Rare Opportunity to Study the Kuzari

From the feedback we’ve been getting, the current edition of Klal Perspectives dealing with connectedness has touched many people. Besides the runaway success of Rabbi Moshe Weinberger’s contribution, two other factors have been played a role in the popularity of the Spring 2012 issue. Firstly, the topic seems to have resonated with many people who were ready to confront the uncomfortable realization that their relationship with HKBH was not as rich as they wanted. Secondly, between the different authors, the issue offered a plethora of suggestions, appealing to all kinds of different backgrounds and needs.

Several authors spoke of people possessing inadequate understanding of the whys and wherefores of Yiddishkeit. There are too many bright people who realize at some point that their comprehension of what a Torah life is all about conceptually still operates on a grade school level. When they were younger, they did not have any questions; decades later, they go through the motions, but have no idea about where to find answers.

Some authors suggested that for some people, the most satisfying way to gain a sophisticated appreciation of the inner workings of Yiddishkeit is to study the great classics of Jewish philosophy and machshavah. The Rishonim asked all the key questions, and provided approaches that have weathered all the centuries that followed them. So much of what was written after is based upon their contribution. Their approaches, when properly understood, satisfy the thirst for understanding far better than their more recent competitors.

Unfortunately, many people are so overawed by the most important works, that studying them is not an option for them. They believe that to do an adequate job, you need to understand the philosophical underpinnings of the works of the Rishonim in particular, and they do not have the tools to proceed. Such people have a rare opportunity to study with someone who does, free of charge.

Rabbi Chaim Eisen of spent many of his early years in Flatbush before settling in Yerushalayim. He has the love of Torah and textual competence of a real Ben Torah, having spent many years learning and teaching in both “black” and “white” yeshivos (including R Tzvi Kushaleveky’s); he has the rich depth and academic background of an accomplished academician. (My love for Maharal is no secret. Yet, when Rabbi Eisen published his magisterial treatment of Aggada and the Maharal in Hakira, I called him to ask him whether he published the piece just to make me look juvenile! It is the best piece I have ever seen on the history of explicating Aggada.) He knows R Sadya, R Yosef Albo, Kuzari, and the Moreh like few people I have ever met.

As part of his new Yeshivat Sharashim, he is offering an online, interactive, web-based video series on Kuzari beginning this Sunday. There is no charge, but registration is required to keep the class at a size that students can interact with the instructor in real time. (The time, by the way, for the hour long first class is 11AM, EDT.)

This is a wonderful opportunity that does not come up very often. We hope and trust that it will be followed by another in-depth series on the Rambam’s Moreh.

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12 Responses

  1. Neil Harris says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein,

    Thank you for this update! I personally have been in touch with both the editor and two of those whose articles were published in Klal Perspectives. I know that others who are interested in focusing on growth-oriented Yiddishkeit also sent letters to the editor.

    Looking forward to seeing more updates.

  2. joel rich says:

    Philosophy has continued to evolve – will the class provide a framework for dealing with possible objections? (for example you can find a frum discussion of issues with the kuzari proof by googling “kuzari proof aspaqlaria”). At the end of the day IMHO “For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible” is a bit of an overstatement, but there is some truth to it. IMHO it is better to teach the classics while innoculating against the counter arguements rather than to hope the objections are never raised.

  3. Raymond says:

    This sounds absolutely perfect! I see no downside to this at all. One unsolicited suggestion I would like to make, is to not limit this to just the Kuzari. Since the Rishonim asked and answered virtually all of the important religious questions to ask, why not expand these lectures to include courses not only on the Kuzari, but also on the teachings of the RambaM, the RambaN, Rashi, Rabbeinu Yonah, and the Duties of the Heart as well? I would imagine that such a series of lectures provided to us would be like Heaven on Earth.

  4. joel rich says:

    R’ Raymond,
    Be careful what you wish for as the approaches are sometimes mutually exclusive in certain areas and you may end up with some very confused students (a la those who read an anthology commentary on the Torah without realizing that the rishonim had fundamentally different approaches to things like literal pshat and ein mukdam)

  5. Chaim Eisen says:

    Just to comment on R’ Raymond’s suggestion: Indeed, it is definitely the goal of Yeshivath Sharashim (and me) to begin with Sefer HaKuzari but not end there. Considering later philosophical developments and challenges includes addressing the manifold developments in the world of Jewish thought that postdated R. Yehudah HaLevi (obviously including the authors you mentioned and many more).

    As for R’ Joel’s concerns about contradictions among the different works, this is only a concern if we posit that there needs to be only one right answer and one “bottom line.” That is indeed an imperative in Halachah, to establish conformity of practice, but not in the realm of thought. I think R. Avraham Yitzchak haKohen Kook aptly expressed the approach we need to cultivate in this arena:

    “Every book, when it is by itself, reveals only a limited and small part of emotion or intellect. And to know its true value is possible only when one finds the nexus between it and the whole. And, most of all, the asset and completeness [of one book] will be discerned when the fullness of one important book is conjoined with another that appears to stand in opposition to it. For only this opposition, when reaching a state of adhesion, precipitates completeness; for the one complements the other. We need to put our hearts to this matter when we speak of our esoteric books. For only then may Judaism be revealed in its completeness — if we gaze upon each and every book as upon the stones of a great palace, in which they all conjoin to one giant and perfect edifice. For even though there are in Judaism diverse aspects, it is truly one unit; `these and those are the words of the Living God’ (Eruvin 13b, Gittin 6b, Yerushalmi Berakhot 1:4, Yerushalmi Yevamot 1:6, Yerushalmi Sotah 3:4, and Yerushalmi Kiddushin 1:1). Only then, may the influence of those books precipitate their munificent blessing” (“Telamim,” pp. 38 ff., quoted by R. Mosheh Zevi Neria, Mishnat haRav (Jerusalem, 1936), pp. 91-94, and in Ma’amarei haRa’ayah (Jerusalem, 1984) I, 11-13.)

    Unfortunately, as he noted elsewhere, “Only exceptional individuals have adapted themselves to the broad and true conception, that not only can the entire world endure solely through the expansiveness that encompasses all the branches of abstract knowledge and feeling, but even each component can be understood satisfactorily solely through the collaboration of all the different and apparently remote aspects. And only thus shall the throne of the kingdom of ideas be readied” (“Avodat Elokim,” in Ikvei haTzon [Jerusalem, 1906], p. 143).

    Clearly, we have quite a bit of work we need to do, individually and collectively, to advance that goal’s actualization!

  6. Raymond says:

    Joel Rich, I am quite an ignoramus, so I am not sure what you are specifically referring to. What your words do bring to my mind, though, are the different philosophical approaches of Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi and the Rambam, with the Ramban being a kind of reconciler between the two. In any case, aren’t such differences within certain limits, what Torah learning is all about? I think of that famous phrase, how these and these are the words of the living G-d. And often, it does seem that it is precisely in trying to understand the differences to the point where one sees how they did not really differ after all, where real understanding of the Torah perspective of life takes place.

  7. cvmay says:

    KUZARI is a well-used sefer in most Dati-Leumi yeshivas and part & parcel of the study of Emunah. The pages of the Kuzari is full of ahavas Eretz Yisroel and is a strong proponent of the Jewish Nation living in its National Homeland. Majority of Bnei Yeshiva in America have never explored this sefer and this may be an excellent opportunity to popularize the sefer.

  8. Raymond says:

    Can I please add just a small number of more names/classic works to my list of people that I would like to suggest be studied in such a lecture series? All of these names/classic works are those of great Torah scholars who lived within close proximity to one another, both in time and in place. I have already mentioned the six that I thought of off the top of my head, namely Rashi, RambaM, RambaN, the Kuzari, Gates of Repentence, and Duties of the Heart, but now I would like to add to that list a few others I found with just a tiny bit of Google research: the Ralbag, ibn Ezra, Sefer Ha-Chinuch, Rabbeinu Bachya, Akeydat Yitzchak, the Abarbanel, and Tzror HaMor.

  9. joel rich says:

    R’ Raymond and R’ Chaim,
    Taught carefully there is great power in seeing the differing approaches, taught unthinkingly it leaves a mess. For example, study R’ Dessler vs. the Rambam on the extent of hashgacha pratit (divine intervention in human affairs).

  10. ben says:

    Is it possible to have the videos available online for those who can’t make a regular weekly commitment? I’d love to listen to Rabbi Eisen on this topic.

  11. Chaim Eisen says:

    To add to R’ Joel’s last comment, I would note simply that, as in most disciplines, you need to start somewhere. Beginning with a “smorgasbord” of different views at the outset is a good recipe for confusion or worse. Didactically, as well as substantively, the best course to studying Jewish thought is initially focusing deeply on one view and broadening from it to consider alternatives. For many reasons besides seniority, I think Sefer HaKuzari is a very wise choice indeed for that starting point.

    Incidentally, with all due (and prodigious) respect for Rav Dessler, in studying various approaches to hashgachah peratith, as in any other foundational topics in Jewish thought, the starting point lies in the classics of the rishonim (early rabbinical authorities). Besides Sefer HaKuzari, indispensable sources will inevitably include the writings of Rambam and Ramban, among others. (A detailed source list is inappropriate here, but Rav Dessler clearly studied them all before addressing the subject himself.)

    Finally, to reply to R’ Ben, the plan definitely includes archiving recordings, although these inevitably lack the vibrancy of the live, interactive sessions. Please note further that there will be a lag between the live videoconference session and the posting of its recording, primarily because of our very limited resources in manpower and computers. We may also post many of the videos on our YouTube channel. But the best way to ensure access to the recordings is to register at the yeshivath sharashim website.

  12. CJ Srullowitz says:


    Respectfully, is there any reason you won’t spell out “Hakadosh Baruch Hu”? Or simply write Hashem as most do? Somehow, rendered in English HKBH sounds too casual. Like DKNY or TCBY.

    [YA LOL. I do it because it is a time saver. I’ve been doing it for much longer than people have been speaking in acronyms. No inkling of casualness intended.]

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