As an attorney, I am fascinated by the code of civil and criminal law contained in Mishpatim. In Egypt, law was made by the Pharoah, who could unilaterally decide the fate of his subjects. All lives and property were forfeit at his whim—as his subjects learned during the course of the plagues, and when the Egyptian army was decimated at the Red Sea. Conversely, Mosaic law focuses on equality and social justice. The poor, the downtrodden, the stranger—even the man whose destitution forced him to sell himself into slavery—were required to be treated with dignity under the law.
After a long walk across the park on a Shabbat winter morning in New York City, services concluded, guests assembled at an Upper East Side apartment. The host of this particular Rabbinical School student gathering held the meal hostage. The ransom was the answer to his question: “Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart?”The host had a group of well-educated, eager to answer, soon-to-be rabbis at his disposal.
Performed by Richard Newman (speaking and vocals), Ronni J. Reich, and Michael Summa (speaking).
“And Now, You Pray?” explores both human and Divine responsibility in Parashat Noah. The piece utilizes several sources that explore voices of protest or requests for help, both those which are voiced as well as those suppressed or ignored.
Sometimes an article in the newspaper reminds you of something in the Torah and makes you think in new ways about verses you have read many times before. On January 2, 2014, the New York Times featured an article on its op-ed page about young girls in Haiti being sold into slavery by their families. Their story drew my mind to this week’s Parashat Mishpatim, which opens with a discussion of slavery, specifically the eved ivri (Hebrew manservant), and the amah ivriya, (Hebrew maidservant).
Parashat Mishpatim (Exod. 21–24) presents a very long series of laws.
By Dr. Ismar Schorsch | Chancellor Emeritus of The Jewish Theological Seminary and Professor of Jewish History
In July, 1994, I returned to Esslingen, the medieval town not far from Stuttgart, Germany where my mother was born. My grandfather ran a boarding school and enjoyed a regional reputation as an innovative educator. The handsome building which housed it still serves as a school, though no longer Jewish, and bears his name, bestowed by the city fathers a decade earlier in a spirit of contrition.
Rousseau opened his famous essay on the ideal political order, "The Social Contract," by stating his intention to "imagine men as they are and laws as they might be." The same could be said of Moses's objective in the book of Deuteronomy and particularly in this week's parashah. Moses offers a blueprint for the ideal society to be built by the Children of Israel in the Promised Land in accordance with divine directive.
I have posed this question to fund-raisers and philanthropists, and most, if not all, have responded with a categorical yes. I am sure that many of you reading this are thinking the same thing. But allow me to put a finer point on the question. If I contribute to my kids' Jewish day school, is that tzedakah? If I give a donation to the Museum of Modern Art, is it tzedakah? And, of course, the obvious question, if I make an annual contribution to The Jewish Theological Seminary, is that considered tzedakah?
By Rabbi Joshua Heller | Rabbi of Congregation B'nai Torah in Atlanta (Former Director of Distance Learning and Educational Technology at JTS)
Next week, Jews around the world will observe Tisha B'av, mourning the destruction of the First and Second Temples and commemorating many other tragedies of Jewish history. The literary centerpiece of the holiday is the book of Lamentations, Eikha, which mourns the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem and the exile of the Jewish people from its land. The book's refrain is the word "Eikha," asking the question "How could it be?"--"How could it be that the teeming city lay desolate, that God rejected God's people?" (Lam 1:1, 2:1, 4:1, 4:2)
Golda Meir famously quipped: “Let me tell you the one thing I have against Moses. He took us forty years into the desert in order to bring us to the one place in the Middle East that has no oil!” Well, the folks living atop the Marcellus Shale have the opposite gripe. Underneath this formation, which stretches from the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York through Pennsylvania and Ohio to Virginia, there is oil. And with the price of oil being what it is, the oil companies have new incentive to drill there and have come calling.
We all filled out census forms this year, as stipulated by the United States constitution. The closing date was March 31. My twin sons, who were born on March 30, 1980, were included in that year's census as one-day-old babies. I sometimes joke that they burst out of the womb seven weeks early just so that they could be counted. The Bible, however, does not count children.
At the very beginning of Numbers (1:2), God tells Moshe to count all males from the age of twenty and up who can serve in the army (hence the book's English name, Numbers). In Parashat Pinhas, God again tells Moshe, in very