Three Great Weekend Reads

In case you missed them…

Why did Thomas Jefferson edit his bible?

What is the 1619 project really about?

Is there a science to wisdom?

Jefferson attacked only one copy of the Bible: his own. Not with fire, but with a razor. And not in an act of dizzy desecration, but with a kind of serrated—slightly crazed?—reasonableness. He cut and he pasted. He edited and he redacted. He called the resulting text—a collage of verses from the New Testament—The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. We know it as the Jefferson Bible.

The 1619 Project has emerged as a watchword for our era — a hashtag, a talking point, a journalism case study, a scholarly mission. It is the subject of dueling academic screeds, Fox News segments, publishers’ bidding wars and an upcoming series of Oprah-produced films. It is a Trump rally riff that reliably triggers an electric round of jeers.

The scientific approach to wisdom has started to gain momentum only in the past few decades, around the time the world started to face rising social and climatic instabilities. Some worried that this momentum was leading to an abyss. Picking and choosing different philosophical traditions and developing theories without serious debate between them placed wisdom scientists at the beginning of the 21st century at loggerheads: a field full of words didn’t yet share the same language.

Three Great Jewish Reads

In case you missed them…

What’s behind the backlash to Gal Gadot’s new role?

How should we feel about Facebook’s new Holocaust denial policy?

What can Jewish legal theory tell us about the Amy Coney Barrett confirmation?

After the initial social media explosion over Gal Gadot being cast as Cleopatra, a friend of mine posted on Facebook about Ziva David, the most popular Israeli character on American TV. “Ziva,” a Mossad agent on NCIS, is played by non-Israeli and non-Jewish actress Cote de Pablo, who is from Chile. Of course, no one complains about a non-Jewish (and non-Israeli) actress playing an Israeli Jew.

Once the celebratory fist pumping is done, the real challenge begins. Because Holocaust denial is not going away. And when it comes to excising posts, it is not easy to define what constitutes Holocaust denial. Neo-Nazis spouting blatantly hateful propaganda: those are the easy cases. The more insidious situations are not. Denial has become much more sophisticated today.

The reality is that legal judgments are shaped by the interpreter’s background, experience, and beliefs. Such influences have been documented as early as the first century of the Common Era, when the two major schools of thought concerning Jewish law emerged with the sages Hillel and Shammai. Hillel’s judgments often reflected his “every-man” perspective, whereas Shammai’s rulings reflected the rich man’s perception of the world.

Commentary on Parashat Bereishit

This week at the Jewish Journal, Parashat Bereishit is under discussion. Parashat Bereishit is the first parsha in the Torah and describes how G-d created the world in six days, resting on the seventh. This parsha also includes the story of Adam and Eve.

Our conversation – the first in a series of Torah Talks with rabbinic students – focuses on the creation of the world. What came before, and what happened after.

“We generally imagine that the world was created from emptiness and nothingness. Our sages believed that maybe G-d created worlds before ours.”

When God began to create heaven and earth—the earth being astonishingly empty, with darkness over the surface of the deep and the spirit of God hovering over the water—God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and God separated between the light and the darkness. God called to the light, “Day,” and to the darkness He called, “Night.” And there was evening and there was morning. One day. -Gen. 1:1-5

Rabbi Pinchas Winston: Man’s knowledge is vast, but God’s knowledge is infinite, making Torah infinitely deep. The first word of the Torah makes this point when understood through the prism of “Pardes,” a Hebrew word that alludes to four levels of Torah learning: Pshat, Remez, Drush, and Sod—simple, hint, exegetical, and secret.

By instructing us to see the world as a Creation of the Ultimate Artist, the Creator, the Torah guides humans to approach life and existence as we would a work of art. We should not glance casually or look routinely. We should seek out patterns of beauty, and connections that enrich the view. We will discover juxtapositions that add depth dimensions that ravish the eye—and the soul.

Three New Jewish Podcasts

Just in time for the weekend, three new podcasts about Judaism, Jewish culture, and Israel.

How do we manage our lives during the coronavirus crisis? How do we keep our sanity? How do we use this quarantine to bring out the best in ourselves?

“Will politics save us or destroy us? Right now we are in the midst of a political tsunami. We shouldn’t let the outside contaminate our inner selves. We know that. But in 2020, the outside world has done major damage to our interior lives.”

Shmuel Rosner and guest Aviram Halevi discuss Aviram’s new book “Sayeret Matkal: The Greatest Operations of the Elite Commando Unit of Israel.”

“This unit is comparable to the Navy Seals in the U.S. There are two main compacities in which this unit serves. First, the high-profile known cases. Second, the clandestine and covert cases which deal with intelligence operations that we’re not allowed to talk about.”

We took a break from post-Rosh Hashanah doom-scrolling to talk Emmys: Schitt’s Creek overflowed with statues, Succession succeeded and Watchmen, um, won. Erin and Esther talk about some of the big issues – are creative people prophets? Plus, reimagining Netflix’s Calm meditations show, which features celebrity voices, from a Jewish perspective. Because that’s what we do.

Today’s Hot Issues

Three Great Weekend Reads Three Great Jewish Reads Commentary on Parashat Bereishit Three New Jewish Podcasts