March 3rd, 2014 by jtaubes
Yael Lilienthal was a participant in the Straus Center and Tikvah High School Program in 2013
Humanity in Vayikra
The book of Vayikra often musters many deep, disappointing sighs and creates distressed educators aimlessly searching for insights amongst the sacrificial technicalities to transmit to their students. It is hard to arouse feelings of excitement and connection to this book. Many find the topic of sacrifices uninteresting; others find it disturbingly complicated to accept based on its alleged idolatrous origins.1
But together with the technicalities of Vayikra there is a set of rules that delineate the basic code of ethics most societies have been built upon2. Rules that prohibit gossiping, tripping the disabled, adulterous and incestuous relationships, prejudice in court, and revenge are basic principles of communal cooperation. A moral society adheres to the standards listed. The Code of Hammurabi, for example, states explicit punishments for one who “guilty of incest with his mother after his father”3 which, in its similarity to the prohibitions listed in Chapter 18, is only one of the parallel principles between laws found in Vayikra and those from older societies. Read the rest of this entry »
February 28th, 2014 by jtaubes
Jina Davidovich was a Straus Center Student in 2011-2012
Sinful Style: The Clothing of the High Priest
In this week’s parashah, Parshat Pekudei, the reader arrives at the final page of the blueprints for the mishkan, the tabernacle. For the last five parshiot, the Torah commands its reader to pay specific attention to the myriad details that go into the building of the mishkan. Ultimately, at the end of this parashah, the construction will be completed “just as God commanded Moses” and God’s Divine presence, the shekhinah, will fill the mishkan (Exodus40:34). The summary offered in these chapters serves as an account of all that the Israelites – particularly the artisans, led by Betzalel – had done in preparing for the dedication of themishkan and its use. Read the rest of this entry »
February 18th, 2014 by jtaubes
Daniel Tabak is a Straus Semikha Seminar Participant for 2013-2014
Is Religious Reading an Endangered Species?
The parshiyyot that we have been reading and continue to read this week and next are often perceived as boring. It proves challenging to become excited about descriptions of various tools, vessels, and structures, and a lack of familiarity with what items like these actually looked like in the ancient Near East puts at a disadvantage even those with excellent visuospatial processing and a knack for translating words into images. We silently thank the publishers of the printed Torah we hold in our hands during qeri’at ha-Torah for breaking up the Torah’s continuous stream of words with some illustration at this point, and we are comfortable relying on these illustrations as faithful representations of the text. We tend to forget that these illustrations are not mi-Sinai and are interpretations of the text like any other. Read the rest of this entry »
February 11th, 2014 by jtaubes
Amiya Tor was a participant in the Straus Center and Tikvah High School Program in 2012- 2013
Chanun – Giver of Free Gifts
Parshat Ki Tisa is replete with drama: Israel sins with the Golden Calf with Moses still on Sinai; God tells Moses of the sin and pledges to destroy Israel; Moses entreats God to “repent of this evil against Thy people”[i], and God indeed repents. The next day, after returning to the camp and purging it of sinners, Moses turns to God again, saying:
“Ana, please, this people has sinned a great sin…Yet now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin—; and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written.”[ii] Read the rest of this entry »
February 10th, 2014 by jtaubes
The Straus Center of Jewish Thought will be co-sponsoring an event entitled “Exploring Esther: The Origins, Values and Power of Purim” at the YU Museum on March 10th at 7pm. Join a cross‐disciplinary panel of Yeshiva University scholars as they discuss the interpretive history of the Book of Esther, the story of the Jews in Persian lands, and the values and meaning of Purim today. Read the rest of this entry »
February 6th, 2014 by jtaubes
Jonathan Hart Green is a Straus Center Undergraduate Fellow for 2013-2014
Clothing in Light of the Bigdei Kehuna
Clothing holds a significant place in the contemporary world, not only among those who read fashion magazines, but also in modern political discussion. Recently, in the Canadian province of Quebec legislation has been proposed to disallow religious clothing and symbols for those working in a public office. Although the legislation has yet to pass, it remains hotly debated. On a more theoretical level, the emphasis on liberal values in the Western world and the breakdown of traditional codes of modesty in dress has resulted in less clothing being worn in public. Many regard this as liberating. By contrast, in fundamentalist religious societies, there is a lot of emphasis on the role of clothing, interpreted by some as a means of religious coercion. There are those who would argue (including many Orthodox Jews) that clothing is a means of profound religious expression: a focus on one’s inside, rather than the externalities, thus offering a freedom of the soul. Certainly one can point to the perils of either extreme direction. Is there a way of viewing clothing that sees it as elevating without being extreme and coercive? Read the rest of this entry »
February 2nd, 2014 by jtaubes
Matthew Holbreich and Danilo Petranovich published an article on Abraham Lincoln and the Bible entitled “In The Valley Of The Dry Bones: Lincoln’s Biblical Oratory And The Coming Of The Civil War”
PDF Available here.
January 27th, 2014 by jtaubes
Yael Lilienthal was a participant in the Straus Center and Tikvah High School Program in 2013
If You Do It, It is No Dream
Parshat Terumah can be viewed as the beginning of Exodus’s second half. Whereas thus far, the book of Exodus has eponymously recounted the Jews’ release from bondage, it now tells of the command to build the mishkan, chet haegel, and the actual building of the mishkan.
Both times the mishkan is discussed—its command spanning Terumah, Tetzaveh, and some of Ki Tisa1, and its construction in Vayakhel-Pekudei2—it is juxtaposed with the mitzvah of Shabbat. The juxtaposition, used by the Talmud to derive the thirty-nine Shabbat prohibitions, indicates a much deeper connection between the two, a connection which has attracted many exegetical parallels. The Talmud says Hashem’s joy on the day the mishkan was built and upon the creation of the world were equivalent. Nechama Leibowitz5 uses linguistic similarities to compare both creations. Through Creation, G-d made room in His heavenly universe for a physical world; through the mishkan, the Jews sanctified a space for the physical manifestation of Godliness.
Seemingly, there is value not only in the inherent connection between the two, but also the reversed juxtaposition of Shabbat and mishkan. Shabbat appears in Ki Tisa after the command to build the mishkan3, and Parashat Vayakhel begins with the mitzvah before detailing the mishkan’s construction4. Read the rest of this entry »
January 19th, 2014 by jtaubes
Hadassah Tirschwell is a 2013-2014 Straus Center Undergraduate Fellow
Judaism’s War and Peace
The legal laws of civility, the focus of this week’s parsha, directly follow G-d’s command against using hewn stone in the construction of an altar for G-d. Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch points out that the juxtaposition of these two topics serves as a “symbolic expression” of the idea that “force and harshness are thereby to be banned from the Jewish State, only then can [the Jewish people] be worthy to erect an altar to G-d in their midst.” This principle was tested and proven to be true by the ultimate Jewish warrior, King David, who recounted that G-d had proclaimed that he would not be allowed to “build a house for [G-d’s] name” due to David’s status as a “man of war.” King David’s involvement in battle disqualified him from building on behalf of G-d.
The Torah’s aversion to carved stone as the materialistic expression of our desire to sacrifice religiously for G-d leads us to question the Jewish ideal in militaristic initiatives. If civility is to be placed above all, and bloodshed is seen as an impediment to spirituality, what, then, is the Torah’s recommended battle plan? Read the rest of this entry »
January 13th, 2014 by jtaubes
Dovid Schwartz was a participant in the Straus Center and Tikvah High School Program in 2013
Sanctuary of the Temple, Sanctuary of the Court
What distinguishes the mundane from the holy? The sacral from the secular? The sacred from the profane? It will attempt to demonstrate that, according to the Halacha, the distinction lies not in the act itself, but in the intention: man distinguishes between the sacral and secular. It is man who sanctifies the mundane, and it is man too who profanes the holy.
While it is in Sefer Shemot that Yitro suggests a court system, it is in Parshat Shoftim that the Torah lists various Mitzvot that pertain to the judges of the court. The Torah, in the opening verses of Shoftim, lists three imperatives: a command to appoint judicial figures, not to engage in illegal and irresponsible jurisprudence, and finally, “Justice, justice; pursue it!” The next three imperatives are peculiar: a command not to plant an asheira tree near the altar, not to construct an altar made of a single stone as the Canaanites did, and not to offer a blemished animal to God.
Read the rest of this entry »