The Incident at Inmestar (This Week in Jewish History)

Obliterating Haman's Name, early 18th century. Public domain: Jewish Encyclopedia via Wikimedia Commons
Obliterating Haman’s Name, early 18th century. Public domain: Jewish Encyclopedia via Wikimedia Commons

Murder on Purim? That’s the charge of Socrates Scholasticus, whose lone account of an alleged Purim celebration that got out of hand in the year 415 has become part of the historical record, for good or ill.  Although the validity of the accusation is highly questionable, the incident at Inmestar had a larger impact centuries later as the myth of ritual murder gained popularity in medieval Europe.

The Haskalah (Essential Lectures in Jewish History) Dr. Henry Abramson

Moses Mendelsohn After Anton Graff [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
Moses Mendelsohn After Anton Graff [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
The Haskalah was a major intellectual-political movement of the 18th and 19th centuries. Seeking political emancipation and intellectual freedom, it challenged the hegemony of the traditionalist authorities, leading to widespread assimilation on one hand but exceptionally creative solutions to modernity on the other. Part of the Essential Lectures in Jewish History series.

To view the Prezi associated with this lecture, please click here.

 

Eliyahu ben Shlomo: The Vilna Gaon and Lithuanian Judaism

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Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo, the 18th century Talmudic scholar better known as The Vilna Gaon, is revered as the father of traditional Lithuanian Judaism.  Part of the Jewish Biography as History series by Dr. Henry Abramson.

Dr. Bernard Lander and Touro College (This Week in Jewish History)

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Dr. Bernard Lander (1915-2010) was one of the most influential Jewish educators of the 20th and 21st century. Scholar and social activist, he founded Touro College in 1971, which now serves almost 19,000 students world wide. This short video was prepared to commemorate the recent anniversary of his passing.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi: The Alter Rebbe

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Author of the Tanya, a hugely influential 18th-century work of Jewish spirituality, Rabbi Scheur Zalman of LIadi is considered the founder of the Chabad (Lubavitch) movement.

 

People Of The Book:

Classic Works Of The Jewish Tradition

By Dr. Henry Abramson

This article appeared in the February 25, 2016 edition of the Five Towns Jewish Times.

The appearance of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi’s Tanya at the turn of the 19th century represented a sea change in Eastern European Jewish history. With this work, the Chassidic revolution, which had been building momentum in western Ukraine and southern Poland, burst into a constituency that had until that point prided itself on its immunity to the Kabbalah-inspired populism of the Ba’al Shem Tov.

The publication of Tanya dramatically illustrated the profound intellectual foundations of Chassidic thought, placing it in direct competition with the traditional Talmudic community in Lithuania for the hearts and minds of spiritually sensitive Jews. The Lithuanian yeshiva community, centered around Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, principal disciple of the recently deceased Vilna Gaon, could no longer dismiss the chassidim as superstitious, uneducated folk (or worse, as neo-Sabbatean heretics).

The Tanya placed Chassidism firmly within the Jewish literary tradition, articulating a fully documented path to holiness that had until then received little attention from more left-brained Talmudic thinkers.

The book itself was published in several stages, some posthumously, until it reached its current form in 1804. It begins with the modestly titled LekuteiAmarim (“Collected Statements”), which is a bold and psychologically gripping analysis of the human condition. Opening with the Talmudic passage that describes the angelic oath given to a person in utero (“be righteous and not wicked”), Tanya offers a remarkably original and persuasive description of the inner conflict of the soul as it encounters the challenges and temptations of the temporal world.

The title “Tanya,” literally “it is taught,” is taken from the opening line of this Talmudic citation. The remaining four sections of the work continue the discussion in several modalities, including a novel understanding of the meaning of repentance and deeper Kabbalistic insights on the nature of the soul. Overall, the work is deceptively complex, with sections that appear highly accessible while others hint to arcane, elusive depths.

The Tanya is known as the “Written Torah of Chassidism” because it represents the first work authored directly by a Chassidic master (previous works were collections of teachings published by various disciples). Rabbi Schneur Zalman is recognized as the first Rebbe of the Chabad movement, but the influence of his work reaches into every Chassidic dynasty and is regarded with great respect by non-Chassidic thinkers as well.

Tanya proved itself highly popular in the yeshiva world, much to the chagrin of traditional authorities, who could barely keep Talmudic students away from its intoxicating introduction of Kabbalistic concepts to pragmatic elements of the Jewish condition. In response, Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin composed his master work, Nefesh HaChaim (1824), a Lithuanian-style primer in Kabbalah that provided an alternative to students attracted to the rapidly expanding Chassidic movement.

For its part, Chabad embraced Tanya by instituting a daily study regimen to promote yearly completion of the entire work. Tanya remains a brilliant gem in the treasure of Jewish spirituality.

The Eastern European Center (Essential Lectures in Jewish History)

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A brief overview of the settlement and activity of the Jewish people in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Part of the Essential Lectures in Jewish History series by Dr. Henry Abramson.

To view the Prezi associated with this lecture, please click here.

Bilhah Abigaill Levy Franks: Jewish Women Building America

Source: Jewish Women's Archive.
Source: Jewish Women’s Archive.

Bilhah Abigaill Levy Franks lived in New York City in the early decades of the eighteenth century. Her correspondence with Naftali, her eldest son, reveals much about the inner life of a Jewish woman in colonial America. Part of the Jewish Biography as History series by Dr. Henry Abramson.

Johann Eisenmenger and the Talmud

Title Page of Entdeckes Judenthum.
Title Page of Entdeckes Judenthum.

Posing as a would-be convert to Judaism, Johann Andreas Eisenmenger studied Rabbinic literature for 19 years before publishing a massive two-volume denunciation of the Talmud called “Judaism Revealed” in 1711. His defamation of Jews and Judaism has been the foundation of much antisemitic diatribe for the last three centuries. Part of the Jewish Biography as History series by Dr. Henry Abramson.

Sarah bas Tovim: The Power of Women’s Prayer

Jewish woman placing a kvitel in the Western Wall. Photo by Yonina via Wikimedia Commons.
Jewish woman placing a kvitel in the Western Wall. Photo by Yonina via Wikimedia Commons.

Sarah bas Tovim was one of the most prolific authors of tekhines, prayers composed specifically for Jewish women in Eastern Europe. Her work illustrates the deeply spiritual lives of simple women, and sheds significant light on the social history of the shtetlPart of the Jewish Biography as History series by Dr. Henry Abramson.