The “House of Jacob” at Sinai and in Our Day

“Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob and declare to the children of Israel (Exodus 19:3).” This verse precedes the description of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The sages, in their commentary on the verse, explain that the “house of Jacob” refers to the women, while the phrase “children of Israel” refers to the men. Thus they emphasize that the Torah was given to both women and men, to those present at Mount Sinai, as well as to all the future generations of men and women.

The New Zionism: In Memory of Mordecai Kaplan

The Monday night and Tuesday of this week commemorate the 21st yahrzeit of Prof. Mordecai Kaplan. Kaplan is best known for the founding of the Reconstructionist Movement in modern Judaism. This is a movement that presumes a particular form of interpreting the past that has deeply affected all of the major streams of Judaism in the 20th century. Here, however, I would like to present but one aspect of Kaplan’s thought, contained in a book published in 1955 and entitled “A New Zionism”.

Moses and Herzl

The original version of this article appeared in Conservative Judaism 47/1 (Fall 1994), pp. 39-49 and is reprinted here by permission of the Rabbinical Assembly. It was reprinted in Noam Zion and David Dishon, eds., A Leaders’ Guide to a Different Night: The Family Participation Haggadah, The Shalom Hartman Institute, 1997, pp. 90-95 (without the footnotes) and in Robert Golub, ed., Celebrating the Zionist Dream, Mercaz, New York, 1997. My thanks to Dr. Adam Garfinkle for his helpful comments and suggestions regarding the original version. The current version has been revised and updated here in honor of Herzl’s 100th yahrzeit.

A Midrash in Memory of Ilan Ramon z”l By Hazzan Melanie Fine Copyright 2003 by Hazzan Melanie Fine

On Shabbat, 29 Shvat, 5763, corresponding to February 1, 2003, Col. Ilan Ramon and his six fellow astronauts died when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it re-entered the earth’s atmosphere. One week later, I was scholar-in-residence at Congregation Beth David in Saratoga, California. On Friday night, Hazzan Melanie Fine read aloud a midrash she had written in memory of Ilan Ramon and the other astronauts. I think that she intended the midrash for children, but by the time she finished reading, all of the adults were crying. On Shabbat morning, she read the midrash again and it had the same effect. I asked Hazzan Fine then if I could publish it and she graciously agreed. It is reproduced below with a few minor changes and some references to sources. We hope that this midrash will be read at schools and synagogues throughout the world l’iliu nishmot Col. Ilan Ramon and his fellow crewmates. Yehi zikhram barukh! May their memories be for a blessing!

The Secret of Eternal Youth: In Honor of Professor Alice Shalvi

I shall begin with three stories:
A story is told of an elderly man who made a party for his children, grandchildren and relatives on his birthday every year, and every year he would reduce one year from his age. Once, at the annual party, his son-in-law stood up, held up his glass, and said:
“My dear father-in-law – how shall I bless you? If I say to you: May you be privileged to see children and grandchildren – you already have! That you should reach old age – you already have! Rather, may it be God’s will that you and we should rejoice together at your Bar Mitzvah! ”

“The Best of Three Worlds”: A Tribute to Professor Walter Ackerman (Acky) z”l (1925-2003)

At the end of the weekly portion of Noah (11:31), we read:

Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram; and they set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans, to go to the land of Canaan; but when they had come as far Haran, they settled there. Afterwards, in Lekh Lekha (12:4), Abram leaves Haran and goes forth to the land of Canaan.