Religious Red Lines as the Key to Greater Tolerance

Referencing a red line is a no-no in certain Jewish circles today but it should be taken as the sign of tolerance it really is. To say that something or someone has stepped over a line is to invite being called exclusionary, being accused of heresy-hunting, tsitsit-checking, being marked as someone who looks to kick others out. As someone who’s ...

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Hashem’s Direct and Indirect Influence

Derashot haRan, I’ve been suggesting in these columns, is Ran’s sustained attempt to analyze the balance between the world following its course and Hashem actively intervening. This fourth Derasha is going to grapple with those issues even more explicitly than the previous ones. In this series * 1: Drasha 1: Communities, Combination and Creation * 2: Drasha 1: What Science ...

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Embracing the Metaphysics in the First Mitzvot of the Torah

Seeing is believing but the most powerful forces are often unseen, hidden. The metaphysical, Ran teaches, is more powerful than the physical. In the last piece of the third Drasha , Ran discusses the mitzvot Moshe and Aharon were taught in Parashat haChodesh (Shemot 12). In line with themes we’ve seen before and will again, Ran portrays these as emblematic ...

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Aharon and the Rewards of Sincere Humility

There is no perfect leader. Leadership is not a single skill but a collection of talents. Some leaders have the ability to best guide the community in one set of circumstances while others are more capable in different times. The difficulty is knowing when a perfect leader is simply unfit for the occasion. In this series * 1: Drasha 1: ...

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Apparent and Real Contradictions Between Faith and Reason

Judaism has long had leaders who adopted a rationalist approach to Jewish belief and practice but they were also men steeped in faith, devoted to timeless truths. It started no later than R. Saadya Gaon, with many luminaries following that, not least of them the “great eagle,” Rambam. For these thinkers, nothing in Jewish tradition can contradict facts we see ...

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Predicting and Locking In the Future

Last time, we saw Ran’s theory that Yitzchak is described as praying “opposite” his wife because situating oneself in physical proximity to the subject or object of one’s prayers or miracles makes them more effective. This time, we’re going to analyze how much of a role a prophet’s prediction of the future has in setting that future in stone. In ...

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Changing the World with Evocative Acts

Praying Opposite His Wife Biblical stories of miracles teach us not only how Hashem changes nature but also how people do it. Last time, we saw that Ran thought that Ya’akov and Esav’s differences showed that Rivkah’s pregnancy wasn’t itself fully natural. As the derasha continues, he raises another unnatural aspect of the pregnancy. Rivkah, in his view, was completely ...

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The Permanent Friction Between Esav and Yaakov

Ran opens his second derasha with Malachi 1:2, where the prophet reminds the Jews of Hashem’s love, a love that is proven by the contrast between Hashem’s reaction to Yaakov and Esav. His audience might have known this verse by virtue of its being from the haftarah of Toledot (the derashah eventually deals with events from Toledot, specifically the securing ...

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Inside or Outside Orthodoxy: What I Should Have Done

In basketball, when a whistle blows, one player will often raise his or her hand, acknowledging the foul committed. In golf, a player who breaks a rule is held to a higher standard, expected to call the penalty on him or herself, in the name of fair play. In an essay I published here last week (link), I broke a ...

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Inside/Outside Orthodoxy

In a recent opinion piece on, R. Asher Lopatin, the new president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, protested what he sees as a “flurry of activity …to try to declare that elements of the Orthodox community are no longer part of the Orthodox world.” Much of that, in his view, focuses on Open Orthodoxy, the segment of Judaism with which ...

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