Sunday 26 December 2021

364) Who should lead – the rabbis or the representatives of the people?


Ateret Zekeinim (Crown of the Elders): Abravanel's first main work defending the negative image of the biblical elders.

Part 1


There is a fundamental difference of opinion between Maimonides (Rambam, 1135-1204) and Abravanel (1437-1508) as to who is entitled to lead the Jewish people. According to Rambam, it is Moshe (or the relative equivalent in subsequent generations, which we shall refer to as the “rabbis”); and according to Abravanel, it is the representatives of the people (which we shall refer to as the “elders”).

This article is based extensively on the research by Cedric Cohen-Skalli[1] although the adaptation of this debate to modern times is my own.

Sunday 19 December 2021

363) Trying to define the theology of Abravanel



The length, breadth and depth of classical rabbinic thought continues to fascinate and intrigue me unabatedly. One such rabbinic figure is that of Abravanel (1437-1508), who, the more one reads about, the more complicated a personality he becomes.

We noted in an earlier article that Abravanel is difficult to define as being either a rationalist or a mystic as he seems to vacillate between the two approaches. This article, based extensively on research by Professor Eric Lawee[1], explores Abravanel’s complexity even further.

Sunday 12 December 2021

362) Between Talmudic and Academic Academies

Rabbi Dr Binyamin Lau - a man straddling both worlds of Talmudic and Academic Judaism. 


Is Torah study like drawing water from a well, involving a preoccupation only with a set group of ideas laid down by earlier authorities – or is it like a spring, with space for a constant flow of new ideas? This article, based extensively on the research by Rabbi Dr Binyamin Lau[1], explores the question of whether or not only old or precedented material qualifies as Torah study.

Two Talmudic scholars; two different approaches

 The tractate Avot records a debate as to which of R. Yochanan ben Zakkai’s disciples was the most esteemed: R. Eliezer ben Hyrcanus (described as the בּוֹר סוּד, orplastered well” who only drew from earlier sources) or R. Elazar ben Arach (described as the מַעְיָן הַמִתְגַבֵּר, anever-flowing spring”.)?[2]

The plastered or cemented well only allows what it already contains to be drawn from it, while the ever-flowing spring simply becomes the means through which new material constantly emerges.

Sunday 5 December 2021

361) What Can't be Said: Social Engagement in the Torah World


"Microphone" by visual.dichotomy is licensed under CC BY 2.0 


The internet crowd has been busy of late grappling with the question of how - or if - the exchange of information should be controlled. Should anyone be free to publish anything, anywhere? Is there an objective way to define things like "harmful misinformation" and even "truth" and "lies" so that filters could be applied fairly?

This post (which also appears on my Substack publication, B'chol Darchecha) will not address those questions, but they were its inspiration. So I'd like to explore how Torah law and practice might address the matter of free speech. How, in other words, citizens committed to Torah values might come to interact with each other. In a way, this post continues on from my Who Makes Decisions for a Jewish Community piece: that one deals with communal authority, while we're now going to think about whether that authority can be brought to bear on the way we share ideas with our peers.