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Arnold M. Eisen
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Entries by Arnold M. Eisen

Parashat Behar: Peacemaking and the Quest for Holiness

(0) Comments | Posted May 8, 2014 | 6:47 PM

Sometimes the thematic coincidence of a weekly Torah portion and an important new book is truly remarkable. So it is with the chapters of Leviticus that Jews will read in synagogue this coming Shabbat and From Enemy to Friend: Jewish Wisdom and the Search for Peace, written by an old...

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Jewish Ethics and the NFL

(5) Comments | Posted January 31, 2014 | 12:26 PM

I love watching professional football on TV, and have loved it for as long as I can remember.

There are multiple reasons for this pleasure: vivid memories of watching games with my father, and then watching (and tossing a football) with my son; images of college dorm camaraderie that centered...

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Bridging the Secular/Religious Divide in Ourselves and the World

(21) Comments | Posted September 11, 2013 | 2:18 PM

Many of the thousands of Jews attending Yom Kippur services this year will do so despite complex and ambivalent feelings about religion, and regardless of uncertainty (or outright skepticism) about belief in God. I am glad those Jews will be in synagogue. A lot of good is accomplished thanks to...

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Making Worship Live

(20) Comments | Posted February 21, 2013 | 12:42 PM

If you care deeply about the present and future state of synagogues and churches, as I do (and as the next Pope surely will), it's instructive to draw lessons from the remarkable vision of communal worship set forth in last week's Torah portion, Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:29). Three aspects of the...

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Lights Against the Darkness

(1) Comments | Posted December 20, 2012 | 1:20 PM

The news about the school shootings in Connecticut reached me just before Shabbat, the seventh day of Hanukkah. Candle-lighting seemed more needed than usual that evening. It must have meant a lot to our ancestors, who lived in darkness so much more than we do, to have light in their...

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Jewish Leadership

(0) Comments | Posted June 21, 2012 | 1:49 PM

The Torah's first lesson to prospective leaders seems to be that popularity and leadership rarely go hand in hand. Just ask Moses, who faced a steady stream of disobedience "In the Wilderness." I have reflected on this after recent dialogues about leadership with the governor of Michigan and the mayor...

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Holiness After the Death of 6 Million

(3) Comments | Posted May 7, 2012 | 4:57 PM

"The deeds of the ancestors are a sign for their descendants," said the medieval Jewish commentator Nahmanides. Sometimes the weekly Torah portion, describing the Israelites of old, seems to capture with amazing prescience the situation of contemporary Jews. So it is with last week's double portion of Torah, called in...

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The Torah and Making Sacred Spaces

(0) Comments | Posted March 5, 2012 | 9:32 AM

Making Sacred Spaces

By Arnold M. Eisen

Chancellor, The Jewish Theological Seminary


The elevation of New York's Archbishop Timothy Dolan to the position of cardinal on February 18--with appropriate pomp on the world stage of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome--occurred shortly before observant Jews were impelled to reflection...

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Moses, Pharaoh and the Candidates

(57) Comments | Posted February 2, 2012 | 1:02 PM

Two very different leadership contests have competed for the attention of religiously observant American Jews in recent weeks. One of them played out among Republican candidates seeking the right to challenge Barack Obama for leadership of the most powerful nation on earth. The other played out in the Torah portions...

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Tim Tebow and the Lessons of Hanukkah

(115) Comments | Posted December 23, 2011 | 7:22 AM

Jews tell two very different stories at Hanukkah -- three, if you count the tale about the oil that was not sufficient for even one day of lighting the Temple lamps, but miraculously lasted for eight. The relationship between the two stories may well be the key to the holiday's...

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The Pilgrim Family: A Jewish Perspective On Thanksgiving

(7) Comments | Posted November 22, 2011 | 9:40 AM

With assistance from the phenomenal memory of a friend of mine from high school days, I can still recall the essay I wrote for 9th-grade English class about Thanksgiving. "Of Bands and Bullwinkle," I called it, the reference of course being to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade and the balloon...

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A Message of Hope on the Jewish New Year

(0) Comments | Posted October 6, 2011 | 11:05 AM

Approaching Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur this year, in the immediate aftermath of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I was struck by the response Jewish tradition makes year after year, day in and day out, to the attack on hope and meaning that stands at the heart of terrorism. Judaism...

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Lessons From The Kaddish A Decade After 9/11

(2) Comments | Posted September 7, 2011 | 4:15 PM

As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, I've been thinking a lot about the words of the kaddish, the memorial prayer that Jews recite daily in the months immediately following the passing of those closest to us and that we say as well to mark the yearly anniversary of their...

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Finding the Joys of Jewish Community at Camp Ramah

(4) Comments | Posted August 26, 2011 | 7:33 AM

Hundreds of thousands of American kids have returned home from overnight camp in the past few weeks, among them about 40,000 campers and counselors coming back from Jewish summer camps, which seek to combine sports and crafts with serious educational purpose and identity building.

As the head of The...

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Torah Lessons: What We Are and What We Can Be

(156) Comments | Posted June 23, 2011 | 8:04 PM

Editor's note: The following is a commentary on the Torah portion for June 25 (23 Sivan 5771), which is found in Numbers 16:1−18:32 and is known in Hebrew as 'Korach.'

I have a great deal of sympathy for Korah and his rebel faction, despite the fact that they made life...

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Higher Learning, Citizenship and the Pursuit of Values

(0) Comments | Posted May 26, 2011 | 2:09 PM

The commencement address I gave last week as the head of an institution of higher Jewish learning echoed themes of broad concern among university and college leaders across America at this time of unprecedented challenge and change.

It seems obvious to many of us that support for higher education...

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A New Holy Week Agenda

(1) Comments | Posted May 3, 2011 | 4:22 PM

Palm fronds were being waved in the park down the street from my apartment as I wrote this column, while my wife did final Passover cleaning of the closets and I put off for a few more hours the requisite scrubbing of the oven. Holy Week and Passover coincided this...

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The Whimsy, Confusion and Hope of Purim

(48) Comments | Posted March 19, 2011 | 8:18 PM

Purim, observed by Jews this year on March 20, is probably the most confusing of all Jewish holidays.

It's not just the costumes and masks behind which friends are so well hidden that you can't always tell who is who, and not just the parodic upending of hierarchy that...

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Presidents and Providence

(155) Comments | Posted February 20, 2011 | 7:23 PM

Presidents' Day coincides this year with the Torah reading that recounts the building and destruction of the Golden Calf. We mark the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, who lost his life within weeks of declaring the Civil War to be God's punishment for the sin of slavery, and then the birthday...

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The Confounding, All-Penetrating and Revolutionary Voice of God

(322) Comments | Posted January 27, 2011 | 6:26 PM

The covenant ceremony at Sinai is the pivot on which the rest of Torah turns. Everything that precedes Sinai in the Torah's narrative leads up to it. Everything that comes afterward -- in the Bible and Judaism as a whole -- follows from the fact of covenant and works out...

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