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Parashat Lekh Lekha – Rabbi Shai Held

                      

Between Abram and Lot:
Wealth and Family Strife

Into its second year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Lekh Lakha is available for download in text and audio format here.

Genesis 13 tells the story of a family in the process of falling apart. God’s bountiful blessing of wealth paradoxically leads Abram and Lot, the patriarch and his nephew, into deep conflict. Having returned to Canaan together, the two now part ways: Abram remains in the land of Canaan, while Lot departs for Sodom. But the separation between Abram and Lot is not just geographical, it is also characterological. In the hands of the narrator, Abram and Lot become paradigms for two very different ways of perceiving and responding to abundance and wealth.

 
 
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Parashat Noach – Rabbi Shai Held

                     

People Have Names:
The Torah's Takedown of Totalitarianism

Into its second year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Noah is available for download in text and audio format here.

The Tower of Babel is among the best known and most frequently cited stories in the Torah. And yet most of the conventional interpretations of the narrative are mistaken. Genesis 11 is not a simple morality tale about a human attempt to storm the heavens and displace God. The story of Babel is about something else: the importance of individuals and the horrors of totalitarianism.

 
 
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Parashat Bereishit – Rabbi Shai Held

                    

Created In God's Image:
Equality and Responsibility

Into its second year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Bereishit is available for download in text and audio format here.

Genesis famously tells us that human beings are created in the image of God. Consensus among Bible scholars is that the image of God is to be God's viceroys and stewards on Earth, appointed by God to rule over the world. The Torah asserts that ordinary human beings—not just kings, but each and every one of us—are God's earthly delegates. Does this imply that we have unlimited sovereignty over the Earth? And what is a sovereign supposed to do according to the Tanakh?

 
 
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Parashat VeZot HaBerakhah – Rabbi Shai Held

                    

The Beginning and End of Torah

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat VeZot HaBerakhah is available for download in text and audio format here.

The Torah begins and ends in precisely the same way: with acts of Hesed / lovingkindness. This crucial fact teaches us what Torah is really about and what it is ultimately for, and gives us a way of understanding what lies at the heart of Torah—a God who cares deeply about human beings and acts with love and kindness towards them. But the Sages are not content to describe God as compassionate and generous; they characterize God in this way not only so that God may be worshiped but also, critically, so that God may be emulated.

 
 
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Parashat Ha'azinu – Rabbi Shai Held

                   

"I May Not Get There With You":
The Death of Moses and the Meaning of Covenantal Living

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Ha'azinu is available for download in text and audio format here.

Moses is the paradigmatic prophet, a model for all Israelite prophets and the greatest among them. And yet God insists that this incomparably great prophet must die before he reaches the Promised Land. The lesson of Moses' death is both tragic and redemptive. When we dedicate our lives to causes greater than ourselves, we may accomplish a great deal, but we very rarely live to see our projects completed; to live with God is to plant seeds in the hopes that they will flourish—whether in our lifetime or (long) after.

 
 
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Responsa Radio Episode 2

Fitbits, Intimacy in the Modern World, and "The 18 Minutes"

Mechon Hadar is happy to continue this new joint project with Open Quorum and the Center for Jewish Law and Values: Responsa Radio.

Ever wanted to know the answer to some deep and challenging questions in halakhah (Jewish law)? Join R. Avi Killip interviewing R. Ethan Tucker with questions sent in by you (the public!) on all sorts of details of Jewish law. In this episode:

  1. Is it permissable to wear a fitbit on shabbat? What are the sort of concerns one should be raising with such a device?
     
  2. This question deals with the huge gulf between assumptions about marriage and sexual relations from the central Jewish law codes and today. How should one consider the values of these texts as applied to the modern age of delayed marriage and hook-ups?
     
  3. On Friday afternoons, there is a seemingly strange 18 minutes after the official candle-lighting time during which it is permitted to do one's work as if it's the normal week. How did this arise? And how should we think about working on the run up to shabbat in general? 

You can listen to episode 2 here.

 

  • Have a halakhic question you'd like answered on the show? Send an email to R. Ethan Tucker at halakhah@mechonhadar.org. You can also leave a message at 215-297-4254.
     
  • You can read more of R. Ethan Tucker's halakhic essays and responsa on our website.
     
  • Have some feedback for our show? Please send an email to our responsaradio@openquorum.org.

 

Shamor and Zakhor: New paper from CJLV

Introduction to Center for Jewish Law and Values

The Center for Jewish Law and Values (CJLV) was launched last year in an effort to advance broad engagement with and learning around halakhah and the values that shape and drive it.  Among the Center's many projects is the regular release of in-depth units that can stimulate discussion among scholars, laypeople, rabbis and educators on various topics in halakhah.  Each unit will contain a brief abstract, a more lengthy essay, a source sheet and audio recordings.  Once Mechon Hadar's new website is launched this fall, there will be other opportunities for online engagement as well.

We are pleased to present the first CJLV unit, titled, "Shamor and Zakhor: Competing Frames for Shabbat in the Torah and Today."  Please share it widely.  You are welcome to offer concrete feedback at halakhah@mechonhadar.org.

You can download the full paper below, along with a source sheet of the material and R. Ethan Tucker presenting the core issues in audio form.

 

Abstract for Shamor and Zakhor: Competing Frames for Shabbat in the Torah and Today

In the Torah, there are two divergent formulations of the Ten Commandments—one in Exodus and another in Deuteronomy.  The difference between them regarding Shabbat is particularly striking:  Exodus maintains that the goal of Shabbat is “זכור”/“be mindful of”, and links its observance to the Creation of the world in seven days, while Deuteronomy begins with the word “שמור”/“guard” and grounds Shabbat in being freed from oppression in Egypt.  And yet our tradition insists that they were said “בדיבור אחד”/”in one utterance”.  What could this assertion mean?  And why was this synthesis so important to our Sages?

Deeper investigation reveals that these two formulations actually represent two strong, competing visions of what Shabbat is all about: שמור/Exodus and זכור/Creation.

For the שמור model, Shabbat is all about taking home the lessons of being a slave and making sure that the economically disadvantaged get a chance to rest.  This rationale calls us away from the labors of the week so that we can enjoy rest and bodily rejuvenation.

For the זכור model, we are called instead to experience a Shabbat world that is fully created.  By imitating God’s stopping and resting, we also acknowledge that we did not create the world and therefore do not have the right to dominate it without limits.  It is our day to draw close to God, not to serve our ends or to tamper with God’s handiwork.

These two competing models vied for prominence throughout the Second Temple period, often taken up by different Jewish groups in dramatic and extreme ways.  Against this backdrop, the rabbinic refusal to allow one of the Torah’s messages about Shabbat to trample the other is even more striking.

Throughout the history of halakhah, many religious authorities have grappled with this continuing tension, and many Jews today have instinctively developed only one of these frames and not the other.  So many Shabbat observances seem extreme or inappropriate when viewed through the lens of one of these frames alone, but when looked at from the opposite perspective start to make sense.  This piece explores the essence of the rabbinic Shabbat, which is an unfolding attempt to glean wisdom from the competing models of זכור and שמור, as well as from the corollary symphony of voices that make up this ever relevant area of halakhah.

 

Downloads

 Read the full paper (pdf)

 Read the source sheet (pdf)

 Listen to the audio (mp3)

 

Parashat Nitzavim-VaYelekh – Rabbi Shai Held

                  

Returning to Sinai Every Seventh Year:
Equality, Vulnerability and the Making of Community

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Nitzavim-VaYelekh is available for download in text and audio format here.

Some moments are so powerful that we yearn to keep them alive even long after they have passed. Some events—a wedding, the birth of a child, a moment of deep connection to the transcendent—carry such deep implications for the way we carry ourselves in the world that we strive to orient our lives around them. One of Judaism's central projects is to maintain a living connection to our foundational moments: to remember that no matter how much time has passed, Exodus and Sinai have always only just taken place. The mitzvah of gathering the people (hak'hel) in this week's parashah is designed to do exactly this.

 
 
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Parashat Ki Tavo – Rabbi Shai Held

                  

Against Entitlement:
Why Blessings Can Be Dangerous

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Ki Tavo is available for download in text and audio format here.

Deuteronomy portrays God as a gracious giver of gifts. Yet Deuteronomy worries that these gifts could easily become snares, that the people will feel entitled to God's bounty instead of being grateful for it and that they will therefore come to forget the God who has given them so much. Deuteronomy is passionately concerned with preventing that kind of apostasy; the first-fruits ceremony prescribed in Parashat Ki Tavo is a liturgical attempt to keep gratitude from dissipating in the face of affluence and abundance.

 
 
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Parashat Ki Teitzei – Rabbi Shai Held

                 

Let Him Live Wherever He Chooses:
Or: Why Runaway Slaves Are Like God

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Ki Teitzei is available for download in text and audio format here.

It seems fair to say that on a day-to-day basis many of us in the Western world take our freedoms for granted. Yet shocking as it is, more than twenty-million people around the world are enslaved to this very day. What are we to make of this horror, and how ought we respond to it? A stunningly revolutionary passage from Parashat Ki Teitzei can help us formulate a response to this appalling phenomenon.

 
 
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Parashat Shoftm – Rabbi Shai Held

                

The Future is Wide Open
Or: What Prophets Can and Cannot Do

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Shoftim is available for download in text and audio format here.

The prophets frequently castigated the Jewish people for their moral and religious failures, but they also taught us never to imagine that the door to a better future is firmly and fully closed. Comparing the criteria of the false prophets in Deuteronomy 18 to Jeremiah reveals that, according to the Tanakh, the future is open, shaped by the ongoing interaction between divine sovereignty and human freedom. Even in impossibly difficult times there are glimmers of possibility.

 
 
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Changing, Growing and Standing Before God

An evening of learning for the Days of Awe
Monday, September 29th, 2014

 

Are Our Sins Really Our Fault?
Dena Weiss
If God made us who we are, then shouldn't God shoulder some of the blame for our sins? In this class we'll engage this question through a Hasidic approach to teshuvah and forgiveness. We will explore the theological advantages and disadvantages of shifting blame from ourselves to God, or conversely, shifting blame from God to ourselves.

 Read the source sheet (pdf)

 Listen to the live recording (mp3)

 

How Can We Really Change?: Two Models
Rabbi Elie Kaunfer
Does teshuvah represent a radical departure from my past identity or a subtle re-shaping of it?  What is our relationship with our past once we've changed? If we were successful at doing teshuvah, would we still recognize ourselves? We will explore these questions and more through close examination of classical and modern sources.

 Read the source sheet (pdf)

 Listen to the live recording (mp3)

 

Reflections on Repentance: Working on Ourselves in the Presence of God
Rabbi Shai Held
In this interactive lecture, we'll explore some difficult questions about teshuvah, including: 1) What's the relationship between healing interpersonal wounds and asking God for forgiveness? 2) What's the relationship between God's Hesed (love and kindness) and our own? and 3) Why do we constantly look for change in all the wrong places?

 Read the source sheet (pdf)

Parashat Re'eih – Rabbi Shai Held

                

Opening Our Hearts and Our Hands:
Deuteronomy and the Poor

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Re'eih is available for download in text and audio format here.

None of the Five Books of Moses is more passionately concerned with the plight of the vulnerable than Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy 15 operates on two levels simultaneously. At one level, it puts forward concrete solutions to the predicaments faced by the poor. But at another, deeper level, it strives to shape a social ethic, to transform Israel into a community of mutual care and concern. When confronted with the sufferings of the needy, Deuteronomy wants us to act decently and also, crucially, to care deeply.

 
 
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Parashat Ekev – Rabbi Shai Held

                

Will and Grace
Or: Who Will Circumcise Our Hearts?

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Ekev is available for download in text and audio format here.

The book of Deuteronomy repeatedly reminds Israel to love God and hold God in awe; it calls upon the people to protect the vulnerable and to care about their fate. Yet it also struggles with human stubbornness and recalcitrance. It challenges us to open our hearts even as it worries that our rebelliousness and obstinacy will prevent us from doing so. And so Deuteronomy leaves us with a question: Will we soften our own hearts or will God need to do it for us?

 
 
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Parashat Va'Etchanan – Rabbi Shai Held

               

Coveting, Craving... and Being Free

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Va'Ethanan is available for download in text and audio format here.

The last of the Ten Commandments is in many ways also the most elusive. In this week's parashah: "You shall not covet (tahmod) your neighbor's wife. You shall not crave (tit'aveh) your neighbor's house, or his field, or his male or female slave, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor's." This prohibition raises as many questions as it answers. Exactly what is being proscribed here—an action or an attitude—and for what reason?

 
 
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Parashat Devarim – Rabbi Shai Held

              

"Do Not Be Afraid of Anyone":
Courage and Leadership

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Devarim is available for download in text and audio format here.

This week's parashah begins with Moses recounting how he came to appoint judges over the Israelites. In doing so, he instructs them: "Hear out your brothers and decide justly between any man and a fellow Israelite or stranger. You shall not be partial in judgment; hear out the low as well as the high. Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment is God's." What exactly does Moses mean by "do not be afraid of anyone"? Who is he referring to? And why does he choose to begin his speech with this particular warning?

 
 
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Parashat Mas'ei – Rabbi Shai Held

             

Do Not Murder!:
Shedding Innocent Blood and Polluting the Land

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Mas'ei is available for download in text and audio format here.

The second tablet of the ten commandments begins with two stark, simple words: Lo Tirtzah, do not murder. Closely entwined with the Torah's impassioned insistence on the sanctity of human life, the prohibition on shedding innocent blood lies at the very heart of Judaism's theology and social vision. Parashat Mas'ei reiterates this insistence, and adds a crucial coda: not taking a ransom for the life of a murderer. The point is that one may never place a monetary value on a human life. To shed innocent blood is to commit a morally and theologically unimaginable crime. This is the value that biblical law expresses and enforces, that we are called to uphold today, in order that the land itself is not polluted by the blood of innocents.

 
 
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Responsa Radio Episode 1

Night Owls, De Tocqueville, Dishes from Sears, and Theater!

Mechon Hadar is happy to introduce this new joint project with Open Quorum and the Center for Jewish Law and Values: Responsa Radio.

Ever wanted to know the answer to some deep and challenging questions in halakhah (Jewish law)? Join R. Avi Killip interviewing R. Ethan Tucker with questions sent in by Yeshivat Hadar alumni on all sorts of details of Jewish law. In this episode:

  1. For someone who works night-shifts, how should they go about doing the morning prayers? Should they aim to get up in the middle of their sleep even if it is unhealthy? Or is there flexibility in doing the morning prayer at another time, or somehow catching up on what was missed?
     
  2. There is a halakhic concept known as karov l'malkhut, giving dispensation for some Jews to avoid some of the classic restrictions of making Jews distinct from non-Jews. How does this still apply in the modern day? Does this concept even apply in democratic and multi-cultural America?
     
  3. There is a mitzvah of tevilat keilim (the immersing of utensils in the mikveh / ritual bath) for bowls and such bought from non-Jews. But now, when most if not all of our utensils are mass-produced and bought from corporations, does this mitzvah even apply?
     
  4. Is it permissible to perform a show on shabbat assuming that there are no direct violations of shabbat for that person? How do factors such as who is coming?, are the audience paying?, are the actors being paid? How does the person's career fit into thinking about this question?
 

You can listen to episode 1 here.

 

 

Parashat Mattot – Rabbi Shai Held

            

Cattle, Cattle Everywhere:
The Failure of Reuben and Gad

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Mattot is available for download in text and audio format here.

As the Israelites inch closer to the Promised Land, the tribes of Reuben and Gad approach Moses with a request: to stay in the Transjordan with their cattle and children. Why do they mention their cattle first? Unconsciously, Reuben and Gad reveal what lies at the heart of their desire to stay where they are: acquisitiveness and materialism. They are so obsessed with their possessions that they forget the needs of their brethren, and they forget God.

 
 
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Parashat Pinchas – Rabbi Shai Held

           

When Zealotry Metastasizes:
The Passionate Self-Regard of Pinhas

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Pinhas is available for download in text and audio format here.

Few biblical stories trouble modern readers quite as much as that of Pinhas, the Torah's zealot-hero. Is there room for this kind of vigilantism in the name of God? Numbers apparently thinks that there is. Yet there is something profoundly disturbing about this evaluation, which the rabbinic tradition is uneasy with. Midrashim argue an important counterbalance: A zealot for God's honor can all too easily become a zealot for his own.

 
 
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Parashat Balak – Rabbi Shai Held

          

The Lampooned Prophet:
On Learning From (and With) Balaam

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Balak is available for download in text and audio format here.

The story of Balaam, the famed gentile seer hired to curse Israel, is complex and elusive. What kind of man is Balaam—a villain, a saint, or something in between? And why does he endure such a savage critique in the episode with the donkey? A subtle reading indicates deep character flaws in Balaam, but that doesn't change the fact that we can learn an important lesson from him: you do not need to be perfect in order to be God's vessel.

 
 
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Parashat Chukkat – Rabbi Shai Held

         

When Everything Looks the Same:
Moses' Failure

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Hukkat is available for download in text and audio format here.

For several decades now, Moses has been God's faithful servant. The people have been stubborn and recalcitrant, but despite moments of exasperation, Moses has stood by them—in faithful service both to them and to the God who has chosen him as their leader. And then—abruptly, in a single moment—it all falls apart. What is the cause of Moses' sin?

 
 
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Parashat Korach – Rabbi Shai Held

        

Every Jew a High Priest?
The Meaning of Tzitzit and the Sin of Korah

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Korah is available for download in text and audio format here.

Parashat Shelah ends by introducing the laws of tzitzit, the ritual fringes worn each day by observant Jews. Parashat Korah begins with the story of Korah and his followers, a group of rebels who insist that the entire people are holy and that Moses and Aaron have thus wrongly exalted themselves above everyone else. Is there a meaningful link between these two adjacent passages? Taken together, the mitzvah of tzitzit and the story of Korah offer us powerful insights into the heart of Jewish theology and spirituality.

 
 
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Center for Jewish Law and Values Book Launch (Reconstructing the Talmud) and Lecture

Listen to the live recordings below! 

Listen to the live recordings!

Introduction to the Book and Q & A
Ethan Tucker, Jason Rogoff
Learn about the new publication from the Center for Jewish Law and Values at Mechon Hadar.  Reconstructing the Talmud, written and edited by Jason Rogoff and Joshua Kulp, is an introduction to academic Talmud study, illustrating the methods and techniques we employ to uncover the historical development and circumstances of a given text in rabbinic literature.  It will, for the first time, bring these insights to the English-speaking Talmud learner in a clear format, the result of decades of teaching experience from both authors.  You can order it online from Amazon, or preorder from Mechon Hadar here.

 
The Rabbinc Shabbat: Shamor and Zakhor in Stereo
Ethan Tucker
In the Torah, there are two divergent formulations of the Ten Commandments—one in Exodus and another in Deuteronomy.  The difference between them regarding Shabbat is particularly striking:  Exodus maintains that the goal of Shabbat is “זכור”/“be mindful”, and links its observance to the Creation of the world in seven days; while Deuteronomy begins with the word “שמור”/“guard”, and grounds Shabbat in being freed from oppression in Egypt.  And yet our tradition insists that they were said “בדיבור אחד”/“in one utterance”.  What could this assertion mean?  And why is it so important to Hazal?

 

Parashat Shelach – Rabbi Shai Held

       

The Tragedy (and Hope) of the Book of Numbers

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Shelah is available for download in text and audio format here.

There is something profoundly tragic about the book of Numbers: a people liberated from slavery, protected by a faithful God, and promised a good life in a land flowing with milk and honey, simply cannot overcome its fears, its lack of faith, and its inability to trust. Yet according to the Torah, God's love and faithfulness do not readily accept defeat. Despite everything, Numbers urges, God's hopes and promises will yet be fulfilled.

 
 
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Parashat Beha'alotkha – Rabbi Shai Held

      

It's Not About You
Or: What Moses Knew

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Beha'alotkha is available for download in text and audio format here.

From the story of Eldad and Meidad in this week's parashah, and its rabbinic commentaries, we learn a tremendous amount about leadership, humility, and the crucial relationship between them. Here, there are four leaders, all of whom care far more deeply about the goal of serving God than they do about the seductions of power, glory, or ego-affirmation. Moses, Joshua, Eldad and Meidad all internalize the simple but profound turth: It's not about you.

 
 
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Interpreting Jewish Liturgy: The Literary-Intertext Method by Rabbi Elie Kaunfer

Abstract: This study conducts a close literary analysis of a variety of Talmudic-era prayers in order to develop a method of interpretation, called the “literary-intertext” method. Drawing on literary theory and the work of intertextuality in biblical and midrashic fields, this method offers a literary reading of prayer texts based on the juxtaposition with biblical intertexts. The method can be described as follows: 

Step 1: Approach the liturgical text from a standpoint of exegesis, in which allusions abound and the surface rendering is never satisfactory. 

Step 2: Using the tools of philology and academic inquiry, establish as many parallels to the liturgical text as one can to point more clearly to the identification of the intertexts. 

Step 3: Identify the biblical intertext or intertexts at play in the line of prayer, and consider the surrounding biblical context. 

Step 4: Identify the rabbinic interpretation(s) of the biblical intertext, giving additional layers of meaning to the text behind the prayer text. 

Step 5: Offer an interpretation or set of interpretations that relate to the prayer. In the course of this study, we employ this method with the first blessing of the amidah, the blessings that constitute havdalah, and the texts of confession for Yom Kippur. In each case, the multiplicity of interpretations that emerges through the juxtaposition of the prayer text with the biblical intertext (and its rabbinic understanding) extends far beyond the original surface rendering. These interpretations are offered throughout the analysis. 

You can download the complete dissertation here

Parashat Naso – Rabbi Shai Held

     

On Channeling and Receiving Blessing

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Naso is available for download in text and audio format here.

The threefold priestly blessing (birkat kohanim) is among the best-known and most deeply treasured passages in the Torah. A close look at the blessings, and at the ways they have been understood, yields crucial insight into the role of the priests in Judaism-and just as importantly, into the nature of blessing in Jewish theology.

 
 
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Jews & Money Summer Lecture Series

 

LISTEN TO THE LIVE RECORDINGS BELOW!

 

 

Listen to the live recordings from session 3:

When the Law Isn't the Law
Jason Rubenstein

 
 
 
Poverty, Vulnerability and the Torah
Shai Held
 

 

Parashat Bemidbar – Rabbi Shai Held

     

Divine Love and Human Uniqueness

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Bemidbar is available for download in text and audio format here.

The opening of the book of Numbers does not exactly make for scintillating reading. God commands Moses to take a census of adult males, which Moses proceeds to do. Why the seemingly plodding procession through tribe after tribe after tribe? A variety of Jewish interpreters suggest that though Numbers 1 may seem boring at first glance, it actually conveys one of the core truths of Jewish theology and ethics: Individuals matter.

 
 
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Summer Kickoff 2014

Listen to the recordings here:

What is a Prophet?: Or: How a Greedy King Killed an Innocent Peasant and Incurred the Wrath of God
Rabbi Shai Held

Ahab, the king of Israel, wanted a vineyard—one belonging to Navoth, in his ancestral homeland—and he was willing to do anything to get it. After Jezebel (Ahab's wife) arranged Navoth's death, Ahab took the vineyard for himself. Immediately Elijah is told to go to the king by God and deliver God's judgment. We will use the example of Elijah in this dramatic story to understand the role of prophets and prophecy in Tanakh.

 
 

 

By the Content of Their Character: Human Goodness as a Test of Jewish Lineage?
Yedidah Koren

 

Can American Jews Still Pray?: The Future of Jewish Prayer
Rabbi Elie Kaunfer

What would it take to engage with prayer on a new level? How can we work to bridge the gap between us and the Divine? In this keynote address, Elie Kaunfer explores how we both know too much and too little about prayer. Through deep literary analysis, we can gain a much deeper knowledge of the words of prayer. And through consideration of the non-cognitive aspects of prayer, we can envision a model of what it means to set up an engaging prayer environment.

 
 
 

 

Parashat Bechukotai – Rabbi Shai Held

    

Standing Tall:
Serving God With Dignity

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Behukotai is available for download in text and audio format here.

In Egypt, the Torah suggests, the Israelites were so abused and exploited under Pharaoh's brutal reign that they were reduced to beasts of burden. In freeing the slaves, God removed the yoke that had so oppressed them, enabling them to stand tall again for the first time in centuries. Subtly the Torah indicates that to serve God and to stand upright are not mutually contradictory. On the contrary, one cannot really serve God without a robust sense of one's own dignity. True divine service depends on those who serve standing tall.

 
 
 
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Parashat Behar – Rabbi Shai Held

   

Another World to Live In:
The Meaning of Shabbat

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Behar is available for download in text and audio format here.

Judaism dreams of a world in which human dignity is real and the presence of God is manifest. Yet the world we live in falls excruciatingly short of that dream. To take Torah seriously, on the one hand, and to live with our eyes and hearts open, on the other, can be a harrowing project. And yet that is precisely what mature spirituality demands of us. Herein lies our challenge: How to hold onto the dream, how to nourish it and live by its lights, without losing all hope, without concluding that the way the world is, is the way it will always be. Judaism's boldest response to that challenge is, in a word, Shabbat.

 
 
 
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Parashat Emor – Rabbi Shai Held

  

Covenantal Joy:
What Sukkot Can Teach Us

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Emor is available for download in text and audio format here.

The Torah insistently connects the festival of Sukkot with the obligation to rejoice (once in this week's parashah), and later Jewish tradition calls Sukkot z'man simhateinu, the time of our joy. Why is Sukkot of all holidays singled out as the time of happiness and delight? Understanding the joy associated with Sukkot helps us gain crucial insight into the nature and dynamics of God's covenant with the Jewish people.

 
 
 
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Parashat Kedoshim – Rabbi Shai Held

 

Loving Our Neighbor:
A Call to Emotion and Action

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Kedoshim is available for download in text and audio format here.

No words in the Torah are better known than "love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18), and no words are generally seen as more significant. And yet for all its manifest centrality in Jewish spirituality and ethics, the precise meaning of the verse is actually quite elusive. What does it mean to "love" your neighbor? Does the Torah command our emotions as well as our actions? Given emotions can't be controlled, can they even be commanded at all? Rav Shai argues that they can.

 
 
 
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Parashat Acharei Mot – Rabbi Shai Held

 

Yom Kippur:
Purifying the Tabernacle and Ourselves

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Aharei Mot is available for download in text and audio format here.

Ask a Jew about the meaning of Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement), and you are likely to hear that it is a day of repentance and forgiveness, a day when sins between us and God are atoned for. But it is not that simple: some interpreters suggest that we have to repent for what we have done to others before we can come before God at all. We cannot sidestep the people we have hurt on our path to God; on the contrary, God insistently directs us towards those very people.

 
 
 
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Parashat Metzora – Rabbi Shai Held

 

Life-Giving, Death-Dealing Words

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Metzora is available for download in text and audio format here.

Words may create worlds, as R. Abraham Joshua Heschel insisted, but they can just as surely destroy them. Words can be deadly weapons and the source of uncountable blessings. But careless, evil speech does not just affect others, it also reflects on ourselves. Reading parashat Metzora each year, tradition bids us remember that each time we speak we create the worlds we are destined to inhabit—whether for good or for bad.

 
 
 
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Parashat Tazria – Rabbi Shai Held

 

Living on the Boundary:
The Complexity and Anxiety of Childbirth

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Tazria is available for download in text and audio format here.

Interpreters have long been perplexed by this strange set of laws at the beginning of this week's parashah. Why is a woman who gives birth considered impure? And why must she bring a hattat, or sin offering—has she done something wrong for which she must atone? Even more confusingly: why does her impurity last longer when she gives birth to a girl than when she gives birth to a boy?

 
 
 
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What is a Jew?

Rabbi Ethan Tucker on ELI Talks

Shamor and Zachor in Stereo (LimmudNY)

Making Sense of Shabbat

Watch the video of Rabbi Ethan Tucker teaching at LimmudNY 2014, as recorded by Shalom TV.

Parashat Shemini – Rabbi Shai Held

 

Is Vegetarianism a Biblical Ideal?

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Shemini is available for download in text and audio format here.

What are human beings meant to eat? How does Tanakh envision an ideal human diet, and what implications—if any—should that biblical ideal have for the present? Is vegetarianism consistent with the spirit of the laws of Kashrut, as they appear in parashat Shemini? And, if vegetarianism is a messianic ideal also, should at least some Jews be vegetarian now?

 
 
 
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Parashat Tzav – Rabbi Shai Held

 

No Leftovers:
The Meaning of the Thanksgiving Offering

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Tzav is available for download in text and audio format here.

The sacrificial offering associated with giving thanks to God (korban todah) differs in crucial ways from other sacrifices mentioned in the book of Leviticus: all of it must be eaten on the day and all the remainder must be burnt. What is the reason for this? And what can we learn about the nature of gratitude from this obscure detail?

 
 
 
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Parashat Vayikra – Rabbi Shai Held

 

Order Amidst Chaos:
Connecting to Leviticus

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Vayikra is available for download in text and audio format here.

Around this time each year, the eyes of many shul-going Jews begin to glaze over. The book of Leviticus seems so utterly foreign, the rituals and practices it describes so alien, the religious vision underlying them so obscure, that connecting to it seems impossible. And yet if we dig a little deeper, we find a great deal about Leviticus that can speak powerfully to modern sensibilities and yearnings.

 
 
 
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Summer Yom Iyun 2014

 

You can listen to the live recordings below!

 

Summer Yom Iyun

The summer Yom Iyun takes place during our annual Executive Seminar. You can read more about it here.

Listen to the live recordings!

Introduction
Ethan Tucker 

 
What Parents Owe Their Children, What Children Owe Their Parents, and Other Difficult Questions
Shai Held

Jewish Law, Human Experience, and the Problem of Abusive Parents: An Intimate Conversation
Shai Held

 

"Teach Them To Your Children": How to Learn Torah With Your Children
Ethan Tucker

 

A Father's Milk: The Miraculous Dimensions of Parenting
Dena Weiss

 
 

Dealing With Difficult Children
Avital Hochstein

 

Nobody's Parents are Ever Going to Change: The Talmud's Advice and Sympathy for Children With Real Parents
Jason Rubenstein

 
 


 

 

Parashat Pekudei – Rabbi Shai Held

  

Building a Home for God

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Pekudei is available for download in text and audio format here.

There seems to be a deep connection between God’s creation of the world on the one hand, and the Israelites’ construction of the mishkan (tabernacle) on the other. But just what is that connection, and what is it intended to suggest? In a world overrun by chaos, a far cry from the order of God's creation, the mishkan is intended to serve as one place in which everything unfolds according to the divine plan.

 

 
 
 
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Parashat Vayakhel – Rabbi Shai Held

  

Whom Do We Serve?

The Exodus Toward Dignified Work

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Vayakhel is available for download in text and audio format here.

At the beginning of the book of Exodus, God's people are enslaved to a false god; by the book's end, they have been liberated to serve the real One. While Pharaoh oppressed the Israelites with forced labor, God demanded dignified work and voluntary contributions to make the mishkan (tabernacle). While Pharaoh denied the possibility of rest, God mandates the Shabbat. Rav Shai explores what freedom truly means according to Exodus.

 

 
 
 
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Parashat Ki Tissa – Rabbi Shai Held

 

The Importance of Character
Or: Why Stubbornness is Worse than Idolatry

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Ki Tissa is available for download in text and audio format here.

God's response to the sin of the golden calf in this week's parashah is perplexing. God is so angry with the Israelites' unfaithfulness that God wants to wipe them out. And yet, the Israelites commit the crime of idolatry, and God wants to punish them... for their stubbornness!? With the help of Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel (the Alter of Slabodka), Rav Shai gets to the depth of what this could mean: that Judaism, at its core, cares not just about actions but also about character.

 

 
 
 
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Parashat Tetzaveh – Rabbi Shai Held

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Tetzaveh is available for download in text and audio format here.

The hunger to be close to God can be one of the most powerful human desires, but it can also be among the most dangerous. The Torah is concerned with making God present but at the same time not harboring the illusion that God can be tamed by human beings. Rav Shai argues that the construction of the mishkan (tabernacle) in this week's parashah is the Torah's solution to this problem.

 

 
 
 
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Parashat Terumah - Rabbi Shai Held

This year, Rabbi Shai Held as part of the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas at Mechon Hadar, will be producing a brand new dvar Torah every week on that week's parashah. Parashat Terumah is available for download in text and audio format here.

Discussing the kabbalistic notion of tzimtzum (God's self-contraction so that the world can exist), and its rabbinic antecedent (God descending into the mishkan, based in this week's parashah), Rav Shai goes into the depths of what it means to be in relationship with another, whether human or divine.

 

 
 
 
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Gender and Tefillin: Possibilites and Consequences

Rabbi Ethan Tucker in Times of Israel

 

With all the controversy regarding two Modern Orthodox day schools (SAR and Ramaz) who have allowed the practice of some female students to wear tefillin, Rabbi Ethan Tucker has joined the discussion with his own thoughts on the topic. He gives an overview of four different approaches one could take to the practice of tefillin and their various strengths and weaknesses, and addresses the fundamental questions at stake.

It appeared in the Times of Israel on January 26th 2014, as well as on Rav Eitan's Halakhah Think Tank; it is also available to download in PDF format from the Center for Jewish Law and Values at Mechon Hadar.

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