#109 The Messianic Idea in Jewish History (4)

David Solomon 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
  • Asher Lemlein
  • Rabbi Ḥayyim Vital
  • Shabbetai Zvi
  • Rabbi Chaim Luzzatto, the Ramchal
  • Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov
  • Jacob Frank
  • Gaon of Vilna
  • Rabbi Nachman of Breslov
  • Hannah Rachel Verbermacher, the Maid of Ludmir
  • Rav Abraham Isaac Kook
  • Theodor Herzl
  • 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’
  • end times
  • prophecy
  • redeeming the sparks
  • the antinomian messiah
  • redemptive consciousness
  • 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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#108 The Messianic Idea in Jewish History (3)

In this lecture series, David Solomon comprehensively traces the evolution of the Jewish messianic idea as it developed through history. This lecture provides an in-depth examination of how the messianic concept transformed from the end of the Talmudic period up until the European Renaissance era, analyzing how changing circumstances and events impacted and propelled shifts in messianic thought. Throughout his analysis, David emphasizes how the messianic idea acts as the pulsating and propulsive heart at the centre of the ongoing Jewish historical experience.

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#107 The Messianic Idea in Jewish History (2)

David Solomon explores the evolution of the messianic idea in Jewish history following the Second Temple era. He examines how circumstances and events propelled transformations in messianic thought. With the Temple’s destruction in 70 CE, David traces the emergence of apocalyptic notions fused to Davidic restoration hopes. He then analyses and contrasts two radically different messianic claimants who arose from this milieu – Jesus of Nazareth and Simeon Bar Kokhba.

Apocalyptic Yearnings in Late Second Temple Times

David emphasises the atmosphere of messianic tension permeating Judea in the late Second Temple period. Oppressive Roman rule prevented fulfilment of biblical redemption prophecies. This spurred apocalyptic thinking – a sense of two worlds, the imperfect present and ideal future. The Dead Sea Scrolls reflect these millenarian hopes for divinely ordained transition to a new cosmic age.

David notes scholarly debate on when eschatological expectations welded onto the Davidic messiah idea. But he argues this fusion clearly occurred by the first century BCE, shaping subsequent movements and claimants. With autonomy lost and foreign domination entrenched, only apocalyptic transformation through divine intervention could realise Jewish sovereignty and freedom.

Jesus of Nazareth – Warrior, Healer, King

This milieu generated numerous messianic figures, with Jesus of Nazareth the most impactful. While historical scepticism exists, David focuses on Jesus’ messianism rather than biographical details. He embodied the diverse facets expected of a redeemer – warrior, healer, and ultimately king of Davidic descent. However, Jesus diverged radically in rejecting violence and earthly power.

David provocatively depicts Jesus as a reform rabbi who challenged the oral law. Through his death, Jesus claimed to fulfil Torah commandments, allowing salvation by faith rather than deeds. But Christianity’s offer of individual salvation clashed with Judaism’s demands for social redemption and justice. This fault line ultimately yielded separation.

Simeon Bar Kokhba – Military Messiah

In 132-135 CE, Simeon Bar Kokhba led a rebellion against Roman rule banned central Jewish practices. With rabbinic backing, he was briefly hailed as Messiah for this defence of Judaism. But his movement’s catastrophic defeat saw him rebranded “Bar Koziba” (Son of Deception). The rabbis determined that militaristic messianic adventurism merely delayed true redemption.

David highlights the vast differences between Jesus’ non-violence and Bar Kokhba’s martial messianism. Yet both emerged from Jewish apocalyptic yearnings in this era.

David Solomon's lecture podcast on the Messianic Idea in Jewish History.
Arthur Szyk: Bar Kochba, watercolour and gouache on paper, 1927.

The Dual Messiahs – Polarities Reconciled

In the failure of these claimants, David sees the beginnings of the dual messiah concept developed subsequently – Mashiach ben David and Mashiach ben Yosef. This incorporated both perspectives, with the warrior messiah sacrificing himself to enable the Davidic king’s spiritual dominion.

David concludes that the rabbis thereby created a messianic age distinct from the future world to come. While only God can bring the ultimate redemption, our efforts can bridge the present and future by creating the just, peaceful messianic era. This idea of social transformation remains Judaism’s enduring messianic legacy.

Context and Background

To properly understand this lecture, it helps to have familiarity with the basic chronology and themes of Second Temple era Jewish history that David has explored in previous talks. Key events referenced include:

Familiarity with biblical prophecies and Talmudic teachings regarding messianic expectations provides additional useful background. David’s perspective integrates historical analysis with traditional Jewish conceptual frameworks.

Conclusion

Two radically divergent messianic manifestations emerged from the tumultuous circumstances in the late Second Temple era. The many events of this time influenced theological evolution, shaping the Jewish messianic idea as it entered its next phase. Placing Judaism’s messianism within specific historical settings in context reveals its dynamism as an evolving force throughout Jewish history.

This is an AI generated summary of a transcript made of this lecture. If you discover any errors or inconsistencies, please let us know.

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#105 A Kabbalistic Journey Through Time (4)

David Solomon examines major works and ideas in Kabbalah over the past five centuries in this final part of his lecture series, A Kabbalistic Journey Through Time.

The talk explores the contributions of:

  • The GR”A, the Vilna Gaon
  • Rabbi Chaim Luzzatto, the Ramchal
  • Rabbi Naphtali Bacharach.

It also discusses the ideas of the following rabbis:

  • Israel ben Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov
  • Dov Ber ben Avraham of Mezeritch, the Maggid
  • Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, the Gramam
  • Schneur Zalman of Liadi
  • Nachman of Breslov
  • Yitzchak Izaak Chaver
  • Shalom Sharabi, the Rashash
  • Yehuda Ashlag, the Baal Hasulam
  • Shlomo Elyashiv, the Leshem.

Some of the concepts covered in the lecture include:

  • Lurianic kabbalah is an extended allegory
  • Revelation and concealment in relation to creation
  • The people of Israel in cosmic and world history
  • The revelation of esoteric knowledge, the secret level of Torah
  • The Torah is light
  • Darkness is a reality, not merely an absence
  • The role of Sabbateanism
  • The intersection of Kabbalah and Chassidut.

In addition to providing an overview of the development of Jewish mystical ideas since the AR”Y (Rabbi Isaac Luria), David explains the context of the examined thinkers and their work and provides historical background to their contributions.

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#104 A Kabbalistic Journey Through Time (3)

The third part of David Solomon’s lecture series, A Kabbalistic Journey Through Time, examines two towering kabbalistic figures of the 16th century.

David explores the ideas of Rabbi Moshe (Moses) Cordovero (the RaMaQ) and Rabbi Yitzchak (Isaac) Luria (the AR”Y), whose contributions to Kabbalah – both emerging in late 1500s in the town of Tzfat – have been seismic.

 

The lecture investigates the RaMaQ’s book, Pardes Rimonim (The Orchard of Pomegranates), and its exploration of:

  • rational emanations
  • ein sof (infinite)
  • the relationship between Divine influence and the sephirot
  • the four worlds
  • the immanence of the Divine in reality
  • the divine element in the human soul
  • the revelation of God in meditation, kavannot, and mystical experience.

The AR”Y did not write down his vast kabbalistic teachings. The recording of his ideas was left to his students, chief among whom was Rabbi Chaim Vital. It was Vital who compiled the book Etz Chayim (Tree of Life), the cornerstone text of Lurianic Kabbalah. This book, which was to change forever the landscape of Jewish Mystical thinking, contained many transformative kabbalistic concepts, including:

  • tzimtzum (contraction)
  • primordial man (Adam Qadmon)
  • the domain of chaos (tohu);
  • shevirah (shattering)
  • integrated configurations known as ‘partzuphim’
  • tiqun (repair)
  • the maintenance and repair of the World of Emanation
  • the trapped sparks of lower worlds
  • the five levels of the individual soul
  • the responsibility of souls to repair the world

David provides an overview of these concepts, a picture of the men from who they emerged, the historical setting of this extraordinary revolution in mystical thinking, and the legacy of these ideas.

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#103 A Kabbalistic Journey Through Time (2)

“The Zohar is not a book but a phenomenon.”

David Solomon’s second lecture in his series, A Kabbalistic Journey Through Time, explores the extraordinary ideas and contributions of the:

  • Zohar,
  • Tikkunei HaZohar,
  • and Sefer ha-Temunah.

In his discussion of the Zohar, David examines its dynamic interpretation of the Torah and how it applies this interpretation to the structure of the sefirot. He also looks at the way the Zohar explores the cosmic links between G-d, Israel, creation, and history.

The Tikkunei HaZohar, David explains, is concerned with the Divine presence in the various domains of the universe as well as in exile. Among other things, he considers the Tikkunei HaZohar’s discussion of the feminine Divine presence – the Shekhinah – and Her quest to find unity and completion with Her male counterpart, the blessed Holy One.

The final text David examines is Sefer HaTemunah, which is predominantly concerned with the Divine in time. All things emanate from G-d and return to Him, David explains, and time is divided into cosmic cycles.

In discussing these three important texts, David provides the historical and cultural background to their emergence in Jewish history and their impact on mystical thinking. He also shows his audience the size and presentation of the books and discusses their availability for interested readers – in English, Hebrew, and Aramaic.

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#102 A Kabbalistic Journey Through Time (1)

David Solomon provides a remarkable historical overview of the origins of kabbalistic ideas through the emergence of its early fundamental texts. The series explores numerous questions regarding the development of Kabbalah:

  • What are the key kabbalistic books to have shaped our understanding of Jewish mysticism?
  • When did they appear?
  • And what were the profound ideas they contributed which would shape our understanding of the mystical dimensions of heaven and earth?

This first lecture in the series examines three early kabbalistic texts:

  • Sefer Yetzirah,
  • Sefer Bahir, and
  • Sha’arei Orah

and discusses numerous ideas, including:

  • The creation of the universe,
  • Attributes of the sefirot,
  • Divine interaction with the world,
  • The divine flow of energy and wisdom,
  • Cosmic time,
  • The reincarnation of soul,
  • Divine male and female imagistic symbols, and
  • The patriarchs and other figures from the Bible as representations of Divine attributes.

David maps out the timeframe and locations of the development of Kabbalah through Jewish History. He explains the context of the evolution of Jewish mystical thinking, its influences, impacts, and legacy.

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#101 The Power of Change, the Challenge of Teshuva (4)

This final part in David Solomon ‘s four-part Zoom series in the lead-up to Yom Kippur, The Power of Challenge, the Challenge of Teshuva, looks at the issue of repentance and forgiveness within community.

David examines three fascinating and, at times, heartbreaking stories from Jewish History of people who have:

  • accepted their mistakes,
  • sought communal acceptance of their penitence,
  • found revelation in teshuva.

Exploring the experiences of:

  • Rabbi Yonah of Girona, a medieval rabbi who explored the concept of seeking forgiveness for misdeeds from the deceased;
  • Uriel de Costa, a 17th-century radical thinker with a tragic story of communal punishment; and
  • Franz Rosenzweig, the 20th-century philosophy who found inspiration in the idea of teshuva.

In each of these episodes, David draws out the principle of individual repentance and its relationship to communal acceptance, connection, and redemption. He also provides essential historical and cultural background to the stories, giving context and depth to the ideas and events discussed.

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#100 The Power of Change, the Challenge of Teshuva (3)

This third lecture in David Solomon’s Zoom series, The Power of Change, the Challenge of Teshuva, different ways the Talmud discusses the concept of teshuva.

David explores three illustrative episodes from Tanach and the Talmudic period identified by the sages as:

Examples that teach the importance of teshuva
Halachic guidance in the process of seeking – or bestowing – forgiveness
The importance of self-responsibility in teshuva.

David considers the discussions of the sages in relation to the stories of:

  • King David
  • Rav and Mechilah
  • Elazar bar Dordia.

He also summarises the messages from these episodes and draws them down to their meaning for us as we each consider our actions and failings and come to terms with our individual relationships with teshuva.

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#99 The Power of Change, the Challenge of Teshuva (2)

Part two of David Solomon’s Zoom series, The Power of Change, the Challenge of Teshuva, looks at the idea of individual and collective teshuvah in Tanach.

The lecture examines the story of the prophet Jonah and the teshuvah of the city of Nineveh. David explores different views around the city’s repentance and its connection to the divine message entrusted to Jonah for the population. He also discusses Jonah’s struggle with the responsibilities placed upon him and his path towards his own teshuvah.

The other story examined in this episode is that of Menasseh, King of Judah. David discusses prophetic passages that deal with Menasseh’s repentance and its reflection in the general prophetic narrative on teshuvah.

As always, David provides overall context to these biblical texts and their associated messages. He also reminds us of the opportunities they offer in our own explorations in teshuvah.

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