#98 The Power of Change, the Challenge of Teshuva (1)

he first episode of David’s Elul Zoom lecture series, The Power of Change, the Challenge of Teshuva, considers early biblical figures whose individual examples of teshuva illustrate a range of human responses to this powerful idea of self-investigation, repentance, and remorse.

David examines four biblical stories, those of:

  • Cain
  • Avimelech
  • King Saul
  • King David
each of whom acknowledged their transgressions in varying ways, providing fascinating insights into how different people accept responsibility for their mistakes or misdeeds – and what complete teshuva looks like.
Drawing on biblical narratives and commentary from the prophets, the Talmud and more modern thinkers, David explores ideas of personal responsibility and genuine repentance. He also discusses how these biblical examples address questions of forgiveness and redemption.

As always, David provides biblical and historical context to the discussion and invites his audience to examine these big ideas in relation to the text and themselves.

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#97 Unorthodox Episodes from the Talmud (4)

This final episode of David’s four-part series entitled Unorthodox Episodes of the Talmud explores the idea of the evil inclination – the yetzer harah – with a particular focus on problems relating to sexual temptation.

David explains that sages of the Talmud discussed how few things are as powerful as the desire for intimacy. This inclination affects all people, including great spiritual leaders.

Illustrating this point, David examines two stories from the Talmud. The first concerns Rabbi Amrum the Pious, a third-century sage who lived in the Babylonian city of Naharda’ah who fights his evil inclinations. The other looks at a tragi-comic story of Rabbi Hiyya bar Ashi, a student of Rav, who condemned himself in the face of temptation.

Both stories explore moral and ethical considerations concerning intentional, transgression, culpability, and redemption. Other concepts discussed include:

  • individual and communal shame – both in this world and the world to come
  • mystical manifestations of evil
  • the psychology of guilt and self-control
  • recognition of human failings
  • the power of sexual urges
  • whether thinking about a sin carries the same weight as its enactment
  • moral karma
  • the importance of remembering and respecting human relationships in our quest to do right
  • whether suicide is permitted in certain circumstances
  • the importance of humility
  • an appreciation that we may each fail when our moral will is tested.

In examining these two unorthodox Talmudic episodes, David discusses the notion that individuals are often tested in line with their unique moral parameters; that we should be wary of placing ourselves on moral pedestals because we may be found wanting; we are all responsible for our behaviour; and that we must know our limitations and our weaknesses.

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#96 Unorthodox Episodes from the Talmud (3)

The third part of David’s series, Unorthodox Episodes from the Talmud, explores a fascinating series of interconnected stories involving:

  • a high-level international diplomatic mission, 
  • undercover rabbinical espionage,
  • a cast of remarkable Talmudic rabbinical figures,
  • parental concern,
  • a curious question of Jewish law,
  • the mystical powers of the rabbis, 
  • a sighting of looted treasures from the temple in Jerusalem,
  • and a quest to overturn devastating Roman decrees.

David discusses key Talmudic personalities from the first two centuries, including:

  • Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai
  • Rabbi Yossi Ben Halafta
  • Rabbi Reuben Ben Strobilus
  • Rabbi Yossi HaGellili
  • Rabbi Eleizer Ben Yossi
  • as well as (lehavdil) Ben Tamalia.

He also provides historical context for the events discussed in the Talmudic passages, some of the prevailing cultural and religious norms of the time, and the messages that arise from this unorthodox episode of the Talmud.

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#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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