Lectures about Ethics and Morality in Tanach

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Akeidah: How could God command Abraham to kill his son?

In this lecture we will explore one of the most difficult episodes in Tanach and ask ourselves how a loving God could ask Abraham, his most faithful follower to sacrifice his own son, Isaac. This is especially troubling given that at the time, child-sacrifice was commonly practiced among the idolatrous nations. Furthermore, this seemed to contradict God’s promise that Abraham would become the father of many nations built through the generations who would come from Isaac.

Brit Milah: Why do we circumcise male babies?

Why would God command Abraham to circumcise himself? Why did this become enshrined in Jewish law? Brit milah remains a central part of Jewish practice for Jews of all traditions and levels of observance, and this lecture will explore the history of secular challenges to brit milah throughout the ages as well as contemporary political threats. We will then focus on the theological meaning behind brit milah and help to explain its importance and meaning in Judaism while using this as a springboard to explore gender differences in Jewish law and practice.

Avdut: Why does the Torah allow slavery?

Slavery conjures up images of some of the most horrific pain and suffering that humans have been subjected to at the hands of others. Yet the Torah seems to not only allow slavery but in addition, creates a system of laws surrounding it. How can God – the arbiter of morality and all that is good, allow such an unequivocally immoral practice?

Genocide: How can God command the destruction of Amalek and the Canaanite nations?

The Torah commands us to wipe out Amalek. Similarly, when Joshua crosses the River Jordan into the Promised Land, he is commanded by God to annihilate the seven Canaanite nations who lived in the land. How could a good and benevolent God command our ancestors to commit genocide and what does this obligation mean for Jews living in contemporary times?

Korbanot: Why does God want our animal sacrifices?

The Torah contains a number of commandments to protect the environment and in particular, to prevent unnecessary cruelty to animals. While the Torah allows us to slaughter animals and eat meat, the act of shechita is promoted as the most humane way to kill an animal for food. Since the destruction of Bayis Sheini – the Second Temple, in the year 70 CE by the Romans, Jewish practice has been unable to include Temple offerings such as animal sacrifices. Instead, our prayers include references to the relevant commands to bring offerings on various occasions. But why would an infinite God have required these offerings in the first place? Given their centrality in Jewish practice during Temple times, understanding the meaning behind these animal offerings helps us to appreciate some of the most fundamental tenets of Jewish theology.

Milchamah: Why is war condoned in the Torah?

War is horrific and the human suffering that it brings is far greater the simply counting the vast numbers of people who are killed in battle. War destroys the lives of those who survive, those who are bereaved, and of everyone who is forced to live through the fear of what it may bring. One of the names of God is Shalom – meaning peace. Surely, the God of peace cannot also be the God of war? In this lecture we will explore the Jewish concept of war and peace, and inevitably relate them to contemporary times.

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