Rabbis in Paradise: Law and Mysticism in Early Rabbinic Judaism – a Lecture by Nehemia Polen on December 4th

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November 19th, 2012

December 4, 2012 at 5 P.M. at the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies

147 Bay State Rd, Boston, MA 02215 (Entrance on Silber Way) 2nd Floor, Room 201

Four Rabbis entered Paradise, and only one of them—Rabbi Akiva—came out unscathed.  What does this famous story, found in Tosefta Hagigah, mean?  Why does the Mishnah restrict study of Ezekiel’s chariot vision?   These questions have intrigued students of Talmud for millennia.   In exploring these questions, we shall suggest a new understanding of Jewish mysticism in the early Rabbinic period, and what the early rabbis believed about God, Torah, and themselves.

About Dr. Nehemia Polen:

NPolen_Head_150pxDr. Nehemia Polen is Professor of Jewish Thought at Hebrew College.  He is the author of The Holy Fire: The Teachings of Rabbi Kalonymus Shapira, the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto (Jason Aronson, 1994, 1999), and is a contributing commentator to My People’s Prayer Book, a multi-volume Siddur incorporating diverse perspectives on the liturgy (Jewish Lights).   He received his Ph.D. from Boston University, where he studied with and served as teaching fellow for  Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel.   In  1994 he was Daniel Jeremy Silver Fellow at Harvard University, and has also been a Visiting Scholar at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.   He is an ordained rabbi and served a congregation for twenty-three years.  In 1998-9 he was a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow, working on the writings of Malkah Shapiro (1894-1971), the daughter of a noted hasidic master, whose Hebrew memoirs focus on the spiritual lives of  women in the context of pre-war Hasidism in Poland.  The research culminated in his book, The Rebbe’s Daughter (Jewish Publication Society, 2002), recipient of a National Jewish Book Award.  His most recent book is Filling Words with Light: Hasidic and Mystical Reflections on Jewish Prayer (with Lawrence Kushner), Jewish Lights Publishing, 2004.  A member of the Association for Jewish Studies and the Society of Biblical Literature, his active research interests, in addition to Hasidism, include Bible (Book of Leviticus) and Rabbinics (Mishnah and Tosefta).