The Mitzvah of Tzav | Parashat Tzav

Rabbi Dr Barbara Borts | Associate Lecturer, Dept of Music, Newcastle University, UK The root tzv in the Tanakh means, of course, command, and the parashah for this week opens with…

Read More

Hold Your Own World Union Shabbat Evening Service

Now your congregation can share a few moments with their Reform Jewish brothers and sisters worldwide on Shabbat by using the just-published World Union Shabbat Evening Service booklet. Featuring liturgical passages from services in the U.K., Russia, Spain, Italy, Poland, Holland and France, the service is a great opportunity to learn about communities abroad and generate interest in becoming involved with the World […]

Read More

Who Are You? – Parashat Toldot

Were we to compare our patriarchs’ impact on Judaism, Isaac would be a distant third.  First place is a tie between his father Abraham, the champion of faith and hospitality, and his son Jacob, the spiritual wrestler. Isaac’s problem lies in how few columns in the Torah are devoted to him. Other than having survived the trauma of the Akedah, the information in parashat Toldot, is basically it. Isaac is best summed up as his father’s son and his son’s father. Like Abraham, Isaac experiences a famine and has his wife taken by a king. Like Jacob, Isaac’s future wife is discovered at a well. Even in Toldot which begins: This is the story of Isaac, son of Abraham. Abraham begot Isaac, the focus shifts in the very next verse to what will develop as Jacob’s story rather than the tale of Isaac.

Read More

A Lesson On Respecting Women – Parashat Hayyai Sarah

We are living in an age when the news is filled with demeaning language and accusations of impropriety in the workplace. Whether it is well-known newsmen, movie moguls or politicians, women are treated as objects and worse. Many of the men assume their positions of power will keep them safe and insulated from accusations. While women who speak their mind are threatened, ridiculed and in some cases fired. It does not matter where you live—North America, Israel or Europe –women are fighting for dignity and respect.

Read More

Open Your Tents Wide – Parashat Vayera

Imagine Abraham’s surprise!  There he was, minding his own business, resting in his tent in the hills near Hebron. Suddenly, God appears to Abraham. Without warning and without explanation. Looking up, Abraham sees the dust rising in the distance, and soon a group of strangers approach his tent.  Without hesitation, Abraham leaps to his feet, ignoring God, and ignoring the pain he feels from his recent entry into the covenant with God through circumcision, and instead turns to these visitors.

Read More

Lech Lecha 5778

Noah was destined to be neither the father of the Jewish people nor the founder of our faith. Though the most righteous one in his corrupt generation, he failed to reach out and save human lives besides those of his family. Thus, the Rabbis who were aware of Noah’s disturbing limitations in the terse yet […]

Read More

Noach 5778

The Torah portion this week is titled Noach. It covers from the time of Noach, through the narrative of the Tower of Babel and then it lists a series of names ending up with Abraham and Sarah. The greatest amount of space in this section, in fact several chapters are devoted to Noach and the Flood. I would suggest that there are two matters that are take home lessons in these multiple verses.

The first point is that when Noach is introduced to us he is termed “a righteous man” – in Hebrew a tzadiq.  The Torah then says, he was blameless in his age.

Hundreds of years later, after the close of the Bible’s covers, the early rabbis pondered what this meant. Yes, he was righteous. Yet, they ask, was he truly righteous, or was he righteous only in comparison to his age?  In short, would he be considered righteous today, or was he only the best example of a pretty miserable lot of people? Was the bar set so low that he looked good, or even very good, but his contemporaries were so awful that his righteousness did not set a very high standard?

Read More

Genesis, Bereshit, or Creation in the Languages of Hebrew and English

One aspect of Torah study that I love is when our sages see something in the grammar of the Hebrew of the Torah itself that stands out to them as unusual. It might be a small and seemingly insignificant or trivial matter to the Hebrew reader like a vowel or letter that appears out of place in a sentence. It would not even get our attention in the English translation. Yet, for the rabbis who have laser-like focus on the Hebrew text, they immediately presume that there are no accidents of grammar. They always believe that there is a hidden meaning behind every letter and vowel in the Torah. The challenge is to figure out what is the hidden meaning.

Read More

The Meaning of Creation (Bereshit)

The heaven and the earth were finished, and all their array. On the seventh day, God finished the work that He had been doing, and He ceased on the seventh day from all the work that He had done. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God ceased from all the work of creation He had done. Such is the story of heaven and earth when they were all created. (Gen. 2:1-4)

Whenever I recite these verses as the prelude to the kiddush on Shabbat eve, I am reminded of the English poet John Keats’s famous final lines from his Ode on a Grecian Urn: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is all we know on earth and all ye need to know.” The parallel is in the succinctness of these lines and the above quoted opening to the second chapter of the book of Genesis. While the former extols the eternality of aesthetic beauty, the latter champions the meaning of creation.

Read More

Sukkot 5778

After the days of Awe – the days of judgment and blot, forgiveness and repentance – come the days of celebration, the days of joy and of praise. After fasting, we rejoice in Sukkot as the Torah instructs us in Deuteronomy 16:15:

Seven days shall you keep a feast to the Lord your God in the place which the Lord shall choose; because the Lord your God shall bless you in all you increase, and in all the work of your hands, and you shall be altogether joyful…

The feast of Sukkot, of all our holidays, is the one is characterized by the idea of universalism.

Read More