Tefillah Tuesday: The Yoke of Heaven

The recitation of קריאת שמע/Keriat Shema is built from three bible passages: Deuteronomy 6:4-9, the Shema+Ve’ahavta itself; Deuteronomy 11: 13-21, which begins והיה אם שמוע/Vehaya im shamoa; and Numbers 15:37-41, which includes the command of wearing tzitzit and the memorial of the Exodus. Why do the texts come in this order? According to Mishna Berakhot… Read more »

Tefillah Tuesday: Full Vessels

It’s Tuesday again, and the autumn holidays are passed, so it’s time for Tefillah Tuesday, once again. Let’s turn to the second “paragraph” of the Shema, Deuteronomy 11:13-20, which begins: והיה אם שמוע תשמעו אל מצוותי/ve’haya im shamo’a tishme’u, “now, if you will indeed heed my commandments …” This verse employs a common Biblical Hebrew… Read more »

Reflections on Family “Ghettos of Two”

In May, at the Hebrew Union College commencement, the novelist Michael Chabon encouraged the new Reform rabbis on a revolutionary path. They should “knock down the walls” that confine Jewish community in self-built ghettos, “eruvim of intolerance.” Not just ethnic distinctions between Jew and gentile, but the whole system of sacred boundary-drawing must go. No… Read more »

Tefillah Tuesday: Today

You may remember Eats, Shoots & Leaves, the popular 2003 book on the importance of precise punctuation for deciphering texts clearly. Depending on comma placement, that book title could refer to a panda’s diet, or the scene in the Godfather where [SPOILER ALERT] Michael Corleone kills Sollozzo and McCluskey in Louie’s Restaurant in the Bronx. (“Try the veal. Best… Read more »

Tefillah Tuesday: כל מאדך

The third modifier in the first line of the ואהבת/ve’ahavta is בכל מאדך/bekhol me’odekha, that you should love God with … what exactly? In biblical as in modern Hebrew, מאד/me’od, typically is an adverb meaning very or exceedingly. This Shema passage from Deuteronomy 6 is a very rare case – there is only one other, 2 Kings 23:25 – where it takes a pronomial suffix and refers to a person’s capacity for “muchness.” Hence the King James version, and all… Read more »