Sunday 31 July 2022

393) The travel bans of R. Yehuda heChasid

Travel by ship in the 12th century


This article draws extensively on the research by Dr Ahuva Liberles[1] and explores a unique path within Jewish theology (and messianic eschatology) where personal redemption is emphasised, over the more common notion of national redemption. This path, it is suggested, was championed by R. Yehuda heChasid (1150-1217), a leader of the mystical group known as Chasidei Ashkenaz (or German Pietists) which flourished during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. R. Yehuda heChasid is one of the authors of Sefer Chasidim[2] containing almost two thousand brief teachings on mystical, pietist and ascetic practices interspersed with German folk traditions. R. Yehuda heChasid’s restriction of travel is an area of scholarship that has not achieved much attention and the lacuna is filled by Liberles’ enlightening research.

Sunday 24 July 2022

392) Causes of the Sabbatian movement: Revisiting the (unpopular) view of Gershom Scholem.


A work of Lurianic kabbalah



The Sabbatian movement, founded by the messianic claimant Shabbatai Tzvi (1626-1676) was the largest and most influential Jewish messianic movement since Christianity.[2] Shabbatai Tzvi is one of the best-documented personalities in Jewish history,[3] yet ironically both he and his movement are perhaps the least taught topics in classes on Jewish history today.[4] During the peak of the Sabbatian movement, the majority of the Jewish population believed Shabbatai Tzvi to be the final and righteous Messiah. This sentiment was endorsed by most leading and authoritative rabbis of that period, despite revisionist attempts to later hide these facts.[5] When Shabbatai Tzvi eventually apostatized to Islam, the ma’aminim or believers as his followers were known, experienced a major crisis of faith, the effects of which many maintain are still felt today. For these reasons, scholars have always been intrigued as to what exactly led the Jewish people to accept Shabbatai Tzvi as the Jewish Messiah.

Sunday 17 July 2022

391) Does morality come from religion or does religion adopt morality?


This is the position taken by advocates of the Strong Dependence Theory. This article argues that Judaism adopts the Weak Dependence Theory.


This article, drawn extensively on the research by Professors Avi Sagi and Daniel Statman,[1]  explores the nature and provenance of Jewish morality and ethics. I found this particularly interesting because, like most rabbis, I had always thought (and taught) that morality springs from G-d. This seemed obvious. However, Sagi and Statman show that foundational rabbinic sources point to an autonomous and independent existence of morality very much defined by humans, which is then adopted by G-d as the model for Judaism.

Sunday 10 July 2022

390) A History of Torah Observance: The widespread rejection of Judaism is certainly tragic. But is it unusual?

Photo by Federico Di Dio photography on Unsplash

A Guest post by Rabbi Boruch Clinton

Some appear to assume that the current state of Jewish observance - where only a small minority of Jews are Torah-loyal - is an historical anomaly. The centuries and millennia preceding the European Enlightenment, so the thinking goes, saw more or less universal halachic compliance, and it was only through a combination of hostile external and internal 18th Century forces that we lost most of our population.

But I'm not sure that's true. First of all, mass defections seem to have been common through most periods of Jewish history. And second, Jewish life could hardly be considered "settled" during the early modern period (c. 1450-1800) that preceded the Enlightenment. In other words, while things may not be great right now, I'm not sure they were ever all that much better. There has always been free will and bad choices have always been an option.

Sunday 3 July 2022

389) Morality and the question of rabbis who fled the holocaust



This article is based extensively on the research by Isaac Hershkowitz which he conducted while preparing his PhD dissertation.[1] It deals with the morality of rabbis and Chassidic rebbes who left their communities and reached Budapest in 1943-4 just before the Nazi takeover and escaped the holocaust. Some used Aliyah certificates for Palestine despite their long-standing opposition to Zionism.