Scholar In Residence Topics

I am grateful that many communities have extended kind invitations to have me serve as a Scholar In Residence, typically over a Shabbat. The choice of a theme for the linked lectures is typically determined after a discussion between myself and the Rabbi or the Director of Adult Education, in which I learn more about the interest of the congregation and the average level of familiarity with Jewish history.

I rarely present the same set of lectures twice; even when two congregations choose a particular theme I always end up tweaking them for the specific nature of the attendees. Nevertheless, here’s a sampling of some of the most popular topics, in no particular order.

Rejected Then, Revered Today: Great Rabbis who were Unrecognized (or worse) in their Own Times

A look at the lives and tribulations of Rabbi Moses Maimonides (the Rambam), Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (the Ramchal), and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (the Lubavitcher Rebbe), all of whom endured withering criticism in their own lifetimes.

Hasidim, MItnagdim, and Maskilim: Two Jews, Three Opinions

A survey of the major intellectual trends that reverberated through 18th-century Eastern European Jewry: the birth of the Hasidic movement and the hostile reaction it provoked in some circles, as well as the Enlightenment spirit that threatened even more radical change.

The Unique Spirit of Sephardic Jewry

A survey of the dramatic historical events that shaped the distinct cultural mindset of Sephardic Jewry, extending from the persecution under the Visigoths, the brief period of la convivencia under Muslim rule, the Spanish inquisition, and the remarkable post-expulsion renaissance in the Sephardic diaspora.

The Origins of Ashkenaz

Genetic research has determined that nearly half of all Ashkenazic Jews today descend from four women who lived in northern Italy in the 9th or 10th century. What was once a tiny group of settlements in northern Germany ultimately flourished into a tremendous reservoir of Jewish culture, stamped with an uniquely Ashkenazic flavor.

What is the Meaning of Jewish History?

Historians record history, but not in the same way that a camera or a microphone records events: historians also create history in the literal sense of the word, and as such the study of Jewish history is inextricably bound up with the study of Jewish historians. Josephus, for example, is one of the most important sources for the crucial first century, yet his backstory taints everything he writes: a leader of the Jewish rebels against Rome, he deceived his fellow soldiers to save his own life by surrendering, only to spend the rest of his career as a “Jewish expert” working for the Roman Emperors Vespasian and Titus. These more advanced lectures will unpack some of the key challenges we have while studying the greatest historians of the Jewish people.

The Saga of Ukrainian Jewry

The attention of the world is focused on the conflict in Ukraine, a land which for centuries was home to one of the greatest concentrations of Jews in their centuries-long diaspora. These lectures will look at the broad sweep of over a thousand years of Jewish life in Ukraine, from the accounts of the Khazar conversion through the wide scale immigration of Ashkenazi Jewry, the Khmel’nyts’kyi Rebellion, the birth of Hasidism, the Holocaust, and the remarkable leadership of its current Jewish president.

JUDEA CAPTA: Historical Reflections on Life in the Diaspora

Especially appropriate for the Three Weeks: A series of lectures on some key tragedies that transformed Jewish life, from the destruction of the Temple to the Spanish Expulsion, from the burning of the Talmud to the horrors of the Holocaust. These lectures are much easier to deliver on weekdays, although they can be formulated in such a way that certain elements may be emphasized for discussion on Shabbat.

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