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Superhuman Samson - June 22, 2019

06/23/2019 10:11:00 AM


The Book of Judges has a common motif where God protects the Israelite people, but then the Israelites do something to offend God. Next, God allows the Israelites to be conquered by an enemy, only to have a hero arrive who saves the people. The people return to worshipping God but, inevitably, they offend again and the cycle repeats.

One of the heroes of the Book of Judges is Samson. From birth, Samson was promised to God as a...Read more...

Samson the Nazirite - June 15, 2019

06/17/2019 09:11:00 AM


This week’s Torah portion includes information outlining the requirements for adults, men and women, who choose to take the nazirite vow. Nazirites are not allowed to consumer any grape products, or any other intoxicants, and nazirites are not allowed to cut their hair. Additionally, nazirites are never allowed to come into contact with a dead body, because it will defile their sacred hair.

We cannot date the earliest nazirite, but...

Jewish Abortion Debate - June 8, 2019

06/08/2019 04:16:43 PM


The Torah portion for this week starts the Book of Numbers. In the passage, God tells Moses to, “Take a census of the whole Israelite community by the clans of its ancestral houses, listing the names, every male, head by head. You and Aaron shall record them by their groups, from the age of twenty years up, all those in Israel who are able to bear arms.” (Numbers 1:2-4)

This is a pro-census text. You could also say that this is a...Read more...

Fertility and Contraception - June 1, 2019

06/02/2019 05:17:05 PM


This week’s Torah portion is from Leviticus and starts out as, “If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments...” and then there is a list of the good things that will happen, including, “you will be fruitful and multiply.” (Leviticus 26:3-9)

Alternately, “if you do not obey Me and do not observe all these commandments” among the horrible things that will befall you is, “You shall eat the flesh of your...Read more...

Stumbling Blocks & Sleeveless Tops! – May 25, 2019

05/26/2019 03:00:38 PM


Two weeks ago, in Torah Study, we discussed the interpretation of the phrase Do Not Place a Stumbling Block Before the Blind. This week, Rabbi Jaech followed up on a question addressing the orthodox, and Muslim, rules prohibiting immodest dress for women and questioning whether that has been construed as “placing a stumbling block before the blind?”

Before we looked at that particular passage, Rabbi Jaech took a few minutes to...Read more...

The Spirit of Lag B’Omer - May 18, 2019

05/18/2019 10:32:25 PM


According to Leviticus 23, on the first full day of Passover (the day after the first night) the Israelites are commanded to bring grain to the Temple, along with a sacrificial offering of a lamb. That counts as Day 1. Then, the Israelites are instructed to count the next 49 days on the calendar and then, “bring an offering of new grain to the Lord.” (Leviticus 23:14)

Today this practice of counting the days after Passover is...Read more...

Stumbling Blocks - May 11, 2019

05/11/2019 03:07:09 PM


The Talmud states that the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, were dictated to, and written down by, Moses – with the exception of the last eight verses of Deuteronomy which describe the death and burial of Moses. The medieval commentator Rashi (1040-1105 C.E.) said that Moses actually wrote it all down including the part about his own death and burial, but he wrote it with a tear in his eye.

Sometimes when we read the...

After the Death - May 4, 2019

05/06/2019 01:01:24 AM


In the Book of Exodus, God directs Moses to, “bring forward your brother Aaron, with his sons, from among the Israelites, to serve Me as priests: Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Itamar, the sons of Aaron.” (Exodus 28:1) As the appointed priests, Aaron and his sons had a monopoly on the priesthood, which included the responsibility of making offerings at the altar.

In Leviticus 6 through 9 Aaron and his sons are given the...Read more...

Justice & Mercy - April 13, 2019

04/14/2019 09:43:25 AM


During Yom Kippur we pray, “Our God and God of all generations, may our prayers reach Your presence.”

As a community we confess that we are guilty of betrayal, stealing, scornfulness, cruelty, violence, slander, lying, abuse, corruption, hostility, stubbornness, immorality, and even murder! Rabbi Jaech has told us during her High Holiday sermons that she does not believe we are each guilty of all these sins, and feels pretty...Read more...

The Hell of Gehenna - April 6, 2019

04/06/2019 07:03:32 PM


We have spent the last couple of weeks looking at the afterlife. To summarize, we know that the Bible says that, after death, everyone goes to a place called Sheol. Sheol is cold and dark. The people who are there are not there in their bodies but are, instead, a shadowy echo of who they were, and they are referred to as the “shades.” So our loved ones who cross over to the afterlife are not really gone – their shades have gone to...Read more...

The Afterlife - March 30, 2019

03/31/2019 06:51:53 PM


This week we continue our exploration of the afterlife. Before we delve into Jewish interpretation we want to correct an error from last week: It was mentioned that, in Christianity, there is no mention of what happened to Jesus during the 3 days he was dead – which would have been an eyewitness account of the afterlife. In fact, there is a mention in the Christian Bible: The 1st Epistle of Peter says, “He was put to death in the body but...Read more...

Death & Sheol - march 23, 2019

03/23/2019 09:26:54 PM


In the Book of Job, Job describes what will happen upon his death: “Before I depart – never to return – For the land of deepest gloom; A land whose light is darkness, All gloom and disarray, Whose light is like darkness.” (Job 10:21-22)

Scholars believe the Book of Job was written in the 6th century BCE. But the concept of dying and going to a land of gloom, never to return, has been around a lot longer than that. There is a...Read more...

Kindling Shabbat Candles - march 2, 2019

03/03/2019 04:21:33 PM


At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion we are told that Israelites, “shall kindle no fire throughout your settlements on the sabbath day.” (Exodus 35:3)

Interestingly, traditional Jewish families start Shabbat by lighting candles. Today Rabbi Jaech led us in a discussion of how we got from “you shall kindle no fire” on Shabbat, to a commandment to light Shabbat candles.

The words in the Torah can be...

The Good of the Community - February 16, 2019

02/17/2019 04:20:02 PM


This week’s session was inspired by Rabbi Jaech’s trip to Washington D.C. with the current Temple Israel of Northern Westchester confirmation class. The trip was organized by the Religious Action Center, or RAC, which falls under the umbrella of the Union for Reform Judaism and acts as their hub for Jewish social-justice work.

In their work, the RAC advocates for issues confronting people today by using the words of our sages. In...Read more...

Engage With Torah - February 9, 2019

02/11/2019 04:33:04 PM


Each week before we delve into our session, we start with a blessing:

Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu melekh ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav, v’tzivanu la’asok b’divrei torah.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, ruler of the universe, who sanctifies us with commandments, and commands us to la’asok ourselves in the words of torah.

The word “la-asok” could be translated a few different ways....Read more...

Drinking the Wine - February 2, 2019

02/03/2019 09:24:22 AM


When it comes to other gods, our God is not messing around! From this week’s Torah portion we are advised that, “Whoever sacrifices to a god other than the Lord alone shall be proscribed.” (Exodus 22:19) In other words, killed! Additionally, we are instructed to, “Make no mention of the name of other gods; they shall not be heard on your lips.” (Exodus 23:13) And Israelites in newly conquered territory, which may have artifacts to...Read more...

Make No Idols - January 26, 2019

01/27/2019 06:44:48 AM


This week’s Torah portion incudes the Ten Commandments, the first of which is: “You shall have no other gods besides Me. You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, or any likeliness of which is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. (Exodus 20:3-4)

People are visual creatures and it is a human impulse to make images. The neighboring communities of the Israelites had idols that they...Read more...

Cyrus the Messiah - January 19, 2019

01/20/2019 07:45:49 PM


To anoint someone means to indicate that person is put in a position of prominence. Today, we might anoint a successor in business. In biblical times if someone was anointed it meant that God had indicated that person will be of importance to the community.

Biblically, when a person is anointed, oil is put on the person. We can imagine that a person who has oil on them appears to have a special glow, or an inner translucence, that...Read more...

Messenger of Death - January 12, 2019

01/13/2019 08:13:14 PM


William Tyndale was an English scholar who lived from 1494 until his execution in 1536 CE. Using the Hebrew and Greek editions of the Bible, in 1530 Tyndale translated the Bible into English. The Church believed that allowing people to read the Bible for themselves would detract from the authority of the Church; therefore making the Bible available in English was against the law. Tyndale was convicted of heresy and executed by...Read more...

Sibling Rivalry - January 5, 2019

01/05/2019 07:32:32 PM


Numbers 16 tells the story of a group of Israelites, led by the levite Korah, challenging the authority of Moses and Aaron. Korah says, “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Lord is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s congregation?” God responded to this challenge by opening the ground beneath Korah and his followers. The people were swallowed by the earth, they fell...Read more...

The Midwives - December 29, 2018

12/30/2018 02:27:37 PM


The Book of Exodus opens with Hebrew people having lived in Egypt for several generations and being, “fertile and prolific.” (Exodus 1:7) Pharaoh was concerned that the Hebrews were becoming too numerous and could, potentially, rise up against Egypt. Pharaoh instructs his people to oppress the Hebrews and put them into forced labor, with the hopes of decreasing their numbers. However, “the more they were oppressed, the more they...Read more...

dem dry bones - december 22, 2018

12/23/2018 12:52:10 PM


When the State of Israel was established in 1948, “HaTikva” became the unofficial national anthem. It was not until 2004 that the song became the official anthem of Israel. The lyrics are:

As long as in the heart within,

The Jewish soul yearns,

And toward the eastern edges, onward,


Divination - December 15, 2018

12/15/2018 04:50:50 PM


This week we continued with the Joseph story. As a refresher, Joseph was the 11th son of our patriarch Jacob. Joseph was clearly his father’s favorite, which made his brothers resentful. To get Joseph out of their lives, Joseph’s brothers sold Joseph into slavery and told their father that Joseph was eaten by beasts. Joseph came to be in Egypt where, after a series of incidents, Joseph rose in stature. Pharaoh told Joseph that, “only...Read more...

Truth & Faith - December 8, 2018

12/08/2018 04:06:30 PM


The biblical character of Joseph goes through many ordeals in the book of Genesis. The one we looked at last week was when the wife of Potiphar, Joseph’s owner, sexually assaulted Joseph. She claimed it was he who assaulted her, which resulted in Joseph landing in jail. The inspiration for this story comes from an Egyptian story that was recorded in the 12th or 13th century BCE.

The story, known as The Two Brothers, tells the tale...Read more...

Eunuchs & Sexual Harassment - December 1, 2018

12/02/2018 12:14:06 PM


This week we begin the Joseph narrative. At 13 chapters, Joseph’s story is the longest and most coherent narrative in the Torah. Joseph was the 11th son of our patriarch Jacob, and the first-born son of Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel.

Let’s start with a very quick summary of the Joseph story: Because he was a child of Rachel, Jacob favored Joseph over all his brothers and his brothers were jealous. In addition to being the...Read more...

Warring Neighbors - November 10, 2018

11/10/2018 08:55:18 PM


The Book of Obadiah is the shortest book in the Hebrew Bible with only 1 chapter containing 21 verses. The book is a prophecy that the people of Edom will be “the least among nations.” (Obadiah 1:1) Why? According to the prophecy, when Judea was destroyed by the Babylonians the people of Edom looked on with glee and gloated. Then the Edomites went in to Judea and looted the wealth of the Jews and slaughtered Jews trying to run away....Read more...

The Power of Words - November 3, 2018

11/04/2018 02:26:25 PM


Strict adherence to the Torah is simply not possible. Not because we are not believers, or we are too busy, or we like to eat bacon and shrimp. No. A significant part of the Torah is about sacrifice in the one-and-only Temple in Jerusalem; the Temple which was destroyed in 70 CE.

Even so, Rabbi Jaech freely admitted to us that if the teachings of the Torah were all she could follow, she could not subscribe to those teachings. The...Read more...

Miracle Workers - October 27, 2018

10/28/2018 09:56:19 AM


Our Torah portion for this week opens with the words, “The Lord appeared to him (meaning Abraham) … Looking up he saw three men.” (Genesis 18:1-2) Why did Abraham see three men? Over the centuries people have tried to square this incongruence in different ways. Maybe God, like celebrities today, traveled with a posse. Or maybe these were different aspects of God that could not be contained within the image of one man, so he is shown as...Read more...

Human Nature - October 13, 2018

10/15/2018 06:22:51 PM


If you go to the Museum of Natural History you can see representations of what early man looked like and how we evolved in our position in the animal kingdom. Our earliest ancestors did not have the benefit of evolutionary scientific knowledge. But our texts show us that for thousands of years, just as today, people struggle to understand the human condition and to attempt to answer questions like: Who are we? What is our nature? How are we...Read more...

Being Mortal - October 6, 2018

10/08/2018 11:46:34 AM


There are two distinct creation stories in the Torah. The first story says, “And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27) In this story God created man and woman at one time. In the second, more popular story God created man first, and then woman out of man’s rib.

The second story was likely written first and has echoes of Atra-Hasis, which is a Near...Read more...

Tue, June 25 2019 22 Sivan 5779