December 23rd - 25th, 2018

Winter Week of Learning

Mysticism and Diplomacy: Ramban as Commentator, Disputant, Kabbalist, and Communal Leader
Sunday, December 23 – Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Rabbi Moshe ben Naḥman (1194-1267) was one of the most versatile and influential figures in Jewish history. His commentary on the Torah is one of the most remarkable works in the history of Jewish literature, synthesizing literary, philological, philosophical, and mystical approaches, and he is also well known as a writer of Talmudic commentaries and legal treatises. A harsh critic of Maimonides, among others, he also penned works meant to defend his own intellectual heroes from criticisms. And if that were not enough, he was also a physician and then a communal leader in Gerona, who tried to broker a compromise in the swirling controversy over philosophy, and was later called to a disputation against the Christians in front of King James I of Aragon. Banished from his homeland as a result of his performance there, he settled in Israel for the last years of his life, where he engaged with French traditions and the Jews of Jerusalem, revising his commentary in light of what he found, and grappling with the mystical meaning of it all. Creative and innovative in Bible, Talmud, halakha, and kabbalah, the Ramban’s life and work are endlessly fascinating and enriching.

Join us at The Sixth Street Community Synagogue, 325 E 6th St, New York, NY 10003, as we explore some of the many facets of this towering figure in Jewish history and thought.

Click here to register for the full program.

Click on any title below for course description and to register for the individual session.

Shacharit at the Sixth Street Community Synagogue

Sunday at 7:30am

Monday at 6:30am

Tuesday at 7:30am

Please join us for a light breakfast each morning from 9:15am.

Sun, Dec 23 Mon, Dec 24 Tues, Dec 25
Dr. Aaron Koller

Nahmanides as Communal Leader: The Controversy over Maimonides

Dr. Yoni Brafman

Nahmanides on Human Law

Dr. Michelle Levine

Literary Aspects of Nahmanides’ Biblical Commentary


1:15 Mincha Mincha Mincha
1:30-4 Rabbi David Silber

Ramban al HaTorah: Kabbalistic Aspects of Nahmanides’ Torah Commentaries

Jennifer Seligman

The Disputation: Nahmanides vs. Pablo Christiani in front of King James I of Aragon, 1263

Dr. Joel Hecker

Hiding in Plain Sight: Kabbalistic Interpretation in Nahmanides


Faculty Bios

Aaron Koller is associate professor of Near Eastern and Jewish Studies at Yeshiva University, where he is chair of the Robert M. Beren Department of Jewish Studies, and also Core Faculty and Coordinator of Adult Educational Programming at Drisha. His most recent book was Esther in Ancient Jewish Thought (Cambridge University Press, 2014), and his next book, Unbinding Isaac, on the ‘aḳedah in religious philosophy, is forthcoming, but he usually works on Semitic languages and linguistics. Aaron has served as a visiting professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and held research fellowships at the Albright Institute for Archaeological Research and the Hartman Institute. He lives in Queens with his wife, Shira Hecht-Koller, and their children.

David Silber is the Founder and Dean of Drisha Institute for Jewish Education. He received ordination from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. He received the Covenant Award in 2000. He is the author of APassover Haggadah: Go Forth and Learn, published by JPS in 2011, and the newly released For Such a Time as This: Biblical Reflections in the Book of Esther, published by Koren Publishing in 2017 (Hebrew).

Yonatan Brafman is assistant professor of Jewish Thought and Ethics and the director of the MA Program in Jewish Ethics at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America as well as a visiting research scholar at Princeton University. His research focuses on the intersection of Jewish thought, Jewish law, and contemporary moral and legal philosophy. He also studies the implications of religious practice for critical social theory and praxis. He has published or has forthcoming articles on these topics in the Journal of Religious Ethics, Diné Israel, Jewish Studies Quarterly, Journal of Jewish Ethics, and Journal of Religion and Violence. He is coeditor, with Leora Batnitzky, of an anthology titled Jewish Legal Theories: Writings on State, Religion, and Morality(Brandeis). He is currently working on a manuscript entitled Critique of Halakhic Reason: From Divine Norms to Social Normativity (Indiana). He holds a PhD in Philosophy of Religion and Jewish Thought from the Department of Religion at Columbia University, where he also received his BA, MA, and MPhil.

Jennifer Seligman, a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, is a doctoral student in Medieval Jewish History at the Bernard Revel Graduate School at Yeshiva University, where she also received her MA in the same field in Jan. 2011.  She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Binghamton University, where she received her BA in Judaic Studies with a minor in music in 2000. After studying at Matan in the summer of 2000 in Jerusalem, Israel, Jennifer studied Talmud and Jewish law full time in the Scholars Circle program at the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education in New York City, from which she graduated in Spring 2004.  Also at Drisha, she studied Biblical Hebrew, Hebrew Bible, Jewish philosophy, and Responsa literature. Jennifer has taught Talmud and Hebrew Bible at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco, CA, and has taught Talmud and Jewish Law at Congregation Shearith Israel-The Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue in New York City. An accomplished violinist, Jennifer plays in community orchestras in New Jersey in addition to teaching Suzuki violin in her home studio.  Jennifer lives in Fair Lawn, NJ with her husband, Ben, and her three sons Eli, Alex, and Dov.

Michelle Levine  is a tenured associate professor of Bible in the Rebecca Ivry Department of Jewish Studies at Stern College for Women. She holds an MS in Bible from the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, and a PhD in medieval biblical exegesis from New York University. She also studied at Michlalah Teacher’s College in Israel. Her research interests focus particularly on Nahmanides’ biblical commentary. Her recent research includes a study of this commentator’s literary analysis of biblical narratives, particularly his application of intertextuality to analyze biblical character as well as his structural analysis of the pattern and design of biblical narrative. In addition, she has broadened her research of Nahmanides’ literary perspective on biblical text by focusing on his analysis of the Bible’s songs and poems. Dr. Levine has delivered papers at various academic conferences on topics of biblical exegesis.  Dr. Levine is the author of a book on the commentary of Nahmanides and his literary approach to biblical characterization, titled: NAHMANIDES ON GENESIS: THE ART OF BIBLICAL PORTRAITURE (Brown University Press, 2009). She has written articles published in academic journals on biblical exegesis, “The Inner World of Biblical Character Explored in Nahmanides’ Commentary on Genesis;” “Nahmanides’ Literary Approach to Biblical Narrative: Varied Repetition in the Joseph Story;” “Ramban on the Dynamics of Biblical Dialogue in the Book of Genesis;” “Character, Characterization, and Interextuality in Nahmanides’ Commentary on Biblical Narrative;” and “Ramban’s Integrative Reading of Biblical Narrative.”

Joel Hecker  serves as Professor of Jewish Mysticism at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and is among today’s most prominent scholars of kabbalah. He is the author of Volume 11 and Volume 12 of The Zohar: Pritzker Edition, the first complete annotated translation of the Zohar, the central and canonical text of Jewish mysticism. He holds an H.B.A. in English literature from the University of Toronto, rabbinic ordination and M.S. in Jewish philosophy from Yeshiva University, and a doctorate in Judaic Studies, specializing in Jewish mysticism, from New York University. He has been a fellow at the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania; fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem; Visiting Instructor at the University of Pennsylvania, the Jewish Theological Seminary and Yeshiva University; and lectured at a range of universities, adult-education institutions, as well as synagogues of all four major denominations. Hecker is the author of Mystical Bodies, Mystical Meals: Eating and Embodiment in Medieval Kabbalah (Wayne State University Press, 2004), and has published widely on a range of themes in Jewish mysticism.