Contemporary Issues

A Jewish Theology of Human Rights
  • by Dr. Shaiya Rothberg

Elie Wiesel has famously spoken about a modern “secular religion of human rights”. The world movement for human rights seeks to guarantee the most basic conditions for the flourishing of humanity, like life and at least minimal freedom. While this is a “secular” effort for some, in important Jewish sources the flourishing of humanity or ADAM is nothing less than the revelation of God. In this class we will study the divine significance of humanity in three sources: The Zohar, Maimonides, and the modern religious-Zionist thinker Rabbi Chayyim Hirschenson. Perhaps together these sources constitute a modern Jewish theology of human rights.

Class 1: Introduction to the Course [PDF]

Class 2: What Are Human Rights? 

Class 3: The Emergence Of ADAM

Class 4: Aspects Of ADAM In The Idra

Class 5: ADAM As Loving Relationship

Class 6: Not ADAM As Elohim Acherim

Class 7: Rambam On ADAM

Class 8: The Racha On Democracy, The Jewish State And The End Of Days

Class 9: The Racha On International Law, Human Rights And The Temple Mount

Contemporary Issues in Halakha
  • by Rabbi Shlomo Zacharow

In this course, we will examine how halakha – Jewish law – confronts modernity (and vice-versa) on a number of issues, some of which have riveted the Jewish world recently.

To Fast or not to Fast? This is the question regarding Tisha b’Av and the three other minor fasts commemorating the destruction of Jerusalem. Does the return of the Jewish people to Israel and Jerusalem affect in any way how we observe these days? Is the mournful nature set in stone for eternity?

Pidyon Shevuyim – The Redemption of Captives: While we know that it is highly worthy in Judaism to save lives and provide the dead with a proper burial, are there no limits? If paying too high a “price” for captives will only spur the captors to step up their activities in the future, what has been gained? To what extent does halakha take into consideration the needs of individuals as opposed to the needs of the community as a whole?

Musical Instruments in the Synagogue: In the last couple decades we have seen significant growth in musical accompaniment to services on Shabbat and Holidays in a number of synagogues that consider themselves to be bound by halakha. Often there are a wide array of instruments and sometimes even “rock bands” performing. Can these developments be justified by Jewish law?

Giyyur – Conversion: Once a Jew always a Jew? Is conversion final in Judaism or can a Bet Din – a Jewish Court – revoke the conversion at a later date? Must the convert accept the yoke of all of the mitzvot at the time of conversion? What happens if it is later discovered that the convert is not leading an observant lifestyle?

Kohen & a Giyyoret (convert) – An Acceptable Union? Traditionally, it has been forbidden for a Kohen to marry a convert to Judaism. What is the reason for this and is it still relevant today? Is our understanding of the respective nature of the kohen and convert the same as in antiquity?

Class 1: Introduction To Contemporary Issues In Halakha

Class 2: To Fast or Not to Fast?

Class 3: Redemption Of Captives

Class 4: Conversion In Jewish Law

Class 5: Kohen And Giyyoret

Class 6: Musical Instruments In Synagogue

Class 7: Waiting Between Meat And Milk

Class 8: Laws Of Family Purity

What Does It Take to Become a Jew – The Conversion Controversy in Modern Jewish Law
  • by Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein

Conversion (Giyyur in Hebrew) has become one of the most volatile issues in modern Jewish life. People are often unaware that most of the issues under discussion have their roots in serious legal (halachic) debates. This course will examine some of the major concerns which underscore these legal controversies. Among the topics that will be discussed will be: the basic legal components of conversion; conversion for ulterior motives; acceptance of the Torah; must a person become an observant Jew to convert; can a conversion be annulled; the concept of “zera Yisrael – (Jewish blood), the conversion of a minor. In this course we will examine the foundation sources in the tradition for each debate and then the modern opinions which underlie the passionate deliberations found in modern Jewish life.

Class 1: Introduction to What Does It Take to Become a Jew?

Class 2: Essential Ingredients for a Successful Conversion [PDF]

Class 3: Conversion for Ulterior Motives 

Class 4: Conversion for Ulterior Motives – Part 2

Class 5: Acceptance of the Commandments as an Obligation for Conversion 

Class 6: Conversion of a Minor 

Class 7: The Role of the Beit Din

Class 8: Saving Jewish Seed 

Class 9: Can There Be Conversion Without Circumcision?

Conservative Judaism holds that halakha is normative and binding, and is developed as a partnership between people and God based on Sinaitic Torah. While there are a wide variety of Conservative views, a common belief is that halakha is, and has always been, an evolving process subject to interpretation by rabbis in every time period.

Rabbi Shlomo Zacharow