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Colorful and intricate stained glass window depicting Moses holding the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments

It would be rare today to visit a synagogue and not see a visual portrayal of the two rounded tablets of the law. You might even say that the Ten Commandments have become the visual shorthand for Judaism.

This is a relatively new phenomenon. Among earlier generations of American Jews the public display of the Ten Commandments was controversial, so much so that it split the membership of New York’s Congregation Anshi Chesed, a traditional synagogue soon to cast its lot with Reform Judaism.

In May 1850, at a dignified ceremony attended by Mayor Caleb S. Woodhull, the members...

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Tallit (prayer shawl) as chuppah (wedding canopy) in the woods

Seven weeks after the Exodus from Egypt, the Children of Israel stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and prepared to encounter God. That day, which came to be known as Shavuot, has been understood in midrash (commentary on Biblical text) as the day of the marriage between God and the Jewish people:

God proposes: “Now then, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples” (Exodus 19:5).

The people accept: “All the people answered as one, saying, ‘...

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String of tattered Israeli flags hanging between buildings against a blue sky

I do not travel to Jerusalem, I return (to paraphrase the poet Yitzhak Yasinowitz). I pick up where I left off, visiting friends, arriving at former stomping grounds to find them still pulsing or torn down and rebuilt in the ever-evolving life that lays down strata upon strata of this city.

I’m not sure what a unified city would look like. Is Paris unified? London? New York? Bangkok? Madrid? One thing I can say is that Jerusalem is not. Not to contradict the psalmist: "Jerusalem built up, a city knit together."

There is West Jerusalem and East, Arab Jerusalem and Jewish...

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Sunlight shining on outstretced arms/hands

On Shavuot we celebrate receiving the Torah. How are we to understand divine revelation? Fundamentalists claim to know the mind of God and base their assertions directly on the Bible. This kind of thinking should be profoundly troubling to us as Jews, because our Torah contains the most radical challenge to a literalist reading of Scripture in all religious literature.

Somehow, this idea has gotten lost, because revelation in Judaism is not what it seems.

The Torah tells us that after the Children of Israel were freed from...

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Jerusalem of Gold on Israel street sign in Hebrew, Arabic, and English

“The dream isn’t so different from the reality….All of man’s doings were once dreams.” Theodor Herzl in Altneuland: The Old-New Land

For thousands of years, the Jewish people’s physical distance from Jerusalem, the spiritual center of our world, made it a virtual city in our eyes – an ideal city about which we dreamed endlessly. I, too, dream of Jerusalem, connecting myself with the chain of...

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