Thanksgiving Arguments, and Unity

“You cut the turkey without me?!?” This classic line from Avalon, Barry Levinson’s 1990 film about a Baltimore Jewish family, illustrates the pitfalls of family get-togethers. The movie plays up the popular Jewish (self-)image that we are an...

The Physical Torah

When we talk about the Torah, we usually mean the spiritual Torah, the words, the laws, the stories, the teachings that it contains and the teachings that Jews have derived from it over the centuries. What we don’t usually mean by it is the material form of the...

For Yom HaAtzma’ut: Israel Music

Music often lies at the heart of a culture, nowhere more so than in Israel. We often speak of “Israeli music,” but in truth there are many varieties of Israeli music: songs of the Jews who lived in Israel for centuries before Zionism; music representing...

For Yom HaShoah: Remembering Max Ehrlich

How do we process the enormity of the Shoah, at least for the one day a year that we dedicate to commemorating the event together? There are of course many ways to answer this question; much depends on a person’s interests and time. We can speak to a survivor or...

Forgetting

Last week, I wrote about the layers of memory that encase the Passover seder, rendering the event each year so climactic and…memorable. But the act of remembering only makes sense as the heroic efforts of a person swimming upon vast oceans of forgetting. Despite...

Remembering Before We Remember

Jewish holidays don’t just take place; they require preparation. We make latkes for Hanukkah and hamentaschen and costumes for Purim; we buy food and cook it for Shabbat, etc. But the holidays requiring the most preparation are Pesach and the High Holidays,...

Maps 2: Mapping Jewish Texts

As the snow piles up rapidly here in the Northeastern US, it’s a good day to think about a different kind of map than we discussed last week. There, we focused on maps extending across geographical spaces, such as from Jerusalem to Susa, and what students might...

Maps 1: Mapping Jewish History

Recently I came across a fascinating map that shows exactly how many slaves in the US were held where, county by county, from 1790 to 1860. The map also includes information on the number of free African Americans in each locale, as well as figures on the total...

Trefa Banquet Revisited

There is no event in American Jewish history more notorious, more iconic, than the Trefa Banquet (recently recreated in a TB 2.0). The story is usually told roughly as follows: For the first graduating class of rabbis at the Hebrew Union College, the first rabbinical...
Jewish Studies vs. the Cult of the New

Jewish Studies vs. the Cult of the New

In a larger sense, incessant novelty battled tradition and custom. “Newness and change themselves had become traditional in America,” writes William Leach, commenting on the “cult of the new,” which “readily subverted whatever custom,...