Israel: The Land and its People
Spring 2017 Lecture Series
Calendar of Lectures
February 6: Abraham
Named in the Torah as “the father of many peoples,” Abraham the Patriarch is revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims as the original proponent of monotheism. This lecture will survey what the archeological and historical record reveals about the demographic, economic, and cultural environment in Israel when the Patriarchs and Matriarchs walked the land.
February 13: Joshua
The Bible describes how the Jewish people, emerging from Egyptian servitude and decades of wandering in the Sinai desert, followed Joshua’s military leadership to conquer the Land of Israel and establish the ancient foundations of their Torah-centered society. This lecture will survey the archeological and historical record to understand the larger context of the Biblical account.
(February 20 no lecture, President’s Day)
February 27: King David
“Sweet singer of Israel,” David was the poet-warrior King who led the Jewish people to political and cultural prominence. Denied his most cherished goal of building the Temple, he lived a life of great personal challenge and heroic resurgence from tragedy, and his biography left an indelible mark on the Jewish understanding of leadership.
March 6: Yohanan Cohen Gadol (John Hyrcanus)
Sponsored in Honor of Norman and Bridgette Robinson
Born in the times of the Hasmonean rebellion celebrated with the holiday of Chanukah, Yohanan Cohen Gadol was one of the most prominent Jewish leaders during the brief period of Jewish freedom in the 2nd century BCE. Caught in the swirling controversy of internal religious debate, in his old age he abandoned his Pharisaic roots orientation to join the Sadducean movement, prompting the Rabbis to issue the adage, “do not trust in yourself till the end of your life.”
March 13: King Herod
One of the greatest builders of ancient Israel, King Herod exploited his power as a Roman-sponsored ruler to develop the Temple, yet earned a reputation as a feared tyrant responsible for horrific massacres. HIs rule set the tone for the political climate in the Land of Israel during the tumultuous decades prior to the growth of Christianity.
March 20: Rabbi Akiva
Certainly one of the greatest Rabbis of the entire Talmud, Akiva son of Joseph did not begin his study of Judaism before adulthood. His trajectory of incredible spiritual growth was punctuated by moments of great personal tragedy, and his martyrdom at the hands of the Romans after the failed second-century Bar-Kochba revolt has an enduring legacy in Jewish history.
March 27: Mar Zutra
Traditional Rabbinic sources describe Mar Zutra as the progenitor of a long line of Jewish leaders in the Land of Israel, extending through the period of the early Islamic conquest in the seventh century. This lecture will explore the demographic, political and cultural landscape of Israel during the centuries preceding the turn of the millennium.
(No lectures in April: Passover)
May 1: Nahmanides
A brilliant 13th-century scholar of Rabbinic thought, Nahmanides’ defense of Judaism in a forced Church-sponsored debate earned him exile from his native Spain. An elderly sage, he emigrated to the Land of Israel, where he found a tiny Jewish community, desperately hanging onto the traditions of their ancestors. Summoning upon an immense reserve of energy, Nahmanides single-handedly resurrected the community living under Islamic rule and laid the foundation for a Jewish renaissance.
May 8: Rabbi Moshe Cordovero
The sixteenth century witnessed a phenomenal, short-lived explosion of Jewish spiritual creativity, centered in the sleepy Galilean town of Safed (Tsfat). Along with greats such as Rabbi Yosef Karo, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero was one of the founders of that unusual place, attracting still more Rabbis and especially Kabbalists to the mountaintop community, including Rabbi Cordovero’s most prominent disciple, Rabbi Isaac Luria (the Arizal).
May 15: Theodor Herzl
Once a highly assimilated Austro-Hungarian journalist, Herzl was shocked by the treatment of Alfred Dreyfus, the French army captain falsely accused of treason at the turn of the 20th century. The rest of his life became subsumed within a seemingly impossible goal: the reestablishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel ending nearly two thousand years of statelessness for diaspora Jewry. Like Moses, he did not merit to see the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, but his vision and determination transformed the millennial aspirations of an exiled people into a political reality.
May 22: Yitzhak Rabin
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, formerly a feared adversary of the Arab states that surrounded and made war upon Israel, ultimately became the very symbol of peace in the last decade of the twentieth century. “One does not make peace with one’s friend,” he famously said, “one makes peace with one’s enemy,” an attitude that resulted in the ill-fated Oslo Accords of 1993 and, tragically, in his 1995 assassination at the hands of a Jewish extremist. Rabin’s life was inextricably bound with the relationship of Israel and its Arab neighbors.