#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.

#109 The Messianic Idea in Jewish History (4)

New episodes will resume in February 2022.

In the final part of this series, David 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.

Continue reading “#109 The Messianic Idea in Jewish History (4)”

#108 The Messianic Idea in Jewish History (3)

Messiahs of the post-Talmudic period to the Renaissance are the subjects of the third lecture in David’s series “The Messianic Idea in Jewish History.”

David discusses:

  • The emergence of ‘the Midrashic Messiah’
  • The concept of the false messiah
  • The disappointment of Bar Kokhba 
  • The influence of Islam on the messianic idea
  • Spiritual messianism
  • The impact of the Spanish Inquisition and Expulsion on Jewish messianism
  • Other messianic movements.

He examines several messianic figures, including:

  • Nehemiah ben Ḥushiel
  • David Alroy
  • Avraham Abulafia
  • Shlomo Molcho and David Ha Reuveni.

David also explores different messianic types, including:

  • The ‘classic’ Rabbinic messiah
  • Ishmaelic and Edomic models.

And discusses various ideas of messianic manifestations through Jewish history, including the messiah:

  • as warrior
  • as king
  • as magician
  • as persecuted
  • as kabbalist and wonder worker
  • as penitent
  • with a plan.

David examines passages from key Jewish texts which chart discussions about the concept and role of the messiah. He also provides historical context to the people, events, and developments mentioned throughout the lecture.

Continue reading “#108 The Messianic Idea in Jewish History (3)”

#107 The Messianic Idea in Jewish History (2)

Fervent messianism in the land of Israel in the first century CE is the focus of this lecture, the second in David’s series “The Messianic Idea in Jewish History.”

In the latter years of the second temple in Jerusalem, the atmosphere was rich with apocalyptic eschatology. As a result, several people emerged contending to be the messiah. In this talk, David examines the actions and impact of some of these contenders, with a particular focus on:

  • Jesus,
  • Bar Kokhba.

David also discusses factors contributing to this time of heightened messianic expectation and presentation, including:

  • The welding of the pre-exilic ‘ideal ruler’ of Davidic descent with eschatological anticipations,
  • The idea of the anointed one,
  • The warrior spirit of redemption and the inspiration of the Maccabees in the past,
  • The revival of Hebrew,
  • The Dead Sea Scrolls,
  • The promise of the prophets and the reality of Roman occupation.

David also explores two types of messianic figures presented in Jewish literature – Ben Yosef and Ben David.

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

#106 The Messianic Idea in Jewish History (1)

In this new four-part lecture series, David discusses how the concept of the messiah emerges in Jewish History, beginning with the biblical period.

This first lecture examines the appearance of the messianic idea in Tanach, charting its metamorphosis towards a universal application.

David explores the development of the Jewish messianic picture throughout the books of the Hebrew Bible, including in:

  • The Book of Samuel and its discussion of the ultimate messianic figure, King David
  • The Book of Kings and its depiction of one of the most exceptional Jewish monarchs, King Hezekiah
  • The Book of Isaiah, a contemporary of Hezekiah, whose visions of messianic prophecy are foundational to Jewish eschatology
  • The Book of Jeremiah on messianic and Davidic lineage
  • The Book of Ezekiel on David the shepherd and prince
  • The Book of Daniel’s eschatological visions for the future
  • The Book of Zechariah, who made clear pronouncements on the coming of a messiah
  • The Book of Haggai, with its messianic vision of the role ascribed to the Davidic descendent, Zerubavel, charged with rebuilding Jerusalem and the Second Temple.

He also considers the messianic role ascribed to Cyrus, king of the Babylonian Empire, in Tanach and later in Jewish History.

Additionally, the lecture examines discussions by modern scholars of the implications when biblical ideas of messianism become reimaged as contemporary visions for Zionism.

Continue reading “#106 The Messianic Idea in Jewish History (1)”

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

This final part in David’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.

Continue reading “#101 The Power of Change, the Challenge of Teshuva (4)”

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

This third lecture in David’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.

Continue reading “#100 The Power of Change, the Challenge of Teshuva (3)”

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

Part two of David’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.

Continue reading “#99 The Power of Change, the Challenge of Teshuva (2)”

#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.

Continue reading “#98 The Power of Change, the Challenge of Teshuva (1)”

#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.

Continue reading “#96 Unorthodox Episodes from the Talmud (3)”