A Year with the Sages


A Year with the Sages

Wisdom on the Weekly Torah Portion

Rabbi Reuven Hammer

JPS Daily Inspiration Series

384 pages


May 2019


$28.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

May 2019


$28.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

May 2019


$28.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

A Year with the Sages uniquely relates the Sages’ understanding of each Torah portion to everyday life. The importance of these teachings cannot be overstated. The Sages, who lived during the period from the fifth century BCE to the fifth century CE, considered themselves to have inherited the oral teachings God transmitted to Moses, along with the mandate to interpret them to each subsequent generation. Just as the Torah and the entire Hebrew Bible are the foundations of Judaism, the Sages’ teachings form the structures of Jewish belief and practice built on that foundation. Many of these teachings revolve around core concepts such as God’s justice, God’s love, Torah, Israel, humility, honesty, loving-kindness, reverence, prayer, and repentance.

You are invited to spend a year with the inspiring ideas of the Sages through their reflections on the fifty-four weekly Torah portions and the eleven Jewish holidays. Quoting from the week’s Torah portion, Rabbi Reuven Hammer presents a Torah commentary, selections from the Sages that chronicle their process of interpreting the text, a commentary that elucidates these concepts and their consequences, and a personal reflection that illumines the Sages’ enduring wisdom for our era.

Author Bio

Rabbi Reuven Hammer is a former dean of the Israel programs of the Jewish Theological Seminary in Jerusalem and a founding director of the Institute for Jewish Studies, today the Schechter Institute. He is the author of many books, including Entering the High Holy Days: A Complete Guide to the History, Prayers, and Themes (JPS, 2005); Sifre: A Taanaitic Commentary on the Book of Deuteronomy; and Akiva: Life, Legend, Legacy (JPS, 2015).



"If you read Rabbi Hammer's book you will see not only what the Text originally meant, and what the Sages read into and out of its worlds, but you will also see what the Torah can mean to us here and now. . . . I suggest that we accept Rabbi Hammer's invitation, and spend a year with him as he goes through the pshat, and then the words of the midrash, and then sees the Torah through his own eyes."—Rabbi Jack Riemer, Jewish Advocate

"A Year with the Sages is an ideal companion for readers looking to add a touch of scholarly inquiry to their weekly Torah study. It is perfect for those interested in a daily dose of Jewish thought, and is designed to delight the intellect and deepen understandings of Judaism throughout history."—Jessie Horness, Foreword Reviews

"[Hammer's] writing is fresh and warm and is always food for thought and it is as if he is holding our hands and guiding us through the holy writings and we see ancient paths become new. His commentaries are in a tripartite fashion (explanation, exposition of Sages, and personal reflections) and they give us enlightenment and erudition. They are also learned, relevant, and eloquent  and above all, insightful."—Amos Lassen, Reviews by Amos Lassen

"Hammer does an excellent job offering insights on each parasha. A Year with the Sages would work well for a discussion group on the Torah text, or for individuals looking for additional commentary for their own weekly Torah study."—Rabbi Rachel Esserman, Reporter

"I would highly recommend engaging with A Year with the Sages and Rabbi Hammer’s interpretations. I think it will broaden our vision of the nature of God and the way in which Scripture speaks to us today."—Robert Cornwall, Ponderings on a Faith Journey

"A Year with the Sages: Wisdom on the Weekly Torah Portion is the last book that Rabbi Reuven Hammer wrote before he died, and it is in some senses his best."—Rabbi Jack Riemer, Jerusalem Post

“Any publication by Rabbi Reuven Hammer is cause for celebration. His wisdom, warmth, and depth are treasures. A Year with the Sages is exceptional—the contemporary sage, Rabbi Hammer, guides us in walking the path of the ancient sages.”—Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University

“Reuven Hammer examines a portion of each week’s Torah and holiday readings in a unique tripartite fashion—Explanation, Exposition of Sages, and Personal Reflections—offering us his in-depth knowledge of Torah, erudite mastery of Rabbinic sources, and enlightening reflections. The end result—A Year with the Sages—is a truly valuable contribution to us all.”—Shalom M. Paul, professor emeritus in Bible studies, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

A Year with the Sages offers a learned, relevant, and eloquent reaction to each weekly Torah portion for the entire year. These essays are insightful in preparing for Bible study classes, for sermonic presentations, and for an ongoing rhythm of engagement with sacred texts. Rabbi Hammer’s breadth of knowledge combines scholarship with current-day life wisdom. This is a worthy addition to both personal and communal Jewish libraries.”—Rabbi Alan Silverstein, president of Mercaz Olami, past president of the International Rabbinical Assembly and of Masorti Olami

“Hammer sheds insightful light on the meaning of Torah for both the rabbinic period and our time.”—Rabbi Steven Reuben, senior rabbi emeritus of Kehillat Israel Reconstructionist Congregation in Pacific Palisades, California

Table of Contents

1. Genesis (Bere’shit)
Bere’shit: A Fence Too Tall    
Noaḥ: Human Nature    
Lekh Lekha: Making Souls    
Va-yera’: Loving One Another    
Ḥayyei Sarah: Sarah’s Tent    
Toledot: The Voice of Jacob    
Va-yetse’: The Place    
Va-yishlaḥ: Jacob’s Dilemma    
Va-yeshev: Joseph the Youth    
Mikkets: The Dangers of Power    
Va-yiggash: Learning with a Sage    
Va-yeḥi: No Unworthy Children    
2. Exodus (Shemot)
Shemot: Where Was God?     
Va-’era’: Steeped in Idolatry    
Bo’: Divine Protection    
Be-shallaḥ: A Surfeit of Prayer    
Yitro: Diminishing the Image    
Mishpatim: Mitzvot with Meaning    
Terumah: Creating the Sanctuary    
Tetsavveh: For Whom the Light Burns    
Ki Tissa’: Sin and Reconciliation    
Va-yak’hel: Enough Gold    
Pekudei: A Symbol to the Nations of Forgiveness    
3. Leviticus (Va-yikra’)
Va-yikra’: Sacrifices Then and Now    
Tsav: Concern for Our Welfare    
Shemini: Alien Fire    
Tazria’: Dealing with Impurity    
Metsora’: Speaking Evil    
‘Aḥarei Mot: Attaining Atonement    
Kedoshim: The Essence of Torah    
‘Emor: Am I a Barbarian?    
Be-har: Do No Wrong    
Be-ḥukkotai: The Hope    
4. Numbers (Be-midbar)
Be-midbar: Surviving the Wilderness    
Naso’: Great Is Peace    
Be-ha’alotekha: The Evil Tongue    
Shelaḥ-Lekha: Fringe Benefits    
Koraḥ: Controversies Proper and Improper    
Ḥukkat: A Perplexing Law    
Balak: The Ways of Peace    
Pinḥas: Respecting Difference    
Mattot: People before Wealth    
Mase’ei: Defiling the Land    
5. Deuteronomy (Devarim)
Devarim: Words of Rebuke    
Va-’etḥannan: The Grace of God    
‘Ekev: Searching for Truth    
Re’eh: One Sanctuary for the One God    
Shofetim: Justice for All    
Ki Tetse’: Cruelty versus Kindness    
Ki Tavo’: Coming to the Land    
Nitsavim: Not in the Heavens    
Va-yelekh: Caring for the Flock    
Ha’azinu: Destruction, Vengeance, and Vindication    
Ve-zo’t ha-berakhah: The Death of Moses    
6. Holidays
Rosh Hashanah: Sound the Shofar    
Yom Kippur: Sending Our Sins Away    
Sukkot: The Festival Par Excellence    
Shemini Atzeret: Tarry a While    
Simchat Torah: The Never-Ending Cycle    
Hanukkah: Light versus Might    
Purim: Why Not Bow Down?     
Pesach: Festival of Freedom    
Yom ha-Shoah: The Cry of the Lowly    
Yom ha-Atzmaut: Land of Milk and Honey    
Shavuot: The New Covenant    
Selected Bibliography    

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