Rabbi Toba Spitzer's blog

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The Power of the Powerless (Parshat Vayeshev, Genesis 37:1-40:23)

December 2014

One aspect of the Torah that has always intrigued me is the way in which its authors recognize the constraints of the society in which they live, and push against those constraints, even if they cannot imagine doing away with them altogether. Embedded within this week’s Torah portion, Vayeshev, is just such a story, plunked down in the midst of the larger narrative about Joseph and his brothers. More » about The Power of the Powerless (Parshat Vayeshev, Genesis 37:1-40:23)

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The Torah of Repair and Reconciliation

November 2014

A d’var Torah for Parashat Chayei Sarah by Rabbi Toba Spitzer

On its surface, Chayei Sarah is one of the tamer portions in all of the Torah. It is the only parasha in Genesis in which there is a complete absence of conflict and destruction. Yet there is an extremely rich subtext here, one that can be read in relation to the dramatic and disturbing events of last week’s parasha. Vayera features the conflict between Abraham’s wives, Sarah and Hagar, and the decision to banish both Hagar and her son Ishmael into the wilderness. After having one wife and son taken from him, Abraham then comes close to killing his beloved Isaac. Vayera is testimony to jealousy, bitterness, and conflict, and in it we find the mythic beginnings of the enmity between the children of Israel and the children of Ishmael, the Jewish and the Arab peoples. More » about The Torah of Repair and Reconciliation

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By The Power Vested in Me By The Commonwealth of Massachusetts! : 10 Years of Marriage Equality in MA

May 2014

From the Keshet blog on MyJewishLearning.com, which begins with this introduction: As we celebrate the ten year anniversary of legal same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, we’ve invited members of the community to share their reflections. Today’s post comes from Rabbi Toba Spitzer of Congregation Dorshei Tzedek, a Reconstructionist rabbi who performed same-sex religious weddings before the verdict—but was finally able to legally marry Massachusetts same-sex couples 10 years ago.

I performed a number of weddings while still a rabbinical student, in the mid-1990s, as my friends began to make lifetime commitments and, being unaffiliated, turned to me—clergy in training!—to help them with their ceremonies. It was somewhat ironic that so many of my (straight) friends and acquaintances turned to me for this particular lifecycle event, as I had never been a huge fan of marriage. That may have been due to my own inklings as a kid that heterosexual white-wedding fantasies were not for me, or due to many years of being single and having to sit through other people’s weddings, or to my feminist and lesbian questioning of an institution that had historically been far from progressive. More » about By The Power Vested in Me By The Commonwealth of Massachusetts! : 10 Years of Marriage Equality in MA

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What is a Jewish View of Islam?

May 2014

(From Ask a Rabbi on jewishboston.com)

Like anything else in Judaism, there is not any one official view. Historically speaking, Jewish communities generally thrived in Muslim societies, beginning with Babylonia in the seventh through ninth centuries, in Moorish Spain in the eighth through 14th centuries, and in the Ottoman Empire from the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and well into the 19th century. That doesn’t mean that these eras of co-existence were not marred by periodic intolerance and even violence, but overall it is safe to say that Jewish experiences in predominantly Muslim countries in the medieval period were a world apart from the overt anti-Semitism and persecution that Jews often faced in many parts of Christian Europe. Muslim culture over the centuries has influenced Jewish culture, from philosophy to poetry to cuisine. More » about What is a Jewish View of Islam?

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A Purim Call to Support the International Violence Against Women Act

March 2014

As a child, I delighted in the story of Esther, who appears before King Ahashverosh in a “beauty pageant” and is promptly chosen to be his queen. Imagine my surprise when, as a rabbinical student in my early 30s, I finally did a close reading of the Biblical Book of Esther and discovered in Esther’s tale a much darker story: More » about A Purim Call to Support the International Violence Against Women Act

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Living in the Paradox: Sukkot

September 2013

You shall live in sukkot seven days; all citizens of Israel shall live in sukkot, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I YHVH your God.(Leviticus 23:42-43)

Building a sukkah, eating our meals in the sukkah, sleeping in the sukkah if the weather permits — all of these activities serve to remind us of some powerful truths. The sukkah is a simple structure; it reminds us of the value of simplicity, of not getting overly caught up in the excesses of our lives. We take very little with us into the sukkah — a table and some chairs, something to sleep on, a few decorations.  It reminds us of what we need and don’t need.  More » about Living in the Paradox: Sukkot