#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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#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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#88 Which Period of Jewish History is Most Similar to Our Own?

In this fascinating lecture, David explores the timeline of Jewish History in search of a period that most resembles the current situation for the Jewish people.

Roving from biblical times to an era commonly referred to as the Dark Ages, David analyses the situation of the Jewish people during six distinct historical moments. As part of this analysis, he also compares and contrasts Jewish political and territorial autonomy in the land of Israel with that experienced in contemporary times.

Additionally, David outlines the broader geopolitical situations of these eras and how such background considerations reflect our own.

The lecture also explores ethical and philosophical factors of interest, ending with an inspiring note for a possible alternative picture for Israel and the Jewish people in the future.

David delivered this lecture in 2020 as a Zoom presentation for Chabad Glen Eira. While no visual recording of the talk was made, the Youtube video for this episode combines an audio recording of the lecture with graphics David shared during his Zoom presentation. Visit https://youtu.be/CcnddTlJdRo

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#87 Women in Jewish History: the Biblical Period

In this Jewish History lecture, David explores the lives, contributions, and circumstances of 14 women from Tanach:

  • Rachav
  • Devorah
  • Yael
  • Bat Yiphtach
  • Pilegesh Bagiv’ah
  • Ruth
  • Channah
  • Michal
  • Abigail
  • Bat Sheva
  • Jezebel
  • Ataliah
  • Yehosheva
  • Chuldah

Among their numbers were:

  • queens
  • prophets
  • judges
  • politicians

as well as women who were distinguished for their faith, integrity, loyalty, courage, and beauty.

In addition to providing insight into the experiences of these fascinating women, David explains their historical legacies, including:

  • the preservation of the Davidic line
  • the cementing of Judaism’s attitude towards celibacy
  • the power of prayer
  • the importance of education
  • women’s connection to Jewish religious practice.

He also traces the changing lot of women throughout the biblical period, from empowerment to disempowerment and back again.

This is the first part of a seven-part series on women in Jewish History David delivered at the Jewish Museum of Australia in 2017. Unfortunately, only some of the talks in the series were successfully recorded. You can find existing lectures by David from that series as well as from others talks on women in Jewish History David has given here:

#73 Women in Jewish History: the Second Temple Period

#14 Worlds in transition: Jewish History of the 16th Century part 3

#43 Communities in Search of Meaning: Jewish History of the 17th Century (part 3)

#50 Women in Jewish History: 18th to 20th Centuries

#51 Women in Jewish History: 20th to 21st Centuries

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#77 Revelation & Revolution: Jewish History of the 18th Century (4)

Although many of the remarkable developments in 18th-century Jewish life were set within the boundaries of Europe and Ashkenazi Jewry, so much was happening beyond this region.
In this fascinating podcast episode, David explores some of the most remarkable events, personalities, and contributions of Jews in the Sephardic communities of the 1700s, centred in the:
  • Ottoman Empire
  • Land of Israel.

In doing so, he discusses:

  • Yehudah HaChasid
  • Avraham Revigo
  • R. Emmanuel Chai Rikki
  • R. Chayim Abulafia
  • R. Chayim ibn Attar, the Or Hachayim
  • R. Shalom Shar’abi, the Rashash.
View of Jerusalem, from the manuscript of the Georgian travelogue by Timothy Gabashvili between 1755 and 1759. Public domain.

He also relays stories of some of the most notable emissaries from the Land of Israel to the diaspora, including:

  • R. Haim Yosef David Azulai ben Yitzhak Zerachia, the Hida
  • R. Moshe Malchi
  • R. Raphael Carigal.

The lecture also considers developments in the “new world”, including:

In the Americas –

  • Francis Salvador
  • Haym Salomon

and in the colony of New South Wales, which was to become part of Australia –

  • Esther Abrahams
  • Joseph Samuel.

David concludes the lecture by returning to Europe in the final years of the 18th century to look at the enormous changes happening across the continent and their implications for Jewish life in the coming century.

#76 Revelation & Revolution: Jewish History of the 18th Century (3)

In this podcast episode, David examines a phase in 18th century Jewish history that he calls the ‘zenith of rabbinics’ for its extraordinary collection of learned rabbis. Among this ensemble of remarkable figures, one man towered over the rest – Elijah, the Vilna Gaon.

The Gra, as the Gaon of Vilna was also known, was an unparalleled prodigy in Jewish textual study and methodology, with an almost incomprehensible knowledge of Torah. David explores the life and contribution of the Gra and why he is one of the most revered Torah scholars of the past millennium. He also discusses the life and work of the Gra’s greatest student, Rabbi Chayim of Volozhim.

The 18th century also saw the rise of a new phenomenon in Jewish history, known as the Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment. Two enormously important figures to launch this seismic shift in Jewish life were the philosophers:

  • Moses Mendelssohn, often called the father of the Haskalah, and
  • Salomon Maimon.

Other intellectuals of note in the early days of the Haskalah that David mentions were:

  • David Friedlander
  • Solomon Dubno
  • Naphtali Herz Wessely.

Through the story of these impressive intellectual figures, David paints a picture of the historical circumstances, rights, challenges, and emerging opportunities for 18th century European Jews.

Providing background to this discussion, he also explores the legal and political reforms of:

  • Frederick the Great
  • Joseph II.

David concludes with a discussion of another important figure from the 18th century, Meyer Amschel Rothschild, founder of an unprecedented banking dynasty. As a result of its tremendous business success, the Rothschild family pioneered a new type of Jewish participation and influence in broader society, stretching to the highest echelons of the European establishment.

Mendelssohn, Lavater and Lessing, in an imaginary portrait by the Jewish artist Moritz Daniel Oppenheim (1856). Collection of the Judah L. Magnes Museum

#75 Revelation & Revolution: Jewish History of the 18th Century (2)

This week David examines the beginnings of Chassidism, one of the most influential Jewish spiritual movements to emerge in the modern Jewish world. He discusses key individuals who launched – and developed – this extraordinary revolution and explores the central ideas and contributions of Chassidism to Jewish history, practice, religion, and life. As part of this fascinating Jewish history lecture, David focuses on the lives and ideas of:

 

  • The Baal Shem Tov – Shivchei HaBesht
  • Avraham Gershon of Kitov
  • Maggid of Mezeritch
  • Yaakov Yosef of Polnoyye
  • Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev
  • Shneur Zalman of Liadi
  • Nachman of Breslov.

He examines remarkable concepts developed by early Chassidic leaders, including:

  • the sparks of love
  • the light of the intellect
  • conversations with G-d.

as well ideas like:

  • devekut
  • hashgachah pratit
  • exile of the soul and raising the sparks
  • prayer over study
  • the ecstatic service of the heart
  • the spiritual importance of joy
  • love of every Jew
  • the idea of the tzaddiq.
Hasidic couple in New York, painting by Roger David, 150 cm x 201 cm, oil on canvas, 2016. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hasidic_couple_in_New_York,_painting_by_Roger_David.jpg

David also maps out the historical context of this remarkable phenomenon. He discusses opposition that emerged in large parts of the Jewish world to Chassidic ideas and practice and the destructive nature of some of these conflicts. He also considers a number of interesting developments that resulted in Jewish history in the wake of Chassidism.

#74 Revelation & Revolution: Jewish History of the 18th Century (1)

In this Jewish history lecture, David explores the early years of the 18th century, heavily overshadowed by two significant and difficult events of the 1600s – the cataclysm of the Khmelnytsky Massacres and the enormous reverberations of disappointment that followed the false messiah, Shabtai Tzvi.

The Sounding of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah, illustration circa 1733–1739 by Bernard Picart from “The Ceremonies and Religious Customs of the Various Nations of the Known World”, dated between circa 1733 and circa 1739. Public domain.
He discusses Jewish communities of importance in the 1700s – Prague, Amsterdam, Thessaloniki, and Livorno. He also explores the lives, contributions, controversies, and legacies of notable figures associated with these communities, including:
  • Glückel of Hameln
  • David Nieto
  • Nehemiah Hayyun
  • Moses Hagiz
  • Tzvi Ashkenazi, known as the Chacham Tzvi
  • Jonathan Eybeschutz
  • Jacob Emden
  • Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, known as the Ramchal.

David also addresses the impacts of:

  • the Enlightenment
  • the rise of capitalism and mercantilism
  • changes in political structures and government.
This remarkable hundred-year period not only contained a vast collection of towering individuals, but also brought a range of cultural, intellectual, and spiritual developments that would shape the modern Jewish world.

Continue reading “#74 Revelation & Revolution: Jewish History of the 18th Century (1)”