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Jews of Provence
7 Lectures

Item #: S725

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Item Description:

Tucked into a corner of southern France, a small community of Jews, neither Ashkenazic nor Sephardic, played a great and influential role in the development of Torah scholarship, Jewish philosophy and the creation of a European Jewish community and culture. In this series on the Jews of Provence, Rabbi Wein reviews for us the lives and times of these great men and their communities and how their influence remains vital in our modern Jewish world. Discussions of figures such as Rabbi Zerachya Halevy (Baal HaMaor),Ravad l,Ravad ll, Ravad lll, and Rabbi Menachem HaMeiri will certainly provide a glimpse into this fascinating time and place in Jewish life.

Individual lectures:

Customs of Provence - Rabbi Wein begins this fascinating series with a discussion of the role of custom in Jewish life. The Jewish community of Provence, located at the crossroads of France and Spain, saw a confluence of customs from both Ashkenazim and Sephardim and therefore developed a unique set of customs of its own. Anyone interested in the relationship between Torah Law and minhag, or in finding out why Jews do what they do, will find this lecture rich in insights.

Rabbi Yehonasan HaCohen of Lunel - When the Rif of Spain wrote his abridgement of the Talmud, many of the rabbis of Provence viewed his work with deep suspicion. Yet Rabbi Yehonasan Ha Cohen defended him and also became a correspondent of the controversial Rambam, allowing for a fascinating exchange of ideas. In addition to his scholarship, Rabbi Yehonasan Ha Cohen lived a life of adventure. Amidst the bloody Crusades, he led over 300 Jews to the Holy Land where he too ultimately settled. Rabbi Yehonasan Ha Cohen and his exciting accomplishments come to life in this thoroughly engrossing lecture.

Ravid II, His Life and Times- Perhaps one of the clearest distinctions between Sephardim and Ashkenazim is their approach to Talmud study. One favors breadth, the other depth. It is the difference between viewing the entire forest or examining the details of each tree. Because Provence was influenced by both cultures, both types of Torah scholarship flourished there and amidst it all arose the Ravid II, a formidable scholar whose exacting eye spared nothing. What emerges is a picture of a vibrant community where Talmud study reigned supreme.

Rabbi Meshulem - Rabbi Meshulum was one of the great innovators of Provence who introduced secular studies to the yeshiva curriculum and oversaw the translation of the great work of Jewish philosophy, Chovos Ha Levavos. He also wrote extensively on Jewish Law and with examples of his writings, Rabbi Wein illustrates Jewish life in Provence where the day-to-day halachic issues were surprisingly similar to our own.

Rabbi Asher ben Meshulum - The community of Provence, with its steadfast efforts to preserve its own unique nature and customs, became an island of Talmud study, but was full of internal rivalries and disputes. Yet amongst the strong personalities of the scholars of Provence was the tranquil Rabbi Meshulum of Badrash. From his writings and that of his relative Rabbi Asher ben Shalmiya, we learn of visionary men who instilled the spirit of mussar into their yeshivos centuries before Rabbi Yisroel Salanter.

Rabbi Zerachya HaLevy, the Baal Hamaor - Rabbi Zerachya Ha Levy, who was known for his great work, the Baal Ha Maor, was a Spanish Jew who came to Provence as a young man and achieved a reputation there for his genius and scholarship. In the great Jewish tradition of give-and-take intellectual debate, he and his contemporary, the Ravid III, wrote numerous books critiquing each other on many issues in Jewish Law and philosophy. Though he remained somewhat of an outsider among the rabbis of Provence, he brought the Spanish flavor of Torah study to the community and had a distinct and powerful influence.

Ravid III of Posquieres - Ravid III, son-in-law of Ravid II, was much like his father-in-law and did not mince words in his criticisms of other rabbis and their positions. But all of this came from an intense dedication to truth and he accepted criticism as much as he gave it. Famed for his long-standing dispute with the great Rambam, this debate eclipsed the fiercer one he had with the Baal Ha Maor. Citing the writings of these two giants, Rabbi Wein captures the fiery spirit that characterized the rabbis of Provence.

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