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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What’s the Best Way to Physical Health?

Practical Highlights of Derashot haRan, Number 3: What’s the Best Way to Physical Health? We live in a world of limited resources. More, we take for granted that it must be that way. The last piece of Ran’s first derashah shows he disagreed, that in his view, we started in a Garden of infinite potential, and that the way back ...

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Democracy 4.0, Taught by Yitro

That Jewish communal organizations are not currently in crisis is a blessing, a fortuitous gift, because they are not immune to some of the problems plaguing both Washington and the declining denominations of Judaism. I refer particularly to our central institutions’ difficulties holding the interest and affection of their members, which could prove disastrous if left unattended. In this essay, ...

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What Science Doesn’t Know

Practical Highlights of Derashot haRan, Number 2: What Science Doesn’t Know People have long recognized that the physical world is a profound source of knowledge; a related question is whether there are limits to what the natural world can tell us about our lives, and what those limits are. In the section of Ran’s first derashah that we’ll look at ...

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Learning Together Differently

Expanding Our Models of Regular, Community-Wide Learning Two Jews meet; ideally, after some Jewish geography, the conversation turns to learning. This moment in a new Jewish relationship, when an acquaintanceship converts into a bonding over Torah, progresses even better if the two find they are involved in the same section of Torah, if the material the second one is in ...

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