Death and Afterlife in the Rabbinic and Kabbalistic Imagination
Dr. Nathaniel Berman, Rabbi David Silber / April 12, 2021
Jewish death rituals are famous for their existential profundity and psychological insight concerning our most difficult times. Less well-known is the vast treasury of myths about death and the afterlife that undergird those rituals. These myths go back to the beginnings of Judaism, flower in rabbinic literature, and reach their fullest elaboration in kabbalah. We will study a selection of these rabbinic and kabbalistic myths, particularly those in the Zohar, the central work of kabbalah. Shakespeare may have declared that death is the “undiscovered country,” but we will study the journeys of the Jewish imagination deep into its innermost provinces. The only requirement for this course is that you be willing to employ your imagination, your mind, and your soul to engage with this overwhelming, and often shattering, feature of the human condition.
Dr. Nathaniel Berman
Nathaniel Berman holds the Rahel Varnhagen Chair at Brown University, where he teaches in the Religious Studies Department. Nathaniel’s writing and teaching span a number of disciplines. As a legal historian, his work has focused on the modern construction of the “nation” and “religion” in tandem with the “international.” He is the author of, among many other publications, Passion and Ambivalence: Nationalism, Colonialism, and International Law (Brill 2011). In Jewish Studies, his work has focused on classical kabbalah, particularly the Zohar. He has taught widely in this field in the New York area, as well as at Brown. His book, Divine and Demonic in the Poetic Mythology of the Zohar: The “Other Side” of Kabbalah, will be published this year by Brill. Nathaniel holds a J.D. from Harvard and a PhD in Jewish Studies from University College London.
Rabbi David Silber
David Silber is the founder and dean of Drisha Institute for Jewish Education in New York and Israel. Rabbi Silber received ordination from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. He is a recipient of the Covenant Award, for excellence in innovative Jewish education, and is the author of A Passover Haggadah: Go Forth and Learn (Jewish Publication Society 2011) and For Such a Time as This: Biblical Reflections in the Book of Esther (Koren Publishers 2017). He is also a nationally acclaimed lecturer on the Bible. Rabbi Silber is married to Dr. Devora Steinmetz. They have eight children and live in New York City. Click here to access other recorded classes by David Silber.