Jewish Teachings/Torah

Selected Lectures (Audio)

“Confronting Jewish Destiny”
Judaism teaches about a final redemption that is totally perfect and entirely universal: all of humanity will be united in compassion and understanding.
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“Self and Community: Being Human”
Judaism stresses the dignity of each individual human. Rabbi Greenberg elaborates on this teaching in the literature of the rabbis and in contemporary life.

“In the Image of God”
The goal of religion, argues Rabbi Greenberg, is to create a context for human development. According to Judaism, the human being is created in the image of God, who is infinite. The human being, therefore, is of infinite value.

“Life and Death: The Halakhic Way”
Halakhah, says Rabbi Greenberg, is not just a system of law. Judaism is more than a religion of law. Judaism is a vision—a vision of the world and what the human should be like.

“Confronting Death: Being Human”
Rabbi Greenberg argues that religion is a vision of the human and a way to realize that vision. A human is an infinite, unique being. And Judaism’s main emphasis is life. Rabbi Greenberg builds on these themes to help us understand how we ought to confront the reality of death.

“Salanter: The Purpose of the Torah”
Through rabbinic texts and stories, Rabbi Greenberg discusses Rabbi Israel Salanter and the Mussar Movement. The Mussar Movement emphasized the ethical aspects of Torah.

Rabbi Greenberg builds on Rabbi Israel Salanter’s teaching that the Torah “came to make a mensch.” What ethical virtues does Judaism aim to inculcate in people?

“Mussar and the Individual”
We live in an era of unprecedented choice. In earlier centuries the role of the individual was not emphasized as it is now. Membership in a group or community was primary. Mussar literature sought to deepen a sense of personal identity and the individual’s relationship with God.

“The Exodus and Sinai”
Where did the idea of redemption come from? The fundamental event on which the theme of redemption is based is the Exodus, the escape of Hebrew slaves from Egypt. This is the central event in Jewish history.
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“On Becoming Human: In the Image of God”
Judaism seeks to increase life in this world as an antidote to death. By bringing life into the world and creating environments that recognize the sacredness of life, God becomes manifest. Though our partnership in creating life, we realize the uniqueness and divine spark within all life, and create a world that nurtures the image of God. The creation of life in Jewish tradition is accomplished classically through the commandment “to be fruitful and multiply” as well as through “rebirth rituals” such as ritual immersion, washing hands, and observance of Shabbat.

“Conceptions of Judaism”
Rabbi Greenberg presents conceptions of Judaism and the Jewish people as recorded by the prophets.

“Jewish Midrash on Life”
Rabbi Greenberg identifies a pattern of creation as Judaism’s most important contribution to the world. He then contrasts Judaism’s teachings on creation with other theories of origins.

“Genesis: Covenantal Limits”
Rabbi Greenberg teaches about the movement in the book of Genesis from moral ideas to the real-world reality of human affairs.

“Chosenness: A Debate Between Irving Greenberg and John Murray Cuddihy”
Two sides
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side two  1:02
In this debate, sociologist John Murray Cuddihy criticizes any group that claims a sense of uniqueness and lists problematic—if unintended—consequences of Jewish chosenness. Rabbi Greenberg concedes some of Professor Cuddihy’s points but rejects the modern dichotomy of universalism (giving up distinctiveness) versus chosenness (when viewed as a form of superiority). Rabbi Greenberg contends that universalism can be pathological and points out that a contributing factor in the Holocaust, a uniquely modern catastrophe, was an extreme form of universalism that could not tolerate any form of group identity. He concludes that Jewish chosenness does not deny the chosenness of other people and says that the great error of Christianity was the belief that only one people (Christian) could claim itself as the true chosen people.

“The Continuum of Life”
Halakhah aims to promote the value of life, not death, and thus Jewish law does not represent cosmic truth. To illustrate this point, the discussion centers on mamzerut, the product of a forbidden sexual relationship. Mamzerut as a status exists to discourage adultery, which violates human dignity.

“The Relationship Between Humans and God”
Imitating God is central to Judaism, and this imitation leads to a sense of the Divine image. God works with human nature and the present human capacity for relationship. Human development (which is imitating God) involves developing a greater capacity for relationships with others. The aim of halakhah is to develop the capacity for identification with others and to become more loving.

“The Kaddish”
Rabbi Greenberg discusses the history and religious significance of the Kaddish prayer.

“The Exodus”
The Exodus narrative permeates Jewish ritual life and therefore Jewish consciousness. The Passover seder is also discussed in this lecture.
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