#118 Why Titus Should Have Worn a Mask

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.

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#117 Kabbalah on the Jewish Bookshelf

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:

  • historical emergence
  • themes, and
  • 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.

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#116 Torah & Text in an Age of Turmoil

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.

#115 Jewish History in Six Chapters (6)

This final part of David’s Jewish History overview series explores the biblical period, from Avraham to the Jewish return to Zion after the Babylonian exile. The talk covers:

  • 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 examines this period through a historical lens. He also provides content and thematic overviews of the books of the Hebrew Bible. 

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#114 Jewish History in Six Chapter (5)

This lecture explores the past 500 years of Jewish History, from approximately 1500 to today.

In this talk, David examines each century in detail, looking at:

Sixteenth Century – 

  • Johannes Reuchlin
  • The printing of the Talmud 
  • Shlomo Molcho and David HaReuveni
  • Yosef Karo
  • Moshe Isserles
  • Azariah de Rossi
  • Donna Gracia 
  • Suleiman the Magnificent and the land of Israel 
  • The persecution of Marranos 
  • The publication of the Zohar 
  • The Ari          
  • The Maharal of Prague. 

Seventeenth Century –

  • The Council of the Four Lands
  • The publication of Emeq Hamelekh
  • The Khmelnytsky massacre
  • Jewish Amsterdam    
  • Jews under Protestantism 
  • Menasseh ben Israel   
  • Spinoza 
  • Shabtai Zvi and Nathan of Gaza
  • The Enlightenment
  • Newton
  • Leibniz.

Eighteenth Century – 

  • The Shtetl, Berlin and Italy
  • The Emden/Eubshytz controversy
  • The Baal Shem Tov                           
  • Jacob Frank
  • The Vilna Gaon         
  • Moses Mendelssohn
  • Solomon Maimon 
  • The Haskalah
  • The Aliyot of 1740
  • The Ramchal, the Or HaChayim, and the RaShaSh
  • The American and French Revolutions.

The Nineteenth Century –

  • Rothschild
  • Napoleon
  • Emancipation 
  • The rise of “Reform” versus “Orthodoxy” 
  • Chatam Sofer
  • Samson Raphael Hirsch
  • Abraham Geiger and Samuel Holdheim
  • Wissenschaft des Judentums 
  • Montefiore
  • Jewish America.

The Twentieth Century – 

  • Herzl to the Balfour Declaration
  • The Aliyot
  • Eliezer ben Yehudah and the revival of Hebrew 
  • Rav Kook
  • The Shoah
  • The establishment State of Israel
  • Vatican 2
  • Six-Day War in 1967 
  • The Seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe
  • Chabad
  • The Golden Age of Jewish Publishing.

As always, David places Jewish History in the context of world history. He ends this lecture with a discussion on predictions for the future of the Jewish people and the world more broadly.

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#113 Jewish History in Six Chapters (4)

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:

Western Europe

  • Feudal society
  • Rashi’s project
  • Ba’alei Tosafot
  • The motivations, events, and impacts of the crusades
  • The Inquisition
  • Meir of Rothenberg
  • The Rosh
  • The Tur
  • David Kimchi
  • The Ralbag.

Spain

  • The Golden Age of Spain – from the Moorish conquest to the Almohad Invasion
  • Shlomo Ibn Gabirol and Yehudah HaLevi
  • The Rif
  • The Rambam
  • The Christian reconquest
  • The Ramban and the Barcelona Disputation (1263)
  • Avraham Abulafia
  • The revelation of the Zohar (1290).

England

  • 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.

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#112 Jewish History in Six Chapters (3)

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 Reish Galuta
· 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.

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#111 Jewish History in Six Chapters (2)

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 500 or 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
  • The Amoraic.

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
  • Zoroastrian religion
  • 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.

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#110 Jewish History in Six Chapters (1)

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:

Persian

  • Zerubavel ben Sh’alti’el, Yehoshua ben Yehotzdak, and last of the prophets
  • Ezra and Nehemiah
  • The temple at Elephantine

Greek 

  • Alexander the Great
  • The Ptolemaic and Seleucid dynasties
  • The translation of the Torah into Greek
  • The Antiochus III and Antiochus IV 

Hasmonean 

  • 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)

Rome           

  • Herod and Roman subservience
  • The reconstruction of the temple
  • Hillel 
  • The rise of rabbinic leadership and the tradition of interpretation
  • The beginnings of political rebellion against Rome.

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