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Jewish Thought

Jewish Thought

By Dr. Alan Cooper | Elaine Ravich Professor of Jewish Studies and Provost of The Jewish Theological Seminary


The end of Parashat Bereishit finds God regretting the creation of humankind and resolving to wipe it out along with “beasts, creeping things, and birds of the sky” (Gen. 6:7). [i] A note of optimism creeps into the concluding verse (6:8), however, with the statement that Noah, whose birth and naming were noted in 5:29, “found favor” with God.

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


Abram in the light; Abram in the dark. Abram with men at war; Abram with women at war. Like a picaresque novel, Parashat Lekh L’kha follows our patriarch from scene to scene, with places and people shifting in and out of the shadows. As Abram moves from Mesopotamia to Canaan to Egypt and back again, conflict surrounds him, yet he seems serene. For all of his astonishing actions, Abram utters only a few words in this entire portion. Who is this man, this founding father of our nation? We have no inkling of his appearance, but we can clearly observe his qualities.


By Daniel Heschel Silberbusch | Adjunct Instructor of Professional and Pastoral Skills, JTS


Untitled, 2014

Mixed media, acrylic and newspaper on cardboard

This is part of a larger painting/collage that in turn is part of a children's book I am making inspired by “Had Gadya,” the song we sing at the Pesah Seder's conclusion. The piece this paper cut-out comes from interprets the song’s final verse “And God came and killed the angel of death.” The verse presents an obvious challenge to a Jewish artist reluctant to “portraitize” God. It also echoes this week's parashah: God steps in after destruction and promises an end to such destruction (Gen.

By Dr. Alisa Braun | Academic Director, Community Engagement, JTS


This past week we were again confronted with horrific acts of violence across the globe, followed by a host of attempts to explain why and what should be done. Over centuries, the story of Cain and Abel became a central text through which this reality of violence was explored: how do we account for violence in our world? Can we control our rage, or are we doomed to act on our impulses? With its paucity of detail and conspicuous narrative lacunae, Bereishit’s description of the first murder, when Cain killed Abel, inspired countless visual artists—from the Old Masters to modern

By Dr. Benjamin Sommer | Professor of Bible, JTS


“In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.”

These opening words of the Torah in most translations are clear, straightforward, and well known. But they don’t render the Hebrew original correctly. As Rashi already pointed out, the first verse of the Torah is not, by itself, a grammatical sentence. Instead, it is part of a longer sentence that continues through the end of verse three. The opening of the Torah is correctly rendered in the JPS translation:

1:1When God began to create heaven and earth—2the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a

By Dr. David G. Roskies | Sol and Evelyn Henkind Chair in Yiddish Literature and Culture and Professor of Jewish Literature, JTS


Between May and December 1943, the poet Yitshak Katzenelson was incarcerated with his last surviving son, Zvi, in Vittel, a German transit camp in France. There Yitshak kept a diary-cum-journal in Hebrew and completed The Song of the Slaughtered Jewish People in Yiddish, the longest epic poem to have survived the Holocaust. The pivotal ninth canto, from which this passage is taken, is a bold, even blasphemous, response to Parashat Ha’azinu.

“I did believe in you and sang your praises in each song of mine,” the poet writes, addressing the heavens.

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


When I prepared to chant Parashat Vayeilekh at my Bar Mitzvah, I don’t think I paid much attention to the theological import of the announcement that God would “hide My countenance” from the children of Israel. Nor is it likely that I felt the pathos of Moses giving up the mantle of leadership, on the far side of the Jordan, as his life’s journey came to an end.

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


Their moment has almost come. The Children of Israel stand poised on the edge of the Jordan about to enter the Land. The moment of their dreams is about to become reality. However, a new era of responsibility is about to begin as well. The Children of Israel will no longer be able to look to God to fulfill their every need. Instead, they must learn to support themselves and to take responsibility for their own behavior.

By Rabbi Mychal Springer | Director of the Center for Pastoral Education


This week’s Torah portion, Nitzavim, contains stunningly beautiful verses that teach us that God’s Torah “is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it” (Deut. 30:14). The language of the verses is full of rich, physical imagery, “It is not in the heavens, that you should say, ‘Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?’” The Torah, the wisdom, is not far away, is not other. It is in our hearts. If we give our hearts space to be known and embraced, our hearts can share the wisdom that dwells inside.

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


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