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Maimonides

Prophecy and Legislation After Moses

Deuteronomy promises the Israelites that God will continue sending prophets “like Moses.” But if the Torah’s legislation cannot be adjusted, what is the role of later prophets? And how can all the changes to Torah law made by the rabbis be justified?

Prof.

Kenneth Seeskin

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Israel’s Army: What Is the Basis for the Draft in Jewish Law?

When the State of Israel was established, the leading figures in religious Zionism had to justify Israel’s right to conscript soldiers using Jewish legal sources.

Prof.

Robert Eisen

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Spinoza: Who Wrote the Bible Determines How We Read It

Baruch Spinoza was excommunicated for his controversial beliefs about Judaism, including his rejection of the tenet of Mosaic authorship. However, Spinoza’s real originality is his radical and innovative claim that the origin of the biblical texts holds great significance for how they are to be read and interpreted.

Prof.

Steven Nadler

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Black People in Jewish Tradition: Eliminating Racism Requires Honesty

Like many traditions with a long historical pedigree, Judaism has inherited its share of texts with racial bias. Failure to acknowledge this is one reason for prevalent conscious and subconscious racist views that can be found in the American Orthodox Jewish community—the community of which I am a part—which sometimes reveal themselves in overt statements and actions.

Prof.

Meylekh (PV) Viswanath

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Sin of the Spies: God’s Ruse to Keep Israel in the Wilderness

The Torah is clear that God refuses to allow the exodus generation to enter the land as a punishment for their sinful reaction to the spies’ report. Maimonides, however, argues that the punishment was a ruse; God never intended to allow that generation to enter the land.

Prof.

Haim (Howard) Kreisel

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Tabernacle, Sacrifices, and Judaism: Maimonides vs. Nahmanides

Who needs the Tabernacle? What is the purpose of sacrifices? Maimonides and Nahmanides have radically different answers to these questions, reflecting a core debate about the nature of Judaism and the purpose of its rituals.

Prof.

Menachem Kellner

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The Tabernacle: A Concession to Human Religious Needs?

Why does God need an opulent dwelling, with precious metals and jewels, and priests with lush colored outfits? According to Maimonides, God doesn’t; it is we who need it.

Prof.

Kenneth Seeskin

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When Did the Bible Become Monotheistic?

It is often said that monotheism is one of Judaism’s greatest contributions to Western culture; however, it is far from clear that the Hebrew Bible is monotheistic. What is monotheism and when did it first develop?

Prof.

Kenneth Seeskin

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The Dictation Model of Torah Revelation

Rabbi

David Bigman

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Is the Divine Origin of the Torah Really Incompatible with Maimonides’ Philosophical Principles?

Some contemporary scholars have argued that Maimonides only meant to claim for the masses that God revealed to Moses the Torah as we have it today, that he himself could not have accepted the Divine authorship of Torah since it is incompatible with his philosophical principles. Yet, a correct understanding of Maimonides yields no such incompatibility, and, indeed, there is to no reason not to take him at his word.

Prof.

Charles H. Manekin

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The Maimonidean Akedah

Dr.

Chaim Trachtman

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“The LORD Spoke to Moses”– Does God Speak?

Even Jews who categorically deny that God has form, is composed of matter, is visible or is subject to the constraints of time and place, cannot seem to relinquish the notion that God speaks precisely as described in the Bible.

Prof.

Baruch J. Schwartz

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The Ethical Problem of Hardening Pharaoh's Heart

It seems unethical for God to deny Pharaoh free will and then punish him for his actions. Rashi, Nahmanides, and Maimonides all struggle with this problem, and each assumes that even Pharaoh deserves to be treated fairly.[1]

Prof. Rabbi

Shaul Magid

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Why the Torah Prohibits Incest

Although incest taboos are found in the majority of cultures, medieval Jewish thinkers found this to be an insufficient explanation for the Torah’s prohibitions. 

Prof. Rabbi

Marty Lockshin

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The Significance of Ibn Ezra's Position that Verses Were Added to the Torah

“And this is the Torah that Moses Placed Before the Children of Israel”

Dr. Rabbi

Zev Farber

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On the Problem of Sacrifices: Maimonides’ Ladder of Enlightenment

Maimonides, in his Guide of the Perplexed, portrays sacrifices as a ruse to repudiate idolatrous practices prevalent at the time. In Mishneh Torah, however, Maimonides states that the messiah will rebuild the Temple and restore sacrifices just as they once were. How are Maimonides’ two works reconcilable?

Dr.

David Gillis

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What Is Prophecy?

An Exploration of the Views of Sa’adia Gaon, Judah Halevi, Ibn Ezra, and Maimonides

Prof.

Haim (Howard) Kreisel

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The Treatment of Non-Israelite Slaves: From Moses to Moses

The Bible already expresses ambivalence about Hebrew slavery, the rabbis expand upon it and Maimonides takes the next step, applying the negative evaluation of slavery even to non-Israelites.

Prof.

James A. Diamond

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Torah Narratives with Angels Never Actually Happened: Heretical or Sublime?

Maimonides believes any story with angels is a prophetic vision while Ramban believes they are real occurrences and calls Maimonides’ position “forbidden to believe” – what is at stake in this debate?

Dr. Rabbi

David Frankel

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How did Abraham Discover God? The Rationalistic Approach

A single midrash on Parashat Lekh Lekha manages to touch upon the existence of God and how to relate to Him, on the tension between Torah and science, and on rabbinic criticism of Maimonides’ thirteen principles. 

Dr. Rabbi

Seth (Avi) Kadish

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The Secret of the Ma'aseh Merkava According to Maimonides

Already in the time of the Rabbis, Ezekiel’s vision of the chariot was considered to be esoteric knowledge. Although most Jewish exegetes interpret it as a metaphorical teaching about God, Maimonides interpreted it to be about science and astronomy. So why must it be kept a secret? Because Ezekiel was wrong and his science mistaken.

Dr.

Daniel Davies

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Do Animals Feel Pain? Balaam’s Donkey vs. Descartes

In contrast to Descartes’ theory of animals as automatons, the Torah and rabbinic text express deep concern for animal suffering. One vivid example is the donkey’s rebuke of Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me?” (Num 22:28).

Prof.

Yael Shemesh

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The Song of the Well, Psalm 136, Was Removed from the Torah

Numbers 21:16–18 speaks about the Song of the Well, but only records a short snippet. Whereas most commentators assume that the song was simply very short, R. Yehudah HeChasid offers the radical suggestion that the song was actually cut from the Torah and placed in the book of Psalms by none other than King David.

Dr. Rabbi

Zev Farber

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The Origins and Use of the 613 Mitzvot

The development of the idea that the Torah has 613 mitzvot: From Talmudic aggada, to geonic liturgy, to medieval enumerations.

Dr.

Marc Herman

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Introduction: Torah, History and Judaism

Dr. Rabbi

Zev Farber

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Must We Have Heretics?

Prof.

Menachem Kellner

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Source Criticism Enhances Our Acceptance of the Torah

Traditional commentators endued certain Torah references with midrashic or esoteric purport in an effort to counteract those who mocked them. But in so doing, they were conceding the mockers’ evaluation of these texts as being, prima facie, inconsequential. Fortunately, source criticism helps us accept these texts without discomfort, obviating the compulsion to interpret them away.

Dr. Hacham

Isaac S. D. Sassoon

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