Skip directly to content

Jewish Thought

Jewish Thought

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

posted

The Rabbis tend to curb the revelatory role of dreams. As a vehicle of extrasensory perception, they would contend, dreams tell us more about what's on our mind than on God's. In the early third century, R. Yonatan, a first generation Palestinian Amora, delivered an opinion worthy of Freud: "Dreams convey to us only that which we are already thinking about during the day." He based himself on a careful reading of the experience of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian conqueror of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E.

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

posted

Judaism shuns the celebration of military victory. The conquest of Canaan by Joshua was never transmuted into a holy day. Passover commemorates our redemption from Egypt; Shavuot, the giving of the Torah at Sinai; Tisha B'Av, the destruction of the Temples; but the demolition of Jericho by Joshua or the final achievement of sovereignty with the erection of the national shrine at Shiloh (Joshua 18:1) find no place in the religious calendar of Judaism.

Nor is Hanukkah, a post-biblical festival, an exception to this pattern.

By Dr. Benjamin Sommer | Professor of Bible, JTS

posted

In this week’s parashah we find the first legal passage in the Torah, Exodus 12, which contains laws concerning Passover. Torah as a type of literature is best defined as a combination of law and narrative. In Torah we read not only some laws here and some narratives there, but laws that are authenticated and explained by the narrative, and narrative whose purpose is to motivate us to observe the laws. Since we first encounter law in this week’s parashah, in a significant way it is here that the Torah begins in earnest.

But it is not only Torah in its full sense that emerges in Parashat Bo.

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

posted

This week’s Torah reading, Parashat Balak, is primarily focused on the Moabite king’s efforts to curse the Israelites. Having witnessed the conquest of the Amorites, King Balak and his countrymen are deeply concerned by the advancing Israelite nation. Scheming to undermine their trek to the Land of Israel, Balak seeks to commission a seer by the name of Balaam in an effort to curse the Israelites and bring about their downfall. Regrettably for Balak, his designs are frustrated and, in the end, Balaam not only fails to curse the Israelites, but utters blessing and praise in their midst.

By Rabbi Samuel Barth | Senior Lecturer in Liturgy and Worship

posted

This Shabbat, Hol Hamo’ed Pesah, we read Shir Hashirim, the Song of Songs, the provocative and enigmatic cycle of lusty love poetry that is embraced (though not without challenge) by the canon of the Hebrew Bible. Dr. Francis Landy of Calgary University wrote a powerful and lyrical treatise on the Song of Songs entitled Paradoxes of Paradise, which opens with the reflection of Rabbi Akiva—“All the Scriptures are kedoshim, holy, but Shir Hashirim kodesh kodashim, the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies”—radically deploying the term otherwise used to describe the holiest place in the Temple.

It

By Rabbi Samuel Barth | Senior Lecturer in Liturgy and Worship

posted

Elijah is an enigmatic and beloved figure in the Passover seder, with a myriad of explanations for his appearance and role.

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

posted

Parashat Tazri-a, at the heart of the book of Leviticus, presents a challenge of almost epic proportions in the search for modern, practical relevance. In particular, it opens by defining the different periods of “blood purification” with respect to the birth of a boy or a girl. We are instructed that when a woman gives birth to a male, the time of ritual impurity is seven days, while she remains in a state of “blood purification” (d’mei taharah) for 33 days; for the birth of a female, the time periods are doubled.

By Rabbi Samuel Barth | Senior Lecturer in Liturgy and Worship

posted

Many regular shul-goers are familiar with the two blessings that precede the Shema’ in the morning service (whether on a weekday, Shabbat, or Festival). The first (Yotzer) addresses God’s role in the natural cycles of creation and the physical world, and the second (Ahavah Rabbah) speaks of God’s love for Israel, manifested in the gift of Torah. After the opening blessing formula, Yotzer continues, “yotzer or u-vorei choshech, oseh shalom u-vorei et ha-kol” (God forms light and creates darkness, makes peace and creates everything; Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat, 107). The text has a poetic

By

posted

in

The recent discovery of a new trove of Nazi-looted art in Germany has awakened us to the world of culture and ideas that was lost when Hitler came to power. Dreamland of Humanists: Warburg, Cassirer, Panofsky, and the Hamburg School tells the forgotten story of Hamburg's emergence as a center of that early 20th-century intellectual world. In the commercial city of Hamburg, a trio of German-Jewish scholars –– Aby Warburg, Ernst Cassirer, and Erwin panofsky –– unexpectedly created an innovative school of art history, philosophy, and cultural history. Dr. Emily J.

By

posted

in

On January 23, 2014, the Jewish Theological Seminary presented a provocative, illuminating, and critically important discussion.

 

ABOUT THE PROGRAM

 

Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907–1972), who served on the faculty of The Jewish Theological Seminary for more than a quarter century, was a prolific scholar, impassioned theologian, and prominent activist who participated in the African American Civil Rights Movement and the campaign against the Vietnam War. He has been hailed as a hero, honored as a visionary, and endlessly quoted as a devotional writer. But rarely has his writing been subject to

Pages