Sunday 25 February 2024

462) Efodi’s challenge to the study of Talmud, Maimonidean Philosophy and Kabbalah



Efodi (d. 1433) is well acquainted with three powerful streams of Jewish learning ─ Talmud, Maimonidean Philosophy and Kabbalah. He argues that each of these schools has inherent and significant flaws in terms of their authenticity of tradition, let alone that they promote scholarly elitism. In their place, he boldly and controversially suggests a democratisation of Jewish scholarship through a return to the basics of Torah (i.e., biblical) study. Was this radical attempt at reshaping the Jewish learning curriculum a response to the Christian persecutions in Spain in 1391, or was it meant only as a remedy for the hour?


This article ─ based extensively on the research by Professor Yoel Marciano[1] ─ examines how Perfeyt Duran, known as Efodi, introduced and proposed a change in the traditional study curriculum, ironically by going back to pure grassroots.  His approach was anti-elitist and empowered all Jews, particularly non-scholars, to reach perfection without the need to pass through the three options of the rigours of Talmud study, Maimonidean Philosophy, or Kabbalah. He suggested, instead, a return to the simple study of the Tanach (Hebrew Bible). 

Sunday 18 February 2024

461) Maimonides unplugged


Recently discovered text in Maimonides' handwriting


This article – based extensively on the research by Professor Menachem Kellner[1] penetrates directly into the thought of Maimonides. It offers a no-holds-barred approach to pure Maimonidean ideology as interpreted by Kellner, a recognised authority on Maimonidean thought. 

Most Torah lectures, and Halachic decisions reference Maimonides, yet astoundingly very few of the presenters of those forums are always aware of how Maimonides (Rambam) actually viewed Judaism. Not surprisingly, then, many will find Kellner’s research into Maimonidean thought to be perplexing if not perilous to the traditional ideas they cherish and hold dear. 

Sunday 11 February 2024

460) Martyrdom in Sefaradi and Ashkenazi traditions



This article based extensively on research by Sam Millner[1] and Leon Stitskin[2]− deals with different approaches to Jewish martyrdom as evidenced in Sefaradi and Ashkenazi rabbinic writings. These divergent traditions are essentially rooted in the controversy between Maimonides and Rashi (and his disciples, the Tosafists), respectively.  Maimonides was active in Spain, North Africa and Egypt and came to represent the Sefaradi position on the matter of martyrdom − while the Rashi and the Tosafists characterized the Ashkenazi approach of Northern France and Germany. 

Rashi (1040-1105) and his students, the Tosafists, advocated for martyrdom in light of the forced conversions to Christianity around the time of the First Crusade (1095—1099). On the other hand, Maimonides (1135-1204) argued for a more tolerant approach and did not advocate martyrdom for the Jews subjected to Muslim and Christian persecution during the Almohad Berber conquest in 1172 and the various Spanish-Christian campaigns. 

Sunday 4 February 2024

459) Chassidic literature – beyond the Hebrew texts


Emet veEmunah, an anthology of teachings from Kotzk


This article based extensively on the research by Professors Evan Mayse and Daniel Reiser[1] examines a fascinating anomaly within Chassidic literature: Most of the formal Chassidic texts used today are in Hebrew, but Hebrew was not the medium through which the discourses were generally transmitted. The original teachings were mainly presented orally and in Yiddish. 

The question is whether or not this is a significant distinction, and can it have some bearing on how we read the popular Chassidic texts today?