Pahad Yitzhak on Hanukah – Listening To God’s Silence

Yishayahu  (54:1) said: ‘Greater are sons of the desolate one…’ upon which the Sages expanded: more righteous ones arose for me in a time of destruction than in a time when the Temple stood.

Rav Hutner in his classic work Pahad Yitzhak develops these sources to explain the role of the Anshei Knesset HaGedola, the men of the great assembly, and the place of Hanukah in Jewish history. In doing so he touches upon key questions at the heart of Jewish thought: what marks the line between the Biblical and post-Biblical periods, what is the relationship between wisdom and prophecy, and what it means to listen not only to God’s words but also to his silence.

A piece for Hanukah and for ‘light in the darkness’ in the deepest and darkest sense of the phrase.

Recording and sources here




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Kibbud Av V’Em – On The Mitzvah and Difficulties of Honouring Parents

For the second half of the Fall Semester at NYU in our gemara class, we decided to study the sugyot of Kibbud Av V’Eim (honouring parents).

Kibbud Av V’Em is one of the most taken for granted of all halachic topics – be a good boy and do what your parents say, right? On reflection however nothing could be further from the truth. Kibbud Av V’Eim is unique in many respects – accompanying a person throughout their life yet changing from one stage to the next, almost impossible to fulfill, with no simple distinction between machmir and meikel. No two families are alike and every individual is frequently their own posek.

In our classes we study both the halachic and the aggadic sections of the topic that appear towards the end of the first chapter of Kiddushin.

  1.  Introduction and Fundamentals -The Uniqueness of Kibbud Av V’Em, in general and in this generation, and the meaning of the comparison of honouring parents as akin to honouring God.
  2.  Repaying The Debt?
  3. The Orphan’s Question: When Kibbud Av Conflicts With Kibbud Eim
  4. Romeo and Juliet B’Halacha: When Parents Disagree With Your Choice of Partner and Other Delicate Situations
  5. What (Not) To Do With An Annoying Parent: The Story of Rav Assi’s Mother and the Maharam of Rothenburg’s Father


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Abrabanel’s Anti-Politics

In our fourth class on Jewish Political Thought we study the thought of Don Yitzchak Abrabanel (1437-1508). Abrabanel was one of the most distinguished politicians and statesmen in Jewish history and also one of the tradition’s finest political thinkers.
Fascinatingly, despite holding senior positions in Spain, Portugal, Venice, and Naples, he created a political philosophy which rejects not only monarchy (the mainstream Jewish position) in favour of republican democracy, but even appears to reject political association altogether. Relating to this week’s parshat hashavua: what was the sin of those who built the tower of Babel? That they built a city and engaged in political life. That was it!

To listen to the shiur and see the source sheet, click here:

If you missed them, here are the first three classes:

  1. Monarchy in The Bible: The Mitzvah To Appoint A King (or is it?)
  2. The Rambam’s Political Philosophy: Religion Serves The State, The State Serves Religion
  3. Rabbeinu Nissim’s (Ran): Separation and Coexistence of Religion and Politics


Venice in the middle ages

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Two Shiurim for Sukkot

The Rambam on Simcha – In Our Lives, On Festivals, On Sukkot

Rav Hutner’s Pahad Yitzhak on Sukkot – the clouds of glory after the golden calf, the second tablets, Yaakov, Emet, temporary and permanence and on developing personalities which incorporate within them multiple middot (attributes), in order to ‘l’galot partzuph haTzelem. All in a single page. Mindblowing.



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Yamim Nora’im Torah

The start of the academic year at NYU has corresponded with Ellul, Rosh HaShanna and Yom Kippur, and thank God our community has been able to learn a lot of Torah.

Below are the recordings of three courses with classes ranging in length from five to forty-five minutes. Just enough time before Yom Kippur to fit a couple of them in!

Pre-Selichot Thoughts and Ideas – (5 Minutes on Average)

Hashem As Shliach Tzibbur

Who Is A Ba’al Teshuva?

Why Does Elazar Ben Durdaya Cry?

Hashem – The First Attribute

Every Mitzvah As Teshuva

Rambam’s Hilchot Teshuva (15-20 minutes each)

Ch.1 – Did The Rambam Think Teshuva Was A Mitzvah?

Ch.2 – Internal and External

Ch.3 – Everyone As Perfectly Balanced Between Faults and Merits

Ch.4 – What Prevents Teshuva

Ch.5 – The Centrality of Free Will

Chs.6+7 – The Mindset of Teshuva 

Shabbat Shuva DerashaThe Hypocrisy of Teshuva (source sheet)

Tanakh Characters of the Yamim Noraim (approx. 45 minutes)

Noach As Everyman

Yechezkel, Mosheh, and the 13 Attributes

Avraham (guest lecture by Rabbi Dr Sam Lebens)



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Two New Courses: Jewish Political Thought & Tanakh Characters of the Yamim Noraim

I’ve been teaching two exciting new courses at The Bronfman Center since the start of semester – both designed to be relevant to this point in the Jewish and secular calendar as well as stimulating and rigorous Torah.

The first is Jewish Political Though focusing on the range of views about the relationship between religion and state developed by the rabbis of Middle Ages. An important topic at any time,but also one which gives us ways to think about the relationship between Judaism and the State of Israel, as well as the nature of politics from the perspective of the great sages of our tradition during this election cycle.

The second is a series called Tanakh Characters of the Yamim Noraim . My claim is that although not focused around a single historical event, an appreciation for the richness of these festivals is greatly enhanced by paying close attention to the Biblical stories that make up the Torah readings and tefillot of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur,  allowing us to uncover the humanity, range and depth of the critical ideas at the heart of these festivals.

Here are the recordings and source sheets for the first two classes in each course. More to follow as the courses unfold.

Jewish Political Thought

  1. Monarchy in The Bible: The Mitzvah To Appoint A King (or is it?)
  2. The Rambam’s Political Philosophy: Religion Serves The State, The State Serves Religion

Tanakh Characters of the Yamim Nora’im

  1. Rosh HaShanah Mussaf and Noah as Everyman 
  2. The 13 Attributes of Hashem’s Mercy: Mosheh vs. Yechezkel
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Torah In South Africa

I have just finished a wonderful ten days in South Africa where I was brought out by Limmud SA and The Academy of Jewish Thought and Learning. I saw three cities, the bush, learned about SA politics and the Jewish community, bonded with a fantastic team of international presenters, was hosted by the most gracious of hosts and met hundreds of people. It was an honour to learn with so many and I present here all of the classes for which I have recordings. The vast majority of the links lead to audio and source sheets and a few lead to articles. Thank you to everyone who made our time so special.

Cape Town  – August 19th – 21st

The Talmud & The Holocaust

Theological Politics: Yeshayahu Leibowitz and Abraham Joshua Heschel

Suicide: A Halachic History

An Alternative Religious Zionism – The Path Not Travelled: A Student’s Tribute to Rav Yehuda Amital

Durban August 23rd

‘Good Morning My New World’ – The Book of Jonah through Contemporary Israeli Music

In Search of The World To Come

Jo’burg – August 26th – 28th

Yishma’el ben Avraham (given at The Academy of Jewish Thought and Learning)

What I Learned About Israel In India (King David Victory Park)

Theological Politics: Yeshayahu Leibowitz and Abraham Joshua Heschel

How Torah Binds Jews Together (article based on Shabbat Lunch Dvar Torah)

Yonah, Nineveh, and the Positive Hypocrisy of Teshuva

The Two Goats of Yom Kippur as Two Models of Teshuva (recording by Dr Yael Ziegler)

The First King’s Last Night – Saul and the Witch of Ein Dor


Learning Torah and appreciating God’s creation in Nambiti Game Reserve.


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Gesher HaChayim – A Series on Aveilut

One of my favourite parts of my second semester at NYU this last year was a weekly learning group of students on the topic of Aveilut – the laws and practices surrounding death and bereavement in Jewish life. All recordings and source sheets are here.

In my experience there is no comparable area, where the connection is so clear and deep between the legal exposition of the topics in the Talmud and Halachic codes and the profound philosophical questions of mortality, suffering and the meaning of life. Thus in many of the classes we studied not only the relevant gemarot and responsa but works such as Gesher HaChayim of Rav Tikochinsky and Out of the Whirlwind by Rav Soloveitchik which make explicit the connection between the legal and the philosophical/emotional.

The first classes deal with the practices that surround regular cases of death and bereavement in Halacha such as aninut, shiva, and burial, whilst the latter classes deal with more exceptional or contemporary cases such as the development of the view of suicide in Halacha and the use of dead bodies for medical research.

Uploading these shiurim on the eve of Rosh Hodesh Av, the final shiur on the topic of historical aveilut and mourning for national catastrophes might be of particular interest.

  1. Introduction To Aveilut – recording here and source sheet here.
  2. Aninut: After Death, Before Burial – recording here and source sheet here.
  3. Aveilut Shiva: Nature and Obligations – recording here and source sheet here.
  4. Lo Talin: Burial in Halacha and Jewish Thought – recording here and source sheet here.
  5. Of Kaddish and Keriya: Mourning for Parents– recording here and source sheethere.
  6. Medical Research vs. The Dignity of the Dead – recording here and source sheethere.
  7. Purim and Aveilut– recording here and source sheet here.
  8. Suicide: A Halachic History – recording here and source sheet here.
  9. Historical Aveilut: The 3 Weeks, Omer, and Yom HaShoah – recording here and source sheet here.




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Elie Wiesel, Mosheh, and Moving on from the Waters of Strife

A piece for Parshat Chukat in memory of Elie Wiesel.

Great books capture something vital about what it is to be human. I feel a debt to an author when their work has given me a new way of thinking about life. The book, once absorbed, becomes a part of the way I look at the world, a new tool with which to decipher mysteries. Few books have had more of an impact on me than Elie Wiesel’s Night, the chronicle of the author’s time in Auschwitz.

Beyond the book’s overall impact on me (which I once wrote about elsewhere) it gave me an insight into understanding a part of the book of Bamidbar and a crucial moment in the life of Mosheh Rabbeinu that had always perturbed me. Whenever I read this portion of the Torah I now remember Night.

In my own internal world, it seemed both eerie and fitting that the Torah passage appears in parshat Chukat, – this week’s reading in the Diaspora and last week’s in Israel – in such close proximity to Wiesel’s passing. Given that he was as much Jewish educator as Holocaust witness, it seems appropriate to share this idea now. Continue reading

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B’Zot Yavo Aharon El HaKodesh: Of Distance and Proximity, Passion and Complexity. Rav Aharon Lichtenstein: One Year On

Friday night derasha given at on May 6th 2016, Parshat Aharei Mot, and nearly a year since Rav Aharon Lichtenstein’s passing.

Shabbat Shalom everybody

בזאת יבא אהרון אל הקודש

A plausible reading of the first verse of our parsha presents us with an idea so shocking and counter-intuitive, that until it was pointed out to me, I had never thought to read the verse in that way:

אחרי מות שני בני אהרון בקרבתם לפני ה’ וימותו

And it was after the death of the two sons of Aharon, when they came close to God, and died.

They came close to God… and died! Continue reading

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