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Jewish Theology and Mysticism

Chabad at Oxford

A concise synopsis of the major themes dealt with in the discourse series known as 'Bati LeGani' by the last two Lubavitcher Rebbes—'a literary edifice of the 20th Century'.
Incrementalism and the absolute in the inner life
What can mysticism tell us about halacha?
To what extent is Jewish mysticism rooted in the Talmud? Examining the interplay between the mystical dimension of the Torah and the Halachic corpus.
How the Lubavitcher Rebbe approached the perceived conflict between Torah and evolutionary science.
What happens when we sound the shofar on Rosh Hashanah? A comparison between the shofar sounded on Rosh Hashanah and the shofar of the Messiah. The Lubavitcher Rebbe's interpretation of an enigmatic passage from Isaiah.
The Baal Shem Tov's mystical ascent and encounter with Moshiach in 1746
Fascinating analysis of an account by the Baal Shem Tov of his ascent on-high, into the chamber of Moshiach.
An open culture of learning does not automatically lead to relativism
In the Jewish tradition study and knowledge has always been seen as open to all, regardless of socioeconomic status or lineage. But where is the line between intellectual openness and anarchy, between interpretive licence and relativism?
Monism in the thought of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Divine monism and creation: the paradox of otherness, human existence, and freedom of choice.
A chink in the wall of the Ghetto
The Lubavitcher Rebbe's curious choice to print an obscure manuscript in the dark days following the Second World War.
Five philosophers on G-d, creation, and the health of the soul
Al-Kindi, Al-Razi and Ibn-Tufal were three influential Muslim thinkers who participated in a great intellectual endeavor alongside the most famous Jewish philosophers of the medieval era.
Two processes of personal worship that integrates G-d in the lowly world
G-d has an inner longing to be made at home in the lowest levels of existence. It is the mission of man to achieve this through two complementary processes of personal worship, first drawing inspiration from above, and secondly raising the world up from below.
Charity as a redemptive and theurgic process
Tracing the history and significance of charity as a channel to influence a heavenly decree, examining Scriptural, Rabbinic, and Chassidic sources.
Jewish approaches to asceticism from the Mishnah to Chassidic teachings
Some Jewish commentators saw the conflict between body and soul as insurmountable, others saw it as non-existent, yet others saw it as an opportunity for a step by step process of mystical synthesis
An overview of the work Sefer Hachakirah
A detailed look at Sefer Ha'chakirah, a book of philosophy by the third Chabad rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek. Examining how the Tzemach Tzedek uses his own ideas as well as the works of other Jewish philosophers such as Maimonides and Joseph Albo to prove divine creation.
How Chassidism negotiates the tension of individualism and collectivism
Looking at the structures of societies, Individual and collective, 'loose' and 'tight' hierarchical and egalitarian. Applying these ideas to Chassidic society; examples from Breslov, Kotzk and finally Chabad.
A classic example of the Tzemach Tzedek’s synthetic approach to Kabbalah and Jewish thought
In the classic discourse known as "Derush Shalosh Shitot" the Tzemach Tzedek synthesizes three different interpretations of the sefirot and their relationship to the divine essence, as quoted in the thought of Rabbi Shneur Zalman: The sefirot as tools, as divine essence, and as divine names.
The compatibility of science and religion vs. science and atheism
A world renowned philosopher of science debunks the common myth that science is at odds with religion, and explains how it is actually atheism that is incompatible with the scientific method.
Four soul stages in our journey to the divine
The constant struggle to attain a deeper connection to G-d. Tracing the Kabbalistic dimensions of these stages and how they correspond to various aspects of our religious experience. (Based on a discourse of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.)
The developing role of women leaders in traditional Jewish society
How the Lubavitcher Rebbe created leadership roles for women within the framework of traditional Judaism, and how that spread beyond Chabad.
How should we react when faced with tragedy?
Looking at various perspectives on the destruction of the 2nd Temple and two central approaches to tragedy. Is it proper to react with grief and mourning? Or can positivity be glimpsed through the darkness?
Analyzing and interpreting four Chassidic texts on the High Holidays
A description of the Kabbalistic and Chassidic dimensions of the High Holidays, and how they carry through into the holiday of Sukkot.
The purpose of the soul's journey from on high into this world.
Descending from on high to enter the body, the soul struggles to find its place in this world. The Lubavitcher Rebbe charts a path for it to discover its purpose and attain new illumination through its decent.
What did medieval Jewish philosophers think about G-d and the nature of existence?
How Jewish thinkers, including Maimonides, Josef Albo and Chasdai Crescas, related to the Greek philosophical tradition on theological and cosmological topics, and articulated a path to a personal relationship with G-d.
Why is Yom Kippur introduced with the annulment of vows?
An exploration of the origins of this prayer; unpacking its legal and mystical dimensions.
Why do historical accounts appear in Maimonides' legal code?
An analysis of Maimonides' use of historiography as an introduction to law. Examples from the Laws of Foreign Worship, the Laws of Megillah and Chanukah, and from the closing chapter of Mishneh Torah.
Must one believe in creation ex nihilo?
A detailed look at Maimonides' approach to creation. Looking at the “Thirteen Principles of Faith”, the “Mishneh Torah” and the “Guide for the Perplexed”. How Maimonides revised his approach in the Thirteen Principles of Faith based on his later thought.
Three phases in the development of Chabad educational theory and philosophy
An overview of the theories of education articulated by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi and Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, and of the educational philosophy of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, respectively the first, sixth and seventh rebbes of Chabad-Lubavitch.
A Chassidic reading of a Talmudic passage provides models for self transcendence
Two discourses by the seventh Rebbe of Chabad build on earlier teachings of the sixth Rebbe, to discover novel insight in a Talmudic passage, applying it to questions of rationalism, contemplative prayer, and eros.
A complete curriculum of Torah study, and the significance of its mystical themes
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (1565 – 1630) is famous for his Shnei Luchut HaBrit (Shelah), and helped bring mystical themes into mainstream Jewish life by incorporating them into his ethical, moral and educational teachings.
The roots of Chassidic mysticism (devekut) in the writings of Maimonides
Maimonides is often thought of as an ultra rationalist. But several scholars of chassidism have shown that his views on how a human being can become attached to G-d were a seminal influence in the development of chassidic thought and practice.
Noted scholars and experts in their fields share their knowledge at the Oxford University Chabad Society.