This seminar is the core of Maimonides Scholars’ educational experience. Over two weeks, students will explore foundational ideas and conflicts that have shaped and sustained the Jewish people through its long and distinguished history: topics range from the nature of G-d and human nature, the relationship between virtue and political power, family dynamics, nationhood, chosenness, free will, and beyond.
Readings will draw from both the foundational texts of Jewish civilization, beginning with the Hebrew Bible, but drawing on classical and medieval sources, including the Talmud and Maimonides, as well as works by modern Jewish thinkers like Joseph Soloveitchik, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Leon Kass.
Students will be expected to be active participants, not passive observers, in a serious inquiry into the great ideas and profound debates that have captured the Jewish and Western imagination throughout the generations: What is a nation? What makes a people? What are the origins of the family? What does it mean for God to be one or for a people to be “chosen”? What is holiness and what role does it play in our lives?
Together, we will examine what some of the brightest minds of Jewish history—past and present—thought about these questions and interrogate our own assumptions and beliefs about these issues. What is at stake for us in these questions, and where will they lead us in the future?
Given the lofty and profound nature of these questions, we encourage—and expect—spirited and respectful debate. The aim of these discussions is not to inculcate students in any particular sect or practice, but to deepen each student’s awareness of the rich intellectual currents, internal conflicts, and enduring promises offered by the Jewish tradition. These ideas shape our own identities, notions of justice and the good, and our vision for the kind of future we want for ourselves, our country, and the broader Jewish community.
Yehuda Halper is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Jewish Philosophy at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel, and is the recipient of the Alon Fellowship for Outstanding Young Researchers in Israel. Dr. Halper’s research examines the advent of Greek philosophy to Jewish readers via Arabic, Latin, and Hebrew texts. His book, Jewish Socratic Problems in an Age without Plato: Permitting and Forbidding Open-Inquiry in 12-15th century Europe and North Africa is forthcoming by the end of 2020. His publications treat such well known pillars of Jewish thought as Judah Halevi, Moses Maimonides, and Levi Gersonides, along with less well-known Jewish philosophers like Jacob Anatoli, Immanuel of Rome, Abraham Bibago, Eli Habilio, Johanan Alemanno, and Judah Moscato.
He is currently directing a research project on Aristotelian dialectic in Hebrew funded by the Israel Science Foundation. Previously, he organized a research group on Aristotelian logic in medieval cultures at the Israel Institute for Advanced Studies in Jerusalem and a project on Open Inquiry in Jewish Thought at the Maimonides Centre for Advanced Studies at the University of Hamburg. He lectures regularly throughout Israel, the United States, Germany, France, Italy, and Czechia.
He was raised in Athens, Georgia, where he attended a public high school. He then studied math and classics at the University of Chicago, before making Aliyah where he completed his M.A. (Hebrew University) and Ph.D. (Bar Ilan). After his Ph.D. he taught at Tulane University for five years, before returning to Israel to teach at Bar Ilan.
Rabbi Jason Rubenstein is the second Howard M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain at Yale. A native of Washington, D.C., and a proud product of Temple Micah, Jason is shaped by two years of study at Yeshivat Ma’ale Gilboa and holds rabbinic ordination at the Jewish Theological Seminary. For the eight years prior to joining the Slifka Center, Jason taught on the faculty of the Hadar Institute, where he also served as Dean of Students and Alumni. In addition to rabbinic ordination, Jason holds an AB in Social Studies from Harvard College and a Masters in Talmud from JTS. He is also the recipient of numerous awards including the Wexner Graduate Fellowship and the Covenant Foundation’s 2015 Pomegranate Prize for Emerging Educators—and an avid cyclist and mediocre-but-devoted chess player. Jason’s intellectual work focuses on constructive Jewish thought that takes the fullness of human experience—love and hatred, loss, mortality, fear and hope, caring and betrayal—as the framework for which to form and reform categories of revelation, miracles, prayer, the afterlife, and obligation. Currently Jason is working on developing a queer reading of Maimonides’s Guide for the Perplexed.
Rabbi Yakov Danishefsky
Yakov is a clinical therapist specializing in trauma, sex-addiction, and other life-adjustment challenges. He is also a public speaker and Jewish educator blending spirituality, philosophy, and psychology. In the classroom, Yakov is a passionate and engaging teacher whose main goal is to stimulate curiosity and independent thinking. For Yakov, the greatest teaching moments are when students develop original understandings to renew ancient ideas. Challenge, debate, and re-analysis are the staples of Yakov’s learning environment. He earned Semicha and a Masters in Jewish Philosophy from Yeshiva University, completed his Masters in Social Work from Walden University, and was a member of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship. He lives in Chicago with his wife and four children.
Kate Havard Rozansky