#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.

Continue reading “#101 The Power of Change, the Challenge of Teshuva (4)”

#86 A Journey Through Jewish Philosophy (8)

In this final installment of his eight-part lecture series on Jewish Philosophy, David Solomon explores the philosophical contributions of six remarkable Jewish figures from the twentieth century:

  • Rav Kook
  • The Nazir
  • Emmanuel Levinas
  • Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik
  • Yeshayah Leibovitz
  • Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

Watch the Zoom lecture here https://youtu.be/FQwN1_NKPOY

In addition to outlining the philosophical ideas of each of these figures, David reviews some of their shared intellectual themes, including their discussions on Jewish ethics, faith, and revelation, and the importance of moral relationships with others.

As always, David places these Jewish philosophers in their historical and cultural contexts, reviewing the impact of developments of the century on their thoughts and writings. In particular, he discusses the effect of the two seismic events of the twentieth century: the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel.

Explaining the impact of philosophers like Rosenzweig, Kierkegaard, Buber, Cohen, and Heidegger on the work of these six thinkers, David also discusses the personal devastation experienced by Levinas over Heidegger’s embrace of Nazism.

Continue reading “#86 A Journey Through Jewish Philosophy (8)”

#85 A Journey Through Jewish Philosophy (7)

In this Jewish Philosophy lecture, David explores the ideas and contributions of four philosophers:

  • Nachman Krochmal
  • Hermann Cohen
  • Franz Rosenzweig, and
  • Martin Buber   

who lived from the late 18th to early 20th centuries.

This post-Enlightenment period saw a movement from reason to existentialism, influenced by Kierkegaard, Kant, and Hegel.

David’s examination of these Jewish philosophers reveals:

  • Nachman Krochmal and his consideration of the religious versus the good
  • Hermann Cohen and his emphasis on a return to Jewish sources and the concepts of being and becoming
  • Franz Rosenzweig and his replacement of Enlightenment universalism with three modes of relationship between the Divine, the world, and humanity – as well as creation, revelation, and redemption
  • Martin Buber and his exploration of dialogic relationships and expressed in his work “I and Thou.”

In his discussion of these four remarkable thinkers, David provides historical background to Jewish life in Europe – including the impact of emancipation and assimilation – and how this played out in the individual stories of these figures.

Continue reading “#85 A Journey Through Jewish Philosophy (7)”

#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.

Continue reading “#84 A Journey Through Jewish Philosophy (6)”

#83 A Journey Through Jewish Philosophy (5)

In this fifth instalment of his Jewish Philosophy lecture series, David explores two significant Jewish thinkers living in Spain in the 14th and 15th centuries:

  • Hasdai Crescas
  • Yosef Albo.

Watch the lecture here: https://youtu.be/uZ0C8w28boc

He examines the philosophical contributions of Hasdai Crescas, including his ideas on:

  • Divine knowledge replaced by Divine love
  • Divine omniscience, providence, and omnipotence
  • Prophecy
  • Free Will
  • The purpose of the world and the happiness of the soul.

Crescas, who was known for his critique of Aristotle, had revolutionary ideas that would pave the way towards a new humanism.

David then discusses Yosef Albo, a student of Hasdai Crescas, and Albo’s ideas on:

  • The existence of God
  • Revelation
  • Reward and punishment.

Albo recognised true faith through a series of derivatives (shorashim), known as:

  • Unity
  • Incorporeality
  • Eternality
  • Perfection
  • God’s interested omniscience
  • Revelation through prophets
  • The authenticity of the prophets
  • Individual providence.

His ideas led to a systematic theological restatement of Jewish belief on the eve of a new philosophical era.

With late Medieval Spain as the historical setting for both of these extraordinary figures, David provides their fascinating but fraught historical backgrounds, including the impact of the 1391 massacres in Barcelona on Crescas and the disputations at Tortossa for Albo.

For a historical overview of the period, watch David’s series ‘Hope in Darkness: Jewish History of the 14th & 15th centuries’ here.

Continue reading “#83 A Journey Through Jewish Philosophy (5)”

#81 A Journey Through Jewish Philosophy (3)

This Jewish Philosophy lecture explores the emergence of Neoplatonism in Jewish philosophical thinking. David examines the ideas and works of three Jewish philosophers living during the later years of the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry:

  • Shlomo Ibn Gabirol
  • Baḥya ibn Paquda
  • Yehudah haLevi.

Going in-depth into the contributions of Shlomo Ibn Gabirol, David discusses:

  • Keter Malkhut
  • Tiqun Midot haNephesh
  • Mekor Ḥayyim

looking at the philosopher’s exploration of:

  • Divine essence as primal cause
  • Matter and form
  • Divine will.

Watch the lecture here.

In the second part of the lecture, David compares the works and ideas of Baḥya ibn Paquda and Yehudah haLevi. He also discusses the latter’s philosophical enquiry presented in his book, The Kuzari.

Throughout the talk, David ensures the historical and intellectual context of the figures he examines – and their ideas – remains ever-present. He also provides clear and concise summaries of these ideas for a lay audience.

        

Continue reading “#81 A Journey Through Jewish Philosophy (3)”

#80 A Journey Through Jewish Philosophy (2)

This talk is the second instalment of David’s Jewish Philosophy series.

In this episode, David examines the philosophical ideas and innovations of a towering figure of the early Middle Ages, Sa’adya ibn Yusuf al-Fayumi, commonly known as Sa’adya Gaon.

Watch the lecture here.

He discusses Sa’adya Gaon’s exploration of:

– Reason and revelation, including
  • sources of knowledge – the rational versus the revelatory
  • the kavod
  • mitzvot and the commandments
– Divine uniqueness, including
  • defense against accusations of Divine corporealism
  • allegorisation of anthropomorphism
  • Divine interaction with the world
– Creation, including
  • proofs, from yesh mei’ayin
  • transcendence of G-d
– Freedom of will.

He also explores Sa’adya’s discussions on the soul and his rejection of reincarnation.

David places Sa’adya’s ideas in their historical and intellectual context, particularly in relation to Islamic philosophy, the Kalam, and contemporary discussions of religious ideas.

        

Continue reading “#80 A Journey Through Jewish Philosophy (2)”

#79 A Journey Through Jewish Philosophy (1)

This podcast episode launches David’s eight-part series on Jewish Philosophy. In this first lecture, David explores the earliest Jewish responses to the ancient Greek philosophers.

Beginning by providing a summary of the early Greek philosophers, David defines Jewish Philosophy and how it fits within the overriding framework of Judaism.

Watch the lecture here.

He examines the life and ideas of Philo of Alexandria. Philo’s extensive philosophical writing looked at, among other things:

  • Stoic allegory, which includes a commentary on the Book of Genesis (Bereishit) and an exploration of Middle-Platonism
  • Logos and its relationship to humanity and the Divine
  • Responding to Platonimism and the stoics
  • The importance of the revealed tradition of the Torah
  • Ethics, including Moses as a fully realised individual.

        

Continue reading “#79 A Journey Through Jewish Philosophy (1)”

#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