#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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#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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#85 A Journey Through Jewish Philosophy (7)

In this Jewish Philosophy lecture, David explores the ideas and contributions of four philosophers:

  • Nachman Krochmal
  • Hermann Cohen
  • Franz Rosenzweig, and
  • Martin Buber   

who lived from the late 18th to early 20th centuries.

This post-Enlightenment period saw a movement from reason to existentialism, influenced by Kierkegaard, Kant, and Hegel.

David’s examination of these Jewish philosophers reveals:

  • Nachman Krochmal and his consideration of the religious versus the good
  • Hermann Cohen and his emphasis on a return to Jewish sources and the concepts of being and becoming
  • Franz Rosenzweig and his replacement of Enlightenment universalism with three modes of relationship between the Divine, the world, and humanity – as well as creation, revelation, and redemption
  • Martin Buber and his exploration of dialogic relationships and expressed in his work “I and Thou.”

In his discussion of these four remarkable thinkers, David provides historical background to Jewish life in Europe – including the impact of emancipation and assimilation – and how this played out in the individual stories of these figures.

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#84 A Journey Through Jewish Philosophy (6)

The sixth instalment of David’s Jewish Philosophy lecture series considers two renowned, sometimes controversial, philosophers living during the Enlightenment:

  • Baruch Spinoza, and
  • Moses Mendelssohn.

Watch the lecture here: https://youtu.be/IC_bZTM55yA

In the first part of this Zoom lecture, David examines the ideas and impact of Baruch Spinoza, including the ultimate cause of his excommunication from the Jewish community. He explores concepts developed by Spinoza in his books:

In the first part of this Zoom lecture, David examines the ideas and impact of Baruch Spinoza, including the ultimate cause of his excommunication from the Jewish community. He explores concepts developed by Spinoza in his books:

Tractatus Theologico–Politicus (Theologico-Political Treatise), which provides a defence of secular thought, and

Ethics, which discusses:

  • reality is God
  • the universe (God) is necessary and determined
  • miracles do not exist
  • there is no free will
  • the pursuit of reason leads to freedom.

For Moses Mendelssohn, David explains, the challenge was to reveal religion in the Age of Reason. Mendelssohn’s book, Jerusalem, explores:

  • the Torah as revealed law
  • differences in nature and the laws of the Jewish people
  • reason as the true religion of humanity
  • the test of religious truth and its effect on conduct.

As with previous lectures, David provides historical context for both philosophers, describing their 17th and 18th century worlds. He also tackles some of the beliefs and misconceptions about these figures, many of which have carried through to today.

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#83 A Journey Through Jewish Philosophy (5)

In this fifth instalment of his Jewish Philosophy lecture series, David explores two significant Jewish thinkers living in Spain in the 14th and 15th centuries:

  • Hasdai Crescas
  • Yosef Albo.

Watch the lecture here: https://youtu.be/uZ0C8w28boc

He examines the philosophical contributions of Hasdai Crescas, including his ideas on:

  • Divine knowledge replaced by Divine love
  • Divine omniscience, providence, and omnipotence
  • Prophecy
  • Free Will
  • The purpose of the world and the happiness of the soul.

Crescas, who was known for his critique of Aristotle, had revolutionary ideas that would pave the way towards a new humanism.

David then discusses Yosef Albo, a student of Hasdai Crescas, and Albo’s ideas on:

  • The existence of God
  • Revelation
  • Reward and punishment.

Albo recognised true faith through a series of derivatives (shorashim), known as:

  • Unity
  • Incorporeality
  • Eternality
  • Perfection
  • God’s interested omniscience
  • Revelation through prophets
  • The authenticity of the prophets
  • Individual providence.

His ideas led to a systematic theological restatement of Jewish belief on the eve of a new philosophical era.

With late Medieval Spain as the historical setting for both of these extraordinary figures, David provides their fascinating but fraught historical backgrounds, including the impact of the 1391 massacres in Barcelona on Crescas and the disputations at Tortossa for Albo.

For a historical overview of the period, watch David’s series ‘Hope in Darkness: Jewish History of the 14th & 15th centuries’ here.

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#82 A Journey Through Jewish Philosophy (4)

The fourth part of David’s Jewish Philosophy lecture series considers three giants of Jewish thought from the Medieval Period:

  • Maimonides, the Rambam
  • Avraham ibn Daud
  • Rabbi Levu ben Gershon, also known as the Ralbag.

David explores the centrality of Aristotelianism for these thinkers as well as the influence of Islamic culture on Western theology and philosophy, including within Jewish circles.

Watch the Zoom lecture here.

Some of the central ideas that David examines in this talk include:

  • The Active Intellect as the agent of human knowledge 
  • The evolving intersection between philosophy and Judaism
  • The rational and the revealed 
  • The attributes of the Divine
  • The concept of Tselem
  • Prophecy
  • Miracles
  • The relationship between science, philosophy, and revelation
  • The eternity of the world 
  • The proof for the existence of Gd.

With the use of his own original illustrative graphics, David provides an overview of the ideas and contributions of these extraordinary figures. He also places all three in their respective historical and intellectual contexts.

For a historical overview of the period listen to David’s series, From the Rambam to the Zohar: Jewish History of 12th & 13th centuries, starting here.

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#63 Hope in Darkness: Jewish History of the 14th & 15th Centuries (Part Two)

The second half of the 14th century saw tremendous economic and theological pressure placed on the Jews of Europe. In this podcast, David explores a series of compelling and poignant historical events that captured the trying circumstances of Jewish life in the Middle Ages in Europe. David also discusses the remarkable tenacity of Jewish communities and individuals during these dark days, revealing impressive achievements, innovation, resilience, and extraordinary demonstrations of hope.

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#62 Hope in Darkness: Jewish History of the 14th & 15th Centuries (Part One)

In the wake of the global upheaval and transformation of the previous century, Jewish history of the 1300s unfolded as a mix of controversy, uncertainty, and innovation. In this podcast episode, David examines the early years of the 14th century for Jews in Europe and Asia with its many dark episodes – including expulsions, forced conversions, and plagues – occasionally offset by opportunity and reprieve, as well as remarkable intellectual and spiritual contribution. David also highlights an unexpected connection between this historical period and our own.

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