Monthly Archives: September 2016


img_1053It is customary in Jewish tradition to offer a Shehecheyanu, שהחיינו a blessing to thank God for enabling us to experience a new or special occasion.

The custom of the blessing is mentioned in the Talmud and has been part of Jewish customary blessings for centuries. Shehecheyanu covers a wide range of offering thanks for new or special occasions from blessing the start of holidays, hearing the sound of the Shofar, lighting Hanukkah candles to eating the new fruit of the season. Shehechenyanu is recited by reading the blessing, or singing the verse using one of the many musical melodies. read more

Uncle Jack Confronts Donald Trump by Ayala Emmett


It is not easy to confront Donald Trump, but my uncle Jack has never shied away from bullies. Trump has defeated the Republican candidates, heaping insults on them to diminish their manhood. My uncle Jack trained as a boxer, which gives him the well-known gloves-on, ready to throw a punch posture.

Even if you don’t know my uncle or not fond of the sport, you realize that boxing the fighting with fists is about super confronting. It has a long history going back to the Greeks with ups and downs in popularity throughout the centuries. Boxing gained prestige in the west to become an official sport when it got included in the Olympic Games in 1904. Uncle Jack’s training is an essential qualification to challenge Trump if you consider that boxing requires enormous  courage and focused determination. read more

Thoughts on Amsterdam By Peter Eisenstadt

Esnoga Portuguese Synagogue
Esnoga Portuguese Synagogue

When you stand in the Esnoga, the massive Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam, built in 1675, you are aware that you are standing in one of the most remarkable places in the Jewish world. Standing there, alone, with a friend, as I did on a recent quiet Sunday morning, you can only gape at its ambition, its vaulted ceilings, its elaborate candelabras. (Its services are still only lit by candlelight.)

There isn’t a Jewish community anywhere quite like that in Amsterdam. There was little Jewish presence in the city before 1600. And then, as the Netherlands made its astonishing rise from minor Hapsburg dominion to the most powerful economic power in the world, Jews started to come in large numbers. Because of the Hapsburg connection, most of the Jews came from Portugal, and unlike any other Jewish community, before or since, it was largely comprised of new Jews, persons who hadn’t started their lives as Jews, but as conversos. They were primarily individuals who wanted to be Jewish, but really didn’t know much about their religion, and in this, two centuries before Jewish emancipation, they were the first modern Jewish community, having to find and create their traditions, rather than being born into one. read more

AN OPEN LETTER TO HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON by Erica Jong and Jill Schary Robinson

in my garden
in my garden

As women who care deeply about the future of our country, we want to build a tower of love and strength for you. We are appalled by the ignorant misrepresentation of you by TV networks that seek ratings through false controversies.

The two candidates vying for office are in no way comparable. You are an experienced stateswoman, the best-prepared presidential candidate of our time. Your opponent is a huckster. TV journalists treat the fraud with respect while they attack the stateswoman with impunity. read more

God’s Great Do Over: Thoughts on Deuteronomy by Peter Eisenstadt

images-131An essay I read recently by Jacob Neusner, the man of a thousand books, on the creation of the Torah, has got me thinking.

Most of Neusner’s 1000 or so books have been devoted to the explication of the Talmud, and his basic, though controversial thesis is that the complex corpus of documents known as the Talmud need to be read through the perspective of its final redactors. This means for the Talmud, everything it says about the Pharisees, about Hillel and Shammai, is filtered through the biases of those who lived hundreds of years later, which means it’s a poor historical source for the earlier period. And the Torah, for Neusner, especially the book of Deuteronomy, the last book of the Torah to be written, is filtered through the scribes, from the time of the destruction of the first temple in 586 BCE to Ezra and Nehemiah, a century or so later, who created the Torah we know today. read more

Dimona Twist: The Feminist Pillar of Fire by Professor Yossi Dahan

dimona_twist_5798ff4469066Let’s begin at the end—Go see Michal Aviad’s new film Dimona Twist. This marvelous movie is also about my mother, about women who lived in Casablanca and other modern French colonial cities that resembled Paris far more than Dimona.

Women and their families who migrated with dreams of a Jewish harmonious Garden of Eden found themselves deceitfully and deliberately pushed off trucks in God forsaken far away places like Dimona, Beit Shemesh and Bat Yam, to fulfill a national dream of conquering the desert and settling the land; an aspiration that others dreamed for them. The Women could not comprehend the display of superiority by the locals and were furious at the arrogance of “the first Israel toward the second Israel,” which was, as one of the women says, without justifications. read more

Mourning a Friend by Ayala Emmett

images-130I met Nick Clark in one of the many Torah study groups that convene in synagogues on Shabbat morning before the prayer service. Those who have been to more than one, would attest that no group is like any other, yet they are similar because they all read and comment on the weekly portion, known in Hebrew as Parashah.

While groups have different styles, they all use a mixture of the Torah text and the vast commentary that engages with the text. Over the centuries rabbinic commentaries on Torah have been building on each other offering arguments, debates, illuminations, and new insights. read more