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Straus Center to host event at Begin Center

April 8th, 2014 by jtaubes

Begin Event

The Battle for Israel’s Soul

April 7th, 2014 by jtaubes

20140401_Gordis_Begin_Straus_Center_122At Straus Center Event, Author Daniel Gordis Discusses The Life and Legacy of Menachem Begin

A fiery revolutionary and a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, a beloved founder of the State of Israel reviled by its first prime minister, a proud Jew but not a conventionally religious one: Menachem Begin, Israel’s sixth prime minister, was all of this and more. On April 1, Yeshiva University’s Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought hosted an intimate evening of conversation at the Yeshiva University Museum with Straus Center Director Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik and Dr. Daniel Gordis, author of the recent book Menachem Begin: The Battle for Israel’s Soul (Nextbook, April 2014), to discuss the complexities and contradictions of Begin’s life and legacy. Read the rest of this entry »


March 31st, 2014 by jtaubes

Aaron Miller is a Straus Center Undergraduate Fellow in 2013-2014

            Learning the Lesson: Spiritual Gleanings from Parshat Metzorah

The believing Jew, who looks to Scripture for meaning, often leaves the synagogue after the Torah portions of tazria and metzorah confused and perplexed.  They both appear to be a recounting of the vestiges of Near Eastern medicinal practice infused with an Israelite ritual twist.  What lessons could possibly be gleaned from a handbook on how to cure Biblical leprosy?  In actuality, this Parsha has a plethora of profound lessons which are all too often lost amidst the technical details of a particular skin disease.  This is not a Parsha about ancient acne or bulging blisters but rather about the role of the individual and the community within Judaism.  It teaches us profound lessons about how a Jew is supposed to relate to authority and personhood within the context of a religious life. Read the rest of this entry »


March 18th, 2014 by jtaubes

Celeste Marcus was a participant in the Straus Center and Tikvah High School Program in 2013

Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis in Parshat Shemini

Parshat Shemini epitomizes the tension and paradoxical nature of mans relationship with God. In this parsha, two modes of relating to Hashem are presented. One in which man acts as an obedient servant who attempts to achieve dveikut by obeying mundane and intricate laws, and one in which man,  intoxicated by a desire to come closer to Hashem, attempts to initiate the connection on his own. At the heart of these two methods, Aharon arrives at a golden mean: he operates without explicit instruction, motivated by a pure desire to know and to carry out Gods will.

Shemini opens with the minutia of the inaugural korbanot. We are presented with a plethora of specific tasks necessary for Am Yisrael to engage with God. The dynamic is clear: God commands and we carry out. The Nation, through Moshe and the Priesthood, communicate with the Almighty through a complicated, technical process. Read the rest of this entry »


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 »

Ki Tisa

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 »

Straus Center to Co-sponsor event on March 10th at YU Museum on Megillat Esther

February 10th, 2014 by jtaubes

straus museum eventThe 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 »