The Hebrew Bible is the most consequential book in the history of mankind. Its heroic figures loom large in our moral, cultural, and historical self-understanding—from Abraham and Moses to King David and Esther. Its moral code has shaped our sense of right and wrong from generation to generation. Its imagery—from the menorah to the chariots of fire—fills our imagination. And its dramatic yearning for the ultimate redemption fires our deepest longings. What is it about this text—this Book of Books—that makes it a work for the ages? In stories that span centuries—and which move from Israel to Egypt to Babylon, focusing on lone individuals and families to entire peoples and nations—what themes unite its diverse tales? Led by remarkable storyteller and intellectual Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, we will study the lives of patriarchs and prophets, saints and sinners, conquerors and kings, so that the most influential people and ideas in human history will suddenly speak to us again.
Live Lectures Streaming Mondays at 7:30 PM EDT:
July 6 | July 13 | July 20 | July 27 | Aug 3 | Aug 10 | Aug 17 | Aug 24 | Aug 31 | Sep 7
Recordings of past lectures will be available for those who register after the start date.
This series is generously supported in-part by Gary and Lee Rosenthal.
The lectures are being delivered in partnership with Congregation Shearith Israel from the synagogue’s historic sanctuary.
About Rabbi Soloveichik
Rabbi Dr. Meir Y. Soloveichik is the rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel in Manhattan, the oldest Jewish community in the United States, founded in 1654. He is also director of the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University. Rabbi Soloveichik has lectured internationally to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences on topics relating to faith in America, the Hebraic roots of the American founding, Jewish theology, bioethics, wartime ethics, and Jewish-Christian relations. His essays have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Mosaic, the Jewish Review of Books, Commentary, First Things, Azure, Tradition, and the Torah U-Madda Journal. Rabbi Soloveichik is a descendent of one of the great dynasties of Orthodox Judaism. He graduated summa cum laude from Yeshiva University, received his rabbinic ordination from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, and studied at its Beren Kollel Elyon. He has also studied at Yale Divinity School, and in 2010, he received his doctorate in religion from Princeton University.
1. The Man Who Changed the World: Abraham and the Birth of Monotheism
Monday, July 6, 2020 | 7:30 PM EDT
“How odd/of God/to choose/the Jews,” goes one famous anti-Semitic poem. But it asks a real question: Why is one Mesopotamian man chosen to father a family—and people—that will change the world forever? Why does God, who created an entire world in Genesis and later makes a covenant through Noah with all of humanity, suddenly seem to focus on the children of one lonely, monotheistic man? What was so revolutionary about Abraham that billions of people, with myriad religious traditions, today see him as the father of their faith?
2. Love and Hate: The Formation of the Israelite Family
Monday, July 13, 2020 | 7:30 PM EDT
The great Russian writer Tolstoy wrote: “Happy families are all alike; unhappy families are each unhappy in their own way.” The Book of Genesis reveals this truth, with its dramatic account of the founding family of the Israelite people. The Almighty chooses to be known as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; yet, the family with which He identifies is consistently torn apart, brother against brother, father against child. Why would God wish to be connected to such a complicated and often troubled history? And in today’s age of Jewish division, what deep lessons can these all-too-human stories teach us?
3. The Greatest Israelite: Moses, Exodus, and the Revelation at Sinai
Monday, July 20, 2020 | 7:30 PM EDT
“There never arose a prophet like Moses, and after him there never will be again.” The conclusion of the Torah—known as the Five Books of Moses—is the foundation of Jewish faith and Jewish peoplehood. But if Moses never makes it to the Promised Land, why is he deemed a stunning success rather than a tragic failure? What do the Exodus, the Revelation at Sinai, and the sojourn through the desert tell us about this mysterious man, raised an Egyptian, who became the political leader and spiritual teacher of the Jewish people for all time?
4. Looking for Leadership: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Saul
Monday, July 27, 2020 | 7:30 PM EDT
As the People of Israel enter the Holy Land, the nation experiments with a variety of leaders: Who are these figures, and what are their different strengths and limitations? Joshua could not be more different than Gideon, and Deborah is nothing like Saul. No political system lasts long, with instability and change from one regime to the next. Are these just interesting ancient tales of political failure? Or is the Hebrew Bible a classic work of political thought, with lessons about nation-building and statesmanship that resonate to this day?
5. The King and Us: David, Solomon, and the Vision of Jerusalem
Monday, August 3, 2020 | 7:30 PM EDT
“David, King of Israel, still lives.” Our notions of kingship, peoplehood, and Jerusalem are all bound up with this one remarkable man: poet, warrior, penitent, and king. Yet, this monarch is difficult to understand. He is a man with many faces: a fighter who also wrote beautiful psalms of praise that recognized his need for God’s protection and redemption; the conqueror of Jerusalem whose vision of that city he never lived to achieve; a fallible human being with terrible failures who is nevertheless beloved by God. Why is David so central to Jewish history and identity?
6. Israel Divided: Judea, Samaria, and the Age of Kings
Monday, August 10, 2020 | 7:30 PM EDT
The Book of Kings is the most vivid and varied in the entire Hebrew Bible. It introduces us to individuals as diametrically opposed as Elijah and Ahab, to spiritual greatness and astonishing wickedness. We read about the preaching of the prophets as well as the murder of the prophets. To walk the land of Israel, and the museums of the world today, is to relive these stories with reverence and horror. What lessons are to be learned from these astonishing sagas?
7. The Most Misunderstood Prophet: Jeremiah, Destruction, and the Invention of Jewish Hope
Monday, August 17, 2020 | 7:30 PM EDT
Michelangelo’s image of Jeremiah the prophet sits in the Sistine Chapel: a man mourning and bereft. To this day, the word “jeremiad” is associated with doom. Jeremiah saw the destruction of Jerusalem—a dark vision indeed. But he also—and more importantly—planted the very seeds of Jewish endurance and eternity. Why is Jeremiah so misunderstood today, and what is his real legacy in Israelite history?
8. What is the Messianic Age? Isaiah, Ezekiel, and the Jewish Future
Monday, August 24, 2020 | 7:30 PM EDT
In very different ages and very different places, Isaiah and Ezekiel cryptically spoke of an age in which Jews would rise from their graves and return to the Holy Land, when the land’s deserts would bloom and Jerusalem would expand beyond its walls. They spoke of a holy city once again joyously teeming with her own people. For ages, anti-Semites mocked the Jewish people for tenaciously clinging to these prophetic predictions. Where did these visions come from, what did they mean, and what would it mean if they suddenly came true?
9. Statesmanship in Exile: Esther, Daniel, and the Birth of Jewish Politics
Monday, August 31, 2020 | 7:30 PM EDT
In exile, Jews began to struggle with the hardest political questions imaginable: How can the Jews be a people if they are dispersed across the world? Is it possible to be a part of—and yet also apart from—the other civilizations in which Jews find themselves? In the face of enduring threats to Jewish well-being, what is the meaning and goal of a Jewish politics? It is the Books of Esther and Daniel that provide foundational Jewish answers to these questions.
10. The First Zionist: The Age of Ezra
Monday, September 7, 2020 | 7:30 PM EDT
A tiny Jewish commonwealth, struggling to rebuild after the greatest devastation its people ever knew; a country re-founded but threatened by enemies foreign and domestic; Jewish leaders in the Holy Land desperately seeking support from superpowers and from their Diaspora brethren around the world; a small state made up of Jews who are largely estranged from Jewish observance. This describes Israel in the age of Ezra and Nehemiah—but it also sounds a great deal like the modern State of Israel in 1948. This is why the Hebrew Bible’s concluding drama, largely unknown and unstudied today, may be more relevant than ever before.
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