Travels Through Jewish History Medieval Period 30 Lectures Series on USB - By Rabbi Wein
History and its Relevance in Our Times - Medieval Period - Also Available Individually
How does the history of the Jewish People impact us today? Noted Jewish historian Rabbi Berel Wein continues his series on Jewish history in an in-depth, engaging account of European life. Seven hundred years of European Jewry saw towering intellectual achievements, spiritual devastations, and physical disasters. The rise of Ashkenazic Jewry in Germany and France and the fall of Sephardic Jewry in Spain marked cultural uypheavals that split the Jewish world. In the 17th century, just as the Jews became religiously unified through the Code of Jewish Law, they were being crushed by pogroms. The Northern European exile, once a great hope for a wounded Jewish community, was becoming unbearable. To make matters worse, the false messianism of Shabsai Tzvi spiritually devastated the Jewish comminity, leaving them vulnerable to secularism and new religious movements: Reform Judaism, Chassidus, and the Yeshiva movement. Rabbi wein takes you through the spiritual highs and lows of European Jewry before the modern era in 30 spellbinding lectures. Now shipped on USB.
Ashkenazic Jewry in France Dating back as far as the third century and possibly earlier, the Jewish communities in Provence, the Rhineland, Paris, and Troyes were sizable and flourishing in the Middle Ages. Forced into the occupation of money lending, they fulfilled France's economic needs yet also became its scapegoats. Yet against this bleak backdrop, Torah institutions were miraculously able to thrive.
The House of Rashi More than any Torah scholar who ever lived, Rashi made the Talmud accessible to the Jewish people. With specific examples of Rashi's tremendous contributions to Jewish thought, Rabbi Wein demonstrates why the epithet "the teacher of Israel" so perfectly fits this great master.
The First Crusade The terrifying climate of this "holy war" comes to life as Rabbi Wein reads the anti-Semitic sermons with which the Church inspired its knights and warriors. Those speeches, dripping with hatred, leave no surprise as to why the Crusaders killed tens of thousands of European Jews and decimated the Jewish community in the Holy Land. Yet once again, the light of the Jews shone through. Not only did we survive this bloody war, but amidst this chaos, Rashi produced his timeless works of Torah scholarship.
The Age of Rabbeinu Tam Rashi's traditions and teachings were preserved by his grandchildren, the Baalei Tosfos, and of these, Rabbeinu Tam emerges as the most powerful scholar amongst them. From their disputes to their contributions, Rabbi Wein reveals the origins of the Ashkenazic tradition of Talmud study for each and every Jew.
Expulsions & Burnings: the 13th Century Forced out of France by the Second Crusade, the students of the Baalei Tosfos fled to England, only to be followed by the same wave of Christian fanaticism and anti-Semitism that was sweeping Western Europe. Rabbi Wein relates the terrible calamities that fell the Jews of medieval England, from the blood libel at Norwich to the Third Crusade of Richard the Lion-Hearted. Yet in spite of all the violence, it was the burning of the Talmud that forced the Jews out of England and into yet another land of exile.
The Ashkenazim Come to Spain When times are bad, God sends leaders. This lecture follows the succession of Torah luminaries from the Maharam of Rottenberg to his student the Rosh, the first Ashkenazi to settle in Spain, to his son the Baal Ha Turim. Their enormous impact on Jewish life gives rise to the question of why the Ashkenazi approach to Judaism consistently supercedes the Sephardi.
The Black Death That the Jews suffered fewer deaths in the Bubonic Plague than the rest of Europe is a fact attributed to superior practices in hygiene, all of which are reflected in Jewish Law. Tragically, the lower death rate amongst Jews served only to further infuriate the already anti-Semitic masses, and entire Jewish cities were burned and its people killed. In this unparalleled calamity in world history, the Jews suffered the most horrific fate of all.
The End of Spanish Jewry The final hundred years of Jewish life in Spain mark one of the bitterest periods of Jewish history. Under Torquemada, the Church's fanatic push toward conversion became the Inquisition, an instrument for torture and death. Yet in one of the ironic twists of history, while the royal couple Ferdinand and Isabella favored Torquemada, they also favored their three Jewish advisors. Rabbi Wein recounts the heroism of Don Isaac Abarbanel who attempted to use his influence to save the Jewish people and who accepted expulsion and a life of Torah over a protected life without it.
The Jews and the Renaissance The rise of arts and sciences in the Renaissance brought a new spirit to Europe, and the watershed invention of the printing press was the most revolutionary of the period. For the "people of the book," this was especially true. The great works of Jewish scholarship and law were made accessible to the masses. Yet while the Renaissance brought about the spread of ideas, it also allowed charlatans to flourish. Rabbi Wein concludes this lecture with the stories of the false messiahs, Dovid Ha Reuveni and Eldad Ha Dani.
The Marranos The re-establishment of Sephardic communities after the expulsion from Spain is testimony to the Jewish will to survive. Rabbi Wein traces the revival of Jewish life in Italy, Turkey, North Africa, Holland, and the Land of Israel. Spiritually and economically, the Jews rebuilt themselves and even prospered. Possibly their greatest challenge of all was the acceptance of the Marranos, the hidden Jews who had converted under pressure and now wanted to return.
The Jews Come to Poland In the 15th century, King Kasimir of Poland invited Ashkenazi Jews to settle there hoping to harness their purported penchant for money making. Happy to leave the inhospitable environment of Western Europe, the Jews accepted and made a pun of the name of their new host country, "Poh lin," which in Hebrew means "here we will sleep." Though it took several centuries before this initial first impression proved to be a catastrophic error, Jewish life and Torah scholarship flourished in Poland and became the foundation of Eastern European Jewry.
Rabbi Yosef Caro From amongst the Spanish exiles emerged the great Torah genius Rabbi Yosef Caro who settled in Safed. During his lifetime, a movement to revive the Sanhedrin arose but was so vehemently opposed, it never took hold. Rabbi Caro's encyclopedic work the Shulchan Aruch became a substitute Sanhedrin, a guide to Jewish Law for every Jewish home. With the additions of Ashkenazic law and custom by Rabbi Moshe Isserles and the advent of the printing press, this monumental book became the universal legal authority for the Jewish people.
The Reformation Though it occurred several centuries before the Jewish reform movement, the Protestant Reformation was not only a historical parallel to it, but its precursor. Rabbi Wein describes the life and personality of Martin Luther, details his objections to the Catholic Church, and describes his relations with the Jewish people. He hoped to court and convert them, but when he was rebuffed, he wrote some of the most anti-Semitic treatises in history, later quoted verbatim in Nazi propaganda. This lecture leaves no doubt as to why Martin Luther was a force to be reckoned with, the first man to topple centuries of Church authority.
Kabbalah The mystical teachings of Kabbalah revealed by Rabbi Isaac Luria and his students sought to explain the reason for the long, bitter exile. Lurianic Kabbala teaches that the entire world is full of hidden sparks of holiness, and the task of the Jews is to release those sparks across the world by serving God. These ideas gained enormous influence on Jewish thought, opening the door for the Hasidic movement two centuries later.
The Dawn of the 17th Century The 17th century saw the beginnings of capitalism, and the Jews were at the forefront of it, despite the trauma of the Spanish expulsion. Rabbi Wein examines the Jewish community in the port city of Amsterdam, including the life of its most famous heretic, Baruch Spinoza. Winds of change would soon sweep through Europe, and the Jews anticipated and adjusted to them well in advance.
Tach V'Tat 1648-1649 In the 1600's, Poland was a feudal land in which the peasants' resentment against the landlords had reached its boiling point. The mercenary soldier Bogdan Chmielnitzki organized an army of Cossacks, peasants, and outlaws whose aim was to overthrow the Polish nobility. Because the Jews held the precarious position as middlemen between landlord and peasant, tens of thousands were massacred in the rebellion. Though Torah scholarship thrived before and after this cataclysmic event, it marked the beginning of the downfall of Jewish life in Eastern Europe.
Shabsai Tzvi Troubled times for the Jews always raise messianic hopes, and in the troubled 17th century, the charismatic Shabsai Tzvi, with much help from his "publicist" Nathan of Gaza, proclaimed to the world that he was the messiah. His following spread from the Mediterranean to Eastern and Western Europe to the point that people sold their homes and moved to the Holy Land in anticipation of the redemption. But under pressure from the Ottoman Sultan, Shabsai Tzvi converted to Islam, proving himself a charlatan and false messiah. The cynicism and skepticism that resulted from this debacle allowed for an erosion of Jewish leadership that continues to exist until today.
Regrets and Recrimination The sixty years following the Shabtai Tzvi debacle saw a tremendous backlash against former followers and suspicion of all Kabbalists. Into this atmosphere arose the great mystical genius Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto who met with fierce opposition, particularly from Rabbi Yaakov Emden, a leading rabbi in Hamburg. Fiercer still was Rabbi Emden's clash with Rabbi Yonasan Eibeschutz, whom he accused of being a supporter of Shabtai Tzvi. These contentious times which split the Jewish world are the watershed for modern Jewish history.
The Coming of Reform When the Enlightenment ideals of secular humanism swept Western Europe, King Frederick the Great of Prussia tried the experiment of granting rights to the Jews. One of the beneficiaries of this experiment was Moses Mendelssohn, who became the founder of Reform Judaism. A genius and a scholar, his proposals to solve anti-Semitism were nonetheless gravely mistaken.
Reform and the Enlightenment After Mendelssohn, the leadership of Reform Judaism passed to Abraham Geiger, who changed its doctrine drastically. Claiming that Reform Judaism was the essential Judaism, Geiger nonetheless denied the Torah and Talmud and adopted many practices from the German Church. The tensions between assimilation, traditionalism, and Jews' relationship with non-Jews continue to play themselves out, but in this lecture, Rabbi Wein delves into the specific example of how these conflicts were felt in the Napoleonic wars.
Chassidus 1 Drawing on both Chassidic stories and historical events, Rabbi Wein analyzes the revolutionary impact of the Baal Shem Tov on Eastern European Jewry. His emphasis on serving God with joy revitalized Judaism for the simple Jew. It took 70 years for Chassidus to be accepted as mainstream, but in its beginnings, the leading rabbis of Vilna opposed it vehemently, suspicious of what seemed a dangerous fringe movement.
Chassidus 2 The Maggid of Mezritch, successor to the Baal Shem Tov, was largely responsible for building Chassidus into a widespread movement that attracted Jews in all sectors of Eastern Europe. But as the movement grew, its opposition grew increasingly violent. Rabbi Wein recounts the bitter events of this terrible conflict and analyzes the counter-revolution in Chassidus with the elitist movement founded by the Rebbes of Pschicha.
The Gaon of Vilna The city of Vilna was known as "the Jerusalem of Lithuania"and it was the scholarship of Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna that made it so. Known for his superhuman schedule of Torah learning in which he very seldom slept, the Gaon was not only a giant in Torah and Talmud but deduced from the Holy Writings knowledge of science, mathematics, and music. Called "the father of the yeshiva movement,"higher Jewish education bears the stamp of his ideas.
Napoleon Napoleon's impact on Jewish history loomed as large as his affect on the world. With the express goal of assimilating Jews, he convened a "Sanhedrin" that would answer to him. He appointed 71 Jews of diverse backgrounds: some Torah scholars and some Reform leaders. While the majority of French Jews were only too eager to embrace his agenda, his invasion of Eastern Europe distracted him from his "Sanhedrin", but overall, he hastened assimilation more than any other non-Jewish leader in history.
Jewish Russia 1800-1850 Eastern European Jewry of the 19th century saw a tremendous decrease in the infant mortality rate which resulted in a population explosion, but despite this positive change, the Czar made sure the Jews faced grim times. Not only were Jews restricted from living anywhere but in the Pale of Settlement, Jewish children were conscripted into the Russian army as young as age ten. With stories of how the cantonist thread led to desperate measures, criminal behavior, and resentment against the rabbinate, Rabbi Wein captures the spirit of these harrowing years of Jewish history.
The 1850's For the Jews of Eastern Europe, the 1850's were a decade of relative quiet in an otherwise tumultuous century. Yet during this respite, many Jews saw an opportunity to assimilate, and this opened the window for the haskalah. Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch, with his unique contributions, effectively stemmed the tide of assimilation. By delving into his life, as well as that of philanthropist Moses Montefiore, Rabbi Wein renders two inspiring portraits of the great Jewish leaders of the mid 19th century.
Haskalah As the Reform movement spread from Western to Eastern Europe, it took on a new form called the haskalah, which came in many varieties. Some believed in the creation of a Yiddish culture while others embraced Marxist ideologies. In every type, however, the express goal was the abandonment of traditional Judaism. But the haskalists underestimated the strength of traditional Jews and met with resistance from three main movements: Chassidus, the yeshiva movement, and the mussar movement. Because of them, the haskalah lost much of its steam and would have become completely marginalized had it not been for its adoption of Zionism which gave it new life.
The Yeshivos 1 Rabbi Wein traces the development of the first and greatest of the yeshivos of Eastern Europe, the Volozhiner Yeshiva. From Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin's vision to the yeshiva's growth and success, and even the disputes over who would assume leadership, Rabbi Wein takes us through all stages of its history. Though ultimately the Czarist government forced it to close, the yeshiva movement became the fulfillment of Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner's plans. The educational system it implemented created the Torah leaders of succeeding generations up until the present day.
The Yeshivos 2 While the yeshiva movement spread throughout White Russia, the Lemberg Yeshiva in the Austro-Hungarian Empire was also growing, but in a fashion quite distinct from its contemporaries. Rabbi Wein examines the curriculum and cultural surroundings that made Lemburg unique, focusing particularly on the most influential Torah giant of that region, the Chasam Sofer.
The Mussar Movement Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, founder of the mussar movement, said his aim was to reform Jews, not Judaism. Aware that Torah study did not necessarily guarantee good character, he designed specific methods of self-improvement for all Jews. Because his methods corrected the very flaws the haskalah aimed to criticize, they hated his movement more than any other in traditional Jewry. Only a man of impeccable character himself could represent such high principles, and Rabbi Wein's summary of his life and accomplishments makes it clear that this was so.
The Mussar Movement The mussar movement was the sworn enemy of the haskalah and because the battle between these two forces occurred at the dawning of the media age, it became a propaganda war in the Jewish newspapers. Opposition to mussar only intensified after the death of its founder Rabbi Yisroel Salanter so that his successor Rabbi Yitzchok Blazer faced criticism from both outside and within Orthodox Jewry. Rabbi Wein details the achievements of the great rabbis at the helm of the mussar movement and their phenomenal success in combating assimilation.
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