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“It is forbidden to light with an old candle” – Chanuka and the Oral Torah
“It is forbidden to light with an old candle” – Chanuka and the Oral Torah
What does it mean for Chanuka to be the only major holiday invented in the post-biblical era?  Through hassidic sources, we will explore Chanuka’s message regarding novelty and creativity in our Torah and in our lives.
Purim and Chanuka: Megillah and Hallel
Purim and Chanuka: Megillah and Hallel
A central observance of Chanuka is the recitation of Hallel on all eight days; on Purim Hallel is not recited. We will study the significance of this distinction.
Purim and Chanuka: Text and Temple
Purim and Chanuka: Text and Temple
The observance of Purim centers around the Megillah, which becomes part of the canon. Chanuka, by contrast, focuses on the lighting of the candles, a Temple ritual. We will discuss the implications of each.
Maccabees and Martyrdom
Maccabees and Martyrdom
Dying for a cause is considered by many the most noble form of death, and dying for one’s faith has a long and complicated history. The first Jewish martyrdom stories are from the books of Maccabees, and we will look at how this idea is used in that context, and then how it evolved and developed over the following centuries, in early Christianity and into rabbinic Judaism.
The Jews of Diaspora in the Hasmonean Period
The Jews of Diaspora in the Hasmonean Period
When the Hasmoneans ruled Judea in the second and first centuries BCE, hundreds of thousands of  pious Jews were comfortably settled in Egypt – with no plans to return to their homeland. We will discuss what these Jews practiced, how they related to the land of Israel and the Jerusalem Temple, and what it meant to assimilate into the Greco-Roman world and still identify as a Jew.
What Did Chanuka Stand For in Ancient Times?
What Did Chanuka Stand For in Ancient Times?
We will explore the earliest sources that retold the dramatic story of Chanuka, and will consider how ancient retellings of Chanuka changed over time – and why.
Chanuka and Sukkot
Chanuka and Sukkot
We will conduct a detailed analysis of the significance of the commonalities the festivals of Chanuka and Sukkot.
Darkness Envelops Me
Darkness Envelops Me
The Talmud tells about the origins of Chanuka in a way that closely parallels a talmudic legend about Adam’s first encounter with darkness. As Chanuka begins, we will study these talmudic texts to illuminate our own encounter with the darkness and with the holiday of Chanuka.
Becoming a Sage and Efficacious Prayer in the Ancient Jewish Diaspora
Becoming a Sage and Efficacious Prayer in the Ancient Jewish Diaspora
Unity, Schism and Foreign Culture: The War of Hyrcanus and Aristobulus and the Murder of Onias
Unity, Schism and Foreign Culture: The War of Hyrcanus and Aristobulus and the Murder of Onias
The two source sheets for this shiur can be accessed here and here.
Translating Cultures across Linguistic Divides: The Making of the Septuagint
Translating Cultures across Linguistic Divides: The Making of the Septuagint
The three source sheets for this shiur can be accessed here, here and here.
Dead Sea Scrolls within the Babylonian Talmud? The Rift with the Pharisees
Dead Sea Scrolls within the Babylonian Talmud? The Rift with the Pharisees
The two source sheets for this shiur can be accessed here and here.
Hokhma and Sophia: Extremes Meet?
Hokhma and Sophia: Extremes Meet?
The two source sheets for this shiur can be accessed here and here.
From Prophets to Sages: John Hyrcanus and a Heavenly Voice
From Prophets to Sages: John Hyrcanus and a Heavenly Voice
The two source sheets for this shiur can be accessed here and here.
The Problem of Perfection
The Problem of Perfection
The existence of Evil seems incompatible with the presence of a perfect God. The Chassidim were particularly sensitive to the dimensions of this problem. Does a Chassidic philosophy, especially one that has God as story-teller, provide new and distinctive options for addressing the existence of Evil? And, what role does human freedom have to play in all of this? Part of Winter Week of Learning 2014
God in the Story and God Outside of the Story
God in the Story and God Outside of the Story
Several Chassidic texts present God as a story-teller, and the world as God’s story. We will examine the philosophical questions created by this depiction and some of the philosophical and theological problems that it helps us to solve. Part of Winter Week of Learning 2014
Holding Patterns
Holding Patterns
In order for our contact with light to be sustainable, the light must be held in a proper container, or home. We will explore the relationship between light and vessels for light, and by extension the issue of checks and balances. We will study biblical and midrashic sources that describe the catastrophic consequences of exposure to light that one is ill-equipped to hold and the redemptive possibilities when one finds a fitting container. Part of Winter Week of Learning 2014
Homeward Bound
Homeward Bound
Channukah is the only holiday that must be observed at home. What makes a space into a home? We will explore how the halakhic definitions of home (is it where you sleep? where you pay rent?) open into a discussion in Chassidut of what it means to be at home. We will learn, based on kabbalistic and Chassidic sources, how these definitions shed a light into the essence of Channukah. part of Winter Week of Learning 2014
Dreaming of Light
Dreaming of Light
As Channukah is a rabbinic holiday, it becomes in Chassidut a metaphor for the power and potential of oral law. By lighting Channukah candles, we become exposed not only to the unrevealed part of Torah but to unrevealed realms of our own lives and surroundings. How can Channukah be understood as a celebration of potential not yet actualized and dreams not yet made real? Part of Winter Week of Learning 2014
What’s All the Fuss About? Chassidut and Its Opponents
What’s All the Fuss About? Chassidut and Its Opponents
We will explore the theological and political debates surrounding the emergence of Chassidut in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Specifically, we will address the history behind the movement and the type of social friction it generated in kitchens and study halls throughout eastern Europe. part of Winter Week of Learning 2014
Yaakov’s Return to Canaan
Yaakov’s Return to Canaan
part of Winter Week of Learning 2014
Our Hope Is Not Yet Lost
Our Hope Is Not Yet Lost
How does Modern Hebrew literature and culture respond to and challenge traditional Jewish texts? This podcast analyzes Israeli prose and poetry and its complex dialogue with tradition. It also reflects on the conversation going on in Israel today between different parts of society.  
There Is No Other Hand
There Is No Other Hand
When is dialogue not to be pursued? Are there times where speaking is wrong, and silence preferable? What thoughts are better left unsaid? Which voices cannot or should not be heard? This podcast examines passages in Rabbinic Literature where thoughts and feelings are not permitted to enter, and where silence is chosen over words.
Rosenzweig and Buber
Rosenzweig and Buber
While Rosenzweig and Levinas share much in common with Buber, they stress the fundamentally asymmetrical nature of our relation to others and to God. What are the implications of these three philosophers’ ideas for inter-religious dialogue?
Maimonides and Buber
Maimonides and Buber
What are the implications of Maimonides’ privileging our rational capacities over our imaginative ones, for his views on God, prayer, women, Christianity, and Islam? Similarly, what are the implications of Buber's privileging human relations over rationality for his views on God, prayer, women, Christianity and Islam?
Men are from Bavel, Women are from Israel
Men are from Bavel, Women are from Israel
Dialogue demands effective communication. How can people who do not speak the same language engage in productive dialogue? What if the language is the same, but the cultural assumptions are disparate? Using two Talmudic passages dealing with family relationships, this podcast explores text and subtext, and the interplay between them.
“So that no person shall understand the language of the other”
“So that no person shall understand the language of the other”
Why does God create different languages in Genesis 11? Is the inability to communicate clearly with one another a punishment or a goad to greater opportunity? Is it possible to unite people whose languages are different? This podcast studies the story of the Tower of Babel and the Book of Esther.
Jewish Theological Responses to the Holocaust
Jewish Theological Responses to the Holocaust
Just as Rabbinic Judaism represented renewal after the destruction of the Second Temple, upon analysis we can expect to observe no less a transformation in the Jewish people and our religious experience after the Shoah.
The Printed Word and the End (?!) of Traditional Torah Authority
The Printed Word and the End (?!) of Traditional Torah Authority
With the advent of printing, the Rambam organized Halakhah into easily navigable categories through compiling the Mishnah Torah, rendering himself supreme arbiter by default. What opposition did he encounter and what do subsequent print publications reveal about the struggle for Halakhic authority? Recorded 12/26/12 as part of Drisha's Winter Week of Learning
Halakhic Responses to Medieval Persecutions
Halakhic Responses to Medieval Persecutions
The slaughter of strong Jewish communities throughout Europe during the Crusades catalyzed the development of the theology of Kiddush Hashem - the choice to martyr one's self rather than undergo forced conversion or murder at the hands of religious persecutors. How did the Halakhic authorities of medieval Ashkenaz react? Recorded 12/24/12 as part of Drisha's Winter Week of Learning.
Prophetic Ends
Prophetic Ends
Judaism contains age-old formulations of how to respond to tragedy and radical change that continue to help us today. Turning to our texts helped us to preserve as well as to build.
Transmission, Translation, and Tradition
Transmission, Translation, and Tradition
Why have the Dead Sea Scrolls been so significantly incorporated into our understanding of Jewish history and our national heritage?
New Beginnings
New Beginnings
The diaspora communities of the Second Temple period contributed to Western civilization and grappled with many of the same challenges we do today.
Wisdom and the Meaning of Life in Israel and the Ancient Near East (part 1 of a 2-session class)
Wisdom and the Meaning of Life in Israel and the Ancient Near East (part 1 of a 2-session class)
Click here to listen to the second session. What is life for? The human desire to find order and meaning in the apparent chaos of life is found in all cultures, and left its mark in the literatures of Mesopotamia, Aram, and ancient Egypt. We will explore the possible influences of these texts on our own Biblical wisdom literature.  
The Binding of Isaac and Its Place in Genesis
The Binding of Isaac and Its Place in Genesis
Comparative Parshanut in the Work of Nechama Leibowitz
Comparative Parshanut in the Work of Nechama Leibowitz
Nechama Leibowitz dedicated her pedagogical career to the pursuit of the true meaning of Jewish texts. In this podcast we will explore some examples of her interpretive approach.
Jacob and Esau in Jewish Exegesis
Jacob and Esau in Jewish Exegesis
An exploration of the brotherly tension between Jacob and Esau as it rearises throughout Jewish history and rabbinic literature.
Creation and the Story of of Cain and Abel
Creation and the Story of of Cain and Abel
Through an analysis of the Cain and Abel story, we will examine the foundations of human society as expressed through biblical narrative.
Primordial Chaos and New Beginnings
Primordial Chaos and New Beginnings
Through the study of passages from Ezekiel and Ezra as well as selections from the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, we will study the extent to which these utopian visions echoed understandings of the original Eden and marked a vision of renewal as re-creation. Part of Drisha's Winter Week of Learning 2007, dedicated in memory of Judy Tenzer, z”l
The Law of Moses and the Law of Nature
The Law of Moses and the Law of Nature
Did the Law of Moses predate Creation? If there is a “wisdom” inscribed in the cosmos, how does that impact our understanding of Revelation? We will explore these questions through the wisdom literature of the Bible and Second Temple Writings. Part of Drisha's Winter Week of Learning 2007, dedicated in memory of Judy Tenzer, z”l
Creation and Birth in Exodus
Creation and Birth in Exodus
Motifs of creation and birth continue to resonate in the narratives of Exodus. We will consider the significance of these motifs for a deeper understanding of the Book of Exodus. Part of Drisha's Winter Week of Learning 2007, dedicated in memory of Judy Tenzer, z”l
Do Mitzvot Require Intention?
Do Mitzvot Require Intention?
Utilizing classic rabbinic sources as well as relevant psychological material and research, this podcast explores several interpretations of the purpose, meaning and experience of mitzvot from psychological, spiritual, and religious perspectives.
Old Rules, New Reasons
Old Rules, New Reasons
When some halakhot seem to contradict modern sensibilities, traditionalists often try to defend them by providing innovative reasons to make them relevant and appealing to contemporary society. Are these new reasons simply a way of upholding and continuing tradition, or are they paving the way for changes in the laws they seek to preserve?
Are Mitzvot Rational?
Are Mitzvot Rational?
If mitzvot have reasons, are those reasons rational? Is the purpose of mitzvot to help us live more rational lives or are they meant to get us to rise to some plane above the rational? We will examine the great divide between the rational and mystical schools of Jewish thinking and see how the issue plays out in Bible commentaries on the laws of the Torah.
Should a Jew Look for the Reasons for Mitzvot
Should a Jew Look for the Reasons for Mitzvot
Jewish thinkers through the ages have often disagreed about whether mitzvot have reasons at all, and, even if they do, whether it is meritorious, worthwhile, pretentious or dangerous for us human beings to attempt to figure out those reasons. We will examine texts from Jewish philosophers and Bible commentators which address this issue.
Mitzvot and Polemics
Mitzvot and Polemics
We will examine the claim of many Jewish philosophers and Bible commentators who argue that mitzvot primarily serve the purpose of differentiating Jews from views and practices of the outside world.  Is being different a value in and of itself?
Beyond Good and Evil: Where Does Man Perceive God?
Beyond Good and Evil: Where Does Man Perceive God?
Tractate Berachot’s concluding discussions of everyday liturgical performances emphasize the need to find God in all realms of experience, by reciting blessings over food and diverse phenomena. This contrasts starkly with parallel discussions in other Talmudic texts, such as Tosefta Berachot, which focus on seeking God through the daily performance of mitzvot. Part of Drisha's Winter Week of Learning 2005, dedicated in memory of Rifka Rosenwein, z”l.  
Divine Time and Human Time: Modes of Sanctification- The Meaning of Keriyat Shema
Divine Time and Human Time: Modes of Sanctification- The Meaning of Keriyat Shema
The puzzling arrangement of the laws of Keriyat Shema in Berachot Chapters 1-3 reveal the different ways in which man invests divinely ordained times with human meaning. How do the Sages of the Mishnah think frameworks of sanctity should be integrated with or separated from everyday social settings? Part of Drisha's Winter Week of Learning 2005, dedicated in memory of Rifka Rosenwein, z”l.
Pirkei Avot: A Second-Century Guide to the Good Life
Pirkei Avot: A Second-Century Guide to the Good Life
While other Mishnayot focus on detailed halakhot (Jewish laws), Pirkei Avot stands out as a collection of rabbinic teachings and sayings on how to lead a proper life. In this overview of the personality traits associated with the good, the bad and the in-between, we pay close attention to the authors of these sayings and the broader context for their opinions. Part of Drisha's Winter Week of Learning 2005, dedicated in memory of Rifka Rosenwein, z”l.
Why is This Gene Different from All other Genes? Genetics and Stem Cell Research in Jewish Law
Why is This Gene Different from All other Genes? Genetics and Stem Cell Research in Jewish Law
From pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to prenatal testing to disease markers for cancer, what are the halakhic ramifications of genetic and stem cell research? Topics include designer babies, the status of the human embryo in halakhah, and the rabbinic response to the latest technological advances in this exciting field.
Rabbinic Response to Scientific Discovery Throughout the Ages: Conflict or Consonance
Rabbinic Response to Scientific Discovery Throughout the Ages: Conflict or Consonance
Historical medical halakhah included fascinating foci, including smallpox, the medicinal use of mummies, the earliest anatomical dissections, and early theories in embryology. How does rabbinic literature conflict with our modern understanding of medicine, including the 8-month baby, spontaneous generation, and the tree-goos
Organ Transplants
Organ Transplants
We will explore the halakhic debate over organ transplantation including desecration of the dead, definition of death, donor/recipient perspectives, and which organs are permissible.  These topics will also be examined in relation to current issues in bioethics.
Human and Molecular Cloning: Ethical and Religious Dilemmas in a Brave New World
Human and Molecular Cloning: Ethical and Religious Dilemmas in a Brave New World
The worldwide dialogue about the ethics of cloning, stimulated by the report in 1997 of the successful cloning of a sheep, has led to both rational and serious discussion as well as panic and alarmist warnings of imminent disaster. Why does cloning engender such emotional reaction - and what does Judaism have to say about it?
Torat Chaim: Halakhic Perspectives on Fertility
Torat Chaim: Halakhic Perspectives on Fertility
We will examine the ways in which new developments in reproductive medicine have been subject to halakhic analysis. Textual references will be used to highlight the underpinnings of different pesakei halakhah