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Maimonides

A Relationship with God Is Not Enough: Adam Needed Eve

Human perfection cannot be achieved only through intellectual and spiritual development, but requires companionship and physical intimacy.

Prof.

Kenneth Seeskin

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Creating Order from Tohu and Bohu

God encounters the primordial תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ (tohu and bohu), dividing it into its constituent parts and reshaping it into a wiser, more orderly world, a task entrusted to humans thereafter.

Prof.

James A. Diamond

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How Do We Know a True Prophet? Jeremiah vs. Hananiah

Jeremiah urges Judah to submit to Babylon while Hananiah claims that Babylon will soon fall. Both use the same prophetic tropes to convince their listeners. Maimonides reads this story as a blueprint for distinguishing true prophets from false ones.

Prof.

James A. Diamond

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Can the Torah Be a Moral Authority in Modern Times?

The Torah is often used to highlight various ethical values while its many ethically problematic commandments are ignored or explained away. Is there a way to treat the Torah as a moral authority while honestly confronting the ethical issues it raises?

Dr. Rabbi

Zev Farber

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What Did the People Hear at Mount Sinai?

The answer, or lack thereof, teaches us something important about the meaning and limits of divine revelation.

Prof.

Kenneth Seeskin

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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 those 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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Were Maimonides and Some of His Followers Orthoprax?

A medieval Jewish philosophical perspective on the revelation at Sinai and Mosaic prophecy and its modern implications.

Prof.

Haim (Howard) Kreisel

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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 that any story in the Bible with angels is a prophetic vision. Nahmanides calls this position “forbidden to believe” and claims they are real occurrences. Must the Torah be historically true or just philosophically?

Dr. Rabbi

David Frankel

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How Did Abraham Discover God? The Rationalistic Approach

The midrashic Parable of the Illuminated Palace centers on Abraham and the existence of God. Maimonides’ interpretation of the parable envisions an Aristotelian Abraham for whom God is a scientific fact.

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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