Wednesday, 27 September 2023

446) Mashiach is just two Amens away


Shirei Yehuda by Yehuda Leib Zelechow, Amsterdam, 1697


This article – based extensively on the research by Professor Elisheva Carlebach[1] − explores how (just after the failed messianic awakening of Shabbatai Tzvi, and just before the emergence of the Chassidic movement) a new trend in messianism began to develop. This new messianism was advanced by the likes of Yehuda Leib of Zelechow, and it promoted the notion that the ‘imminent redemption’ was dependent upon urgent attention to the prayers. His theological hypothesis was that two specific “Amens” in the prayer service have generally been ignored by the congregations − and this is holding up the messianic redemption. 

Sunday, 10 September 2023

445) ‘Mainstreaming’ Chassidism in 19th century Poland

Jakub Tugendhold's Jerobaal


This article based extensively on the research by Professor Marcin Wodzinski[1] looks at an unlikely defence of Chassidim by Jakub Tugendhold (1794-1871) a member of the Polish Haskalah (Enlightenment movement). The Haskalah is generally regarded as a more enlightened, academic and scientific movement, often in direct philosophical conflict with Chassidism which it regarded as a form of Jewish superstition. The Haskalah movement began in Germany but in the early nineteenth century, it had spread to Poland. The issue of Chassidism was not just one component of the battle of the Haskalah against traditionalism, it became the major point of contention, especially in Warsaw, which became the “primary battleground of this struggle” (Wodzinski n.d.:13). There were one or two voices from within Warsaw that argued somewhat in favour of the Chassidim. Jakub Tugendhold and Marcus Jastrow were among the small number of non-Chassidim who lent their support to  Chassidism. 

Sunday, 3 September 2023

444) R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik and R. Abraham Joshua Heschel on inter-religious dialogue

R. Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972)
R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik (1903-1993)


This article explores two very different approaches to inter-religious dialogue. On the one hand, R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik (1903-1993), a leader of Modern Orthodox Judaism and Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University, did not promote Jewish-Christian dialogue on the other hand, R. Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972), a professor at The Jewish Theological Seminary of America did engage in inter-religious dialogue. 

Both came from important rabbinical families. R. Soloveitchik came from a line of outstanding Lithuanian Talmud scholars and R. Heschel was the grandson of the Apter Rebbe and went by the same name ‘Avraham Yehoshua’ as his illustrious grandfather who was buried next to the Baal Shem Tov. 

R. Soloveitchik and R. Heschel were friends. Both rebelled against their family traditions of not engaging in secular studies and went to study at the University of Berlin, emerging with doctorates in Philosophy in the early 1930s. Both were admirers of Kierkegaard and were interested in Existentialism (Kimelman 2004:2).[1] 

Sunday, 27 August 2023

443) Mystical approaches of the early Chassidic movement


1772 was a year in which many bans against the Chassidim were issued. This one is from the Vilna Gaon in Vilna. Our article deals with the 1772 Brody bans.


The early Chassidic courts are often presented as inspiring centres of fellowship, prayer, dancing and learning. This article – based extensively on the research by Dr. Mor Altshuler[1] – explores some of the more ‘cosmic’ elements and inner mystical dynamics of the Chassidic court of R. Yechiel Michal, the Magid of Zlotchov (1726-1786), a major early leader of the movement [see previous post]. 

Sunday, 20 August 2023

442) The early Chassidic movement in historicity and hagiography


The resting place of R. Yechiel Michal, the Magid of Zlotchov, in Yampol, Central Ukraine


There is an important, albeit sometimes uncomfortable, difference between historicity and hagiography. Hagiography is the way adherents of any movement tell their stories of origin, while historicity is how the same events are viewed in light of evidence and historical records. Hagiography is often embellished, biased and tendentious, while historiography is, hopefully, a neutral depiction of the events. 

This article based extensively on the research by Dr Mor Altshuler[1] takes a new look at one aspect of the origin story of the Chassidic movement, and explores when the first significant Chassidic courts are to have emerged. 

Sunday, 13 August 2023

441) Could the Zohar Chadash have engaged in a contemporary polemic with Chassidei Ashkenaz?


This article, based extensively on the research by Dr Jonatan Benarroch,[1] explores the question of whether Zohar, could possibly have engaged in a polemic, or religious debate, with the Chassidei Ashkenaz (the German Pietists of the Rhineland). The problem is that the Zohar is traditionally believed to have been authored by R. Shimon bar Yochai, a second-century Tanna, or Mishnaic rabbi while Chassidei Ashkenaz was a twelfth and thirteenth-century mystical movement in Germany. This places the Zohar a thousand years before the advent of Chassidei Askenaz. 

Sunday, 6 August 2023

440) Theologies of the Festivals as early models for Jewish survival

Sefer haYovelim (University of Notre Dame)


This article based extensively on the research by Professor Steven Weitzman[1] – looks at three sets of writings from the Second Temple Period that offer different perspectives on the reasons for the Jewish Festivals. We will examine how these theologies and ideologies of the Festivals may have been used as different models and strategies for Jewish survival. They also contain some colourful descriptions and eyewitness accounts of how the Festivals were observed and how they sometimes got out of hand. 

Sunday, 30 July 2023

439) Did early Midrashic rabbis know about Origen?

A 17th century edition of Bereishit Rabba housed in the Jewish Museum of Greece.


This article based extensively on the research by Professor Maren Niehoff[1] explores the possibility of an unlikely form of ‘dialogue’ taking place in Caesarea around the 3rd century CE between early Midrashic (i.e.,Tannaic or Mishnaic) rabbis, and Origen, an early Church Father. 

An analysis of some of the similarities between Bereishit (Genesis) Rabba and Origen’s Commentary on Genesis, raises the question of whether their authors had any knowledge of each other's writings. It appears that they may have, because not only do they sometimes deal with similar issues, but they seem to intentionally interact and, in fact, ‘correct’ each other. 

Sunday, 23 July 2023

438) Seeking an interface between Halacha and archaeology

Rabbi Dr Yonatan Adler at an archaeological site.

This article, based extensively on the research by Rabbi Professor Yonatan Adler of the Institute of Archaeology at Ariel University,[1] deals with Halacha (Jewish ritual and civil law) viewed from an unusual perspective through archaeology, in addition to the written text. Of course, the legal rabbinic texts provide the indisputable and authoritative approach to the keeping of Halacha today, but our purpose here is to see to what extent archaeological evidence indicates how laws may have been observed in earlier times. It is only through this archaeological record that we can glimpse at details that are not apparent in the texts. 

Sunday, 16 July 2023

437) The historical neglect of Tefilin

One of the oldest pairs of Tefilin, dated between 200-50 BCE, discovered in the Qumran Caves in the 1950s. (The dimensions are 1 X 2 cm).


Considering how normative the wearing of Tefilin is in contemporary religious and traditional societies, it is hard to comprehend the idea that this may be a relatively new phenomenon. During Talmudic[1] times (10-589 CE) and the later rabbinic periods of the Gaonim (589-1038 CE) and Rishonim (1038-1500), it seems that the mitzva of Tefillin was largely neglected for a variety of reasons that we shall discuss. 

Sunday, 9 July 2023

436) A Hirschian rejection of Maimonides


This article, based extensively on the research by Professor Micha Gottlieb,[1] examines the sharp anti-Maimonidean writings by the nineteenth-century rabbi, Shimshon Refael Hirsch. In the previous article, “An 'enlightened' rejection of Maimonides,” we discussed how the Haskala (Jewish Enlightenment movement) wanted to adopt Maimonides as their official ideologue and ‘poster rabbi’ because he encouraged secular education, and elevated the position of the sechel (intellect) as the prime component of the human being. We then showed how this ‘enlightened’ focus on Maimonides was severely challenged by R. Shmuel David Luzzatto, initially a member of Wissenschaft des Judentums (the official arm of the Jewish Enlightenment). In this article, we examine another rabbi also somewhat associated with the Haskala, R. Shimshon Refael Hirsch (1808-1888), who similarly rejects Maimonides and his rationalism, but for different reasons. 

Sunday, 2 July 2023

435) An ‘enlightened’ rejection of Maimonides


An 1830 edition of  R. Shmuel David Luzzatto's work Ohev Ger, It examins Aramaic translations of the Torah by Onkelos, analysing variant texts found in manuscripts and other sources. 


This article, based extensively on the research by Professor Micha Gottlieb,[1] examines the sharp anti-Maimonidean writings by an Orthodox nineteenth-century rabbi, R. Shmuel David Luzzatto (1800–1865). He lived during the Haskala (Enlightenment) Period and his writings reflect severe criticisms of the fact that the Haskala had adopted and appropriated Maimonides (1135-1204) as an example of ‘one religious leader worthy of emulating.