#95 Unorthodox Episodes from the Talmud (2)

Part two of David’s Zoom series, Unorthodox Episodes from the Talmud, mixes Jewish history with textual learning and fascinating storytelling.

The talk continues the story begun in the previous episode regarding Rav Kahana, a third-century sage who fled Babylonian authorities to find refuge in the Land of Israel following a violent confrontation in a rabbinical court.

In this lecture, David describes the next chapter for Rav Kahana following his arrival at the prestigious yeshiva of Tiberius. Through a series of unfortunate actions and misunderstandings, Rav Kahana finds himself once again at the centre of dramatic events involving pride, regret, and death.

As David unravels this extraordinary story, he explores:

  • key Talmudic figures and their contribution to Jewish life, history, learning, and continuity
  • the relationships and tensions between some of the great Jewish figures and academies of the time
  • the political and hierarchical structures of these rabbinical academies
  • the power of the sages and consequences of unsettling them
  • how concepts of right and wrong do not always resonate through centuries
  • the unexpectedly mystical nature of elements of the Talmud.

This lecture places in context the historical situation of the Jewish communities in Babylonia and the Land of Israel. It also reminds us of the importance of Torah scholarship in relation to the shape and influence of different parts of the Jewish world.

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#94 Unorthodox Episodes from the Talmud (1)

In this Zoom lecture series, David explores several fascinating episodes described in the Talmud.

This first lecture in the series discusses an unusual Talmudic incident involving disloyalty, self-righteousness, contempt, justice, death, restitution, escape, and consequences.

As with many stories from the Talmud, this incident is set during a time known as the Amoraic period – between the 3rd and 4th centuries CE – when the centre of Jewish life was based in Babylonia. It concerns an investigation of a concept in halacha, Jewish law, known as mesirah – an action in which a Jewish person hands over another Jewish person or their property to a non-Jewish authority.

In the story, a rabbinical court (beth din) summons a man poised to inform on his neighbour to the Babylonian government. This man’s disdain for the authority of the beth din results in unexpected and grave consequences.

David examines the details and text of this remarkable event as well as the context and significance of the Talmudic figures involved. He also:

  • explains the relevance of the legal issue in its historical context
  • draws parallels between these historical incidents and recent issues of Jewish law
  • explores variations in definitions of right and wrong, justice and injustice 
  • describes and contextualises the figures described in the passage
  • reminds us of the details and relevance of the historical setting in which the incident is set.

The Talmudic passage discussed in this lecture can be found towards the end of Tractate Bava Kamma, page 117a.

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#93 The Twelve Minor Prophets (4)

In the final lecture in his series on the twelve ‘minor’ prophets of Israel, the Trei Asar, David examines the prophets who lived during the period after Israel’s return to Zion, following the Babylonian exile, namely:

  • Hagai
  • Zechariah
  • Malachi.
Zechariah as depicted by James Tissot. Public domain.

With their unique post-exilic messages, these three prophets addressed the concerns of a population grappling with rebuilding Jerusalem after generations away. Some of the ideas expressed in their powerful prophetic books include:

  • the need to rebuild the leadership of Israel
  • the importance of building a new temple in Jerusalem
  • a call to do teshuva
  • rebuilding oneself through dialogue with God
  • the failure of previous generations
  • creating righteous leadership
  • ecstatic visions
  • the implications of changing geopolitical realities
  • false prophecy
  • the end of the prophetic epoch.

David closely examines key passages of these biblical texts, explaining their meaning and  the implications of their messages.

As always, he places the prophets, their lives, and their words in historical context. He also emphasises the lasting importance of their ideas for the Jewish people as a nation and for us all as individuals.

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#92 The Twelve Minor Prophets (3)

Part three of David’s lecture series on the Trei Asar, the twelve ‘minor’ prophets of Israel, examines the texts and themes of:

  • Nachum,
  • Habakkuk, and
  • Tzephaniah.
Habakkuk, the Biblical prophet, watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot. Public domain.

While these three books are short in length, David explains the importance of each, their place in the prophetic continuum, and how they sit in relation to significant moments in biblical and world history. 

The lecture delves into the prophets’ exploration of:

  • the destruction of Assyria
  • the rise of Babylonia
  • the destruction of the enemies of Israel
  • the destruction of sinners
  • the fall of Jerusalem
  • the need for teshuva and self-improvement
  • justice for the nations
  • divine justice
  • the role of God in history
  • the power of the God of Israel.

David provides a historical framework for each of the prophets. He reviews the details of their lives and puts the enormity of their words into context. 

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#91 The Twelve Minor Prophets (2)

This second instalment of David’s series on the Trei Asar, the twelve “minor” prophets, explores the lives and books of:

  • Ovadiah (Obadiah),
  • Yonah (Jonah), and
  • Michah.
Jonah Preaching to the Ninevites (1866) by Gustave Doré. Public domain.

David examines the historical contexts of all three prophets and how they are reflected in the texts. He also discusses the key themes in these three prophetic books, including:

  • national and individual teshuvah
  • the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel
  • false prophets and prophecy
  • Edom and its spiritual and geo-historical connections
  • destinations of exile
  • messianic visions
  • the importance of ethical and just behaviour.

In exploring these themes, David also delves into the words of these prophets. He examines, line-by-line, some of the key passages of the books and reveals the remarkable power and substance of these fundamental sacred works.

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#90 The Twelve Minor Prophets (1)

This first lecture in David’s four-part series on the Trei Asar, the twelve minor prophets, explores how these remarkable biblical figures transformed the idea of religious practice – in particular, the way in which nations and individuals should worship a divine entity that cannot be seen.

In this talk, David examines the lives and messages of the first three of these twelve prophets:

  • Hoshea (Hosea)
  • Amos
  • Yoel (Joel).
Amos, circa 1896–1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902). Public domain.

Throughout the lecture, David discusses the prophetic themes contained within the books, including that:

      • God is the God of the whole world
      • nations are judged
      • Israel is judged on its behavior as a society of individuals
      • the importance of teshuva for individuals and nations
      • the messianic age
      • God’s relationship with the people of Israel
      • justice is more important than sacrifice.

The talk outlines the historical and geopolitical contexts for these prophets and their messages. David also flags the cultural and spiritual legacies of these remarkable biblical figures.

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#89 The Historical Story of Tanach

 In this Jewish History lecture, David follows the chronological narrative of the Tanach (Hebrew Bible), outlining the key figures and events of the biblical period, including:

  • the patriarchs and matriarchs
  • the Egyptian exile and the going out of Egypt
  • the settling of the land and the period of the judges
  • the period of the kings
  • the rise of the prophets of Israel
  • the division of the united kingdom of Judah into northern and southern kingdoms
  • the destruction of the northern kingdom, Israel, by the Assyrian Empire
  • the destruction of Judah, the southern kingdom, and the temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonian Empire
  • the 70-year Babylonian exile
  • the return to Zion and the rebuilding of the temple.

David provides an overview of the spiritual and geopolitical driving forces behind the events of this period. He also explains the historiographical status of the various phases of the bible.

This lecture, recorded in Israel in 2009, is an adaptation of David’s popular talk “The Whole of the Bible in One Hour.” It provides a concise historical overview of the biblical period but, unlike The Bible in One Hour, does not explore the ideas and themes of Tanach in depth.

For those interested, a video recording of “The Whole of the Bible in One Hour” can be found above and here https://youtu.be/qIu_iZzuTfM

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#88 Which Period of Jewish History is Most Similar to Our Own?

In this fascinating lecture, David explores the timeline of Jewish History in search of a period that most resembles the current situation for the Jewish people.

Roving from biblical times to an era commonly referred to as the Dark Ages, David analyses the situation of the Jewish people during six distinct historical moments. As part of this analysis, he also compares and contrasts Jewish political and territorial autonomy in the land of Israel with that experienced in contemporary times.

Additionally, David outlines the broader geopolitical situations of these eras and how such background considerations reflect our own.

The lecture also explores ethical and philosophical factors of interest, ending with an inspiring note for a possible alternative picture for Israel and the Jewish people in the future.

David delivered this lecture in 2020 as a Zoom presentation for Chabad Glen Eira. While no visual recording of the talk was made, the Youtube video for this episode combines an audio recording of the lecture with graphics David shared during his Zoom presentation. Visit https://youtu.be/CcnddTlJdRo

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#87 Women in Jewish History: the Biblical Period

In this Jewish History lecture, David explores the lives, contributions, and circumstances of 14 women from Tanach:

  • Rachav
  • Devorah
  • Yael
  • Bat Yiphtach
  • Pilegesh Bagiv’ah
  • Ruth
  • Channah
  • Michal
  • Abigail
  • Bat Sheva
  • Jezebel
  • Ataliah
  • Yehosheva
  • Chuldah

Among their numbers were:

  • queens
  • prophets
  • judges
  • politicians

as well as women who were distinguished for their faith, integrity, loyalty, courage, and beauty.

In addition to providing insight into the experiences of these fascinating women, David explains their historical legacies, including:

  • the preservation of the Davidic line
  • the cementing of Judaism’s attitude towards celibacy
  • the power of prayer
  • the importance of education
  • women’s connection to Jewish religious practice.

He also traces the changing lot of women throughout the biblical period, from empowerment to disempowerment and back again.

This is the first part of a seven-part series on women in Jewish History David delivered at the Jewish Museum of Australia in 2017. Unfortunately, only some of the talks in the series were successfully recorded. You can find existing lectures by David from that series as well as from others talks on women in Jewish History David has given here:

#73 Women in Jewish History: the Second Temple Period

#14 Worlds in transition: Jewish History of the 16th Century part 3

#43 Communities in Search of Meaning: Jewish History of the 17th Century (part 3)

#50 Women in Jewish History: 18th to 20th Centuries

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

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#86 A Journey Through Jewish Philosophy (8)

In this final installment of his eight-part lecture series on Jewish Philosophy, David Solomon explores the philosophical contributions of six remarkable Jewish figures from the twentieth century:

  • Rav Kook
  • The Nazir
  • Emmanuel Levinas
  • Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik
  • Yeshayah Leibovitz
  • Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

Watch the Zoom lecture here https://youtu.be/FQwN1_NKPOY

In addition to outlining the philosophical ideas of each of these figures, David reviews some of their shared intellectual themes, including their discussions on Jewish ethics, faith, and revelation, and the importance of moral relationships with others.

As always, David places these Jewish philosophers in their historical and cultural contexts, reviewing the impact of developments of the century on their thoughts and writings. In particular, he discusses the effect of the two seismic events of the twentieth century: the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel.

Explaining the impact of philosophers like Rosenzweig, Kierkegaard, Buber, Cohen, and Heidegger on the work of these six thinkers, David also discusses the personal devastation experienced by Levinas over Heidegger’s embrace of Nazism.

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