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