#118 Why Titus Should Have Worn a Mask

In this Jewish History lecture given for the fast of Tisha B’Av, David examines Jewish discussions on the death of Titus, the Roman general who presided over the siege in Jerusalem which led to destruction of the Second Temple.

Unsurprisingly, many Jewish commentators throughout history have painted Titus, who followed his father into the role of emperor, in a negative light. However, others claimed that Titus was far from the worst Roman emperor or general for the Jewish people.

In this talk, David explores a Midrash which contends that Titus died from a gnat entering his brain via his nasal passage. This gnat, it suggests, was divine punishment bestowed upon Titus for his wicked behaviour towards the Jewish people.

David examines how this Midrash relates to historical accounts of Titus’ death as well as later discussions on this text. He also discusses kabbalistic ideas concerning this Midrash and the mystical power and purpose of Jewish history for the world.

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#116 Torah & Text in an Age of Turmoil

This talk, a siyum on the Talmudic Tractate of Sotah, was a (pre) Tikkun Leil presentation David delivered online on the eve of Shavuot in 2020 due to COVID restrictions preventing traditional in-person learning on the first night of the festival.

The talk includes an exploration of the:

  • historical background to the development of the Tikkun Leil tradition (an all-night Torah learning program on the first night Shavuot)
  • custom to learn the Talmudic tractate of Sotah between the festivals of Passover and Shavuot
  • relevance of the Tractate of Sotah and how it prepares the Jewish people for receiving the Torah on Shavuot
  • historical period of turmoil discussed in the Tractate of Sotah and the impact on Jewish life at the time
  • importance of Torah in protecting and preserving 
  • power of gathering together to say (the prayer of) Kaddish
  • connection between the Book of Job (Iyov) and the Tractate of Sotah
  • benefit and reward of a structured practice of daily Torah learning.

#115 Jewish History in Six Chapters (6)

This final part of David’s Jewish History overview series explores the biblical period, from Avraham to the Jewish return to Zion after the Babylonian exile. The talk covers:

  • 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 examines this period through a historical lens. He also provides content and thematic overviews of the books of the Hebrew Bible. 

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#110 Jewish History in Six Chapters (1)

This Jewish History lecture examines the Second Temple Period (Bayit Sheini), which spans from approximately the year -500 (or 500 BCE) to the theoretical year 0 (3260 to 3760 in the traditional Hebraic calendar).

The period is divisible into four distinct phases, named after whichever political power was in control of the Jewish People in the Land of Israel and the Temple in Jerusalem. These entities were:

  • The Persian (Achaemenid) Empire
  • The Hellenistic (Greek-based) dominions
  • The Hasmonean dynasty
  • The Rome Empire

Each of these phases includes several significant historical events or people that provide the keys to understanding the era as a whole. They were:

Persian

  • Zerubavel ben Sh’alti’el, Yehoshua ben Yehotzdak, and last of the prophets
  • Ezra and Nehemiah
  • The temple at Elephantine

Greek 

  • Alexander the Great
  • The Ptolemaic and Seleucid dynasties
  • The translation of the Torah into Greek
  • The Antiochus III and Antiochus IV 

Hasmonean 

  • Yehudah, Yonatan, Shimon, Yochanan Hyrkanus, Yehudah Aristobulous, Alexander Yannai, Shlomtziyon, Yochanan Hyrkanus II and Aristobulous II
  • The conversion of the Idumeans
  • The conflict between ‘Scribes’ and ‘Sadducees’ (Tzeduqim)

Rome           

  • Herod and Roman subservience
  • The reconstruction of the temple
  • Hillel 
  • The rise of rabbinic leadership and the tradition of interpretation
  • The beginnings of political rebellion against Rome.

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#109 The Messianic Idea in Jewish History (4)

New episodes will resume in February 2022.

In the final part of this series, David explores messiahs of the modern period of Jewish history and the dangers of mystical attempts to bring about redemption.

Among the figures David discusses are:

  • Yosef Della Reina
  • Rabbi Avraham ben Eliezer ha-Levi
  • Shlomo Molcho and David haReuveni
  • Asher Lemlein
  • Rabbi Ḥayyim Vital
  • Shabbetai Zvi
  • Rabbi Chaim Luzzatto, the Ramchal
  • Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov
  • Jacob Frank
  • Gaon of Vilna
  • Rabbi Nachman of Breslov
  • Hannah Rachel Verbermacher, the Maid of Ludmir
  • Rav Abraham Isaac Kook
  • Theodor Herzl
  • Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, the Lubavitcher Rebbe

Ideas that the lecture examines include:

  • a return to the apocalyptic- this time with mystical magic
  • the transformation of Christianity
  • the concept of a ‘special time’
  • end times
  • prophecy
  • redeeming the sparks
  • the antinomian messiah
  • redemptive consciousness
  • kabbalistic efforts to bring redemption
  • sexual practices to bring the special soul
  • the redemptive spirit in the special soul.

David discusses the stories of these fascinating messianic figures and thinkers and unpacks their ideas, influences, and contributions to history as well as to the ever-developing notion of redemption and messianic fulfillment.

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#108 The Messianic Idea in Jewish History (3)

Messiahs of the post-Talmudic period to the Renaissance are the subjects of the third lecture in David’s series “The Messianic Idea in Jewish History.”

David discusses:

  • The emergence of ‘the Midrashic Messiah’
  • The concept of the false messiah
  • The disappointment of Bar Kokhba 
  • The influence of Islam on the messianic idea
  • Spiritual messianism
  • The impact of the Spanish Inquisition and Expulsion on Jewish messianism
  • Other messianic movements.

He examines several messianic figures, including:

  • Nehemiah ben Ḥushiel
  • David Alroy
  • Avraham Abulafia
  • Shlomo Molcho and David Ha Reuveni.

David also explores different messianic types, including:

  • The ‘classic’ Rabbinic messiah
  • Ishmaelic and Edomic models.

And discusses various ideas of messianic manifestations through Jewish history, including the messiah:

  • as warrior
  • as king
  • as magician
  • as persecuted
  • as kabbalist and wonder worker
  • as penitent
  • with a plan.

David examines passages from key Jewish texts which chart discussions about the concept and role of the messiah. He also provides historical context to the people, events, and developments mentioned throughout the lecture.

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#107 The Messianic Idea in Jewish History (2)

Fervent messianism in the land of Israel in the first century CE is the focus of this lecture, the second in David’s series “The Messianic Idea in Jewish History.”

In the latter years of the second temple in Jerusalem, the atmosphere was rich with apocalyptic eschatology. As a result, several people emerged contending to be the messiah. In this talk, David examines the actions and impact of some of these contenders, with a particular focus on:

  • Jesus,
  • Bar Kokhba.

David also discusses factors contributing to this time of heightened messianic expectation and presentation, including:

  • The welding of the pre-exilic ‘ideal ruler’ of Davidic descent with eschatological anticipations,
  • The idea of the anointed one,
  • The warrior spirit of redemption and the inspiration of the Maccabees in the past,
  • The revival of Hebrew,
  • The Dead Sea Scrolls,
  • The promise of the prophets and the reality of Roman occupation.

David also explores two types of messianic figures presented in Jewish literature – Ben Yosef and Ben David.

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#106 The Messianic Idea in Jewish History (1)

In this new four-part lecture series, David discusses how the concept of the messiah emerges in Jewish History, beginning with the biblical period.

This first lecture examines the appearance of the messianic idea in Tanach, charting its metamorphosis towards a universal application.

David explores the development of the Jewish messianic picture throughout the books of the Hebrew Bible, including in:

  • The Book of Samuel and its discussion of the ultimate messianic figure, King David
  • The Book of Kings and its depiction of one of the most exceptional Jewish monarchs, King Hezekiah
  • The Book of Isaiah, a contemporary of Hezekiah, whose visions of messianic prophecy are foundational to Jewish eschatology
  • The Book of Jeremiah on messianic and Davidic lineage
  • The Book of Ezekiel on David the shepherd and prince
  • The Book of Daniel’s eschatological visions for the future
  • The Book of Zechariah, who made clear pronouncements on the coming of a messiah
  • The Book of Haggai, with its messianic vision of the role ascribed to the Davidic descendent, Zerubavel, charged with rebuilding Jerusalem and the Second Temple.

He also considers the messianic role ascribed to Cyrus, king of the Babylonian Empire, in Tanach and later in Jewish History.

Additionally, the lecture examines discussions by modern scholars of the implications when biblical ideas of messianism become reimaged as contemporary visions for Zionism.

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#101 The Power of Change, the Challenge of Teshuva (4)

This final part in David’s four-part Zoom series in the lead-up to Yom Kippur, The Power of Challenge, the Challenge of Teshuva, looks at the issue of repentance and forgiveness within community.

David examines three fascinating and, at times, heartbreaking stories from Jewish History of people who have:

  • accepted their mistakes,
  • sought communal acceptance of their penitence,
  • found revelation in teshuva.

Exploring the experiences of:

  • Rabbi Yonah of Girona, a medieval rabbi who explored the concept of seeking forgiveness for misdeeds from the deceased;
  • Uriel de Costa, a 17th-century radical thinker with a tragic story of communal punishment; and
  • Franz Rosenzweig, the 20th-century philosophy who found inspiration in the idea of teshuva.

In each of these episodes, David draws out the principle of individual repentance and its relationship to communal acceptance, connection, and redemption. He also provides essential historical and cultural background to the stories, giving context and depth to the ideas and events discussed.

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#100 The Power of Change, the Challenge of Teshuva (3)

This third lecture in David’s Zoom series, The Power of Change, the Challenge of Teshuva, different ways the Talmud discusses the concept of teshuva.

David explores three illustrative episodes from Tanach and the Talmudic period identified by the sages as:

Examples that teach the importance of teshuva
Halachic guidance in the process of seeking – or bestowing – forgiveness
The importance of self-responsibility in teshuva.

David considers the discussions of the sages in relation to the stories of:

  • King David
  • Rav and Mechilah
  • Elazar bar Dordia.

He also summarises the messages from these episodes and draws them down to their meaning for us as we each consider our actions and failings and come to terms with our individual relationships with teshuva.

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