2014-2015 Lectures

Yair Lorberbaum, Transcending the Rationales of the Commandments
October 20, 2014
Moot Court Room, Cardozo Law School, 55 Fifth Avenue

In the Guide of the Perplexed III: 31, Maimonides describes a view that treats the rationales of the commandments (ta'amei ha-mitzvot) as transcendent. For the people who subscribe to this view the transcendence of the reasons for the commandments is not simply a theological doctrine; in their view, obedience to mysterious decrees of a sublime and incomprehensible God is the very essence of religious and halakhic life.  I will  call this spiritual mood "halakhic religiosity of transcendence and mystery."

In chapter 31 Maimonides clarifies the deep irrationality embedded in this religiosity in order to persuade his readers that every commandment has a rational reason, that is, that the "whole purpose [of the commandments) consists in what is useful for us."

In the lecture, I will argue that: (1) halakhic religiosity of transcendence and mystery is absent from ancient Jewish literature – Bible, Midrashic, Talmudic and Geonic literature - and that it is the innovation of the high middle ages. (2) This halakhic religiosity spread in various Jewish circles during the generations after Maimonides, culminating in the modern era. (3) It has a profound impact on halakhic discourse.       

2013-2014 Lectures

2012-2013 Lectures

February 6, 2013

2011-2012 Lectures

February 15, 2012

2010-2011 Lectures

October 21, 2010

2009-2010 Lectures

February 3, 2010
In the aftermath of the destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE), the sages of Yavneh and their successors provided the Jewish community with a wide range    of alternative frameworks for religious expression. The question that will be   addressed is: Were these steps perceived as temporary and intended to fill the immediate void created by the destruction, or were they intended to provide for a long-term, and possibly even more spiritualized context for future Judaism?

2008-2009 Lectures

 Gerald Blidstein, Human Dignity as a Norm of Jewish Law
March 18, 2009

2007-2008 Lectures

February 7, 2008

2006-2007 Lectures

 Hanina Ben-Menahem, Jewish Law and the Myth of Formalism: (Mis)readings of Jewish Law from Paul to the Present
September 18, 2006
For almost 2,000 years, Jewish law has been denounced as a pedantic, hyper-legalistic system in which rights and duties are determined by splitting hairs and nit-picking, and not on the merits. The claim is that Jewish law focuses on abstract concepts, and gives little consideration to either human needs and real-life situations, or universal ethical imperatives. Despite its utter invalidity, the criticism, already voiced by St. Paul, continues to this day. This lecture will explore the factors that conspired to produce this distorted view of Jewish law, and the polemical background against which it emerged.

2005-2006 Lectures

Rachel Levmore, “Israel as the Jewish-Democratic State: Straddling the Hyphen”
March 1, 2006
Rachel Levmore, a rabbinical court advocate in Israel, will compare the two very different systems of divorce courts in the State of Israel, the State Family Court and the Rabbinical Court (Beth Din), and describe the areas of jurisdiction of each. The method of attaining a divorce in Israel, which has no civil marriage or divorce, contrasts sharply with the divorce process in the Diaspora. This lecture will explore the ramifications of this contrast for all Jews in Israel, regardless of religious affiliation, as well as implications for Jews of the Diaspora.