Singing the Song of the Torah Throughout the Year

From the time of the Mishnah (codified in the 2nd century), the Rabbis distinguished Torah study into two categories – (1) Torah study for its own sake (Torah Lishma) and (2) Torah study not for its own sake (Torah Lo … Continue reading »


Worse Than Invisible: Ruminations on Woman and Talmud Torah

I distinctly remember my initial reaction to the first Rabbinic text I ever learned: I laughed out loud. A young, searching Jew, I had traveled to Israel to study. I was naïve enough to believe that my community’s own sacred … Continue reading »


Linking Torah to the Outside World

If there’s one thing that twenty-first century New Yorkers know how to do well it is to keep busy. Between cutting business deals on our cell phones as we walk to our yoga classes and writing e-mail as we discuss … Continue reading »


Diving into the Waters of Talmud Torah

With the cries that bemoaned the decline of Jewish education and learning still ringing in our ears, we are witnessing a powerful awakening of adult Jewish education. An ever-increasing number of Jews, both men and women, are turning out to … Continue reading »


“And You Shall Teach Them to Your Children”

Few commandments are more basic to the fabric of Jewish life than the charge to teach Torah to one’s children. At the centerpiece of Pesah, one of our most ancient, central and widely-celebrated holidays when we relive the story of … Continue reading »


The Price of Kosher

“In 1883, a banquet held in honor of the first rabbinical class to graduate from the Hebrew Union College, included, some historians say deliberately, Little Neck clams, soft-shelled crabs, and shrimp salad. Reaction to this menu ultimately led to the … Continue reading »


The Purimspiel: Exploring the Dialogue of the Hidden

It is amazing what a night of theater can do. We get dressed up to see a show and sit in the audience with anticipation, anxious for the curtain to open and show us a new reality. Sometimes the play’s … Continue reading »


Vengeance Is Not A Jewish Value

For most of the public reading of Megillat Ester, one will likely find our community laughing heartily, shaking groggers and rejoicing in the salvation of the Jewish people. But, towards the end of the story, the mood dramatically changes. The … Continue reading »


Sharing the Joy: The Tradition of Sharing Our Gifts

Purim is a celebration of transformation. It is fundamentally about a people’s ability to overturn despair and put joy in its place, to move from mourning to feasting. We read near the end of the Book of Esther that Mordekhai … Continue reading »


That Which is Hidden: Discovering the Truth Behind the Mask

Hiddenness and revelation are at the very foundation of the Book of Esther and the celebration of Purim. Indeed, Esther’s name itself is from the Hebrew root s-t-r meaning hidden. Furthermore, Esther is not called a “Book” but is more … Continue reading »


A Purim Miracle: Queen Esther Revives Ophilia

According to one midrash, Esther was 75 years old when she “came to court and captivated the hearts of all those who saw her, from king to eunuch.” With all due respect to the midrashic imagination, Esther has always seemed … Continue reading »


Talking Without the Mask

Interviewer: Thank you all for being here today. I know that it was not easy to accept this invitation, and some of you even hesitated before agreeing to come. This session is going to be taped, so please speak clearly … Continue reading »


To Turn and Return

“Whose sin is forgiven? The sin of one who forgives sins.” -RABBAH (MEGILLAH 28A) Teshuvah, at its essence, makes the radical claim that change is possible. Though humanity has the ability and often the proclivity to hurt and be hurt, … Continue reading »


Serving God Through Joy: The Celebration at the Place of Water Drawing

Sukkot is also called Z’man Simhateinu, “the time of our joy.” Although we are required to rejoice at all our festivals, this mitzvah is most characteristic of and central to Sukkot, when we must stretch our joy even further. During … Continue reading »


Examining the Mystery of Kol Nidre

Kol Nidre is an Aramaic phrase which means far more than its literal translation, “All Vows.” This statement of annulment of vows has become such a dominant part of the Jewish religious psyche that it is commonly used to designate … Continue reading »


Embracing the Shame Within: Our Process of Teshuvah

With the New Year approaching, Marcelo interviewed BJ member Marla Berkowitz, BJ’s Advocate-in-Residence in the area of the Jewish Deaf, about “shame” in the context of teshuvah. Question: When you think of teshuvah, what comes to mind? Marla: Why do … Continue reading »


The Lightness of the Torah: Why Simhat Torah Matters

A computer search of the holiday Simhat Torah in the Tanakh, Mishnah and Talmud would reveal no matches. It does not exist. In fact Simhat Torah was first celebrated in the 9th century, the Geonic period, even though it did … Continue reading »


The Many Levels of Kashrut

“Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed which is upon the face of the earth and every tree.” -Genesis 1:29 It is interesting to note that the Hebrew root kasher – which means “fit” or “proper” and from … Continue reading »


Kashrut as a Metaphor

I think it was Robert DeNiro in one of his latest gangsters movies who, when ready to shoot the partner he thought had betrayed him, asked the victim to face him because he could not kill him as he was. … Continue reading »


Eco-Kashrut: A Reminder of God’s Presence

In the Torah, God tells Moses “you can not see My face, for man may not see Me and live.” –Exodus 33:20 The notion of staring God in the face is an impossibility, yet the tradition of saying blessings is … Continue reading »


The Politics of Kashrut

The laws of kashrut are complex and often mired in politics and separatism. Meant to serve a myriad of purposes, these laws have varied impacts on our 21st century lives. The hekhsher symbols on a kosher product generally denote which … Continue reading »


Searching for Meaningful Yom Ha’Atzmaut

…an even greater perplexity persists concerning the very meaning of Israel’s existence, its raison d’être, that prevents the free flow of creativity and ritualized celebration with the propagation of a clear message. The State of Israel was born on the … Continue reading »


Cleansing The Soul For Pesah

Elohai N’shamah Sh’natata Bi T’horah Hi “Oh God, the soul which you have placed inside of me is pure.” -Morning Liturgy Each morning, as we awake from another night’s sleep, we have the opportunity to thank God for the soul … Continue reading »


Pesah as a Mitzvah Celebration

Rava said to Rafram bar Papa: Please tell us some of the good things Rav Huna used to do. He said to him: I do not remember things from his youth, but I do remember things from his old age… … Continue reading »


Personal Redemption: Choosing a Haggadah

“Words are what I work with and through which I am made… There is no place words cannot take us if we don’t take them as authorities, with fixed codes hardwired into the language, but as springs to jump with, … Continue reading »