Portion


Of Salvation - and Destruction

By Marc Zvi Brettler

This Torah portion contains some of the best-known, and most moving, stories in Genesis. Toward its beginning, Vayera narrates the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and it concludes with the akedah, the binding of Isaac, a very troubling episode. These accounts are often juxtaposed, as readers try to understand why Abraham bargained on behalf of the sodomites, insisting, “shall not the judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Genesis 18:25) while he was unwavering and unquestioning in his willingness to slaughter his son. In part, this question shows a misunderstanding of both biblical texts.Read More


Temptations of Urbanity

By David R. Slavitt

‘But the people of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord, exceedingly.” This is presented to us (Genesis 13:13) as an aside, an observation to suggest that Lot’s choice of the plain of the Jordan was not, after all, the right one. We had just been told, in Genesis 13:10, that it was a very attractive tract of real estate, well watered, “like the garden of the Lord,” and “like the land of Egypt.” But as we are told, by the curious foreshadowing phrase in the same verse, “before the destruction of Sodom,” bad things are going to happen. Lot “set up his tent” near Sodom, and, as Robert Alter suggests, this represents a change from a semi-nomadic to an urban existence, which may be Lot’s real offense and which brings with it inevitable but unspecified temptations.Read More


Friendly Persuasion

By Jeffrey Fiskin

‘And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” (Genesis 2:15) Rashi comments: “He ‘took’ him with kind words and persuaded him to enter.”Read More


Mirth and Mourning

By David Curzon

The Book of Ecclesiastes (in Hebrew, “Kohelet,” the Assembler or Preacher) is a compilation of proverbs traditionally attributed to and worthy of Solomon. Its opening in the King James translation is instantly memorable.Read More


Are Secular Israelis Jewish?

By Moshe Shokeid

My education and experiences as a secular Israeli made me consider “Israeli” to be a different identity from that of “Jew.” Under this perception, American Jews are those who exchanged the Eastern European oppressive shtetl for a new, more prosperous Diaspora existence. I was surprised, if not embarrassed, when, during trips abroad, I was sometimes asked if I am, or was actually identified by strangers as, a “Jew.”Read More


Israel’s Patron Deity

By Marc Zvi Brettler

Most of the portion Ha’azinu comprises a long poem that is very schematic, emphasizing God’s great care for Israel, Israel’s rebellion, its punishment, and its ultimate rehabilitation. The language of the poem is more difficult than typical biblical poetry. Some scholars label it as “archaic” — that is, ancient — while others consider it to be “archaistic,” that is, pretending to be ancient. Dating such texts is beyond the ability of biblical scholarship, but its possible early date may explain why it is so hard to understand: We lack many other such early texts, and thus it is difficult to contextualize this poem; and the earlier a text is, the more likely that it has changed both accidentally and intentionally over time, making it much harder to uncover its original words and their meaning.Read More


Not a ‘Happy New Year’

By David Kraemer

In the experience of most Jews, at least in the United States, Rosh Hashanah is an occasion of relative joy. It is a time when they put on their best and even new garb, families gather for abundant, festive meals and fellow congregants greet one another with a hearty “Happy New Year!” either in English, Hebrew (“Shanah tovah”), Yiddish (“Gut yontif”) or some combination of the above. By contrast, Yom Kippur is a time of great solemnity, marked not just by fasting and deprivation but also by lowered voices and lowered glances. It is a time — or so we imagine — when we should stand in fear and trembling before our Maker.Read More


Bringing the Text Outside Its Bounds

By Beth Kissileff

Literary critic Frank Kermode, in his 1996 work, “The Sense of an Ending,” reminds us that we must often re-evaluate an entire text in light of its conclusion. With that in mind, let us examine the end of the Torah. On a plot level, we all know that Moses dies. Fine. But which are the last of all the 613 injunctions rabbinic interpretation derives from the Torah text?Read More


Cruel and Unusual

By Lore Segal

The modern imagination feels at home with the moral question raised by the Job story: Why do bad things happen to good people? It is a question that does not arise in Deuteronomy, which foresees punishments of spectacular awfulness in retribution upon a nation disobedient to God’s law.Read More


She Done Him Wrong

By Dimitri Milch

In Deuteronomy 25:11-12 we read: “If men are struggling together, a man and his brother, and one’s wife has approached to rescue her husband from his attacker’s grasp, and has put out her hand and taken hold by his privates, then you shall cut off her hand: Your eye is not to look with compassion.”Read More


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