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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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Before there were any real housewives of the Bible, there were Adam and Eve. Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove of Park East Synagogue reminded our students that the early Biblical text has implicated the way we talk about gender ever since. In turn, patriarchy and misogyny have thrived in many traditions.

The first human was created in the image of God yet entirely mortal thus falling somewhere between angels and other animals. Rabbi Cosgrove went as far as to suggest that the original human created by God may have actually been a woman or perhaps a hermaphrodite since there’s nothing in the text to suggest otherwise. This proto-human being was the first to receive the rule not to eat from the tree of knowledge so when Eve goes for it later, we are not quite sure if she knew it was forbidden. Soon, a fitting companion was cast from the the side of the first being, which cements the enduring hierarchical relationship.

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Once they eat from the tree, their perception changes at once and they are soon banished from the Garden of Eden and punished with hard labor and childbirth respectively. The man will be the woman’s object of desire, but he shall cling to his wife. As a consequence, Eve is renamed because she is no longer derivative of man, but mother of all life. This story may be about Adam OR Eve, but perhaps the larger story is about the tragic figure of God who wrestles with parental duty and disappointment when humanity’s weaknesses shine through.

imageLast night, Rabbi Barry Schwartz of New Jersey’s Congregation Bais Emuno and director of Jewish Lights Publishing revealed a sympathetic portrayal of Batsheba or as he put the saga, “…far beyond House of Cards.” Using iconic Western artworks, literature, film and varied midrashim he reminded us just how deeply pervasive and far reaching the temptress archetype still holds. Read more

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At last night’s first of nine Real Housewives of the Bible classes, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of New York’s Congregation Beit Simchat Torah set the bar high to provoke and compel contemplation and participation. She deconstructed the story of Abraham’s Egyptian concubine, Hagar, from a uniquely feminist standpoint to 150 eager students. She explained how Hagar became a hero for the African American church during the 19th century as both an ex-slave and single mother who secures redemption and exits as a survivor. Read more

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Last night was the first class in our Master Chef cooking series taught by Jewish cookbook queen, Joan Nathan. Our kitchen was fully prepped for Joan’s signature menu steeped in Jewish food history and of course, her well-known cookbooks, Quiches, Kugels & Couscous and King Solomon’s Table.

Highlights from Joan’s vast Jewish food knowledge included tales of Babylonian diets, ancient Far East spice routes, King Solomon’s era and notably, the prevalence of chickpeas in the ancient world. Our Skirball student chefs teamed up in small groups to create last night’s incredible dinner, which featured spicy Libyan haraimi, smoked eggplant with tahini, feta and pomegranate and a bright lemon tart for dessert.

Our next cooking class will be taught by Philadelphia’s award-winning star chef, Michael Solomonov, on December 8. Sign up HERE.

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This fall, we are proud to offer you a wide range of classes to explore diverse elements of Judaism. Paint your way through Torah study, cook with popular Jewish chefs, watch classic American films portray Jewish life or even practice Jewish yoga. Learn Talmud with our passionate faculty as they impart the lessons of Spinoza, Nachmanides, Maimonides and even the original anti-Semite, the Apostle Paul. Gain new insights into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reignite your notions of God and spirituality all here at Skirball.

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The Skirball team is super excited to reveal that our Fall/Winter 2015 catalog is already at print and will be is available ONLINE now! Our printers sent us a peek and we’re so EXCITED that we had to share. As summer draws to a close and the High Holidays approach, you’ll want to plan on joining us for classes and events. FOLLOW the online conversations on FACEBOOK and TWITTER where your LIKES and TWEETS will get you FIRST ACCESS to information and CONTESTS. More details to follow!