#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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#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

# 70 From Exile in Paradise to Redemption in Hell: Jews and Judaism in Germany – past, present and future

Although the Holocaust looms large as the defining feature of Jewish life in Germany, it was not an isolated historical event for German Jews. The Shoa followed a long and tragic trail of massacres, pogroms, and persecutions. However, the historical relationship between the Jewish and German peoples consisted of more than bloodshed and hardship. As David explains in this lecture, “the symbiotic relationship between the Jews of Germany and the general German population was nothing short of astounding.”

In this podcast episode, From Exile in Paradise to Redemption in Hell Jews and Judaism in Germany: past, present, and future, David explores the long and fascinating story of German Jewish life, from the days of the Roman Empire to the present, covering:

  • Jews and the Roman Empire
  • the beginnings of Ashkenazi Jewry and the influence of Rabbeinu Gershom
  • the Rhineland Massacres of the 11th century, known in Jewish history as the Akedah
  • Meir of Rottenberg and Asher ben Yechiel
  • the constant return of Jews to Germany despite ongoing persecution and recurring massacres
  • the impact of the Reformation
  • the restriction of Jews to money lending and their subsequent influence on economic policy
  • Moses Mendelssohn, the Enlightenment, and secular Judaism
  • Jewish conversion to Christianity as an essential requirement for advancement in 19th Germany
  • Jewish mystical interpretations of the relationship between Jews and Germany
  • the growth of contemporary Jewish communities in Germany
  • the enormity of the Shoa and its place in history
  • the integral nature of Jews to German life and history.

You can also watch the lecture on YouTube.

David delivered this talk in 2013 at the Jewish Museum of Berlin, accompanying the special exhibition “The Whole Truth.”

        

#60 Kabbalah – History & Ideas Since the Ari (Part 2)

The teachings of Rabbi Isaac Luria, the Ari (AR”Y), have been profoundly influential on Jewish mystical thought of the past five hundred years. In this episode of the podcast, the second lecture in a series exploring post-Lurianic Kabbalah, David discusses the historical background, lives, and ideas of two iconic Jewish intellectual and spiritual figures – the Vilna Gaon and Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto. In doing so, he examines their remarkable contributions to kabbalistic thought on G-d, the world, and Divine revelation.

Listeners who find this material new or challenging may wish to refer to the glossary of kabbalistic terms provided here. 

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#29 Chassidism ‘in one hour’

Arising in the wake of a number of dramatic historical events of the 17th century, the Chassidic movement emerged in the first half of the 18th century under the charismatic leadership of Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov, with profound effect on European Jewry. In this podcast episode, David Solomon provides an introduction and overview of Chassidism, looking at its early leaders and their ideas. David also examines the impact of the movement, how it has evolved, and the form it has come to take in the current age.

Painting by Roger David Servais – Hasidic jewish fiddler, Homage to Daniel Ahaviel, 100 cm x 130 cm, oil on canvas, 2010, R. David S.pai. Creative Commons.

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