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Sabbath & Holidays

Vayigash: Three Heroes, Three Paths
Wednesday, December 8, 2010 by David Hazony | Jewish Ideas Daily » Weekly Portions

This week, the life stories of three great biblical figures—Judah, Joseph, and Jacob—all come to a head, as each of these individuals learns to rely on his strengths to help him overcome his weaknesses.
Mikeitz: A Concatenation of Coincidences?
Wednesday, December 1, 2010 by Moshe Sokolow | Jewish Ideas Daily » Weekly Portions

One of the recurring puzzles in biblical theology concerns the balance between reliance upon divine intervention, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the assumption of personal initiative. As we near the denouement of the saga of Joseph, we have an unprecedented opportunity to gain insight into this conundrum.
Vayeishev: Judah, Not Reuben
Wednesday, November 24, 2010 by David Hazony | Jewish Ideas Daily » Weekly Portions

When two figures in the Bible face a similar situation but respond to it differently, pay close attention: there's a lesson in the difference. A few weeks ago, I pointed this out in connection with Abraham and Lot. Another example occurs in the book of I Samuel, where King Saul and King David provide contrasting object lessons in the admitting of fault—in David's case, fault for having a man killed in order to take his wife. Still another occurs in this week's reading, where Reuben and Judah, sons of Jacob, present similarly parallel but morally divergent instances.
Vayishlah: Face to Face
Wednesday, November 17, 2010 by Moshe Sokolow | Jewish Ideas Daily » Weekly Portions

The Nobel laureate S.Y. Agnon is said to have compared reading a text in translation to kissing a bride through her veil. This week's Torah portion affords a good opportunity to look at some of what we may be missing through the veil of translation.
Vayeitzei: The First Israelite
Wednesday, November 10, 2010 by David Hazony | Jewish Ideas Daily » Weekly Portions

This week's reading throws us directly into the meandering stories of Jacob, grandson of Abraham, the last and most defining of Israel's patriarchs. The great 19th-century commentator Samson Raphael Hirsch once wrote that, as an archetype, the figure of Jacob embodies the diverse qualities of his twelve sons, who gave their names to the Israelite tribes. The kingly wisdom of Judah, the dedication of Levi, the scrappy resourcefulness of Joseph: in later generations, each tribe could see Jacob as its special forefather.
Toldot: Why Can’t Esau be More like Jacob?
Wednesday, November 3, 2010 by Moshe Sokolow | Jewish Ideas Daily » Weekly Portions

Rebecca had a difficult pregnancy. "The children agitated within her, causing her to exclaim: If this is so, wherefore am I? So she went to inquire of God" (Genesis 25:22). Talmudic legend supplies the cause of the agitation: whenever she passed by an idolatrous temple, Esau would stir in her womb; whenever she passed by a study hall for Torah, Jacob would rouse himself. As the biblical text informs us, she learned from God that the twins she was carrying would become antagonists until, ultimately, the elder would come to serve the younger.
Hayei Sarah: The Role of the Nameless
Wednesday, October 27, 2010 by David Hazony | Jewish Ideas Daily » Weekly Portions

Literarily speaking, this week's portion may seem a bit of a bust. Gone, at least temporarily, are the intense, symbolic, high signal-to-noise ratio stories that have until now made the Bible such a riveting read. This week, we contend with the long winds of Eliezer of Damascus, servant to Abraham. His story is dry and bizarrely repetitive.
Vayera: Did Abraham Keep Kosher? (Do Angels?)
Wednesday, October 20, 2010 by Moshe Sokolow | Jewish Ideas Daily » Weekly Portions

By Moshe Sokolow It was the prophet Isaiah who conferred on Abraham and Sarah the honorific titles of metaphysical first parents, saying: "Listen to me, you who pursue justice and seek God; look toward the rock whence you were hewn and toward the pit whence you were dug. Look toward Abraham, your father, and toward Sarah, who bore you" (Isaiah 51:1-2). Indeed, the relentless pursuit of justice and a persistent, often pernickety, commitment to the traditional religious beliefs and cultural mores modeled by these ancestors have lasted with the Jewish people throughout the ages.
Lekh L’kha: The Patriarch’s Perils
Wednesday, October 13, 2010 by David Hazony | Jewish Ideas Daily » Weekly Portions

This week's reading offers a new sort of narrative. Behind us are the laconic, overtly symbolic, context-free tales of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, and the Tower of Babel. Now, with the stories of Abraham, we get for the first time a kind of biographical sketch, a whole series of episodes spanning many chapters and forming a coherent portrait of a life.
Noah: The Too-Tall Tower
Wednesday, October 6, 2010 by Moshe Sokolow | Jewish Ideas Daily » Weekly Portions

The builders of the Tower of Babel had their work cut out for them. The alluvial plain of Mesopotamia (formed by the Flood) had no quarries that would yield monumental stone. Instead, they molded and fired bricks and substituted raw bitumen for mortar. Through the power of technological ingenuity, they freed themselves from their environmental constraints. By ordinary standards, and notwithstanding their exaggerated hopes for the height of their planned tower with its "head in the heavens," they would seem to have been in line for applause and congratulations. 
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Editors' Picks
Eat, Shave, Chant Menachem Kaiser, Slate. The strange and wonderful pilgrimage of Bratzlaver Hasidim to Uman, Ukraine. (With slide show.)
Lipstick Traces David Bogner, Treppenwitz. Remembering the old, worn, cloth-covered Birnbaum prayer books, their pages imprinted with kisses.
The Curious Case of Kol Nidrei Herman Kieval, Commentary. The best-known ritual of the High Holy Day services has a paradoxical and controversial history. (1968; PDF)
Gimme Shelter Justin Davidson, New York Magazine. From hemp-fiber scrims and wooden helixes to disused cardboard signs: vote for the sukkah of the future. (With slideshow.)
The Lord's Songs Miles Hoffman, New York Times. The classic melodies of the High Holy Day liturgy are largely unchanged, often very beautiful, and highly distinct from Western classical music.
Harsh Judgment, Soft Judgment Naomi Grunhaus, YU Torah. On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, we are judged as individuals; on the second day, as part of a group.
Defiance ToldotYisrael, YouTube. Six men who flouted a 1930 British law and blew the shofar at the Western Wall tell their story. (Video)
Symbolic Foods Phyllis Glazer, Los Angeles Times. On Rosh Hashanah, as on other Jewish holidays, cuisine becomes a system of meaning.
Unleavened Politics Fred MacDowell, On the Main Line. In a declassified 1976 document, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the president of the ultra-Orthodox Agudath Israel discuss the shipment of matzah into the Soviet Union.
Notes on Encampment Christopher Hawthorne, Los Angeles Times. "Sukkah City," an architectural competition to re-imagine the traditional tabernacle, has announced its twelve finalists.