How to Love Your Neighbor

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Kedoshim, Leviticus 19:1-20:27
April 23, 2014

This is the story of how studying the most famous verse in the Torah – found in this week’s Torah portion – challenged how I understand love and changed my relationship with my dad. The commandment – “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) was one I learned early in grade school. As a kid, […]

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The Momentum of Freedom (Passover)

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April 14, 2014

In celebrating the Jewish liturgical year and holiday cycle, we relive significant occasions in the tale of the Jewish people. The Hasidic masters emphasize that each festival highlights a particular spiritual quality, some essential element of life that is a part of both our national story and our own spiritual lives. Passover is a time for contemplating […]

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Covering the Blood Before Us

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Mot, Leviticus 16:1-18:30
April 8, 2014

In the Torah portion of Acharei-Mot, we learn the obligation of “kisui ha’dam,” to cover the blood produced from slaughtering (Leviticus 17:13). Commentators take a number of different approaches to explain the reason for this mitzvah. Rambam argues that this ritual is meant to distance Jewish practice from pagan blood rites. He suggests that pagans […]

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Empathy Activism

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Metzora, Leviticus 14:1-15:33
April 2, 2014

On March 31, 2014, along with dozens of my colleagues, I shaved my head. Bald. Not just short. Bald. To paraphrase the babies from “Free to Be You and Me,” “Bald as a ping-pong ball.” Why? The simple answer is that we joined “36 Rabbis Shave for Brave” to raise money for children’s cancer research […]

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Life on the Margins

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Tazria, Leviticus 12:1-13:59
March 26, 2014

What does it feel like to live at the edge, on the margins of community? The Torah reading for this week, Tazria, seems to imply that it can be a very lonely experience. When someone from the Israelite community is found to have leprosy (“tzaraat”), a disease of the skin, that person is removed from […]

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Learning to Live with Loss

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Shemini, Leviticus 9:1-11:47
March 19, 2014

In its March 26, 2013, obituary of Rabbi Herschel Schacter, The New York Times recounts the dramatic and poignant encounter that Schacter, the first Jewish chaplain to pass through the gates of the notorious concentration camp Buchenwald upon its liberation in 1945, had with a 7-year-old boy whom he discovered cowering behind a mound of […]

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Jewish Memory Week: A Tale in Three Parts

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Zachor, Deuteronomy 25:17-19
March 11, 2014

The memory of the Holocaust today is vulnerable. Between the Diaspora and Israel the Jewish people are fighting about the meaning of the Holocaust, encoding in our ideological debates about who we want to be in the world our increasingly polarizing interpretations about our recent past. It is the nature of trauma that we become […]

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Situating God: Revisiting Vayikra

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On Scripture Behzad Dayanim

Leviticus 1:1-5-26
March 6, 2014

Opening the new biblical book Vayikra, Leviticus, likewise opens a new chapter in the lives of the Israelites. Their relationship with God would be expressed through the performance of set rituals in a physical structure. No doubt such changes also brought transformations in their spiritual lives and reoriented the way in which they approached the […]

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Blending Torah and Activism

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Pekudey, Exodus 38:21-40-38
Rector, Rabbinical School; Irving Brudnick Professor of Philosophy and Religion
February 26, 2014

I am a scholar and teacher, having devoted much of my life to shaping a Judaism that will work both for me and for others in our contemporary world. I have one sibling, my sister Paula, who works in international peacebuilding, especially in Asia and Africa. Recently, I received an email she sent from Addis […]

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Four Levels of Societal Transformation

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Vayakhel, Exodus 35:1-38:20
February 19, 2014

I recently had to report for jury duty. I had been summoned for jury service before, but this was the first time I did so in New York City. In the past I had found that, despite the hours away from my regular responsibilities, being an active part of the justice system was an inspirational […]

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