Jewish Torah

In this section offers Jewish Torah commentary and broader religious news and commentary. Dr. Erica Brown, an author, educator and scholar-in-residence for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington who consults for the Jewish Agency and other Jewish non-profits, is a frequent columnist. To select another topic, choose from the other content “categories” in our navigation bar.

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Binyamin Lau’s new book, “Jeremiah: The Fate of the Prophet,” shows how the Bible ought to be read. It has plenty of modern scholarship in it, and it makes considerable use of the Oral Torah, but its focus is on what the Bible has to say to us here and now. Lau presents the biblical prophets as magnificent failures, whom nobody listened to in their own time, but who left behind a message that speaks to us today, writes book reviewer Rabbi Jack Riemer.

Upon hearing the expression "shelter in place" while the city of Boston was on lockdown during the recent manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers, Dr. Erica Brown was reminded of how the notion of God as a refuge or shelter is stamped all over the short bursts of religious meaning and feeling in the Book of Psalms.

Paying taxes is one way Jews conform to the Talmudic principle, “the laws of the land are [our] laws.” Dr. Erica Brown writes to think of taxes as a gift that keeps on giving, even though we feel its sting at this time of the year. When you think of a world where there is no garbage collection, road repair, public schooling, fire department, or police officers, you might be just a little less unhappy to pay your taxes, she writes.

The Pope’s retirement made columnist Dr. Erica Brown think about a Jewish approach to retirement. We probably should make a blessing upon retiring for being able to reach the stage of life when working takes second fiddle to living, she writes.

The elusive search for beauty is not a material impulse alone, to be found in the purchase of a perfect pair shoes or a piece of furniture that complements a space just so. Beauty is regarded in sacred texts as a source of deep inspiration and hope. When we see something of beauty it often affirms our own sense of the beauty of life. It generates in us a sense of the transcendent, writes Dr. Erica Brown.

Sometimes we want outcomes without effort, but current research suggests what our sages knew 2,000 years ago: It takes 12 hours a day, 10,000 hours a life and mental and physical drive to achieve excellence, writes Dr. Erica Brown.

“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who bestows kindness upon the vulnerable, and who has bestowed goodness on me.” —Traditional Jewish blessing

Amid the inauguration of an American president, the Israeli election, and heated debate about gun control against the background of another shooting on a college campus, we are all aware that leadership is being sorely tested and desperately needed. At the same time, we understand the critical and symbiotic relationship between leaders and followers. A community is too heavy to carry alone—we all carry it together, writes Dr. Erica Brown.

“Give up anger, abandon fury, do not be vexed; it can only do harm.” —Psalms 37:8

“Wise people walk the road that leads upward to life...” —Proverbs 15:24

Jews constitute only about 0.2 percent of the world's population amid the trend of an increasing number of people not attaching themselves to any faith at all. While this should be of concern to anyone who cares about religion, affiliation should not be about membership, but about expressing deep universal sentiments and affirming one's purpose in life, writes Dr. Erica Brown.

“Anyone who has the capability to protest the sinful conduct of his household and does not protest, he is himself liable for the sins of the members of his household.” —Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 54a

"We will buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes. (Amos 8:6)

Multitudes upon multitudes in the Valley of Decision! For the day of the lord is at hand in the Valley of Decision.” —Joel 4:14

“And I have grasped you by the hand.” 
—Isaiah 42:6

“A dream not interpreted is like a letter not read.”—Rabbi Hisda

“A person’s table atones for his sins” —Rabbi Yohanan and Rabbi Elazar

It’s that time again: a new Hebrew year is upon us. It’s time for the Jewish year in review based on a mandate from Deuteronomy that we remember days past because they teach us life lessons for the future. And when our memories fail us, we are told to seek out the help of others.

"God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” —Genesis 21:6

“I wish to announce that there is a God in the world.” —Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev