#116 Torah & Text in an Age of Turmoil

David Solomon’s siyum on the Talmudic Tractate of Sotah was a (pre) Tikkun Leil presentation 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.

#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.

Continue reading “#107 The Messianic Idea in Jewish History (2)”

#106 The Messianic Idea in Jewish History (1)

In these lectures, David Solomon will examine how the Jewish idea of the messiah changed over history. He starts by explaining the messiah idea is the expectation that a special time or “end of days” will come when a leader or redeemer will make the world much better. David says this idea kept evolving based on the real circumstances Jewish people faced. This first lecture looks at where the messiah idea first began in the Hebrew Bible.

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

The first episode of David Solomon’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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#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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