#59 Kabbalah: History & Ideas Since the Ari (Part One – Revelation & Concealment)

While the roots of Jewish mysticism can be found in the Torah, the past millennia have contributed numerous extraordinary developments and revelations in the field of Kabbalah. In particular, the teachings and ideas of 16th century kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac Luria, also known as the Ari, have been profoundly influential on Jewish mystical thinking, literature, and life. In this podcast episode, David provides historical context to the emergence of the Kabbalah of the Ari and then explores the two primary paths that disseminated his monumental ideas. David discusses many of the terms and concepts associated with Lurianic Kabbalah, including the sefirot, ein sof (the infinite), the four worlds, adam kadmon (primordial man), the writing of the name of G-d, tzimzum, shevirat hakelim (shattering of the vessels), the male and female aspects of G-d, and the concepts of tohu and tikkun (chaos and rectification).

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#58 How to Convert the Pope: Successful and Failed Attempts to Bring the Messiah

The messianic idea has been part of Jewish thought since the writings of the prophets who developed the notion that a restored Israel, housing the presence of the Divine, could lead to a transformed world. In this podcast episode, David explores the idea and manifestation of messianism in Judaism and examines several fascinating examples of people who have claimed – or been proclaimed – to be the messiah. David discusses the circumstances, characters, and influence of these remarkable figures and their impact on Jewish life, doctrine, and history.

Image from an illuminated page from Abraham Abulafia’s Light of the Intellect (1285). Public Domain.

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#57 Wine and the High Holidays

Wine has played a central role in Jewish life from the very beginning. In this podcast episode, David draws together the themes of wine, the High Holidays, Kabbalah, and the natural world in a talk given in New York in 2008. David explores the significance of wine in Jewish culture and spirituality, its status and influence as demonstrated in an array of stories from the Bible and Jewish History, and the fascinating discussions in Jewish mystical texts about the role and attributes of wine in relation to the Jewish people and their Divine connection.

The Grapes of Canaan by James Tissot. Public Domain.

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#56 The Power of Teshuva

The concept of teshuva – usually translated in English as “repentance” but literally meaning “return” – is, as David discusses in this episode, a phenomenal idea in Judaism that a person can be defined, not simply by what they do, but by their ability to change. This podcast episode, coming in advance of Yom Kippur, is unusual in that it brings together segments of lectures David has given over the years on the subject of teshuva. Starting with an in-depth examination of the Book of Yonah (Jonah), which we read on Yom Kippur, he explores Biblical and Talmudic stories that raise discussions about what we can do – and what we should do – when our behaviour is found wanting. David also explores 20th-century Jewish philosophical ideas on the meaning of teshuva for us as individuals and for the world.

Yom Kippur in the Jerusalem Temple. Illustrator of Henry Davenport Northrop’s “Treasures of the Bible,” 1894. Public Domain.

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#55 The Prophets: The Twelve ‘Minor’ Prophets

A Podcast on the Prophets of Israel in Tanach (Hebrew Bible)

The Trei Asar, known in English as the twelve ‘minor’ prophets, have been fundamental to the transmission of ideas and moral perspectives through the past two and a half millennia. In this podcast episode, the final instalment of this four-part series on the prophets of Israel for Elul, David explores the fascinating lives, historical context, and profound messages of these spiritual giants. In dynamic succinctness, David marches through the short but canonical texts of Hosea, Yoel, and Amos; Ovadiah, Yonah, and Micah; Nachum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah; Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. David explains the importance of each book and their contributions to Jewish and world spirituality.

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Sophonie s’adressant au peuple. Valenciennes – BM – ms. 0007 (f. 183). 16th century. Public Domain.

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#54 The Prophets: Ezekiel

A Podcast on the Prophets of Israel in Tanach (Hebrew Bible)

The Book of Ezekiel has been enormously influential on Jewish spirituality for two-and-a-half millennia, including as the foundational inspiration for subsequent Jewish mystical ideas and texts. In this podcast episode, David examines the life and work of the Prophet Ezekiel (Yechezkel), believed to be among the first wave of exiles taken into Babylon. It is in the Book of Ezekiel, largely set during the Babylonian exile after the destruction of the First Temple, that we find an array of profound concepts about ethical existence and societal responsibility that remain startlingly relevant until today – in particular, we can extract much from Ezekiel’s insights into teshuva and Jewish spiritual practice in times of change and uncertainty. David also explores other remarkable elements of the book, including the extraordinary descriptions of G-d’s chariot and the valley of the dry bones, as well as providing insights into the social, political, and spiritual turbulence of the time.

Scan of a Gustave Doré engraving “The Vision of The Valley of The Dry Bones” – 1866. Public Domain.

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#53 The Prophets: Jeremiah

A Podcast on the Prophets of Israel in Tanach (Hebrew Bible)

It is impossible to understand the impact of the prophets of Israel without placing them in their historical and cultural contexts. In this podcast episode, David sets the fascinating historical background to the emergence of the second of the ‘major prophets’, Jeremiah (Yeremiyahu). He expands on the powerful and challenging messages that Jeremiah delivers to his contemporaries – many of which still strongly resonate today. David also examines the life and character of this remarkable but reluctant prophet, including his struggle with the demanding responsibilities placed upon him by G-d and the consequences that this enormous role in Jewish History would have for him.

Rembrandt: Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem. Pubic Domain.

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#52 The Prophets: Isaiah

A Podcast on the Prophet Isaiah in Tanach (Hebrew Bible)

The Prophets of Israel were a unique and revolutionary spiritual phenomenon with profound impact across the ages. In this podcast episode, the first of a four-part series on the prophets scheduled for Elul, David examines the context, character, and inspirational message of the Prophet Isaiah (Yeshayahu), the first of the ‘major prophets’. In doing so, David discusses how relevant the words and influence of this remarkable biblical figure – and particularly, his insight into the concept of teshuva – remain for us today.

Isaiah; illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company. 1904. Public Domain.

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#51 Women in Jewish History: 20th to 21st Centuries

A Podcast on Women in Jewish History 

Recent decades have seen many examples of Jewish women who have significantly influenced Jewish history and, more generally, world history. In this podcast episode, David examines the characters and contributions of more than 20 extraordinary Jewish women from the past hundred years. He explores their fascinating and sometimes poignant life stories as well as their important work in fields including science, the arts, politics, commerce, and religion.

Rachel Bluwstein. Public Domain.

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