Course Outline

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 political, ethical, and spiritual challenges. Encounter the 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: Contrast the Scroll writings with Talmudic texts, debate rabbinic authority, interpretation and the history of the sect that broke from tradition. 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 history of those who took their lives at Masada in 73 CE. Discover a view of Judaism that would die before living under a foreign rule. What role does nationalism and war play in Judaism?

Lesson Three The Maimonidean ControversyFaith vs Reason: In the 13th century, Maimonides’s philosophical work, the Guide for the Perplexed, was banned. This divided the Jewish world: Can Divine worship be rationalised and does reason have a place in faith and religion?

Lesson Four Renewal of The Sanhedrin

 Active Messianism vs Passive Messianism: As the Jews were expelled from Spain they faced a question: To reinstate the Sanhedrin to hasten the Messianc era or not? This created a debate: Can and should we force the Divine hand to bring forth the redemption?

 Lesson Five ChasidismDivine Transcendence vs Divine Immanence: In the 1700s, the Ba’al Shem Tov introduced a viewpoint on Judaism that was foreign to most.  He met a lot of resistance that led to upheaval dividing families and communities.. What motivated Chasidism’s opponents and what was the heart of the problem? What historic tensions were at play?

Lesson Six Separation of Church and State  Religion: Public vs Private: Is religion designed to be a personal matter, or one for 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?