Weekly Torah Reading, Re’eh, August 19, 2017

Children of God   This week’s reading contains an odd injunction: “You are children of the Lord your God,” it says, “You shall not gash yourselves or shave the front of your heads for the dead.” (Deut 14:1). Ancient scholars …

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Weekly Torah Reading, ‘Ekev, August 12, 2017

Eat What I Say   The expression “Not by bread alone” has certainly gotten around: it is, among other things, the name of a website promoting a farmer’s market in Green Bay, Wisconsin; the title of a Russian novel by …

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Weekly Torah Reading, Va-etḥannan, August 5, 2017

The Real Shema   According to a rabbinic tradition, when the “men of Jericho” recited the Shema, they would say it in a slightly different way from that followed by Jews nowadays. They would recite the first verse, “Hear O …

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Weekly Torah Reading, Devarim, July 29. 2017

Mystery Man   This week’s portion, Devarim, always precedes the reading of the book of Lamentations on the ninth of the Hebrew month of Ab, which commemorates of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. As the name indicates, Lamentations consists …

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Weekly Torah Reading, Mattot-Mas‘ei, July 22, 2017

The Lex Talionis   One of the most widespread legal principles in the ancient world was the lex [or “ius”] talionis, the law [or “right”] of retribution. A person who, for example, injured someone was to be punished by suffering …

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Weekly Torah Reading, Pineḥas, July 15, 2017

Two Names for One   Last week’s Torah reading ended with a certain Israelite hero slaying a flagrantly offending couple, thereby turning aside God’s wrath. The name of the hero is written Phinehas in English, although Phineas used to be …

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Weekly Torah Reading, Balak, July 8, 2017

Leave Us Alone     In this week’s Torah reading, the pagan seer Balaam is hired to curse the people of Israel, but every time he tries, he ends up blessing them instead. In the first of these blessings he …

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Weekly Torah Reading, Ḥukkat ha-Torah, July 1, 2017

A Bit Too Confident     This week’s reading relates that, toward the end of their forty years of wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites ran out of water. They complained bitterly to their leaders, Moses and Aaron: “Why did …

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