Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon: Maimonides

Maimonides teaching, 14th c. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Maimonides teaching, 14th c. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (1135-1204) was a towering figure in medieval Jewish history, and continues to cast a long shadow into the Jewish present.  Nevertheless, the work of the philosopher-physician endured significant controversy, including an especially sad episode in which Jews actually consigned his works to the flames.

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Rav Sherira Gaon: The Jews of Babylon (Next Week: Sa’adia Gaon)

Ephraim Moses Lilian, The Talmud Students (1915). Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Ephraim Moses Lilian, The Talmud Students (1915). Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Who, exactly, wrote down the foundational texts of the Oral Torah? Who is responsible for the compiling of the Talmud? These were some of the questions addressed to Sherira Gaon, the Rosh Yeshiva of the great city of Pumbedita in Babylon in 987 by a young Rabbi in Tunisia. His famous response, preserved for over a thousand years, is an impressive survey of the Jewish intellectual tradition, leading up to the establishment of the greatest Talmudic centers in Jewish history.

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Please click here to view the Prezi.

The Dreyfus Affair (This Week in Jewish History)

The Degradation of Alfred Dreyfus by Henri Meyer. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The Degradation of Alfred Dreyfus by Henri Meyer. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Wrongly accused of espionage, Captain Alfred Dreyfus was sentenced to Devil’s Island on the basis of remarkably tenuous evidence. May critics, including the famous writer Emile Zola, argued that Dreyfus was unfairly charged simply because he was a Jew in the French army. As evidence mounted that another officer was guilty, the Dreyfus Affair exposed the persistence of pervasive and deep-rooted antisemitism, questioning how effectively Jews were accepted in French society a full century after they were first emancipated.

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Who Was Josephus? Fall 2013 Lecture Series in Jewish History Resumes This Week

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Photo: Aryeh Abramson looks out over Iroquois Falls, Ontario, Canada, where he spent the Sukkot vacation visiting his grandparents.

Captured by the Roman General (and later Emperor) Vespasian while defending the Galilee, Josephus ultimately turned against his coreligionists and served as an advisor to the forces besieging Jerusalem during the first Roman-Jewish War. His first-hand observations of the destruction of the Temple and the collapse of Jewish sovereignty are an exceptionally important source for Jewish history–but are they reliable? Taking the name of his Roman patrons, he went on to a brilliant literary career as a prolific apologist for Judaism, but do his later works compensate for his affiliation with the Romans?

The Fall 2013 lecture series in Jewish History is scheduled to resume this Wednesday evening at 8:30 pm, Young Israel of Bal Harbour, 9592 Harding Avenue. The lectures are free and open to the community.

Jews, Lepers and the Black Death (This Week in Jewish History)

Jews Burned to Death in Strasbourg, c. 1349. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Jews Burned to Death in Strasbourg, c. 1349. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The summer of 1321 was plagued with rumors that Jews had entered into a conspiracy with lepers (some versions also included Muslims) to poison the wells of Europe, resulting in mass hysteria and mob violence. King Philip V was eventually able to quell the movement, but it resurfaced twenty years later in a much more potent form as the Black Death swept through Europe.

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The Pale of Settlement (This Week in Jewish History)

Emil Flohri, "Stop Your Cruel Oppression of the Jews" (1904).  Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Emil Flohri, “Stop Your Cruel Oppression of the Jews” (1904). Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Officially banned in 1479, no Jews lived in the Russian Empire until Tsarina Catherine II conquered a major portion of Polish territory, instantly inheriting the largest single concentration of Jews in the world. Under her rule the Pale of Settlement was established, determining the region where Jews were allowed to reside, however tenuously, until the 20th century.
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The Jews’ Oath vs. Rothschild (This Week in Jewish History)

Lionel Nathan de Rothschild by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Lionel Nathan de Rothschild by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

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In 1847, the citizens of London elected its first Jew, Lionel de Rothschild, to the House of Commons. Rothschild, however, refused to take the Christian oath required of all members, and resigned without taking his seat in Parliament. He was immediately reelected a second and even a third time until the Jews’ Disabilities Act was passed on July 23, 1858, allowing Rothschild to represent Londoners without sacrificing his Jewish principles.

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