Welcome to lifelong learning.
 
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Rabbi Norman Cohen of Hebrew Union College began class by reminding students that Biblical texts and midrashim are meant to mirror our own lives and who we aspire to be. As in the case of other Biblical women, reconstructing Miriam’s story depends on sewing together shards of information into a portrait of a life journey to sustain, teach and challenge us.

Mentioned only 4 times in the Bible, Miriam first appears as Moses’ watchful guardian, which cements the continuity of the Jewish people. Her life is caught up with water and in fact, her name reflects that. We meet her next as a prophetess and equal to Moses when she joins (or perhaps leads) Moses in the Song of Songs. According to midrashim, she foresaw Moses’ birth and the miracles that led to Jewish redemption therefore elevating her status in the text. Read more

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In an apt tribute to International Women’s Day, Rabba Yaffa Epstein of Jerusalem’s Pardes Insitute sought to explain how a pro-conversion story about a non-Jewish woman named Ruth became a part of our essential Jewish texts. Against all odds, she plays a vital role in Jewish history as the great grandmother of King David. The great message of her story is to choose faith, love and kindness as merits for joining the Jewish people. The convert is therefore more beloved by God than the multitude who stood at Sinai because they needed signs to believe, while converts accept the subtleties without miracles. Like Abraham, Ruth’s story reminds us that Jewish practice is a choice for every one of us.

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IMG_4510Touting female empowerment, Rabbi Rachel Ain of Sutton Place Synagogue started off class by quoting Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg saying, “Women need to sit front and center if they want to be heard.” Similarly, the Bible’s matriarchs led by example demonstrating their rich influence and strong presence be known. Rebecca lied to Isaac to protect her son’s birthright thereby propelling Jewish lineage. As in the cases of Rebecca, Pharaoh’s midwives and Queen Esther, Rabbi Ain tied and defended these ethical missteps in light of the harsh stakes at hand. Faced with undue pressure under difficult circumstances, these women made complicated and sometimes messy choices to balance their own needs, the needs of their families and the Jewish community. Did the ends justify the means? Absolutely.

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