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Midrash

Sin of the Spies: God’s Ruse to Keep Israel in the Wilderness

The Torah is clear that God refuses to allow the exodus generation to enter the land as a punishment for their sinful reaction to the spies’ report. Maimonides, however, argues that the punishment was a ruse; God never intended to allow that generation to enter the land.

Prof.

Haim (Howard) Kreisel

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Spilling Wine While Reciting the Plagues “To Diminish Our Joy”?

The popular Jewish custom to remove drops of wine while listing the plagues goes back to the Middle Ages, but the ubiquitous explanation that we do this out of sadness for what happened to the Egyptians does not. When did this explanation develop and how did it become so dominant?

Dr. Rabbi

Zvi Ron

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“My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?” — Jesus or Esther?

A midrash imagines Queen Esther reciting Psalm 22 the moment she was about to enter Ahasuerus' inner court. Are the rabbis responding to the Passion Narrative, in which Jesus, in his final moments, recites this lament on the cross?

Dr.

Abraham J. Berkovitz

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Channah, Daughter of Mattathias: Instigator of the Maccabean Rebellion

1 Maccabees recounts how Mattathias instigated a rebellion against the Greeks out of zealotry against Jewish idolatry. Later midrashim tell how Mattathias’ daughter Channah goaded her father and brothers into fighting the Greeks to protect her from being raped by the local governor.

Prof.

Rachel Adelman

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Rashi on the Torah: What Kind of Commentary Is It?

Rashi (Rabbi Solomon b. Isaac) wrote the most famous Jewish Bible commentary in history. Over 900 years later, scholars still argue about the nature of the commentary: Is it an attempt to explain peshat, the plain meaning of the biblical text, or is it an anthology of midrash?

Prof. Rabbi

Marty Lockshin

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Rachel Weeps in Ramah: Of All the Patriarchs, God Listens Only to Her

Rachel weeps over her exiled descendants and God hears her plea (Jer 31:14–16). Expanding on this passage, the rabbis in Midrash Eichah Rabbah envision Jeremiah awakening the patriarchs and Moses to plead with God to have mercy on Israel. Upon their failure to move God, the matriarch Rachel intervenes successfully.

Prof.

Hagith Sivan

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The Account of Balaam’s Donkey: A Late Polemical Burlesque

Already in 1877, Marcus Kalisch, one of the first Jewish scholars to engage in the critical study of the Bible, noted that the story of Balaam’s donkey is a late insertion which contradicts the rest of the story, both narratively and ideologically. Indeed, in the main story, Balaam is a prophetic character to be respected, while the supplement lampoons him.

Prof.

Alexander Rofé

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Rahab the Faithful Harlot

Rahab is a Canaanite prostitute who becomes faithful to the God of Israel, hiding two Israelite spies when the king of Jericho sends men to capture them. The rabbis imagine her as a superhumanly seductive woman who knows the secrets of all the men in Jericho as well as the ultimate example of repentance. The biblical story, however, suggests a more complex character, who worked within the power structures around her.

Dr.

Amy Cooper Robertson

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Standing Under Sinai: On the Origins of a Coerced Covenant

Tracing the tannaitic and biblical sources for the famous claim that God held Mount Sinai over the Israelites and threatened to bury them if they did not accept the Torah.

Dr.

Tzvi Novick

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"Esau Hates Jacob": But Is Antisemitism a Halakha?

Esau kisses Jacob upon the latter’s return from Haran. Famously, in the Torah scroll, the word kiss is dotted, implying that his kiss may have been more (or less) than just a kiss. Nevertheless, perhaps in this case, “a kiss is but a kiss.”

Prof. Rabbi

Marty Lockshin

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The Cycle of Life and Torah: Accepting Our Mortality

Dr.

Moshe Lavee

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A Monogamous Isaac Prays for His Barren Wife

Midrash Chad Shenati, discovered in the Cairo Genizah, criticizes Abraham for not praying for Sarah and praises Isaac for praying for Rebekah, and gives Rebekah pride of place in its homiletic exposition of the parasha.

Dr.

Shana Strauch-Schick

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Dr.

Moshe Lavee

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The Talmudic Inverse

Privileging Interpretation over Literalism

Dr.

Erica Brown

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Abraham, Smasher of Idols, and the Question of the Torah's Historicity

Does the Torah’s Abraham really need the historical Abraham in order to claim an important role in Jewish religious consciousness or should the Torah be seen as the story of God and not as a historical account reported by God.

Dr. Rabbi

Amit Kula

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Why the Midrash Has Abraham Thrown into Nimrod's Furnace

The historical association of Abraham and Nimrod with Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism

Dr.

Yishai Kiel

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The Birth of Moses: Between Bible and Midrash

The details of Moses birth story do not entirely cohere. By examining the midrash, and sifting through layers of the Torah text itself, we uncover a series of problems and solutions in the story which help to elucidate the way the text and its traditions evolved over time.

Dr.

Jacob L. Wright

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The Immortal Myth of Adam and Eve

Dr.

Shawna Dolansky

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Yelamdeinu Rabbeinu: The Exclusivity of the Oral Law

An ancient Yelamdeinu Rabbeinu homily connects the covenantal nature of the prohibition to write down the Oral Law, and recite the Written Torah orally, to a novel reading of Gen 18:17-19: God’s choice of Abraham and his descendants to be exclusive participants in God’s own mystery cult.

Dr.

Shayna Sheinfeld

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Ahasuerus and Vashti: The Story Megillat Esther Does Not Tell You

How the rabbis came to imagine Ahasuerus as a usurper who halted the rebuilding of the Temple and his wife Vashti as a wicked and grotesque Babylonian princess, who lived as a libertine and persecuted Jews.

Dr.

Malka Zeiger Simkovich

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Dr. Rabbi

Zev Farber

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Rabbi

David D. Steinberg

How did Abraham Discover God? The Rationalistic Approach

A single midrash on Parashat Lekh Lekha manages to touch upon the existence of God and how to relate to Him, on the tension between Torah and science, and on rabbinic criticism of Maimonides’ thirteen principles. 

Dr. Rabbi

Seth (Avi) Kadish

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A Precariously Fragile Torah

Moses and R. Judah HaNasi implore: “I would be most grateful if you would maintain the Torah after me.”[1]

Prof.

Steven Fraade

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Highlighting Juxtaposition in the Torah

The well-known rabbinic principle of אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה (there is no chronological order in the Torah) is often understood to be a hermeneutical solution to a textual, peshat problem. The principle, however, should be understood as midrashic, formulated to highlight other reasons for which biblical accounts could have been juxtaposed.

Dr.

Isaac Gottlieb

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Do Not Covet: Is It a Feeling or an Action?

In English, to covet means to desire someone or something obsessively, wrongfully, and/or without due regard for the rights/feelings of others. It is a strong emotion, to be avoided. But does “covet” capture the meaning of the Hebrew verb חמד?

Prof.

Leonard Greenspoon

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The Inner Workings of a Genizah Midrash on the Symbolic Value of Orlah

A set of homilies from the Genizah connects two biblical readings (sidrot) in Leviticus by emphasizing the importance of the mitzvah of orlah as a key to inheriting and remaining on the land.

Dr.

Shana Strauch-Schick

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Tova Sacher

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Scribing the Tabernacle: A Visual Midrash Embedded in the Torah Scroll

Dr.

David Z. Moster

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The 71st Face of the Torah

The need for rational-critical approaches to Scripture, in the popular Israeli discussions of the weekly parasha

Prof.

Yair Hoffman