How to Foil a Revolution


A well-known theory about the Exodus posits that a slave revolt lay behind the biblical account. See the discussion in W.H. Propp, Exodus 1–18 (AB; New York: Doubleday, 1999), pp. 741-744. Basing itself on historical sources, the hypothesis proposes a connection between large population movements in the eastern Mediterranean during the 2nd millenium BCE and the Israelite departure from Egypt. Can we find any support in the Bible for the idea of a popular rebellion?

The Binding of Isaac in Art: Piety and Protest


The article The Binding of Isaac: Piety and Protest explores this week’s Torah Portion “Vayera” in a totally new light: through the eyes of the artist. The article is one of 27 found on the TALI website Visual Midrash. The site, the first on-line fine and folk-art index of the Bible and its commentaries, was created by Dr. Jo Milgrom, Israel’s primary lecturer in “art as midrash” at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies and biblical scholar, Dr. Joel Duman. The website is based on Dr. Milgrom’s archive of art images collected over a lifetime of teaching and pioneering the field of art as Biblical commentary. Over 950 catalogued images are now accessible on the Visual Midrash Web site, with essays in English and Hebrew on 28 biblical themes. Altogether, Milgrom has donated 3,000 slides from her personal collection to this project. To read more about the project, click here.

Yom Kippur: A Day for Moral and Cosmic Self-Examination


The Days of Awe, or High Holidays, constitute one of two beginnings in the Hebrew calendar. The second beginning of the year is marked in the spring at Passover, Holiday of Freedom.

All the Jewish festivals are tied up with one another as commemorating Creation, a cosmic event from which all life in the universe originated, and as commemorating the Exodus, an event of national significance to the Jewish people in particular. But it can be argued that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur represent more the cosmic aspect of traditional Jewish existence, while Passover, Shavuot and, to an extent, Sukkot represent more the national particular aspect.

Joy and Gladness on the Ninth of Av and Yom Ha’atzma’ut


As a Zionist and a religious Jew, I see God’s hand in the rebirth of the Jewish state, and the subsequent restoration of ancient Jerusalem and the Temple Mount to Jewish sovereignty. In fact, while most religious Zionists believe that the State of Israel marksthe beginning of the burgeoning of our redemption, my sense is that this rebirth and restoration are the totality of the promised redemption foretold by the prophets of yore, for which Jews have prayed for 2000 years.

The Musar Movement in the Lithuanian World of Torah – the Teachings of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter z”l


In mid-19th century Lithuania, a Torah-based movement arose that came to be known as the Musar (morality) Movement, which stressed human moral conduct founded on ethical discipline. The movement’s founder and central figure was Rabbi Yisrael Lipkin Salanter (1810–1883), named for his home town Salant. This article is dedicated to R. Yisrael and to the Musar Movement, whichhad a significant impact on the Jewish Torah world. Its central idea of perfecting one’s personal character is linked closely to the ideal of good faith and fairness that are at the basis of our legal system.

The Yetser Hatov in Rabbinic Thought


The rabbinic notion of two inclinations – good and evil – vying for domination in each human heart is first mentioned and best known from a homily on Deuteronomy 6:5, the second verse in theShema, which begins “ve’ahavta et hashem elokekha bekhol levavkha…”. Commenting on the use of the variant form levavkha, with double bet, for “your heart”, instead of libkha with one bet, thedarshan explains that you are expected to love God with both your inclinations, the good and the evil: “bishney yetsarekha, yetser hatov viyetser hara”. Versions of this homily are found in Mishnah Berakhot 9:5, Sifre Deuteronomy 32 and Tosefta Berakhot 6:7. In the Tosefta this darshan is identified as the second century tannaRabbi Meir, the primary teacher of RabbiJudah the Patriarch, editor of the Mishnah.

The Sweetness of “Bitter-Heshvan”


The month of October, or Mar Heshvan (“bitter-Heshvan”as it is playfully called,) denotes the period of time immediately following the joy-filled month of holidays. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit it, but as a synagogue rabbi I love this “sweet” month! The feeling that a community rabbi experiences upon Isru Chag, the 23rd of Tishrei, is intoxicating: to arise the “morning after” and to move into the blessed state of routine, the comforting weekday schedule, to resume the wearing of tefillin, to take the little one to pre-school, and to know that it will continue in this vein straight through to the 25th of Kislev – two months and two days!

Seeing the Voices: Some Thoughts on the Nature of Revelation


“And all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the blare of the horn and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw they fell back and stood at a distance. “You speak to us,” they said to Moses, “and we will obey; but let not God speak to us lest we die.” (Exodus 20:15-16).[note]I am indebted to three important discussions of revelation which have informed my understanding of the topic: Benjamin D. Sommer, “Revelation at Sinai in the Hebrew Bible and in Jewish Theology”, Journal of Religion 79 (1999):422-451; Yohanan Silman, Qol Gadol Velo Yasaf, Jerusalem, 1999; Moshe Halbertal,People of the Book, Cambridge, 1997.[/note]

Handmade Midrash


How does one to foster Jewish identity in teen age youth who were virtually illiterate in Jewish learning and uncommitted to Jewish life? This challenge is just as valid in Israel, for the vast majority Israelis. Jewish learning, at least in the Hebrew language, is theoretically in the hands of all, but not necessarily the spiritual and symbolic aspects of the sacred books that can nourish the soul.

Rosh Hashanah: Creation of the World and Creation of Mankind


Of the midrashim that describe the creation of the world, one stands out that is short and puzzling. Breishit Raba 3:7 refers to God as the “Creator and Destroyer of Worlds.” This implies that our world is not the first that God created; there were earlier ones He created and destroyed. There is no answer given to the obvious question of why. Different explanations, sometimes contradictory, are offered elsewhere in Jewish philosophy and mysticism. The common premise underlying most of these is that creation and destruction are not dependent entirely on God’s Will.