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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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?
Ever wondered whether you should be fasting on the day before Pesah? This rather complex question is explored in this short essay by R. Ethan Tucker, appearing on his blog halakhah.org.
The main questions: what kind of firstborn needs to fast—maternal? paternal? both? How does this relate to other kinds of laws applying to firstborns, like pidyon haben? And how is it that many people who would be obligated avoid fasting on the 14th of Nisan altogether?
Watch the video of Rabbi Ethan Tucker teaching at LimmudNY 2014, as recorded by Shalom TV.
Is Torah Still Relevant? Morning of Learning at Schechter Westchester
Why should we study Torah as an adult? Is Torah still relevant? Join Mechon Hadar faculty and teachers from Schechter Westchester for a morning of learning on Sunday March 30th. You can find all the details below.
Keynote Address—Is Torah Study Still Relevant?: Why Study Torah as an Adult?
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.
Can I kasher a dishwasher in the apartment I am renting? What can I buy in Fairway without a hechsher? How do I navigate my family's Thanksgiving dinner? Our kashrut questions often seem small, but can reflect a complex array of life choices.
Bring your tough questions and R. Ethan Tucker will bring the depth of halakhic discourse in an evening of honest learning about one of the most central aspects of Jewish life.
This year, the fast on the 10th Tevet falls on a Friday (13th December). This brings into conflict the fast (which finishes at sundown) and shabbat (which begins before sundown). How can we resolve this contradiction between the mourning of the fall of Jerusalem on the 10th Tever and rejoicing in our shabbat? Rabbi Ethan Tucker does a comprehensive overview of the main halakhic sources about this issue in this publication from the Center for Jewish Law and Values at Mechon Hadar.
The CJLI is already bringing out weekly Divrei Torah from R. Shai Held. Watch this space for more events and content from the CJLI.
Community Beit Midrash Kick Off
Reading and Rereading the Akedah: Ethics, Submission and Serving God
An evening with Erin Leib Smokler, Rabbi Dov Linzer and Rabbi Ethan Tucker
October 15th, 2013.
The Binding of Isaac raises many core religious questions: Is true service to God achieved through submission? What is God trying to communicate in asking Abraham to sacrifice his son? What is achieved when God cancels that command?
Join us for an evening of spirited conversation as our three panelists engage in a live collaborative reading of Genesis chapter 22 that aims to probe the depths of this text while grappling with its ongoing relevance for contemporary religious life.
Join Hadar's Rashei Yeshiva in a remarkable evening of conversation.
First, Rabbi Shai Held will interview Rabbi Ethan Tucker about the meaning and future of Halakhah—about Halakhah and values, about whether and how Halakhah unfolds over time, about Halakhic observance in the modern world, and much more.
Then, Rabbi Tucker will interview Rabbi Held about the meaning and future of theology—about why theology is so central for a vibrant Judaism, about the interplay of theology and hesed, about what it means to serve God, and much more.
Introduction to the Yom Iyun: Framing the Question
Rabbi Ethan Tucker
This introduction lays out the goals of our learning around Israel at Hadar: the creation of a shared vocabulary and canon of texts to which we are all held accountable. Our goal is not to limit the potential range of opinions on the topic of Israel but rather to encourage two key dynamics: 1) Encountering and accounting for views and ideas that challenge our preconceived notions of how we should think about the land of Israel, political power and sovereignty. 2) Giving people more transcendent language for ideas and commitments they already held dear but did not have the means by which to translate them into the age-old conversation of Jewish sources.
A lecture series with Rabbi Ethan Tucker in January-February 2013
Was Abraham Asked to Sacrifice His Ethics? Tuesday, January 29
This lecture will explore anew the classic conflict between ethical commitments and religious duty: the Binding of Isaac. This Biblical narrative plays a central role in Jewish prayer, has inspired countless Jews throughout the generations and continues to haunt us when read on Rosh Hashanah. But in the modern period, the Akedah has been used for more dramatic effect: making true devotion to God dependent on transcending one's own ethical instincts. We will reevaluate this reading in an effort to reclaim the Akedah without sacrificing our own ethics in the process.
Between Wisdom and Honor: When Divine Commands Threaten Human Dignity Tuesday, February 5 Human beings are created in the divine image, and the Torah is built on a foundation of basic human decency. How do we deal with situations where the observance of a commandment gets in the way of this larger vision? We will continue this series by exploring a Talmudic passage that addresses this tension and attempts to lay out a framework for integrating these sometimes competing impulses.
Ethical Norms as the Foundation of the Torah Tuesday, February 12 This lecture will delve into a bold essay by R. Moshe Shmuel Glasner (19th-20th c., Hungary), who spells out a theory of how Judaism ought to relate to modern values that stem from deep ethical impulses, albeit from outside Judaism. We will explore his text as a possible basis for rethinking the interrelationship of traditionally Jewish obligations with contemporary crusades for environmental and economic justice and the never-ending quest to secure human dignity for all. Can we affirm the power of universal ethics without vitiating our commitment to Judaism?
Entering The High Holidays through an Analysis of Yom Kippur
Rabbi Ethan Tucker
One of the most difficult aspects of teshuvah is figuring out what to leave behind and what to carry forward with us. Do we simply write off past failures and press the reset button? Or do we enter into the new year with full consciousness of our failings and preemptively try to address them for the future? We will explore this question through an analysis of the history of Kol Nidre, one of our most famous and confusing pieces of liturgy.
Recordings will also be made available on our website several days following each lecture.
These lectures will address some of the thorniest issues surrounding Jewish identity through an honest look both at traditional sources and our contemporary reality. We will aim to achieve both historical perspective and a practical roadmap for today's Jewish community.
Lecture 1 (May 3): Jews by Blood: Patrilineality and Matrinileality in Jewish Law
Are people with one Gentile and one Jewish parent full members of the Jewish community? Total outsiders? Somewhere in the middle? This issue continues to divide the contemporary Jewish community, often in traumatic ways. We will confront this issue head-on, exploring the full range of sources on this topic and proposing a new paradigm that is more honest to the richness of our tradition and contemporary realities.
Lecture 2 (May 10): Jews by Choice: Conversion and Apostasy throughout the Ages
People have always entered and exited the Jewish body politic via the processes of conversion and apostasy. As we think about Jewish identity today, should we recognize the right of someone born Jewish to leave? And if not, how can we square that with a commitment to the reverse process, that of a Gentile becoming a Jew? We will reflect on contemporary strategy through the prism of Jewish sources.
Lecture 3 (May 17): Jews and Jews Alone: The Problem of Religious Syncretism
Contemporary Jewish and American society takes intermarriage between people of different religions for granted. And it often goes further, assuming that the blending of different traditions in fact produces a stronger, richer religious experience. When is it acceptable to be a syncretist, allowing two or more traditions to affect personal practice. And when is religious syncretism a covenantal breach, the failure to meet exclusivist claims and demands made by one tradition over any other? In this final lecture, we will aim to formulate an overarching approach to this most central question of Jewish identity in the contemporary period.
Week 1: Why? Why do we keep kosher in the first place? What is the intended function of various dietary restrictions? What is their effect as practiced? Before we jump into the details, we will endeavor to begin with a broad picture of motivations and frameworks for eating differently than we might otherwise without the Torah and Hazal's guidance. Download sources for Session 1
Week 2: What? The Torah presents a list of items that are forbidden to eat and rabbinic literature supplements this even further. Avoiding these problematic foods lies at the heart of any kashrut practice. What is in our food and how do we know? What kinds of information and evidence are sufficient for ensuring that we don't transgress these requirements? We will look in depth at questions regarding verifying the ingredients present in food and when we can trust that food is permitted to eat. Download sources for Session 2 Download audio recording Watch Session 2
Week 3: How? How food is prepared is almost as important in Jewish law as the contents of the food itself. We will look in depth at the question of the utensils used to prepare food and how pots and pans play an integral role in the question of whether something is kosher. We will also see, however, that questions of procedure and preparation are complex, and some of the tradition's most striking flexibility can be found in this fascinating area of practice. Download sources for Session 3
Week 4: Who? An often overlooked dimension of the kashrut of food is: "Who prepared it?" The identity of the preparer plays a prominent role in rabbinic thinking about kashrut. Recognizing that food is a key element in creating fellowship, many rabbinic sources forbid consuming food prepared by those with whom fellowship is dangerous or undesirable. We will wade into the complex issue of Jewish-Gentile boundaries around food and try to think about the role of food in creating fellowship in our contemporary environment.
Week 5: Where? Can you eat a glatt-kosher, double-wrapped meal while dining with a genocidal dictator? Even if the ingredients are kosher, the pots are kosher and the identity of the preparer is innocuous, some venues are simply too problematic for eating. We will explore a small but fascinating set of texts on the notion of mesibot, celebratory events that abhorred rabbinic sensibilities and think about the application of this category to contemporary social situations.
Week 6: Now This last session will be devoted to putting everything we have learned together with an eye to thoughtful application to the contemporary world. The effects of modern standards of cleanliness and the materials revolution will be explored. A significant period of time will be set aside during this final session for practical questions and broader reflections on what we have learned.
Berg Lectures on Jewish Law: Pathways for Egalitarian Judaism Taught by Rabbi Ethan Tucker
Berg Lectures on Jewish Law: Pathways for Egalitarian Judaism
Taught by Rabbi Ethan Tucker
March 6th, 13th and 20th, 2012, 7:30pm
March 6: Incremental Change or Paradigm Shift?
In thinking about gender and Jewish rituals, rights and responsibilities, we are faced with a fundamental choice. One approach is to tackle each issue on its own terms and to use incremental and minimalist approaches to solving problems that arise. The other approach is to embrace a paradigm that addresses issues of gender in one fell swoop by arguing for a paradigm shift. We will think about these two modes more broadly in halakhah and consider what is gained and lost by each.
March 13: Sharing Burdens Equally in a World without Adjuncts
In an egalitarian world of Jewish rights and responsibilities, who gets to come late to shul?Who plays the role of adjunct and supporter that has always been key in the mechanics of Jewish community? If much of the Jewish past assumed that many supporting roles were delegated to women in order to allow men to be fully present, how can an egalitarian world ensure full presence for some without dividing roles along gender lines alone? We will consider other models for thinking about burdens shared among equals and think about how to keep both men and women fully involved in all aspects of Jewish life.
Much of the struggle for gender equality both in the general culture and in Judaism has focused on equality of citizenship and equality of power. Must that struggle also necessarily entail wiping the public space clean of gender differences? Can Jews who are committed to gender difference and separation be full members of the egalitarian project pursuing equality of power and citizenship? We will attempt to address this difficult and contentious topic with sensitivity and honesty.
The Gift of Rest - Senator Joseph Lieberman and R' Ethan Tucker -- Audio and Video Now Available!
"The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath"
A Conversation with
Senator Joseph Lieberman and Rabbi Ethan Tucker
Sunday, January 8th, 2012
7:30 - 9:00pm
Join us for an evening of conversation and learning around the topic of Shabbat. Senator Lieberman's recent book, The Gift of Rest, will serve as the centerpiece of our conversation, which will weave together political anecdotes and thoughtful consideration of rabbinic halakhah and aggadah about Shabbat. What is the role of Shabbat in the contemporary world? How can rigorous Jewish observance integrate into public life? When conflicts arise surrounding Shabbatobservance, how can we deal with them?
190 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10023 Cost: $10 in advance, $15 at the door; students: $5 in advance, $7 at the door
The biblical and rabbinic material on sexual practice surrounding menstruation is more loaded with critique and apology than almost any other area of halakhic literature. In this series we will attempt to engage this topic directly and honestly, sincerely searching for what these ancient sources continue to teach us today and to imagine new possibilities for their application to contemporary reality.
When: 6 Tuesday nights, October 12 - November 16 (come for any or all classes) Time: 7:30pm - 9:00pm Cost: $5/$25 for series Where: Mechon Hadar, 190 Amsterdam Avenue (at 69th St.)
Can't make it? Watch live on UStream. Video of each lecture will be posted online.
This three-part series will lay out an overarching theory of and approach to halakhah (Jewish Law).The lectures will focus on the following themes: I. History--Our Present Moment: Its genesis and our way forward (March 4) II. Philosophy and Theology--Viewing halakhic norms as representing values worthy of respect rather than arbitrary rules demanding obedience (March 11) III.Law--Practical examples of language and category shifts that allow us to engage even the most contentious areas of Jewish Law (March 18)
We are grateful to the David Berg Foundation for making these lectures possible.