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Torah in a Time of Plague

Historical and Contemporary Jewish Responses
Ben Yehuda Press
Publication Year


This collection of essays uses Torah – broadly understood to include any canonical Jewish text or tradition – to illuminate, explore, bemoan, or grapple with our current moment of plague.

This is not the first episode of plague for humanity that Judaism has had to figure out how to navigate. But, at least in our lifetimes, this contemporary period presents unprecedented challenges for sustaining Jewish communities and Jewish meaning. Therefore, it is an opportunity for reflection reaching into the reservoir of literature, theology, liturgy, history, sociology, law, story-telling, and Jewish learning to see if there is any light Torah can shed in this dark time.

In this book, a diverse range of thinkers dig into the way that ancient texts have wrestled with mageifah (the Hebrew word for plague that appears in the canon) as a social or legal category; explore theological paradigms that grapple with widespread suffering; examine liturgy or poetry that emerged from prior plagues; investigate how Jewish law is actively reimagining and contesting the limits of community at these times of social distance; or ruminate on the ways quarantine, lockdown, and upheaval will reshape Jewish communal life for years to come.

The hope is that these essays – some scholarly, some homiletic, some personal, some exegetical – will enable discussion within networks of lay people and religious leaders in synagogues, schools, academia, and elsewhere in internet book-clubs worldwide. Many are looking for mooring from the Jewish tradition in this most disorienting time, and this volume may serve as anchor and inspiration.

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