Rabbi's Column | Congregation Beth Am

Rabbi's Column

From the Dead Sea Scroll to Podcasts

Rabbi Jonathan Prosnit

On a recent trip to Israel, I spent Shabbat at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Adjacent to the Knesset and the Israeli Supreme Court and overlooking the hills and valleys of the modern city of Jerusalem, the Israel Museum is one of the greatest museums in the entire world and a wonderful place to spend a Shabbat afternoon. Not only is the museum home to works of arts by some of the world’s great painters and sculpters (both Jewish and not), but it has incredible grounds through which one can wander.  

There is the stunning sculpture garden with beautiful works of modern art, including the famous Ahavah (Love) statue by Robert Indiana. There is the iconic model of the Second Temple Period of Jerusalem (formerly at the Holy Land Hotel) which recreates Jerusalem of 66 CE at the height of its glory; just years before destruction in the year 70 at the hands of the Romans. There are wings devoted to Jewish life, to archaeology and to fine arts. Perhaps most notable is the Shrine of the Book Complex, the home of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  

If Jews are the People of the Book -- and we are -- then the Dead Sea Scrolls are not just fascinating historical documents, but part of a Jewish pilgrimage. The Dead Sea Scrolls are ancient manuscripts discovered at the dawn of the modern State of Israel in caves near Qumran, an ancient settlement on the Dead Sea. They are over two thousand years old and include the oldest known written fragments of the Hebrew Bible. According to the Israel Museum webpage: “The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls represents a turning point in the study of the history of the Jewish people in ancient times, for never before has a literary treasure of such magnitude come to light.”

Seeing these scrolls helps affirm the long history of our sacred tradition. When we, at Beth Am, tell our B’nei Mitzvah students that they are part of a chain of tradition, we refer directly to the words of the Torah. A few months before each Bar or Bat Mitzvah service, we stand in the Sanctuary in front of the open ark with the student and his or her parents and we hold a short ritual. During the ritual we say, “For three thousand years your ancestors have chosen to remain Jewish -- to play their part in this ongoing story. A hundred generations have carried the story and passed it down to you. Now this story is yours -- it belongs to you forever. With your own gifts of mind and heart and commitment, you will write the next chapter of the Jewish story. You will be a letter in the scroll.”

One way that we can all write the next chapter in the Jewish story is to continue to engage with Jewish texts and sources -- from our ancient texts to our most modern. While there is no substitute for engaging with our sacred scriptures, the same ones written thousands of years ago in the Dead Sea Scrolls, I do believe the Jewish conversation has always expanded to include new texts and sources. I’m often asked by Beth Am members for my favorite modern resources for information about Jewish life. I’ve included some of them below. This list is by no means comprehensive (and I’m sure I’ve left off some great ones), but start with these:

Podcasts

  • Judaism Unbound: Conversations with cutting-edge thought leaders and innovators throughout the American Jewish world.
  • Israel Story: The “This American Life of Israel” stories, twists and hidden adventures of the Jewish State. Check out the one entitled Herzl 48 – it’s my favorite.
  • Ha’Aretez: News and conversations from one of Israel’s leading newspapers. Focus is on Israeli and Middle East politics.
  • On the Other Hand: 10-minute study of the weekly portion from the URJ - hosted by Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Reform movement.
  • On Being: Krista Tippet hosts an NPR show about issues and matters of faith and religion (not specifically Jewish, but worth the listen if you’re into conversations on religion and faith).

Webpages

  • Sefaria: An amazing database of Jewish texts and commentary. If you are looking up Torah, Talmud, Mishna and want to see how they connect, check out Sefaria.   
  • My Jewish Learning: If you want to learn something quickly about a Jewish custom.
  • ReformJudaism.org: A home for learning about practice, holidays and more.
  • Kveller: A Jewish parenting website, devoted to the whole spectrum of Jewish “momming” and “dadding.”
  • Interfaithfamily.com: A good resource of videos, articles and information for interfaith families looking to explore a Jewish life.

Online Jewish Magazines

  • Tablet Magazine: Online magazine that takes a broad view on Jewish life from book reviews to podcasts to opinion pieces.
  • Moment Magazine: The magazine founded by Leonard Fein and Elie Wiesel that focuses on issues facing the American Jewish community.
  • The Forward: The magazine that dates back to Yiddish print on the Lower East Side; one of the most influential newspapers in the history of American Judaism.
  • Lilith: An American Jewish magazine that focuses on issues significant to Jewish women’s issues.
  • New Voices: A magazine devoted to Jewish issues on college campuses.

If you are on Twitter, below are a few Twitter feeds of people in the Jewish world that might be deserving of a follow. While I do not always agree with all of their opinions, they engage the Jewish world in a thoughtful and interesting way.

  • @jeffreygoldberg - Jeff Goldberg, journalist and the head editor of the The Atlantic magazine.
  • @jane_eisner - Jane Eisner, Editor-in-Chief of The Forward.
  • @yair_rosenberg - Yair Rosenberg, journalist and senior writer at Tablet Magazine.
  • @rabbijilljacobs - Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director of T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.
  • @rabbiwolpe - Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.
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We strive to live as a holy community whose study and practice of Judaism inspires and challenges us to "do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God" (Micah 6:8).