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Torah and Western Thought: Jewish and Western Texts in Conversation


Queen Esther, a Hero for Our Time

Purim 2024

A perplexing paradox lies at the heart of Purim, the holiday celebrated this week by Jews around the world. No day is more associated with Jewish joy; yet rightly understood the scriptural source of our celebration—the biblical book of Esther— proclaims a terrifying teaching. READ MORE






What We Ought to Say at the Seder

Passover 2023

From the very young to the hard-wisdom won, the participants at the Seder present a range of ages, abilities, and attention spans. And with great blessing comes the great responsibility of handling the complexities of intergenerational communication with care. One of the most devastating stories of a mismanaged parent-child relationship is captured in Shakespeare’s King Lear. READ MORE






Passover Seder

From Generation to Generation: Passover and the Yearning for Freedom

March/April 2022

On the cusp of political liberation, one would expect Moses to speak to the nation of Israel about politics, law, or nationalism. But, as the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks notes, Moses instead speaks about family—parents and children. "And thou shalt tell thy son in that day saying: It is because of that which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt." Passover teaches us that it is the transmission of history, of the ideas of the past—no matter how obscure or seemingly forgotten—that forge a nation and keep it healthy. READ MORE



Dante's Inferno

Land and Literature: Rediscovering Our Humanity

January/February 2022

In a world so focused on individual identity and personalized experiences, it can be difficult to remember that we all breathe the same air and bleed the same blood. So it is vital we look to teachings that preach unity, camaraderie, and common humanity, whether they come from the Hebrew Bible's laws regarding the sabbatical year or the Christian poem, Dante's Inferno. READ MORE





Ruth Bible

Shavuot: Tales of Love and Friendship

May 2021

The biblical figure of Ruth means many things to many different people. To some, she is a symbol of conversion and acceptance. To others, an example of familial loyalty. Yet, in the text itself, Ruth serves as a model for the two most fundamental and critical relationships necessary for humanity to thrive: friendship and love. READ MORE




Sadat Begin

From Brisk to Jerusalem: The Triumph of Menachem Begin

April 2021

Menachem Begin, while not perfect, as all political leaders fail to be, was one of the most successful prime ministers the State of Israel has ever seen. Yet, with all his success, he understood that freedom and security come at a price. He was not afraid to remind the Jewish people of the hardships of their past and rebuke them when they let fear and uncertainty take hold of what he saw as Israel's destiny. However, along with this rebuke, Begin always offered a course of redemption, reminding his people that "The future is radically open." READ MORE



Seal - Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God

Pesach: From the Shakespearean Stage to the Shores of America

March 2021

The story of Pesach and the Exodus from Egypt is a tale of freedom and peoplehood that has served as an inspiration for millions across the ages. From the stages of Shakespeare to the halls of the Continental Congress to the streets of the Civil Rights movement, Pesach has provided—and continues to provide—a timeless and timely source of spiritual sustenance. READ MORE





Beauty and Statesmanship in the Book of Esther

February 2021 

Esther is last in a long line of biblical beauties—characters who are labeled yafeh (beautiful) by the text—including Rebecca, Rachel, Tamar, Joseph and David. And while Esther's bravery and piety no doubt led to her victory over the wicked Haman, her beauty also played a role, allowing her to capture Ahasuerus' attention and find favor in his eyes. But those traits alone were not enough to save her people. Esther was also a tactician, a political genius who—with guidance from Mordecai—acted with patience and care, waiting for the right moment to take action. READ MORE



Proclaim Liberty book

From Plymouth to Pennsylvania Avenue: America and the Hebrew Bible

January 2021 

America is often described as a Judeo-Christian nation. Yet, for many American Jews, it can be difficult to decipher the particular Jewish influence on the republic. However, if one looks deep enough, it becomes apparent that the Hebrew Bible binds everything from the Mayflower Compact to Lincoln's second inaugural address. Ideas of covenants, not social contracts, rooted themselves into the land's fertile theological soil at its founding, while heroes like Esther still resonate today. The result is a rich American tradition and culture that all people can enjoy freely. READ MORE




Flames of Dignity and Resilience

December 2020

The story of Chanukah features two miracles, one physical and one spiritual, each with its own distinct legacy. On the one hand, as Straus Center Director Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik writes, the victory of the Maccabees over their Greek oppressors is a symbol of the Jewish people's resilience, a resilience that British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill looked to for inspiration when rallying his people against the Nazis. On the other hand, as Straus Center Resident Scholar Rabbi Dov Lerner notes, the miracle of the flames represents the inner dignity of each individual, teaching us, just as we do with the candles, to look beyond utility and see everyone for who they are. READ MORE

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