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Jewish Thought

Jewish Thought

By Dr. Benjamin Sommer | Professor of Bible, JTS

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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

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After a 20-year absence from home and family back in the Land of Israel, Jacob journeys home. And like any of us en route to the home of our family of origin, anxiety and uncertainty (along with anticipation and joy) play core roles in the experience. To what extent will “old patterns” of sibling rivalry and other family tensions repeat themselves? Will we be able to break free of past hurt to move toward a more hopeful and joyful future?

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

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The Torah wants us to identify with the ancestors we meet in the book of Genesis; indeed, Abraham and Sarah and their children become our ancestors when we agree not only to read their stories, but to take them forward. Abraham “begat” Isaac in one sense by supplying the seed for his conception. He “begat” him as well by shaping the life that Isaac would live, setting its direction, digging wells that his son would re-dig, making Isaac’s story infinitely more meaningful—and terrifying—by placing him in the line of partners with God in covenant. So it is with us.

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