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Medieval Thinkers

Is Judah Halevi’s <i>Kuzari</i> Racist? Is Judah Halevi’s Kuzari Racist?
Wednesday, February 13, 2013 by Ari Ackerman | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

A recent attempt to redeem the Kuzari from the charge of ethnocentrism raises the question as to whether Jewish texts should be reinterpreted to accord with modern sensibilities.
Spinoza in Shtreimels Spinoza in Shtreimels
Tuesday, September 4, 2012 by Carlos Fraenkel | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Philosophy professor Carlos Fraenkel wrote that “the cultural relativism that often underlies Western multicultural agendas [is] a much greater obstacle to a culture of debate than religion.”  Today, in an exclusive preview from the Jewish Review of Books, Fraenkel relates how his theory fared among a group of Hasidim.
The Tenth Commandment and Thoughtcrime The Tenth Commandment and Thoughtcrime
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 by Yehudah Mirsky | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

The Ten Commandments lay out a blueprint for relations, first, between God and Israel and then, between God and humanity; the Shabbat serves as the hinge between the two.
Jewish Ethics, from Ancient Bible to Modern Bus Jewish Ethics, from Ancient Bible to Modern Bus
Monday, February 13, 2012 by Lawrence Grossman | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

The next time someone tells you that ethical behavior doesn't need a foundation in religious teaching, step onto an Israeli bus (it doesn't have to be the gender-segregated variety) or open a mass-circulation Israeli newspaper and see how religion puts Jewish ethics on steroids.
Who Owns Maimonides? Who Owns Maimonides?
Wednesday, October 5, 2011 by Joshua Halberstam | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Abraham Joshua Heschel once suggested that if one didn't know that "Maimonides" was a person, one would assume it was the name of a university. Heschel was referring to the monumental breadth and influence of the 12th-century philosopher's work.
Telling Jewish Time Telling Jewish Time
Monday, April 11, 2011 by Allan Nadler | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

The most acclaimed Jewish Bible commentary opens with a question. Why, asks Rashi (1040–1105), does the Torah begin with the account of creation, when it should properly have begun with God's revelation of His very first law to Moses on the eve of the Exodus from Egypt: "This month shall be for you the first of months"?
Sifting the Cairo Genizah Sifting the Cairo Genizah
Friday, April 1, 2011 by Lawrence Grossman | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Everyone knows about the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered over 60 years ago, and about the new light they shed on the sectarian Judaism of late antiquity, the beginnings of rabbinic Judaism, and possibly the prehistory of Christianity. Fifty years before that, the Cairo Genizah similarly revolutionized the picture of the Jewish Middle Ages.
Three Blessings Three Blessings
Wednesday, March 23, 2011 by Yehudah Mirsky | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

The Jewish prayer book (siddur) is thick with texts: blessings, thanksgivings, and petitions, instructions, theological claims, and historical memories. Some traditional texts bear especially outsized burdens. In this respect, few can rival three lines that begin "Blessed are you O God, King of the Universe, Who has not made me . . . " and conclude, respectively, "a goy [Gentile]," "a slave," and "a woman."
Skeletons in the Closet of Hasidism Skeletons in the Closet of Hasidism
Friday, February 11, 2011 by Lawrence Grossman | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Popular demands for transparency in our institutions and the availability of technological means to achieve it have made it hard to keep secrets. This has affected the conduct not only of government and business but also of religion.
Secularism and Its Discontents Secularism and Its Discontents
Friday, December 17, 2010 by Yehudah Mirsky | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

The transformations of Jewish life in the last two-and-a-half centuries still boggle the mind. Deep ruptures opened to separate the present from the past, modernity from tradition, setting terms that have defined the contours of Jewish life until today. How did people try to think their way through the change?
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Editors' Picks
The 12th-Century Age of Aquarius Maud Kozodoy, H-Net. Abraham ibn Ezra cast horoscopes not only for “natural” times such as the moment of birth, but also for “chosen” times: when a client began an enterprise or asked a question, or the onset of a disease.
For the Love of God Warren Zev Harvey, University of Toronto Journal of Jewish Thought. While the Bible time and again proclaims God's love for Israel, Aristotle denied that God was capable of anything so deficient as feeling—all of which was a headache for the Jewish medievals. (Interview)
Transit of Venus Jeremy Brown, Rationalist Judaism. Three rabbinic responsa to the rare astronomical phenomenon visible today, and what it means for a Copernican—and a Jewish—world view.
True Torah, True Science Seth Kadish, Rationalist Judaiam. Two strikingly different medieval paradigms show that when facing apparent conflicts between science and Torah, the worst possible solution is to sanitize the former or censor the latter.
A Heretic in the Truth Zachary Micah Gartenberg, Jewish Review of Books. Spinoza takes Maimonides' characterization of miracles as divinely implanted—but still natural—anomalies in the regular course of things. Then Spinoza adds a twist.
Hominid-Lupine Transmogrification J. Remus Bloch, Zoo Torah. Viz., metamorphosis from bipedal omnivorous hominids into lupine carnivorous canids. (Some "Purim Torah" on the werewolf)
Mourning, Melancholia, and Maimonides Jon Sommer, Zeek. Perhaps because a number of medieval Jewish philosophers were also mathematicians and astronomers, their writings on suffering offer commonsensical guidance still useful today.
Are You a Hellenist? Gil Student, Torah Musings. Is a contemporary acculturated American ignoring the main theme of Hanukkah? And for that matter, how did Maimonides reconcile his devotion to Greek philosophy with the ostensible message to reject Greek ideas?
People of the Sea Natan Slifkin, Rationalist Judaism. An accurate talmudic account of dolphins, understood by Rashi to refer to mermaids, tests the purported infallibility of early commentators.
Tangled Up in What? Joel Davidi, Toledot Am Ha-Sefer. Josephus refers to "a remembrance upon the arms" (which may or may not be figurative); Aristeas refers to a "sign around the hand" (same). Why are the earliest Jewish sources on tefillin so ambiguous?