#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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#95 Unorthodox Episodes from the Talmud (2)

Part two of David’s Zoom series, Unorthodox Episodes from the Talmud, mixes Jewish history with textual learning and fascinating storytelling.

The talk continues the story begun in the previous episode regarding Rav Kahana, a third-century sage who fled Babylonian authorities to find refuge in the Land of Israel following a violent confrontation in a rabbinical court.

In this lecture, David describes the next chapter for Rav Kahana following his arrival at the prestigious yeshiva of Tiberius. Through a series of unfortunate actions and misunderstandings, Rav Kahana finds himself once again at the centre of dramatic events involving pride, regret, and death.

As David unravels this extraordinary story, he explores:

  • key Talmudic figures and their contribution to Jewish life, history, learning, and continuity
  • the relationships and tensions between some of the great Jewish figures and academies of the time
  • the political and hierarchical structures of these rabbinical academies
  • the power of the sages and consequences of unsettling them
  • how concepts of right and wrong do not always resonate through centuries
  • the unexpectedly mystical nature of elements of the Talmud.

This lecture places in context the historical situation of the Jewish communities in Babylonia and the Land of Israel. It also reminds us of the importance of Torah scholarship in relation to the shape and influence of different parts of the Jewish world.

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#94 Unorthodox Episodes from the Talmud (1)

In this Zoom lecture series, David explores several fascinating episodes described in the Talmud.

This first lecture in the series discusses an unusual Talmudic incident involving disloyalty, self-righteousness, contempt, justice, death, restitution, escape, and consequences.

As with many stories from the Talmud, this incident is set during a time known as the Amoraic period – between the 3rd and 4th centuries CE – when the centre of Jewish life was based in Babylonia. It concerns an investigation of a concept in halacha, Jewish law, known as mesirah – an action in which a Jewish person hands over another Jewish person or their property to a non-Jewish authority.

In the story, a rabbinical court (beth din) summons a man poised to inform on his neighbour to the Babylonian government. This man’s disdain for the authority of the beth din results in unexpected and grave consequences.

David examines the details and text of this remarkable event as well as the context and significance of the Talmudic figures involved. He also:

  • explains the relevance of the legal issue in its historical context
  • draws parallels between these historical incidents and recent issues of Jewish law
  • explores variations in definitions of right and wrong, justice and injustice 
  • describes and contextualises the figures described in the passage
  • reminds us of the details and relevance of the historical setting in which the incident is set.

The Talmudic passage discussed in this lecture can be found towards the end of Tractate Bava Kamma, page 117a.

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#56 The Power of Teshuva

The concept of teshuva – usually translated in English as “repentance” but literally meaning “return” – is, as David discusses in this episode, a phenomenal idea in Judaism that a person can be defined, not simply by what they do, but by their ability to change. This podcast episode, coming in advance of Yom Kippur, is unusual in that it brings together segments of lectures David has given over the years on the subject of teshuva. Starting with an in-depth examination of the Book of Yonah (Jonah), which we read on Yom Kippur, he explores Biblical and Talmudic stories that raise discussions about what we can do – and what we should do – when our behaviour is found wanting. David also explores 20th-century Jewish philosophical ideas on the meaning of teshuva for us as individuals and for the world.

Yom Kippur in the Jerusalem Temple. Illustrator of Henry Davenport Northrop’s “Treasures of the Bible,” 1894. Public Domain.

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#36 Chazal in the Age of Empires: An Overview of the Talmudic Period (part 3)

The period of the 3rd to 5th centuries (CE) saw a different type of world emerging from one that had, for centuries, been controlled by two empires: Rome and Parthia. In this podcast episode, David explores the new Jewish reality and the revolutionary innovations that resulted. In particular, he examines the extraordinary project of the Talmud, its remarkable later contributors, and allows us to understand the significance of these developments within the context of Jewish and world history.

Rabbi Ashi teaching at the Sura Academy. From Diaspora Museum, Tel Avi. Image used under Creative Commons licence https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

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