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.
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:
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.
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.
For centuries, Jewish communities were known for producing doctors of the highest order. Even in the most profound climates of anti-semitism, kings and nobles sought the care of Jewish physicians. In this podcast episode, David examines the period he refers to as the “century of the Jewish doctor” for its examples of remarkable figures who lead the way in medical treatment and research.
In the first millennia BCE, the prophets of Israel launched an unprecedented spiritual revolution, the impact of which has resonated throughout the ages and across the world. In this fascinating lecture, David presents an overview of the twelve ‘minor’ prophets of Israel. Although their messages contained profound insight, analysis, and inspiration, these prophets are known in English as ‘minor’ because their books are short compared to those of the ‘major’ prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. With lightning speed and characteristic clarity, David takes us through the story of these prophets and reminds us of the remarkable relevance of their words for us today.
In this podcast episode, David examines the life and ideas of the following prophets:
He places these prophets in their historical context, looking at the following periods and events:
life in the northern Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judea (Judah)
the destruction of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians
the assault on Jerusalem by the Assyrians
the defeat of the Assyrians by the Persians
the Babylonian exile
the return to Zion and the rebuilding of Jerusalem under the proclamation of Cyrus
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.
In the 20th century, the Jewish people once again found themselves battling for survival and control of the land of Israel. In this podcast episode, the final part of this four-part series on Great Battles in Jewish History, David examines two military episodes from the past century – the Battle of Latrun in 1948 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973. In doing so, he explores the background, geo-political considerations, key personalities, and implications of these decisive moments from modern Jewish history.
For listeners of the podcast, we have provided a series of maps in pdf (below as jpegs) as a substitute for David’s illustrations on the whiteboard.
This Jewish history lecture includes discussions on the:
Battle of Latrun and the Yom Kippur War
key personalities from the time like Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, and Ariel Sharon
historical context of the conflicts, including the Cold War and its focus on the Middle East
failings and success in leadership
continued importance of geography and intelligence
importance of counter-offensives
role played by these battles for future peace agreements.
Find more of David Solomon’s podcast, with dozens of lectures on Jewish history, the Bible, Jewish philosophy, and Kabbalah here.
Beginning in the year 66 CE, the Jewish Revolt in the land of Israel launched a decades-long conflict with the Roman Empire. In this podcast episode, David examines three Roman sieges of Judean fortified towns and cities, culminating in the devastation of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70CE. He describes the key characters during this period, including the Jewish commander-turned-historian Josephus and the Roman general Vespasian, a master of siege warfare. David also creates a vivid picture of each of the battles, setting the scene, recreating the tensions, and leading us to the inevitable catastrophic end.
The earliest detailed accounts we have of military contests between the Jewish people and their enemies are found in the Bible. In this podcast episode, the first in a four-part series on great battles of Jewish History, David examines three events from the books of Judges and Samuel in which the Jewish people experience war. Beginning with an in-depth exploration of the fundamental role played by the geography and topography of the land, David explains how an understanding of these details can transform our historical picture of the tactics, leadership, and circumstances of those involved. He also discusses other significant elements that led to the success or failure of each military test and how figures like Devorah and Barak, Gidon, and Saul each fared in these critical moments of individual and national survival.
For listeners to the podcast who can not see the maps David draws in this lecture, we have provided a series of graphics that capture the information provided on the whiteboard. In order to gain the most from this lecture, we recommend referring to these maps as you listen.
In the wake of the global upheaval and transformation of the previous century, Jewish history of the 1300s unfolded as a mix of controversy, uncertainty, and innovation. In this podcast episode, David examines the early years of the 14th century for Jews in Europe and Asia with its many dark episodes – including expulsions, forced conversions, and plagues – occasionally offset by opportunity and reprieve, as well as remarkable intellectual and spiritual contribution. David also highlights an unexpected connection between this historical period and our own.
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