Great Controversies in Jewish History
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Most great arguments among God's favorite stiff-necked people turn on sincere, if not dangerous, differences in interpreting the correct Torah way. Rabbi Wein's sold-out Jerusalem lecture series provides historical insights into the important controversies of yesterday and today.
Saducees and Pharisees - "Some controversies have a life of their own," says Rabbi Wein in his half-joking introduction to his series on the great controversies in Judaism. Dissent and even rebellion have always existed in Jewish history, but in the case of the Saducees and Pharisees, the dispute raged to the point of civil war. The power struggle between the fearsome King Alexander Yannai and the rabbis who opposed him teaches an eternal lesson about the dangers of absolute rule.
Karaites and Rabbinic Jews - There's no feud like a family feud, and in 8th century Babylonia, a dynastic struggle between brothers gave birth to the heretical Karaite movement. Denying the divinity of the Talmud, the Karaites held tremendous influence over many people. Though now they have disappeared into near oblivion, the Jewish scholarship that developed to combat them remains the consummate sign of philosophical victory.
Exiles and Marranos - In the Golden Age of Spain, the Jews enjoyed wealth, prominence, and peace, but by the 14th century, the Spanish exile turned into one of the bitterest in Jewish history. The Jews were given a terrible choice: convert to Christianity or lose everything - their homes, businesses, and comforts. While the Marranos chose to convert and remain in Spain, the Exiles left with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The fate that befell each group bears a telling message about the deceptive solution of assimilation.
Sabateans, Frankists, and Anti-Messianists - The popularity of Shabsai Tzvi was the worst false messiah debacle in Jewish history. One-third of the Jewish world was swept up in the fervor, selling their homes and businesses and relocating to the Holy Land in anticipation of the redemption. But the aftermath of Shabsai Tzvi's fall was as dramatic as the rise itself, resulting in witch hunts against former followers, the rise of another false messiah Jacob Frank, and most lasting of all, an increase in Jewish skepticism.
Reform and Tradition - The Reform movement was a unique phenomenon in Jewish history. For the first time, assimilation was proposed as an ideology and not a mere exigency. Its effect was like an earthquake: immediate, sweeping, and devastating. Generations of Jews were lost to the faith, and traditional Jews continue to struggle to repair the damage it caused to this very day.
Chassidim and Misnagdim - The rise of Chassidus was the greatest revolution that ever occurred within the parameters of traditional Judaism. Growing in times of brutal anti-Semitism and terrible social inequalities within Jewry, it revived Kabbalah and emphasized prayer and happiness as the primary means for Jews to serve God. But to the Vilna Gaon and his followers, the anti-intellectualism of Chassidus was dangerous, and actual battles ensued. Finally, by the 1850's, the two opposing forces united against the common enemies of the Czarist government and rising secularism, in effect laying the basis for the preservation of Judaism against the odds.
Zionists and Anti-Zionists - In these heated days of territorial concessions, it is imperative we understand the theological and political differences that created the split between Zionism and its opponents. Rabbi Wein cites Torah giants on the issue of whether it is a mitzvah to settle the Land of Israel or if it is forbidden until the arrival of Moshiach. Most importantly of all, he describes in exacting detail the secularism of political Zionism, the issue that must be resolved for the sake of the future, not only of Israel, but of the entire Jewish people.