering tribes that the commandments they receive this day will be in full effect when they enter the Land.

In the next two verses, Moses

By Dr. Hillel Gruenberg | Postdoctoral Fellow in Ancient Jewish Studies, JTS

posted

We are painfully aware that wars don’t end once the dust settles on the battlefield and documents of peace are signed, but rather that the “war at home” lives on long past military engagements, both in the homecoming of individual soldiers and the broad social changes that often follow. Ki Tetzei begins where the previous portion left off, discussing laws of war; however, in its second paragraph, it sharply turns to address issues of moral behavior in areas including family, agriculture, and sexual relations.

The sudden shift reminded me of this American song written shortly after World War

By Dr. Jonathan Milgram | Assistant Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics

posted

Academic talmudists are often asked, “Of what use are the findings of academic Jewish Studies to lay people? Can historical research inform our contemporary dialogue on the pressing issues of our day?” I propose that developments in family law from biblical to Rabbinic times have much to teach us in our evaluating the rapidly changing values and their accompanying changing laws in our own times.

I begin in an unlikely place: the curious set of verses in this week’s parashah, Ki Tetzei, about filial favoritism:

If a man has two wives, one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the

By Dr. Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Irving Lehrman Research Associate Professor of American Jewish History and Walter and Sarah Schlesinger Dean of Graduate and Undergraduate Studies, JTS

posted

The 2016 US presidential election primary season has begun with over two dozen potential candidates competing for our support. Keeping track of their positions on the issues feels impossible, but watching them as they present themselves to the American public helps sharpen our thinking, not only about the individual candidates, but also about the leadership qualities we both esteem and eschew in our elected officials.

Parashat Shofetim reviews many different kinds of leaders—judges, officers, priests, kings, military leaders.

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

posted

Will Israel receive all the rain it needs this coming year? It depends on whether we are faithful to God’s word. At least that is the claim made in a biblical passage that we recite twice a day as part of the Shema:

If, then, you obey the commandments that I have enjoined upon you this day, loving the Lord your God and serving Him with all your heart and soul, I will grant the rain for your land in season, the early rain and the late. . .Take care not to be lured way and serve other gods and bow to them.

By Rabbi Daniel S. Nevins | Pearl Resnick Dean of The Rabbinical School and Dean of the Division of Religious Leadership, JTS

posted

After quoting Amos 5:24 about justice rolling like a mighty stream in his most famous speech, Dr. King, Jr., z”l, then belted out the soaring vision quoted above. In it he exquisitely captured the style of the ancient Hebrew prophets, howling against the injustice of their time but then summoning their strength to describe a more worthy and noble future. 

The first chapter of Isaiah, which is read this week of Shabbat Hazon leading into the fast of Tisha Be’av, builds up to an enraged denunciation of the corrupt leaders of Israel—judges, priests and prophets—who have betrayed their ideals,

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

posted

As the Children of Israel prepare to enter the Promised Land, their backs to the wilderness after 40 years of wandering, the Torah, too, seems to change direction—and even tone. It trades instructions for the priests and narratives of Israelite disobedience for details of land distribution, inheritance and other laws that will regulate life inside the Land. It is as if the Torah wants to underline the transition about to occur—from wilderness to settlement, disorder to order—by changing the visual image before the reader’s eyes.

By Malka Strasberg | Student, Gershon Kekst Graduate School, JTS

posted

It is easy to pigeonhole people and to dichotomize the categories into which we place people, such as good vs. evil. Myths and legends tend to portray characters in this one-dimensional manner, and it is considered remarkable when a character is portrayed as complex. But all humans are complex. The human condition is a multivalent one, and people are almost never so easily categorized. Everyone’s character has the capacity for both good and bad, and in fact, everyone realizes elements of both within themselves.

Unfortunately, our reputation is never truly dependent solely on our actions.

Pages