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The Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought

Why Do We Open the Door on This Night? The Redemptive Potential of Elijah’s Cup

Dr. Chaya Sima Koenigsberg | Former Straus Center Resident Scholar

Among the many customs of Seder night, some fill a cup for Elijah the Prophet and open the door of the home to greet him. What are the roots and significance of these customs? What was the historical setting in which these customs emerged among Ashkenazic Jews? The answers can be culled through careful examination of the legal sources as well as pictorial evidence from illuminated manuscripts and printed haggadot.

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"A Daniel Come to Judgment": Debt and Gratitude in The Merchant of Venice 

Dr. Shaina Trapedo | Stern College for Women Adjunct Professor of English

In all of Shakespeare’s works, the name of the Hebrew prophet Daniel only appears in the (in)famous courtroom scene in The Merchant of Venice, where it is repeated half a dozen times to great dramatic effect. And yet, a close examination of Daniel’s presence in this climactic vital episode yields a deeper understanding of the play’s thematic exploration of debt and gratitude. Moreover, attending to the Daniel references throughout the play offers renewed (and perhaps revised) reflections on the influence of the Hebrew Bible and its interpretative traditions on what is arguably one of the most impactful works of Western literature.

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Jacob's Pain in an Age of Change: Notes from a Novelist and a Commentator

Rabbi Dr. Dov Lerner | Straus Center Resident Scholar

As Enlightenment forces swept through the west in the 18th century, ushering in an age of reason and new civic freedoms, particularistic faith came under threat, and the biblical text was shredded by critics. The age of reason gave way to a surge of romantic feeling, and a cast of novelists and playwrights sought to rehabilitate the Bible—but as they did, they reshaped it, changing how it had been read for centuries. The clash between an Anglo-Irish novelist and a Jewish-Polish commentator—both reacting to the pain of Jacob in the presence of an emperor—exhibits this tension and offers a lesson for this Thanksgiving.

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Judaism, Democracy, and Civic Duty

Rabbi Dr. Dov Lerner | Straus Center Resident Scholar

At the core of the human condition, there is an existential tension that political philosophers have spent centuries trying to resolve—they have sought to design the perfect administrative state that allows us to be together and succeed together, despite the fact that we compete with each other. Ever since the Magna Carta in 1215, the West has progressively replaced Monarchy with Democracy, and our question is—what is the position of Jewish thought and tradition?

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