Jan. 26, 2021

Rabbi Jason Rubenstein on Pesikta de-Rav Kahana (Mandelbaum) 19 – “The Marriage Between the Jewish People and God”

Rabbi Jason Rubenstein, Jewish chaplain at Yale University, joins Mark for a very special episode this week. Jason’s uniquely well-rounded education includes attending reformed Temple Micah in Washington DC as a child, spending his formative years studying at orthodox Yeshivat Ma’ale Gilboa in northern Israel, and receiving his rabbinic ordination from the conservative Jewish Theological Seminary. He has taught on the faculty of the Hadar Institute for a decade, and is the recipient of numerous awards including the Wexner Graduate Fellowship and the Covenant Foundation’s 2015 Pomegranate Prize for Emerging Educators. The passage he has chosen to discuss is Pesikta de-Rav Kahana (Mandelbaum) 19.

Jason begins by sharing the passage, the notion of God’s marriage to the Jewish people illustrated within it, and the power of the Torah to sustain the Jewish people during God’s perceived absence. He and Mark then set off on a fascinating discussion of a number of related concepts including the rebirth of Hebrew and the Jewish State, the purpose of rituals, the Jewish commitment to Israel, and the nature of Zionism. The function and nature of prayer, the contrast between faith and belief, and the reason this passage holds such significance for Jason are also explored. As the episode draws to a close, Jason shares the lessons regarding humankind which he has learned, which leads to a discussion regarding the function of intellectual endeavor. In this remarkably dynamic conversation, the sheer amount of enthusiasm, knowledge, and insight of both host and guest entertains and informs as they clearly demonstrate yet again that the ‘wisdom in our tradition is boundless’ and the lessons eternal.

Episode Highlights:

· Jason’s telling of the parable · God’s marriage with the Jewish people · God’s return to the Jewish people in 1948 · The rebirth of Hebrew and the Jewish State · The purpose of rituals · The Jewish commitment to Israel · A baseball analogy for sacrifice · The nature of Zionism · The nature and function of prayer · The reason this text is so important to Jason · Faith and belief · The lessons about humankind that Jason has learned · The function of the intellectual endeavor


“I can’t believe you waited for me.”

“Were it not for those letters that I kept, I would have left you a long time ago.”

“God doesn’t promise us an easy time.”

“God was absent.”

“The portable homeland of the Jews.”

“This text is, in a profound sense, atheistic.”

“In 1911, the conclusion that Hebrew would not be revived was correct.”

“The only way that she can keep him present in her life is by preserving the absence that he left…a hopeless romantic.”

“Sacrifice is a game.”

“There is absolutely no consensus for Zionism among Jews in the early 20th century.”

“Religious institutions only take on their meaning in the context of the total absence of God’s presence.”

“Unless you have that kind of doubt, you can’t have that kind of religious life that’s described in this text.”

“The human soul is like a great wild animal.”

“Your hard work as a mother is finally starting to pay off.”

“Can I distill this and translate it in a way that touches someone’s heart?”

“The Torah’s our great guidebook.”

Pesikta de-Rav Kahana (Mandelbaum) 19: https://www.sefaria.org/Pesikta_D'Rav_Kahanna.19?lang=bi


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