Torah Portion - Conservative

Noach - Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan

Sun, 10/15/2017 - 11:00pm

Genesis 6:9 - 11:32 


Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger for myjewishlearning.com


The Children Of Noah


As the children of Noah, we are challenged to follow his example.


Overview

Creation is not off to such a good start: the earth is filled with violence and corruption, and so God decides to flood the earth and start over, choosing Noah to build an Ark to save himself and his family and at least one pair of every kind of animal. After the flood, God establishes the Rainbow covenant with every living creature. Humans decide to challenge God by building the Tower of Babel, so they become dispersed, and the portion ends by introducing us to Avram and Sarai, who will later on become Abraham and Sarah, the First Family of the Jewish nation.

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Bereshit

Sun, 10/08/2017 - 11:00pm

Genesis 1:1-6:8 

Dr. Rabbi David Frankel for thetorah.com


Did God Bless Shabbat? 


Can time be blessed? 


Sanctifying and Blessing the Seventh Day

The creation story ends with the statement (Gen 2:3):

וַיְבָרֶךְ אֱלֹהִים אֶת יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וַיְקַדֵּשׁ אֹתוֹ
And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy.


To consecrate or sanctify a day means that the day is to be dedicated to divine worship and not to be put to profane use. Many days in the Hebrew calendar are said to be מקראי קדש, days of holy convocations, when profane activity is strictly forbidden (see Leviticus 23). The fact that Gen 2:3 speaks of the sanctification of the seventh day is clearly why this passage is traditionally included as the introductory passage for the Friday night Kiddush, which sanctifies the day in preparation for the Shabbat meal.

What, however, might it mean to “bless” the seventh day?

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Shabbat Chol Hamo'ed Sukkot

Sun, 10/01/2017 - 11:00pm

Exodus 33:12–34:26; Maftir: Numbers 29:17-22


By: Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, AJU Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies


The Crack is How the Light Gets In


I was travelling with my family to Independence Hall, the Philadelphia locus of the American Revolution. In the middle of this storied courtyard stands a large bell. The entire world knows that bell. It was hung in the Philadelphia State House in 1753, and it sounded to summon the pre-Independence Colonial Legislature into session, and it was used after the Revolution for the Pennsylvania State Legislature as well.

The intriguing idiosyncrasy of this bell is that when it arrived, it cracked right away. Not once, but twice, American craftspeople repaired the bell by filling in the crack with new metal. And yet it cracked again, and then it cracked again. Apparently the bell wanted to be broken; it had something to say. In the 1830s the Abolitionist Movement was gaining steam; Americans were awakening to the realization that slavery was economically harmful and morally repugnant. Some bold Americans started to organize against slavery as an ethical and political imperative. The Abolitionists were the very first to label this bell the Liberty Bell, and they elevated it as a symbol of American independence and personal freedom.

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YOM KIPPUR

Sun, 09/24/2017 - 11:00pm
BY MATTHEW BERKOWITZ, DIRECTOR OF ISRAEL PROGRAMS, JTS


The Discipline of Atonement


This coming Shabbat culminates the period of aseret yamei teshuvah, the ten days of repentance, as we commemorate Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is the Sabbath of Sabbaths in which we seek to successfully complete our journey toward making amends and recall the ritual of purification that unfolded in biblical times. This particular ritual is detailed during the Musaf service of Yom Kippur. We read that the high priest would set aside his elegant garments and don the garb of a regular priest as he entered the Holy of Holies. There he would atone for his own sins, the transgressions of his family, and the sins of all of Israel. Subsequently, two goats were selected—one for God and the other designated for “Azazel.” While the former goat would be offered as a sacrifice, the latter animal would be led into the desert wilderness to this mysterious place. How can we better understand this intriguing ritual of the scapegoat?

Nahmanides (13th-century Spanish commentator Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman, or Ramban) sheds light on the significance of the goat and of Azazel. Regarding the latter, Ramban surveys the beliefs of other commentators:

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Shabbat Shuva - Ha’azinu

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 8:15am

Deuteronomy 32:1-32:52 


Adam Rosenthal received rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary in May of 2007 and is now serving as rabbi of Peninsula Sinai Congregation in Foster City, California. 


Remember the Days of Old


The Torah describes an earlier time, when lands were distributed fairly by God.


Among the major contributors to suffering around the world is the inequitable distribution of land and resources. The richest 2% of adults in the world own more than half of global household wealth. On a more concrete level, in El Salvador, where I volunteered for 10 days on the AJWS Rabbinical Students’ Delegation, though the land was nominally redistributed in 1992, it was done far from equitably: The poorest people got the lowlands, which are prone to flooding, while the wealthiest held the fertile country, perpetuating the country’s economic inequalities.

In Parashat Ha’Azinu, the Torah poetically describes an earlier time, when lands were apportioned by God to each nation:

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Shabbat Shuva - Ha’azinu

Sun, 09/17/2017 - 11:00pm

Deuteronomy 32:1-32:52 


Adam Rosenthal received rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary in May of 2007 and is now serving as rabbi of Peninsula Sinai Congregation in Foster City, California. 


Remember the Days of Old


The Torah describes an earlier time, when lands were distributed fairly by God.


Among the major contributors to suffering around the world is the inequitable distribution of land and resources. The richest 2% of adults in the world own more than half of global household wealth. On a more concrete level, in El Salvador, where I volunteered for 10 days on the AJWS Rabbinical Students’ Delegation, though the land was nominally redistributed in 1992, it was done far from equitably: The poorest people got the lowlands, which are prone to flooding, while the wealthiest held the fertile country, perpetuating the country’s economic inequalities.

In Parashat Ha’Azinu, the Torah poetically describes an earlier time, when lands were apportioned by God to each nation:

Continue reading.

Nitzavim-Vayeilech

Sun, 09/10/2017 - 11:00pm

Deuteronomy 29:9 - 31:30 

Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels teaches Jewish thought and mysticism at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.


The Song of Humanity


Song can remind us of our authentic selves and our genuine power.


We often read Parashat Vayelekh on Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Fittingly, this Torah portion deals with sin and repentance, with becoming lost on our way and returning to our true selves.

In the portion, God foretells Israel’s future sins and their consequences, how they will turn to other gods and then be overtaken by suffering, leading God to say, “anokhi haster astir panai–I will surely hide my face (Deut. 31:16-18).” The hidden face of God, the classic theological expression of the presence of suffering and evil in the world, here seems to be a response by God to the sins of Israel, a punishment for their misdeeds.

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Ki Tavo

Sun, 09/03/2017 - 11:00pm

Deuteronomy 26:1 - 29:8


Rabbi Dorothy A. Richman is the Rabbi Martin Ballonoff Memorial Rabbi-in-Residence at Berkeley Hillel.


Affirming Responsibility


The power of "Amen."


There is a striking scene imagined in Parashat Ki Tavo (Deut. 27:11-26): Upon crossing the Jordan, the 12 tribes of Israel will divide into two groups. Six tribes will stand on a southern mountain facing the other six tribes on a northern mountain. The Levites will then scream a catalogue of 12 sins, each beginning with the phrase “Cursed be the one.” After each articulated sin, the other 11 tribes call out: “Amen!”

Solid Commitments

The tribes answer the curses in unison — what is the power of the word “Amen”?

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Ki Teitzei

Sun, 08/27/2017 - 11:00pm

Deuteronomy 21:10 - 25:19 

 

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies.

 

Judaism and the Human Body


The commandment to remove a corpse from the stake on which it is impaled teaches us the importance of respecting the holiness of the body.


The definition of what is “religious” shifts throughout the ages. In antiquity, being religious meant offering sacrifices (of children, women, prisoners taken in war) and making regular gifts to the gods. In biblical Israel, it meant being aware of God’s presence, by bringing animal sacrifices to the Temple in Jerusalem at the designated times.

By the Second Temple period, a new emphasis, one of ritual purity, ethical rigor, and obedience to a growing oral tradition became the defining feature of pharisaic religiosity, which the Rabbis of the Talmud extended into an emphasis on the performance of mitzvot (commandments) and study as religious acts.

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Shoftim

Sun, 08/20/2017 - 11:00pm

Deuteronomy 16:18 - 21:9 


BY RABBI MATTHEW BERKOWITZ. A Wexner Fellow ordained in 1999 by the Jewish Theological Seminary


Never Return to Egypt


Resisting the temptation to return, geographically or psychologically, to the site of our bondage.


Several years ago, a book review in the New York Times caught my attention. Janet Maslin, reviewing The Known World by Edward Jones wrote: “Mr. Jones explores the unsettling, contradiction-prone world of a Virginia slaveholder who happens to be black.”

Maslin observed that such situations actually existed in the Antebellum South. A black slaveholder — quite a jarring concept for our rational minds! Nevertheless, such situational opposites are sadly not uncommon throughout history. Indeed, what actually caught my eye in this review was a vignette that the reviewer cited. Augustus, a former slave himself, confronts his son, Henry, who is a black slave-owner: “Augustus, who became free at the age of 22, is aghast to find his son . . . owning slaves. ‘Don’t go back to Egypt after God done took you outa there,’ Augustus warns.”

One could hardly imagine a more powerful philosophical and historical statement; and it is this notion of not returning to Egypt that is rooted in this week’s portion, Parashat Shoftim.

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Re'eh

Sun, 08/13/2017 - 11:00pm

Deuteronomy 11:26 - 16:17


Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies. 


Be Yourself


The gifts brought to the Temple for the pilgrimage festivals teach us the importance of preserving our unique identities.


Social pressure to conform is a steady and soul-deadening force. With relentless enticements, cultures seek ways to impose similarity of worldview, of behavior, even of thought upon their members. Even contemporary society, with its laudable commitment to individuality, imposes subtle mandates through the media, through the movies, through advertisements and in countless other ways.

Small wonder, then, that the truly free soul is rare. Indeed, for many who practice religion (and for many who flee religion), that conformity and habit are nowhere more imposing than in the realm of faith and ritual.

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Eikev

Sun, 08/06/2017 - 11:00pm

Deuteronomy 7:12 - 11:25 


Rabbi Salomon Gruenwald has served as the Assistant Rabbi of Congregation HEA in Denver, CO since his ordination from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles.


Helping a Stranger


Breaking down emotional barriers to empathy.


I participated in the AJWS Rabbinical Student Delegation to El Salvador because I thought I would find some answers to my questions about global poverty and development. Instead, I left with more questions.

I have held an ideological commitment to sustainable development, workers’ rights, and poverty reduction for a long time, but I have to admit that I have done relatively little to contribute to finding solutions. I give a modest amount annually to organizations like Oxfam and AJWS that work in the developing world. I vote in ways that I think will result in better policies for the world’s farmers and workers. I try to buy fair trade products. But, I have made few personal sacrifices.

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Shabbat Nachamu - Vaetchanan

Sun, 07/30/2017 - 11:00pm

Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11 


Rabbi Dorothy A. Richman teaches Torah in the Bay Area and is Rabbi of Makor Or: Jewish Meditation Center. Rabbinic Ordination, JTS. 


Hear & Act

 

Primo Levi's poem gives us new insights into the Shema:


You who live secure

In your warm houses

Who return at evening to find

Hot food and friendly faces:

Consider whether this is a man,

Who labors in the mud

Who knows no peace

Who fights for a crust of bread

Who dies at a yes or a no.

Consider whether this is a woman,

Without hair or name

With no more strength to remember

Eyes empty and womb cold

As a frog in winter.

Consider that this has been:

I commend these words to you.

Engrave them on your hearts

When you are in your house, when you walk on your way,

When you go to bed, when you rise.

Repeat them to your children.

Or may your house crumble,

Disease render you powerless,

Your offspring avert their faces from you.

–Shema by Primo Levi

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Shabbat Hazon - Devarim

Sun, 07/23/2017 - 11:00pm

Deuteronomy 1:1 - 3:22 


Rabbi Lewis Warshauer teaches topics in Judaism to adult study groups in a variety of venues. Among his interests are family dynamics in the Bible and art as interpretation of Jewish texts. He was ordained at JTS.


Attributes of a Leader


Moses shares his views on leadership.


Much of the Book of Deuteronomy is taken up with Moses‘ farewell address to the Israelite nation. He has served his people as their leader in every sphere: military, administrative, judicial and spiritual. Now, he reviews the events of the 40 wilderness years, and presents, from his own perspective, a report of how he has led the nation.

Moses does not offer a dispassionate review of the past; to the contrary, he rebukes the nation for its failings.

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Matot-Masei

Sun, 07/16/2017 - 11:00pm

Numbers 30:2 - 36:13 


BY RABBI DOROTHY A. RICHMAN, Rabbi Martin Ballonoff Memorial Rabbi-in-Residence at Berkeley Hillel, for myjewishlearning.com


Creating Sustainable Freedom

 

All people must know that they have value.


Parashat Masei, the portion of journeys, begins with a recounting of the Israelites’ travels from slavery in Egypt to the borders of Israel. Yet within this re-telling of the Israelites’ trek comes a different journey: the path of a man-slayer into exile.

Powerful Priest and Accidental Killer
An entire chapter of the portion addresses the process by which an unintentional murderer is sent out of the community for his own protection. A person convicted of accidentally taking a life is sent to one of six cities of refuge. He lives there, guarded from his victim’s avenging relatives, until the natural death of the high priest (Numbers 35). If an exiled murderer wants to return home, his only recourse is to pray for the High Priest’s death.

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PINCHAS

Mon, 07/10/2017 - 7:43am

NUMBERS 25:10−30:1 


Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels teaches Jewish thought and mysticism at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.


Heroic or Sinful?


Zealous acts are not always heroic.


Just before this Torah portion begins, Israelite men have begun sleeping with foreign women. These relations have brought the Israelites to worship foreign gods and have caused, in response, a Divine plague to break out in the Israelite camp. God and Moses then command the Israelites to slaughter the idol worshipers among the Israelites.

In the very next verse, we learn that Zimri ben Salu (an Israelite) and Kozbi bat Tzur (a Midianite) publicly display their relationship as Zimri takes Kozbi back to his tent to sleep with her. Our Torah portion opens with the conclusion of the bloody tale as Pinchas slaughters Zimri and Kozbi and ends the plague (Numbers 25).

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Balak

Sun, 07/02/2017 - 11:00pm

Numbers 22:2 - 25:9 

Judith Greenberg was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.


Saying No To Temptation


Not giving in to temptations helps us to clarify our values and stick to our convictions.


We are surrounded by things that tempt us. Unhealthy foods, video games, and gossip are just a few of the things enticing us. It’s hard to make the decision to eat healthily.  Or to not play “just one more round!” Or to keep from spreading a juicy piece of news. When confronted with a temptation, we know what the right decision is, but in the moment, it can be so hard to stay connected to our values, be they healthful eating, productive use of time, or not engaging in lashon hara or gossip.

In this week’s Torah portion we have one of the most famous – and fateful – examples of someone giving in to a temptation. In the Garden of Eden, God told Adam not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and bad.  But the snake tempts Eve, and she eats from the tree. Eve was tempted because she forgot about consequences and saw that the tree was appetizing and a source of wisdom. Shortsighted, Eve fell to temptation because she thought only of immediate gratification.

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