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.
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:
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.
This final episode of David’s four-part series entitled Unorthodox Episodes of the Talmud explores the idea of the evil inclination – the yetzer harah – with a particular focus on problems relating to sexual temptation.
David explains that sages of the Talmud discussed how few things are as powerful as the desire for intimacy. This inclination affects all people, including great spiritual leaders.
Illustrating this point, David examines two stories from the Talmud. The first concerns Rabbi Amrum the Pious, a third-century sage who lived in the Babylonian city of Naharda’ah who fights his evil inclinations. The other looks at a tragi-comic story of Rabbi Hiyya bar Ashi, a student of Rav, who condemned himself in the face of temptation.
Both stories explore moral and ethical considerations concerning intentional, transgression, culpability, and redemption. Other concepts discussed include:
individual and communal shame – both in this world and the world to come
mystical manifestations of evil
the psychology of guilt and self-control
recognition of human failings
the power of sexual urges
whether thinking about a sin carries the same weight as its enactment
the importance of remembering and respecting human relationships in our quest to do right
whether suicide is permitted in certain circumstances
the importance of humility
an appreciation that we may each fail when our moral will is tested.
In examining these two unorthodox Talmudic episodes, David discusses the notion that individuals are often tested in line with their unique moral parameters; that we should be wary of placing ourselves on moral pedestals because we may be found wanting; we are all responsible for our behaviour; and that we must know our limitations and our weaknesses.
The third part of David’s series, Unorthodox Episodes from the Talmud, explores a fascinating series of interconnected stories involving:
a high-level international diplomatic mission,
undercover rabbinical espionage,
a cast of remarkable Talmudic rabbinical figures,
a curious question of Jewish law,
the mystical powers of the rabbis,
a sighting of looted treasures from the temple in Jerusalem,
and a quest to overturn devastating Roman decrees.
David discusses key Talmudic personalities from the first two centuries, including:
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai
Rabbi Yossi Ben Halafta
Rabbi Reuben Ben Strobilus
Rabbi Yossi HaGellili
Rabbi Eleizer Ben Yossi
as well as (lehavdil) Ben Tamalia.
He also provides historical context for the events discussed in the Talmudic passages, some of the prevailing cultural and religious norms of the time, and the messages that arise from this unorthodox episode of the Talmud.
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.
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.
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.
The consequences of the Roman destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem were devastating and yet Jewish life continued in fascinating ways. In particular, the years that followed saw Jewish spiritual and intellectual endeavours developing in profound and impactful directions. In this podcast episode, David examines the second century CE, exploring the enormous contributions of some remarkable Jewish men and women from the period. He also discusses several extraordinary events, including the conquering of Adiabene, the Kito Wars, and the second Jewish revolt.
This episode has particular resonance today as it explores the historical period which saw a brutal end to aspirations for Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel for almost two millennia. As we celebrate Yom Haatzmaut, Jewish History allows us to see, in context, the true impact of this event and the enormity of the establishment of the State of Israel.
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