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Archive for : Tradition & Culture

PB&J Summit: Poverty, Bread & Justice with BBYO

Volunteering at a soup kitchen or food pantry has long been a popular service activity for teens – easy to organize and meaningful. Now, BBYO is helping teens take the next step with PB&J: Poverty, Bread & Justice: A Jewish Teen Summit on Hunger.

Jewish teens from around the country will convene in Washington, D.C., for five days this summer (Thurs., June 24-Mon., June 28) to discuss today’s most pressing food-related questions. (Hint: There’s more to it than “What’s for dinner?”)
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Weekly Torah: Parshat Bamidbar 5770

This post is part of a weekly series of Torah commentaries presented by the American Jewish World Service. It was contributed by Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster.

At the beginning of Parshat Bamidbar, God asks Moses to “take a census of the whole Israelite community” ((Numbers 1:2.)) in the desert as a prelude to the people’s eventual entry into the Land of Israel: The Hebrew word for community, edah, is most often used to mean the entire nation; ((Milgrom, Jacob. The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers. The Jewish Publication Society: Philadelphia, 1989, p. 4, comment on Numbers 1:2.)) but here, rather than serving as a comprehensive detailing of the entire people, the census has a narrow focus. Those to be counted are “every male…from the age of twenty years up, all those in Israel who are able to bear arms.” ((Numbers 1:2-3.)) The snapshot of the Israelites that Moses is being asked to take includes only those adult males who can serve in the army. Everyone else just doesn’t count.
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Weekly Torah: Parshat Behar-Bechukotai 5770

This post is part of a weekly series of Torah commentaries presented by the American Jewish World Service. It was contributed by Guy Izhak Austrian.

Parshat Behar-Bechukotai includes some of the Torah’s most haunting verses, in which God warns the people about the calamities that will result from failure to live a life centered on God and Torah. Among these, God warns:

I will set My face against you; you will be routed by your enemies and dominated by those who hate you; you shall flee though there is no pursuer of you (v’ein rodef etchem). ((Leviticus 26:17.))

This verse chills us with its terse depiction of physical violence accompanied by psychological terror. But the verse also contains an enigma: If we are being routed by our enemies, then how can it be that “there is no pursuer”? Aren’t our enemies pursuing us? Apparently, then, this pursuer must be something else entirely.
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Yaldeinu Young Leaders Travel to Cuba

Last month, six young Jewish leaders travelled from their home in Canada to Cuba. Along with them, they brought thousands of dollars worth of medical equipment (to donate to families in need) and a curiosity about Cuba’s small, but tight-knit Jewish community.

Their trip was organized by Yaldeinu, a Toronto-based organization “dedicated to providing formal and informal Jewish education to Jewish children and young adults in Israel and developing countries.” Yaldeinu’s main programs center around providing scholarship money for students in developing countries to attend day school education and bringing kids from countries with a small Jewish population (e.g. Bolivia, where the community stands around 300 people) for a summer camp experience in Canada.
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Weekly Torah: Parshat Emor 5770

This post is part of a weekly series of Torah commentaries presented by the American Jewish World Service. It was contributed by Rachel Farbiarz.

Parshat Emor’s many directives on ritual sacrifice include one that applies to all animal slaughter—be it for human or Divine consumption. “[A] bull or sheep,” the parshah instructs, “you shall not sacrifice it [oto] with its young [v’et b’no] on the same day.” ((Leviticus 22:28.)) As elsewhere, it is not only this commandment’s substance that preoccupies the rabbinic tradition. It is also its textual casing—the timbre and pitch of its words, its grammatical quirks and peculiar phrasings—that begs for the sages’ interpretation.

Thus do the commentators fixate here on a textual discomfort of their own making. The ostensible maleness of the not-to-be-killed parental beast—reflected in the verse’s use of the words “bull” and “sheep” (as opposed to “cow” and “ewe”) and the masculine conjugations for the pronouns for “it” (oto, b’no)—rankles the rabbis. The text does not mean what it says, they conclude, but rather, what it does not say: A female animal must not be killed on the same day as her offspring. Other flesh—including, permissibly, that of a sire and his offspring slaughtered simultaneously—will be required to sate God’s or man’s hunger. ((Rashi on Leviticus 22:28; Babylonian Talmud, Chullin 78b.))
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Weekly Torah: Parshat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5770

This post is part of a weekly series of Torah commentaries presented by the American Jewish World Service. It was contributed by Aviva Presser Aiden.

At the outset of Parshat Kedoshim, all Israel receives the nebulous command of “kedoshim tihiyu…You shall be holy, for I am holy; I am the Lord your God.” ((Leviticus 19:2.)) The text then proceeds to enumerate numerous laws appearing to detail the requirements of this injunction.

Within this collection of verses we find an interesting parallel: In Leviticus 19:3, the text dictates that part of fulfilling the commandment to be holy includes the obligation to “… revere [one’s] mother and [one’s] father, [and to] keep my Sabbaths, I am the Lord your God.” ((Leviticus 19:3.)) Toward the end of Chapter 19, a second verse, also linked to holiness, structurally and linguistically parallels 19:3 quite closely. It requires that “you shall keep my Sabbaths and venerate My Sanctuary, I am the Lord.” ((Leviticus 19:30.)) In these two verses, the language of Sabbath reverence is identical, and the word for reverence—tira’u—is used in relation to both parents and the Sanctuary.
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Weekly Torah: Parshat Tazria-Metzora 5770

This post is part of a weekly series of Torah commentaries presented by the American Jewish World Service. It was contributed by Daniel Bloom.

Much of the double portion of Tazria-Metzora deals with the laws governing tzara’at, an enigmatic affliction which takes the form of a skin disease in people, but which can also afflict clothing and houses. Due to its symptoms of skin discoloration and the requirement that the victim be quarantined, tzara’at has often been mistakenly identified as leprosy. However, it is not caused by infection or a biological imbalance; rather, it is the physical but supernatural manifestation of an individual’s spiritual malaise.

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Weekly Torah: Parshat Shmini 5770

This post is part of a weekly series of Torah commentaries presented by the American Jewish World Service. It was contributed by Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster.

In a world of endless choice, why should we place limits on what we can have? One Jewish response is found in Parshat Shmini, which contains the core of Jewish limits on food consumption with a series of laws concerning permitted and prohibited creatures. ((Leviticus 11: 1-43.)) It is from these laws that Jews have come to exclude pigs, camels and rabbits from our diets, along with shellfish, lizards, most insects, and birds like eagles, ostriches and ravens. While the Torah further refines some of these categories (for example, animals must chew their cud and have split hooves), there are no overarching, theoretical criteria for the limits on the Israelite diet, except to suggest that most tasty things that are not plants are forbidden from our plates.

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Weekly Torah: Parshat Tzav 5770

This post is part of a weekly series of Torah commentaries presented by the American Jewish World Service. It was contributed by Guy Izhak Austrian.

Hundreds of young Mayan students gathered with their teachers and a small group of New York Jews, standing in a wide circle as we observed an astonishing spectacle. Rivulets of bubbling candle wax streamed onto the ground. Flowers withered and crumpled in smoke and flames. A priest of the Maya Achi tradition presided over the enormous, smoldering sacrifice of candles, flowers and grains which he had spent hours laying out on the ground in traditional colors: red, black, white and yellow for the four directions of the compass; blue and green in the center for the sky and the earth.

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Weekly Torah: Parshat Ki Tisa 5770

This post is part of a weekly series of Torah commentaries presented by the American Jewish World Service. It was contributed by Aviva Presser Aiden.

The detailed description of the building and consecration of the Tabernacle, which spans several parshiot (Torah portions), is framed by a pair of financial appeals. The opening appeal, in Parshat Terumah, speaks to the generosity of the people—“Take for Me contributions from those whose heart moves them…” ((Exodus 25:2.)) Chapters later, in Parshat Ki Tisa, the description closes with the injunction that every member of the community over the age of 20 donate a half-shekel annually, in order to pay for the ongoing service in the Tabernacle.

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