The Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies invites you to a lecture in its international scholars series by Esther Farbstein: How Did the Hungarian Rabbinate Confront the Challenges Generated by the Holocaust?

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Date and Time: Tuesday, December 15, 2015 at 7:30 pm

Location: Glueck Center, Room 308. 500 W. 185th Street, New York, NY 10033

Drawing upon historical, documentary and halachic resources discovered in recent years, this lecture will focus on the hundreds of Hungarian rabbis who were sent to concentration camps together with their communities in the spring and summer of 1944.
Esther Farbstein, a world-renowned scholar, is the director of the Center for Holocaust Studies at Michlalah Jerusalem College in Israel. She has published a number of books on religious life and leadership during the Holocaust, including Hidden in the Heights: Orthodox Jewry in Hungary During the Holocaust (2014), The Forgotten Memoirs: Moving Personal Accounts From Rabbis Who Survived the Holocaust(2012) and Hidden in Thunder: Perspectives on Faith, Halacha and Leadership During the Holocaust (2007).
This event was made possible by a generous grant in memory of Mr. Zoltan Erenyi z”l



The Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies invites you to a lecture by Dr. Lisa Fredman: Rashi’s Biblical Commentaries: Can We Know What Rashi Actually Wrote?


Date and Time: Tuesday, December 1, 2015 at 6:00 pm

Location: Belfer Hall, Room 1214. 2495 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10033

The lecture will show how the printed text of Rashi’s commentaries we have today is the product of a complex development. It will demonstrate various types of interpolations into what we now have as “Rashi”: anonymous interpolations and the signs to detect them, interpolations explicitly attributed to other interpreters (such as R. Joseph Qara or Rashbam), and interpolations of Rabbeinu Shemaiah, Rashi’s secretary.

Dr. Fredman received her BA from Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women and her MA and PhD in Bible from Bar-Ilan University. Her doctoral thesis, A Critical Edition of Rashi’s Commentary to Proverbs, will be published this year. She is currently working on a critical edition of Rashi’s commentary to the Book of Daniel. Dr. Fredman has lectured at Bar-Ilan University and Herzog College.

Click here to RSVP


Dr. Daniel Rynhold with Professor Yair Lorberbaum at the PhD luncheon on Oct. 19th 2015

Revel’s PhD students had the privilege of meeting Professor Yair Lorberbaum at a private luncheon on Monday October 19th in the Revel lounge. Lorberbaum is a distinguished scholar with a broad range of interests, particularly the intersection of halakha, legal theory, and theology. Lorberbaum is currently a professor at Bar Ilan University’s Law School.

Lorberbaum imbued his captivated audience with guidance and encouragement commending their choice to venture along the academic path. Speaking from personal experience, Lorberbaum addressed the issue of how to choose a subject in the field of academia and what makes a particular topic a “good” topic. This was particularly relevant to many of our PhD students who have just finished coursework and are now deciding what niche area they will devote their lives to. Lorberbaum compared choosing a subject to entering a marriage as it will occupy your thought and your time and is indeed a life’s pursuit. Therefore the most important thing in choosing a subject is passion. Lorberbaum emphatically stressed the significance of this point. You must feel a sense of urgency and love towards your subject, if it bores you it will just become your “work” and you will never be able to complete it. In his own academic life, Lorberbaum struggled with picking the perfect subject. In fact, he sifted through at least four subjects (spending months on each) before finally settling on his perfect match – Tzelem Elokim.


Professor Lorberbaum addressing the PhD students


According to Lorberbaum a “good” topic must be well-defined and directed yet, still rich in size. The more questions you can ask about a topic, the more layers you can add to enrich it. A successful article or book deals with one thing. Lorberbaum cautioned not to try and solve all the problems in the world. If you develop or discover one new rich thing, that is a worthwhile achievement. The key is to define your subject well and then work within its confines constantly adding more depth.

For Lorberbaum, Tzelem Elokim continues to be an engaging topic as it is clear to define, but when you begin to think about it there are so many aspects to it ranging from halakha, philosophy, history, aggadah, legal theory, and more. Lorberbaum’s last bit of advice was: the more you learn and the more disciplines you know the better equipped you will be to broaden your topic while still remaining within its clear borders.

Later that evening, Lorberbaum gave an engaging lecture to the Revel community entitled “Ta’amei ha-Mitzvot in the Thought of Rashba”. To read the write-up from his presentation, click here.


Professor Yair Lorberbaum


On the evening of Monday October 19th 2015, Revel’s visiting scholar, Professor Lorberbaum, addressed an engaged audience on the topic of ta’amei ha-mitzvot in the thought of Rashba. Lorberbaum is currently a professor at Bar Ilan University’s Law School. He has lectured at Cardozo School of Law, University of Pennsylvania Law School, Princeton University, and Yale University. He is a renowned scholar of Jewish thought, Jewish Law, and political and legal theory. His publications include: Image of God: Halakhah and Aggadah and Disempowered King: Monarchy in Ancient Jewish Literature.

Lorberbaum discussed two major views of ta‘amei hamitzvot (reasons for the commandments) that stood in opposition to the rationalistic approach of Jewish philosophers such as Saadia Gaon and Maimonides, who provided naturalistic, sociological, and psychological reasons for the commandments. He characterized the first opposing view as “Halakhic Religiosity of Mystery and Transcendence,” i.e., that the reasons behind the commandments transcend human understanding. On this view, the mundane reasons given by Saadia and Maimonides undermine the religious depth of the commandments by stripping them of their mysterious, transcendent character. Lorberbaum termed the other view “Halakhic Religiosity of Obedience and Servitude,” i.e., that the sole purpose of observing the commandments is to subordinate ourselves to God’s will. This view argues that true devotion to God requires fulfilling a commandment only for its own sake (lishmah), rather than for some ulterior goal.

The major focus of the lecture was Rashba, who, according to Lorberbaum, was the first great Jewish author to present the position of “Halakhic Religiosity of Mystery and Transcendence” in a comprehensive way. Rashba thus applied this approach even to commandments that have an obvious reason, for example Shabbat, about which the Torah states explicitly that its purpose is to serve as a testimony that God created the world. As a Kabbalist, Rashba argued that the true purpose of observing the Shabbat — like all other commandments — is a mystical secret that transcends human understanding.

In the sources that Lorberbaum cited, Rashba polemicized against two other views: the mundane, rationalist view of Maimonides in the Guide of the Perplexed, as well as the attitude characteristic of early Ashkenazic thinkers that the exclusive purpose of the commandments is obedience and servitude. The latter view is described by the Provencal Maimonidean author David ben Samuel ha-Kokhavi, who speaks of the “sect of talmudists” who object to the entire project of seeking reasons for the commandments and insist on fulfilling them only because they are “the decrees of the King” (gezerot melekh). As Lorberbaum noted, the various medieval views reverberate in modern treatments of the reasons for the commandments. For example, even the great rationalist scholar Isaac Heinemann, in his monumental work The Reasons for the Commandments in Jewish Thought: From the Bible to the Renaissance, noted with a tinge of criticism that the mundane reasons for the commandments given by Saadia Gaon and Maimonides detracted from the “mystery” of true religious experience.

Lorberbaum offered a new insight brought out from the Rashba’s innovative perspective to the familiar notion of ta’amei ha-mitzvot in halakhah.

To read advice from Lorberbaum for those entering the field of academia click here to view a summary from the Revel PhD luncheon earlier that day.


This review was written by Blima Zelinger Maged, SCW ’15 GPATS ’17.


Dr. Youde Fu with Dr. Daniel Rynhold, director of Bernard Revel’s PhD program

At a special luncheon on Monday, October 12th our PhD students had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Youde Fu, the founder and director of the Center for Judaic and Inter-Religious studies at Shandong University in China. Dr. Fu has been studying Judaism for the past twenty-three years and has dedicated his life to learning about Judaism and Jewish Culture with the goal of making Judaism accessible to the Chinese people.

Dr. Fu did not originally plan to study Judaism. As a graduate student he studied Western Philosophy and wrote his thesis on Spinoza. Several years later, Dr. Fu was commissioned by Oxford University to translate Spinoza’s book on Hebrew grammar into Chinese. Dr. Fu intended to study just enough Hebrew and basic knowledge of Judaism in order to do a successful translating job. While working on the translation he went to Leo Baeck College once a week to study Maimonides.


Dr. Youde Fu addressing Bernard Revel’s PhD students

When he started studying Judaism, he immediately realized that this was his purpose in life. Through studying Jewish history, the Bible and Jewish ethics, he realized what an incredible culture and religion Judaism is and that the Jewish people make amazing contributions to the world. He believes it is unfortunate that the Chinese have almost no idea about Judaism except for the negative associations with the term Zionism. His goal is to introduce Judaism to the Chinese people. The Jewish people and the Chinese people each have ancient histories, but each are also people of the modern world. He believes we have so much to learn from each other about how to walk that line between tradition and modernity.

Since his original fascination, Dr. Fu has studied at Hebrew University in Israel, helped translate over 16 essential Jewish books into Chinese, including works of Maimonides, Buber, and Rosenzweig as well as the primary texts of the Talmud and Mishna, and helped start an undergraduate, graduate, and summer program focused on Jewish and religious studies with professors from all over the world. The graduate program at Shandong University now offers courses in Bible, Hebrew language, Talmud, Jewish Philosophy, Jewish history, and more.


To read the write-up from his presentation comparing Hebrew prophets and Confucian Sages click here.