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Jewish Theology and Mysticism

Chabad at Oxford

Embracing tensions in Maimonides’ theology
Throughout Maimonides' writings there is a clear tension between his goal of communicating a clear theosophical vision and his affirmation that ultimately the human mind cannot full grasp the true nature of G-d.
Divine Providence, Free Will, and Suffering as a Philosophical Ailment
A wide ranging philosophical exploration of Maimonides' treatment of divine providence, free will and suffering. Ultimately, through contemplation of G-d man can transcend the spiritual ailment, which is the real source of suffering.
Merging intimacy and awe in the High Holiday prayers
The High Holidays are often approached with fear, but a closer look reveals an inner core of divine intimacy along with human empowerment and illumination.
Esther as a model for a higher mode of prayer
On its most basic level, to pray is to ask G-d to provide for your needs. But the story of Esther provides a loftier model, which should guide us as we approach the High Holidays.
Proto-Socialist Resonances in Chassidic Thought
Chabad struggled bitterly against communism's aggressively secular ethos, but successive Rebbes indicated that socialism and Judaism are not entirely at odds. This lecture was in tribute to Professor Chimen Abramsky.
Readings from the early chapters of Genesis
In the rabbinic tradition, the tensions and ambiguities of the Torah's texts are embraced as a gateway to the spiritual exercise of scriptural interpretation and meaning making. Adam's encounter with G-d in the Garden of Eden provides an example of how this works.
The unusual publishing history of Rabbi Schnuer Zalman's Tanya
Since the time of the Baal Shem Tov, Chassidisim has attached messianic significance to the dissemination of Chassidic thought. In the modern era, this was the driving idea behind the Rebbe's campaign to publish the Tanya all over the world, which chassidim understood to have a practical impact on cosmic events.
Logic and demythologization in the teachings of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi
Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi cohesively incorporates rational elements into his mystical ontological system. Examples include the demythologization of philosophically obscurities and adherence to certain logical principles, some of which were transcended by successive Chabad rebbes.
Tentative remarks on Wittgenstein's religious and cultural philosophy
Ludwig Wittgenstein, is widely regarded as the greatest philosopher of the 20th century. He was not raised as a Jew but his family had a Jewish background, and a tentative case can be made that Jewish resonance can be detected in the formulation of his ideas.
A central theme in Jewish canonical literature
Dialogues of Love, by Rabbi Yehuda Abravanel, was one of the most popular philosophical works of the 16th century. From the rich tradition of Jewish mysticism and thought, extending to Talmudic and Midrashic texts, he drew deep insight that remains strikingly relevant today.
Synthesized understandings of the world and G-d
For medieval philosophers of the aristotelian tradition, science and religion were not different disciplines; empirical science was rather seen as a path by which man can find G-d. This approach is exemplified in the writings of the rabbinic astronomer of 14th century spain, Isaac Israeli the Younger.
Exploring the divide between Maimonidean rationalism and Chabad mysticism
Maimonides is often portrayed as a rationalist who opposed any form of mysticism. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi is generally seen as a mystic, albeit one of moderate rationalist inclination. A comparative textual reading reveals that these two greats may have far more in common than is usually thought.
The simplest explanation is most likely to be correct
Scientific principle dictates that the simplest explanation is always most likely to be correct. Theism provides the simplest explanation for why the world we inhabit exists.
Post-Modern Perspectives on the Chassidic Notion of Repentance
Biblical perspectives on good and evil are usually seen as a conventional polarity of white versus black. But in a strikingly post modernist approach, the Chassidic notion of repentance deconstructs this narrative. Sin is not all evil, but provides unique opportunity for spiritual transformation and the ultimate fulfillment of the divine purpose.
Chassidic and Mitnagdic Perspectives on Torah as a Path to G-d
The legal aspect of the Torah has been described by Kabbalists as concealing a deeper, more mystical dimension. But Mitnagdic and Chassidic thinkers both argued—in similar but different ways—that study of legal topics “for its own sake” could itself embody a mystic purpose. But what is the nature of that purpose?
Analysis of a Discourse by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Unraveling the paradoxes of a biblical verse reveals a spiritual path via which we can reach infinitude, not despite our finitude, but because of our finitude. Based on the discourse by the Lubavitcher Rebbe beginning with the verse ‘The number of the Israelites... cannot be numbered” (Hosea 2:1-2), delivered on the 2nd of Sivan, 5726 (1966).
A Dispute Between Rambam and Ramban
An analysis of the respective opinions of two great Jewish thinkers reveals a deeply subtle point of contention regarding divine intervention in the created world.
Aspects of chassidic prayer and their contemporary application
What makes chassidic prayer distinct? Can these elements be broadened and made relevant to the wider Jewish community in the modern age?
The Chabadization of Contemporary Orthodoxy
Certain non-chassidic leaders initially opposed the Chabad effort to spread Jewish learning and practice amongst all Jews. But these policies were later changed, and non-chassidic groups began to design programs which—in many ways—imitate Chabad practices.
Does man draw near to G-d through intellect or via an intrinsic bond?
An exploration of the different opinions of the Rambam and Rav Kook regarding the ways through which man can approach G-d reveals a more fundamental debate.
The Ethical Path of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi
Ethics can be understood as the vehicle that moves the self, and the world at large, towards the ontological good. For Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, that good is synonymous with G-d, and the path prescribed by the Torah is the vehicle which draws humanity and the world into the singularity of the divine good.
Chabad Perspectives on Happiness
Chassidism is often associated with joy, but what is the nature of this joy? A review of Chabad texts on the subject reveals that chassidic joy is best described in terms of its ethical properties and its moral implications.
Jewish Tradition and Inclusivism
Are tradition and inclusivism mutually exclusive? A look at three models for inclusivism drawn directly from Jewish tradition: "Even though he sinned he is a Jew;" "All Israel has a portion in the World to Come;" and "Love your fellow as yourself."
A Practical Training Session
Spiritual teacher, Rabbi Laibl Wolf, leads a workshop at Chabad of Oxford. He describes various focussing techniques and leads the group in a meditation exercise.
Rethinking the Enlightenment
Professor Samuelson argues that secularism, humanism and the Enlightenment can be more properly understood as a non-Jewish distortion of Jewish Messianism. "A Sir Isaiah Berlin Lecture"
Reconciling the Mystical and the Legal Traditions within Judaism
Is there tension between spirituality and law? At first glance, it may seem difficult to reconcile the mystical and legalistic traditions within Judaism as represented by kabbalistic and Talmudic texts respectively. Professor Sandman offers an integrated view of the two.
The Secular and the Sacred Worldview
Can one be a student of secular, liberal political philosophy while retaining authentically Jewish beliefs? An Oxford student attempts to bridge the gap between two seemingly antithetical worldviews.
Breslov A New Interpretation
A new interpretation of the "lost princess" motif in the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, grandson of the Baal Shem Tov. Oxford theology student, Joshua Felberg, argues against popular academic opinion that Rabbi Nachman's lost princess story is not a kabbalistic metaphor but rather a simple parable about Jewish life.
Philosophy in Maimonides' Legal Code
Although Maimonides' Mishneh Torah is a codification of Jewish law (halacha), we find places in this work where Maimonides addresses philosophical or theological ideas as well. Textual analysis of Maimonides' Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah (Laws [which are] the Foundations of the Torah.)
The World View of the Rambam
Can Maimonides' intellectual approach be characterized as rationalistic or mystical? Is there evidence that he studied and even embraced kabbalistic teachings?
Jewish unity through the study of Jewish texts
When Jews study holy texts together, they do not always agree on their interpretation. A look at how arguing over the Torah can actually bring us closer together.
Post-Modern Aspects of Chasidism and Their Significance for Jewish Society
A brief history of modernization within Jewish society and how various groups responded in very different ways to the threats of secularization and assimilation. The approaches of isolationism and outreach are compared and contrasted.
The Kabbalistic Image of Divine Royalty
The Divine attribute of Malchut (Kingship) is described as the bridge between G-d's infinity and His presence within finite creation.
The Philosophy of Judaism and Joy
Professor William Kolbrener tells his personal story of spiritual growth and asks the deep philosophical question, "Can you be Jewish and still follow your bliss?"
A Text-Based Study
Excerpts from various mystical texts illustrate how different kinds of ecstatic spiritual experiences may be attained including "death of the ego" and "union with G-d."
A Model for "Spiritual Leadership"
An introduction to the classic kabbalistic concept that there is an "extension of the spirit of Moses" in each generation and how this idea has come to be applied to the Rebbe-Chassid relationship in modern times.
A Jewish Approach to Paradox
Confronting an irresolvable paradox need not be an obstacle in our relationship with G-d.
A Meditation System for a Young Woman, Riga 1939
An introduction to the subject of women and Torah study is followed by the study of a letter written by the sixth Chabad Rebbe, R. Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of Lubavitch, to an 18-year old Chassidic woman who belonged to a women's mystical study group in 1930s Riga.
Yom Kippur and Catharsis
Based on traditional sources, an examination of whether or not repentance on Yom Kippur ever provides complete catharsis for the individual.
Kabbalistic Cosmology
A kabbalistic answer to the age-old philosophical question, "How can a finite creation come into existence from an infinite Creator?" A basic introduction to the esoteric doctrines of "tzimtzum" and "hishtalshelut."
Noted scholars and experts in their fields share their knowledge at the Oxford University Chabad Society.