Debate is not only encouraged within Judaism but resides at the very heart of our history and theology. Great Debates in Jewish History explores six fundamental conflicts that pitted the greatest Jewish minds against each other—six instances of divergent perspectives, including several that are still debated today.
Discover stirring and surprising accounts that span two millennia of Jewish disputation, reflecting the panorama of Jewish history and its monumental political, ethical, and spiritual challenges. Encounter the gripping narratives of six fascinating eras, the intellectual tension and points of view they unearth, and the light they shed on the most fundamental of Jewish beliefs.
Lesson One Dead Sea Scrolls - Dead Sea Sect vs Rabbinic Interpretation
Unlock the secret of the Dead Sea Scrolls by contrasting their writings with Talmudic texts, and unearth a fundamental debate about rabbinic authority and interpretation. What led the Dead Sea Sect to break away from the Temple and the Jewish establishment? What were their theological views? And why were they so opposed to the Pharisaic approach?
Lesson Two Suicide at Masada - Militant Nationalism vs Religious Institutionalism
Glimpse into the minds of those who took their lives at Masada in 73 CE. Discover a view of Judaism that believes it cannot survive without autonomy in Israel and prefers to die rather than live under a foreign nation’s rule. What role does nationalism play in Judaism? What is the Jewish perspective on taking up arms when defeat is inevitable?
Lesson Three The Maimonidean Controversy - Faith vs Reason
In the 13th century, Maimonides’s major philosophical work, the Guide for the Perplexed, was banned and even burned. Condemnation of his writings divided the Jewish world: Is rationalism an acceptable approach to Divine worship? What role does reason play in Judaism? And how do we resolve the conflict between faith and reason?
Lesson Four Renewal of The Sanhedrin - Active Messianism vs Passive Messianism
In the wake of Spanish expulsion came a proposal to reinstate the Sanhedrin, in an effort to herald the messianic era. The idea catapulted the Jewish world into a frenzy: some with jubilation, others with uproar and outrage. Can we force the Divine hand to hasten the redemption? Should we? And what about recent attempts at renewing the Sanhedrin?
Lesson Five Chasidism - Divine Transcendence vs Divine Immanence
In the 1700s, the Ba’al Shem Tov introduced a focus on joy, prayer, and the simple Jew’s relationship with G-d. But this endeavor was met with resistance. What motivated Chasidism’s opponents? What issues lay at the heart of the debate? And what historic tensions set the stage for this upheaval that divided families and communities?
Lesson Six Separation of Church and State - Religion in Public vs Religion as a Private Affair
A 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, permitting public menorah displays, deeply divided the Jewish world. Is religion designed to be a personal and private affair, or one to be paraded in the public domain? What presents a greater challenge to Judaism: the supremacy of a conflicting religion, or the predominance of irreligiosity? Where does Judaism stand on the separation of church and state?