(NOTE: Many of these courses are not offered every year)

Machshava Courses

It's hard to think of anything more dry, archaic, and irrelevant than medieval Jewish philosophy, with its tough vocabulary and highly technical arguments. In fact, though, we struggle with the same philosophical and religious problems as the Rishonim, and as Jews we cannot responsibly talk about todays dilemmas without understanding Rav Saadia Gaon, Rambam, and Sefer Hakuzari. What do we do when Torah seems to contradict science and reason (faith versus knowledge)? What is the point of all of these mitzvot that we do (taamei hamitzvot)? What kind of person should we try to become (human perfection)? This course will introduce students to the language and vocabulary of the Rishonim as well as to the major disputes between the rationalists and anti-rationalists.

On the one hand, Rambam is the most famous and most influential of all Jewish philosophers. On the other hand, he is deeply controversial, and his philosophy has been attacked by subsequent thinkers since it was published. We will discuss various topics in Rambam's philosophy, based on primary sources, with three primary goals. First, to understand how his different philosophical texts work together to form a consistent whole. Second, to compare his answers to crucial questions with Jewish philosophers who disagree with him, in particular R' Yehuda Halevi, Ramban, Ralbag, R' Chasdai Crescas, and R' Hirsch. Third, to understand and internalize the relevant religious message of these topics.

In this course we will define and analyze the concepts found in the Rambams epic work .  We will explain these concepts in the context of other statements found within the Rambams works and understand how these ideas are significant to intellectual and personal development.  Main topics will include: the components of the , the difference between a human soul and an animal soul, vs. , motivational forces behind sin and Mitzvah performance, etc.  We will compliment this study with the use of other sources from Jewish thinkers.

The classic work of mussar, , will be studied through analysis and discussion. Focus will be placed on Rav Luzatto's philosophy of personal development and inner growth. Practical applications and real life situations will be incorporated. The different stages of character growth and the metamorphosis of a Jew into a Torah personality will be explored through " ' s eyes, and will be contrasted with other contemporary mussar thinking.

Through a study of the works of Harav Soloveitchik, this course will identify the main concepts and themes in the Rav's philosophy: dialectic, conflict, sacrifice, mesorah, centrality of halacha, the concept of time, self-actualization, and others.  The goal is to develop one's recognition of these recurrent themes  and thus enable the student to  independently identify these themes in any of the Rav's writings. Selected texts will include: Halachic Man, The Lonely Man of Faith, Majesty & Humility, Catharsis, ,   , The Community, Confrontation, Sacred & Profane.

Rav Kook stands as the towering figure for religious Zionism, yet a true understanding  of his philosophy remains distant from the majority of the religious Zionist world today. Through a study of his writings, this course will attempt to uncover the complex philosophy of Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook. We will discuss the following issues:  Was Rav Kook a philosopher, a mystic, or both?; Rav Kook's revolutionary approach to the monumental changes of his time; his unique philosophy towards ahavat Yisrael, holiness, Eretz Yisrael, death, pantheism, etc.

This course is designed to help connect the Torah we study in the Beit Midrash with issues we face as young Jews growing up in the late 20th century. We will present Jewish outlooks on a wide variety of topics ranging from the philosophical (e.g. , , ) to the ideological (e.g. , Women in Judaism, Orthodoxy and Pluralism) to the practical (e.g. , , Fulfilling One's Personal Potential, etc.)  While all discussions will be based on classical sources, there will be a heavy emphasis on interactive conversation. 

See for yourself what serious Jewish Torah thought really has to say about many crucial areas. Deepen and broaden your thinking about life and Torah.  In this course we will learn, analyze and discuss a wide range of classical sources (Tanach, Chazal, Geonim, Rishonim and major Achronim). Fascinating and critical sources and ideas, that one would normally require decades of intensive learning to be exposed to, will be telescoped into several hours a week. These classical sources and approaches will provide fresh perspectives on many important topics. A handful of the scores of topics we will explore are: Ways of serving Hashem: the good, the bad and the ugly, Can isssues of emunah be paskened?, Is this Atchaltah DeGeula? Daas Torah, Bashert and Gilgul Neshamot: Which of these are Jewish concepts? and Messiahs true and false.

This course will provide a clear understanding of the purpose and meaning of tefilah, through an analysis of divrei Chazal. Shiurim will be devoted to examining the philosophical concepts of tefilah, as well as the text of the Siddur itself. Suggestions and explanations from our sages will help overcome the challenges we  face when we pray, and consequently transform our tefilah into a genuine, spiritual experience which will ultimately strengthen our connection and devotion to HaShem.

Rabbi Hanoch Teller, with his inimitable style and knowledge of   will highlight biographical sketches of their lives while underscoring their literary, hashkafic and philosophic contributions to our mesorah. The course will explore their role in the Jewish historical tapestry that facilitated the continuum of our mesorah throughout the millennia.

From ancient paradigms to modern dilemmas: The questions the baalei mussar deal with. Topics include: happiness; basheirt; yashrut; dan lkaf zechut; the dynamics of chessed; the virtue of hatred; false nachat; Jewish heroism; how to avoid machloket; the impetus of chassidut; Rabbinic perspective re: Eretz Yisrael.

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We will analyze selected sections of the text which focus on the understanding of the uniqueness of the human being. We will explore the hashkafa of Rav Volbe in relationship to personal development and growth. We will emphasize analysis of the primary sources mentioned throughout his work.

It is told that on one of his visits to the gates of heaven, the Baal Shem Tov met Mashiach and demanded of him,  The people of Israel have been waiting for you so long. When are you coming to redeem them!?!?  Mashiach answered: When the wells of  your teachings have sprung forth.  The stories and teachings of Chassidut are spreading, catching like wildfire. The names of Chassidic masters and texts that were little known are suddenly common knowledge.  Rebbe Nachman of Breslav, Sfat Emet, Netivot Shalom  What is the magic in the teachings of Chassidut thats attracting the masses, thats causing the wells of the Baal Shem Tov to flow and spread? In this course, we will taste of these sweet waters and explore the meeting point between the teachings and the tales of the Chassidim and our own lives.

Masechet Avot is one of the most popular and studied parts of Torah She BAl Peh.  In this class, using the recently published edition of the Torat Chaim, we will study Pirkei Avot from a new angle.  Besides analyzing the Rishonim and Acharonim on each mishna, we will also see the internal flow and structure that exists within this Masechet as a whole. Our learning will also focus on a deeper understanding of the lives of the Tanaim who authored the mishnayot, and how their statements epitomize their essence.  We will hopefully come away with not only greater skills in parshanut, but also a greater commitment to the practical ideals of character perfection emphasized in this work.

In this course we will study the Nineteen Letters of Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch. This work is a compilation of short essays written in the form of a correspondence between an assimilated Jew and his learned, religious friend. The letters serve a dual purpose: they are an expression of the religious challenges and philosophical questions which the nineteenth century Jew grappled with, and they provide Rav Hirschs insightful philosophical approach to these questions and issues. Through the reading of selected letters, we will study the historical realities of the nineteenth century Jew, analyze their religious and philosophical challenges, and discover through the text and other classical sources, that those challenges, and Rav Hirschs solutions to them, are as applicable to us today as they were one hundred and fifty years ago.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslav wrote very little himself, but through his disciples he left behind many Torot, Tefilot and stories. These are full of depth, spirituality and surprises. We will learn about Rebbe Nachman himself, and hear guidance on how to find truth and meaning in this colorful physical world we live in; in our ups and especially in our downs. We will learn from the writings of Rebbe Natan, Rebbe Nachmans disciple: Sipurey Massiyot, Chayey Moharan and Likutey Moharan.

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If I keep all the but just dont believe that theres a World to Come, am I still a good Jew? Is believing the wrong thing some kind of , or is it a bigger deal (or a smaller deal)? Do I really need to believe that could come this second? We all know about the Rambams list of Thirteen Foundations of Faith, but why did he choose these beliefs as the most important (and leave out other beliefs)? Does everyone agree with the Rambams list? And what did all the generations of Jews believe before the Rambam made that list? From G-d to gedolim, Moshe to Mashiach, well discuss the core issues of Jewish belief. We'll study the critical sections of Rambam's writings, together with the sources from which he derived these principles. 

This course will focus on issues of current relevance. How do we forge a spiritual personality and identity in such a challenging, varied world?  We will make use of both traditional and contemporary sources in an effort to understand each issue, attempting to appreciate its depth and complexity. Topics will include:
 Daat Torah:  What are the differing approaches as to the parameters of daat Torah? To what extent is a person allowed to, or encouraged to, engage in autonomous decision making?
 The modern state of Israel: How are we to approach the religious and ideological rifts that are tearing apart Israeli society? What are the pros and cons of army service?
 Kula Vechumra: What is the attitude of chazal and the rishonim to the concepts of kula vechumra? When is it appropriate to take chumrot upon oneself?
 Torah study in the modern era: How does one relate to differing approaches to the study of Tanach (within the boundaries of orthodox approaches), while maintaining ones yiraat shamayim?  Is it permissible to perceive our Biblical role models as anything less than infallible?
 Women and the masorah: how does one make maximize ones individual and spiritual potential, which are often achieved through maximal torah learning and kiyyum mitzvot, while at the same time fully expressing and appreciating the unique role of women? Tzniut: what does it really mean?
 Other topics may include: the spiritual benefits of Talmud Torah for women, developing an approach to secular studies, developing a spiritual personality, hishtadlut and bitachon (what do these concepts mean?) and others.

There are many times in life when we act properly within the framework of halacha as we know we should, but we don't feel "into it" or that it our actions have provided us with a greater sense of meaning or purpose. This course will discuss primal ideas in machshava which will promote personal development in a way which can provide a context for who we are and what we do in our Avodat Hashem. Examples of some topics which will be discussed: What it means to do something lishma, the importance and impact of one's speech, the responsibility of having free choice, finding meaning in every aspect of your life, personal subjectivity and its challenges,  and understanding how to strive for shleimut.

The tendency for our mitzva observance to run dry and become mechanical is unfortunately all too prevalent. Often outlooks and perspectives from our youth result in jaded attitudes towards Avodat Hashem. In this course we will use classic and contemporary Mussar and Machshava sources, as well as Midrashim and Aggadot, as tools to re-examine familiar information. In the process, we will discover a surprisingly fresh outlook to mitzvot, inevitably strengthening our love for, and commitment to, our heritage.  Topics include:  the concept of time, how to experience a "real" Shabbat, the hidden power of Yom Tov,  "fluff learning" vs "hard core", how to achieve mesirut nefesh for mitzvoth (even if you dont live in communist Russia!), living and dying Al Kiddush Hashem, deeper dimensions to Limud HaTorah, popular women's  issues, and much more.

We sing them every week and they add so much to our Shabbat table and atmosphere. But what are they? Who are the masters who wrote them? From where did they glean their material? Is there something specific that each of them was trying to add to our Avirat Shabbat? This exciting course will survey the traditional Zemirot which are familiar to us all (as well as some unknown selections that somehow never crept into our Zemirot books or siddurim). Together, we will research the source material which facilitated the writing of these elaborate poems and seek out the hidden messages that the authors were trying to convey.

What is unique about Rav Solovetchik's approach to hashkafic issues and philosophic questions?  How did the Rav interpret pesukim and statements of Chazal in his own unique way? We will study the Rav's published essays and oral shiurim in an effort to understand how the Rav applied ancient texts to the modern situation of the Jew.  We will attempt to derive from the Rav's Torah a better understanding of man, the Jewish nation and the moral principles that should guide our lives.

Rav Soloveitchik is clearly defined as one of the "founding fathers" of the philosophy of religious Zionism. In this course we will study his Drashot to the members of the Mizrachi movement where the Rav outlines this philosophy. 

Discovering pathways in Avodat Hashem and building personal strategies for spiritual growth to be used throughout one's life. Topics include: Tefilla, Chesed, Shabbat and Moadim, relationships, child-rearing.  Emphasis will be placed on confronting the challenge of the modern world and dealing with environments that are less than supportive of one's religious and ethical values.  Part of this class will be based on classical Chumash commentaries usually from the Parshat HaShavua including Ramban, Sforno, Kli Yakar and Malbim.  Another part of this class will be based on contemporary thinkers in the Orthodox world, reflecting various approaches to Avodat Hashem. The writings of leading personalities in the yeshiva world and Chasidic community will be examined including: Ohr Gedalyahu, Netivot Shalom, Sichot Mussar and Alei Shor.

In this intensive seminar we will explore many diverse aspects of Jewish time in depth and breadth. We will examine the various Yamim Tovim, Tzomot etc.; as well as Shabbat and the regular weekday. We will analyze key ideas, messages and conceptualizations in all of these areas. In this course, we will examine texts from Tanach to Chazal, Maharal and Sefat Emet to Rav Kook ztl. We will thereby delve into the essence of Shabbat and the Moadot, the cycle of the day and their various deeper meanings. We will study related texts such as the Hallel, Yonah and the various Megillot as well as parts of Avot. Our investigations will span the depths of peshat in Tanach, the poetry of Midrash, the lomdus of Halachah (including Gemarah and Rishonim) and the writings of great Jewish thinkers. We will deepen our understanding of, and our appreciation for, the complex and beautiful mosaic of the Jewish experience of- and through- time.

In this course we will explore key concepts and perspectives in (and about) Tefillah. We will deepen our understanding of what Tefillah is, how it works and why. We will examine key tefillot and their meaning and messages. Through our study, we will discover new ways of relating to this critical dimension of our Avodat Hashem. We will learn how we can make our tefillah better- and how our tefillah can make us better. We will explore a very wide range of sources and texts- Tanach, midrash, shas, rishonim and more contemporary thinkers; and of course- the siddur itself. We will discuss, and suggest answers (many that will be new to you), to the classical problems that people have with prayer. We will come to understand tefillah, and also the tefillot, on a much deeper level.

We will study selected sections of parshat hashavua and the moral, religious and spiritual lessons that can be derived from the parsha. References will be made to various midrashei chazal, classical mefarshim, and contemporary gedolim. The discussions will focus on the issues that confront our students whether in Eretz Yisrael or in chutz laaretz, both at present, and in their future goals in life.

Reb Tzadok was a facsinating individual. He started out as a great Torah scholar in the Misnagedish world and when he met with the Ishbitze Rebbe was  drawn to Chassidut and became a Rebbe himself. His writing are steeped in chassidic Kabalistic ideas alongside analytical Gemera refrences. In this courrse we will get a taste of Reb Tzadok mainly through Tzidkat Hatzadik, one of his more well known works. We'll see the original , deep and profound ideas he brought us.

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This fascinating sefer provides a journey through the upper worlds and a glimpse at the profound mechanics and backstage of our world. We will be using the masterpiece that contains the mystical insights of  Rav Chaim MVolozhin - his essay which he wrote in response to Chasidut.  We will go through the majority of the book starting with Shaar Aleph - the part most people never do. Come see why!

In this sefer, Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz, one of the great Roshei Yeshiva of the past generation, shares with us with his brilliant analysis of human nature and moral and ethical challenges. We will attempt to go through the entire book and get the methodology of  Musar from one of the greatest Gedolei HaMusar.