#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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#97 Unorthodox Episodes from the Talmud (4)

This final episode of David’s four-part series entitled Unorthodox Episodes of the Talmud explores the idea of the evil inclination – the yetzer harah – with a particular focus on problems relating to sexual temptation.

David explains that sages of the Talmud discussed how few things are as powerful as the desire for intimacy. This inclination affects all people, including great spiritual leaders.

Illustrating this point, David examines two stories from the Talmud. The first concerns Rabbi Amrum the Pious, a third-century sage who lived in the Babylonian city of Naharda’ah who fights his evil inclinations. The other looks at a tragi-comic story of Rabbi Hiyya bar Ashi, a student of Rav, who condemned himself in the face of temptation.

Both stories explore moral and ethical considerations concerning intentional, transgression, culpability, and redemption. Other concepts discussed include:

  • individual and communal shame – both in this world and the world to come
  • mystical manifestations of evil
  • the psychology of guilt and self-control
  • recognition of human failings
  • the power of sexual urges
  • whether thinking about a sin carries the same weight as its enactment
  • moral karma
  • the importance of remembering and respecting human relationships in our quest to do right
  • whether suicide is permitted in certain circumstances
  • the importance of humility
  • an appreciation that we may each fail when our moral will is tested.

In examining these two unorthodox Talmudic episodes, David discusses the notion that individuals are often tested in line with their unique moral parameters; that we should be wary of placing ourselves on moral pedestals because we may be found wanting; we are all responsible for our behaviour; and that we must know our limitations and our weaknesses.

Continue reading “#97 Unorthodox Episodes from the Talmud (4)”