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Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser


Brass lock and key on wooden background

This week's Torah portion, Pinchas, includes the story of five sisters who came before Moses to challenge a law. The story interests us from a feminist perspective because the sisters triumphed in the end and changed the law to their benefit and the benefit of all women. However, the story also is a fitting example of how Jewish tradition understands the need for Torah to change.

At some point, just about everyone who begins the serious study of Torah asks themselves this question: How did the rabbis get away with making up so many laws that have so little basis in the text of the...

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The secular calendar we use was originally a religious calendar. It is officially known as the Gregorian Calendar and is named for Pope Gregory XIII, who introduced it in 1582 to solve a religious problem. Christianity's calendar problem had to do with the date of Easter. By the 16th century, scientists noted that because the average calendar year was slightly longer than the astronomical year, the holiday of Easter was forced into progressively later dates, violating the rule that Easter fall on the Sunday after the first full moon of spring. To fix the problem, Pope Gregory's calendar...

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It once happened that I was walking outside in the darkness of night when I saw a blind man who was walking down the street with a torch in hand. I said to him, “My son, why do you need to have this torch?”  He said to me, “Whenever I have the torch in my hand, people see me and they are able to save me from ditches, thorns and briers.”

— Babylonian Talmud, Megila 24a-b

Hanukkah is a time when we create light against the darkness. We do not understand this act just on a simple, literal level, though. The lights of Hanukkah represent the hope with which the Maccabees lit...

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There probably is no holiday on the Jewish calendar that has been redefined more than Hanukkah. In each age, this holiday has been transformed to suit the issues and concerns of its time.  Originally, Hanukkah was a nationalistic celebration of the Maccabees' military victory over the armies of King Antiochus IV of the Seleucid Empire. It celebrated Israel's return to sovereignty under the rule of the Hasmonean Dynasty. The rabbis of Talmud were the first to redefine Hanukkah. They downplayed the story of military victory and promoted Hanukkah as a celebration of God's power (not the power...

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The challenges and contradictions of being a Jew in America are never more obvious than in the month of December. Christmas is unavoidable from before Thanksgiving until well after New Year's. Every year, I wonder how much I should participate in the hoopla. There are holiday parties and holiday shopping all around. The streets are decorated for the "season" and my kids are encouraged to share in the "cheer" in their public schools. At what point does ignoring it or intentionally removing myself from it become more bother than it is worth? At what point does giving in to it become...

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