In this Jewish History lecture given for the fast of Tisha B’Av, David examines Jewish discussions on the death of Titus, the Roman general who presided over the siege in Jerusalem which led to destruction of the Second Temple.
Unsurprisingly, many Jewish commentators throughout history have painted Titus, who followed his father into the role of emperor, in a negative light. However, others claimed that Titus was far from the worst Roman emperor or general for the Jewish people.
In this talk, David explores a Midrash which contends that Titus died from a gnat entering his brain via his nasal passage. This gnat, it suggests, was divine punishment bestowed upon Titus for his wicked behaviour towards the Jewish people.
David examines how this Midrash relates to historical accounts of Titus’ death as well as later discussions on this text. He also discusses kabbalistic ideas concerning this Midrash and the mystical power and purpose of Jewish history for the world.
In this talk, David examines the question: Which books of Kabbalah should a person have when building a Jewish library?
He also speaks for the first time publicly about completing the first-ever full English translation of the cornerstone kabbalistic text, Tiqqunei HaZohar.
David begins his presentation with a broad overview of the foundational texts required for a Jewish library, before narrowing his focus to which books of Jewish Mysticism should also be included. In doing so, he explores the background of each of the kabbalistic texts discussed, including their:
importance within the corpus of Kabbalah.
In the final part of the talk, David discusses the background and details of his translation of Tiqqunei HaZohar.
He also provides several images which illustrate the historical development of Tiqqunei HaZohar, including sample pages from the forthcoming publication of his translation.
This talk, a siyum on the Talmudic Tractate of Sotah, was a (pre) Tikkun Leil presentation David delivered online on the eve of Shavuot in 2020 due to COVID restrictions preventing traditional in-person learning on the first night of the festival.
The talk includes an exploration of the:
historical background to the development of the Tikkun Leil tradition (an all-night Torah learning program on the first night Shavuot)
custom to learn the Talmudic tractate of Sotah between the festivals of Passover and Shavuot
relevance of the Tractate of Sotah and how it prepares the Jewish people for receiving the Torah on Shavuot
historical period of turmoil discussed in the Tractate of Sotah and the impact on Jewish life at the time
importance of Torah in protecting and preserving
power of gathering together to say (the prayer of) Kaddish
connection between the Book of Job (Iyov) and the Tractate of Sotah
benefit and reward of a structured practice of daily Torah learning.
The fourth lecture in David’s overview series of Jewish history examines the years 1000 to 1500, known as the period of the Rishonim.
The talk explores the complex and sometimes contradictory experiences of different Jewish populations over these centuries, their lives and safety often dependent on their location, rulers, and the whim of history.
In discussing this period, David primarily focuses on:
The motivations, events, and impacts of the crusades
Meir of Rothenberg
The Golden Age of Spain – from the Moorish conquest to the Almohad Invasion
Shlomo Ibn Gabirol and Yehudah HaLevi
The Christian reconquest
The Ramban and the Barcelona Disputation (1263)
The revelation of the Zohar (1290).
The first blood libel (1144)
The massacre at York (1190)
Raising the ransom for Richard 1 (1194)
The first nationwide expulsion (1290).
Filled with stories of the many remarkable Jews whose lives and work have left indelible marks on history, David reveals this five-hundred-year period to have been as rich with innovation and contribution as it is with darkness.
This third instalment of David’s overview series of Jewish History explores the years between 500 and 1000 CE, known as the period of the Geonim.
In this talk, David discusses:
· The geonim, including who they were and the significance of their spiritual authority
· The political leadership of the ReishGaluta
· The great academies of Sura and Pumbedita and their rivalries
· The decrees of Justinian
· The first attempted forced conversions
· Persecutions in Spain
· Wars between Byzantine and Sassanid Empires
· The Himyarite Kingdom
· The rise of Islam
· The conquest of Spain by the Moors in 711
· Umayyad Caliphate in Spain
· The slow shift from Babylonia – in two basic directions
· Nehemiah ben Hushiel
· Anan Ben David and the start of the Karaite movement
· The Khazars
· Charlemagne & Louis the Pious
· Amram Gaon and the beginnings of the siddur
· Hiwi of Balkh
· The decline and revival of Sura
· Saadya Gaon – the ultimate Gaon
· Rav Sherira Gaon and Rav Hai Gaon – the close of the Geonic period and the decline of Babylonian Jewry
· Chisdai Ibn Shaprut and Shmuel HaNagid – symbols of the Golden Age of Spain
· The rise of Hebrew grammar
· Rabbeinu Gershom – the father of Ashkenazi Jewry.
He explains how this period in Jewish History sees the laying of the foundations for modern Jewish life and the gradual shift in the centre of Jewish life from Babylonia to Europe. He also examines the geo-political context of this period and the influence of broader historical developments.
This Jewish History lecture is the second talk from David Solomon’s six-part overview series. The lecture examines the first five hundred years of the common era (0 to the year 500or 3760 to 4260 in the traditional Hebraic calendar), known in Jewish History as The Talmudic Period.
This period covers the destruction of the Temple by the Romans; the failure of the Bar Kochba Revolt which destroyed any serious hope of independent Jewish Statehood; the transition to Babylonia as the centre of the Jewish world; and the formation of the Talmud – the most influential Jewish document after the Bible.
The Talmudic Period is divisible into two distinct sub-periods:
The Tannaitic, and
In exploring the Tannaitic Period, David discusses the history of the first century, leading up to the destruction of the Second Temple, as well as:
The census revolt
The founding of Tiberias
Helena of Ediebene
Greek-speaking Jewish tensions
Caligula’s idol and the delegation of Philo of Alexandria
The Great Revolt of 66CE
Zealots, sicarii, and others
The Kohanim and the Idumeans
The arrival of Vespasian and Titus
Agrippa II and Berenice
Tiberias Julius Alexander (nephew of Philo of Alexandria)
The establishment of Yavneh
The destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple
The last stand at Masada
The influence of Yavneh and the rise of Rabbi Akiva
The second Jewish revolt
The third revolt led by Bar Kochba and supported by the elderly sage Rabbi Akiva, ending in the tragedy at Beitar
The renaissance of the rabbis
The students of Rabbi Akiva
The end of the Tannaitic Period with the compilation and editing of the Mishnah by Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi.
David then explores the Amoraic Period beginning with the career of Abba Arikha (Rav) and the transition of the centrality of Jewish life to Babylonia, which included:
The academy of the Sidra
The establishment of the Mishna as the central curriculum of study
Sura, Nahardea, and Pumbedita.
David discusses the creation of the Gemara, an analytic exploration of the Mishna, and:
The importance of the Braitta and the Tosefta
The Palestinian Talmud (Talmud Yerushalmi)
Rav Ashi, Ravina, and the sealing of the Babylonian Talmud.
He also examines anti-Jewish persecutions in Babylonia at the end of the Talmudic Period and the independent state of Mehoza.
As always, David puts these elements of Jewish History into a broader framework of world history, looking at:
The rise of Christianity
The division of Rome
The adoption of Christianity by Constantine
Julian the Apostate
The fall of Western Rome and the rise of Byzantium
The Persian Empire
Gnosticism, Neo-Platonism, and other major ideas.
This is an edited lecture of a live talk given in 2020 for Chabad South Africa and Daminyan Shule in Melbourne. It is the second part of David’s six-part overview series of Jewish History.
This Jewish History lecture examines the Second Temple Period (Bayit Sheini), which spans from approximately the year -500 (or 500 BCE) to the theoretical year 0 (3260 to 3760 in the traditional Hebraic calendar).
The period is divisible into four distinct phases, named after whichever political power was in control of the Jewish People in the Land of Israel and the Temple in Jerusalem. These entities were:
The Persian (Achaemenid) Empire
The Hellenistic (Greek-based) dominions
The Hasmonean dynasty
The Rome Empire
Each of these phases includes several significant historical events or people that provide the keys to understanding the era as a whole. They were:
Zerubavel ben Sh’alti’el, Yehoshua ben Yehotzdak, and last of the prophets
Ezra and Nehemiah
The temple at Elephantine
Alexander the Great
The Ptolemaic and Seleucid dynasties
The translation of the Torah into Greek
The Antiochus III and Antiochus IV
Yehudah, Yonatan, Shimon, Yochanan Hyrkanus, Yehudah Aristobulous, Alexander Yannai, Shlomtziyon, Yochanan Hyrkanus II and Aristobulous II
The conversion of the Idumeans
The conflict between ‘Scribes’ and ‘Sadducees’ (Tzeduqim)
Herod and Roman subservience
The reconstruction of the temple
The rise of rabbinic leadership and the tradition of interpretation
The beginnings of political rebellion against Rome.
In the final part of this series, David explores messiahs of the modern period of Jewish history and the dangers of mystical attempts to bring about redemption.
Among the figures David discusses are:
Yosef Della Reina
Rabbi Avraham ben Eliezer ha-Levi
Shlomo Molcho and David haReuveni
Rabbi Ḥayyim Vital
Rabbi Chaim Luzzatto, the Ramchal
Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov
Gaon of Vilna
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov
Hannah Rachel Verbermacher, the Maid of Ludmir
Rav Abraham Isaac Kook
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Ideas that the lecture examines include:
a return to the apocalyptic- this time with mystical magic
the transformation of Christianity
the concept of a ‘special time’
redeeming the sparks
the antinomian messiah
kabbalistic efforts to bring redemption
sexual practices to bring the special soul
the redemptive spirit in the special soul.
David discusses the stories of these fascinating messianic figures and thinkers and unpacks their ideas, influences, and contributions to history as well as to the ever-developing notion of redemption and messianic fulfillment.
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