Judaism's Great Debates


Judaism's Great Debates

Timeless Controversies from Abraham to Herzl

Rabbi Barry L. Schwartz

128 pages


July 2012


$15.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

July 2012


$15.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

July 2012


$15.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

Thanks to these generous donors for making the publication of this book possible: David Lerman and Shelley Wallock; D. Walter Cohen, Wendy and Leonard Cooper; Rabbi Howard Gorin; Gittel and Alan Hilibrand; Marjorie and Jeffrey Major; Jeanette Lerman Neubauer and Joe Neubauer; Gayle and David Smith; and Harriet and Donald Young.

Ever since Abraham’s famous argument with God, Judaism has been full of debate. Moses and Korah, David and Nathan, Hillel and Shammai, the Vilna Gaon and the Ba’al Shem Tov, Spinoza and the Amsterdam Rabbis . . . the list goes on. Jews debate justice, authority, inclusion, spirituality, resistance, evolution, Zionism, and more. No wonder that Judaism cherishes the expression machloket l’shem shamayim, “an argument for the sake of heaven.”

In this concise but important survey, Rabbi Barry L. Schwartz presents the provocative and vibrant thesis that debate and disputation are not only encouraged within Judaism but reside at the very heart of Jewish history and theology. In his graceful, engaging, and creative prose, Schwartz presents an introduction to an intellectual history of Judaism through the art of argumentation.

Beyond their historical importance, what makes these disputations so compelling is that nearly all of them, regardless of their epochs, are still being argued. Schwartz builds the case that the basis of Judaism is a series of unresolved rather than resolved arguments.
Drawing on primary sources, and with a bit of poetic license, Schwartz reconstructs the real or imagined dialogue of ten great debates and then analyzes their significance and legacy. This parade of characters spanning three millennia of biblical, rabbinic, and modern disputation reflects the panorama of Jewish history with its monumental political, ethical, and spiritual challenges.

Author Bio

Rabbi Barry L. Schwartz is the director of The Jewish Publication Society in Philadelphia and the spiritual leader of Congregation Adas Emuno in Leonia, New Jersey. He is the author of the acclaimed textbook Jewish Heroes, Jewish Values and several other works. Judaism’s Great Debates is also available in a student edition by Behrman House, Inc.


"This is an excellent text for personal reading, for classroom study, or living room study groups. Whoever reads it will be stimulated, inspired and enriched."—Jewish Media Review

"A volume easily read, Judaism's Great Debates whets the reader's appetite with a desire to dig deeper into where we've been as a way of understanding some of the most important issues facing us today."—Ellis Shuman, Times of Israel

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments 000
Introduction: Arguing for the Sake of Heaven 000
Part One: Biblical Judaism
1. Abraham and God: The First Jewish Debate over Justice 000
2. Moses and Korah: The Debate over Holiness and Authority 000
3. The Five Daughters and the Twelve Tribes: The Debate over Inclusion 000
4. David and Nathan: The Debate over Accountability and Morality 000
Part Two: Rabbinic Judaism
5. Ben Zakkai and the Zealots: The Debate over Resistance 000
6. Hillel and Shammai: The Debate over Jewish Law 000
7. The Vilna Gaon and the Baal Shem Tov: The Debate over Spirituality 000
Part Three: Modern Judaism
8. Spinoza and the Amsterdam Rabbis: The Debate over Boundaries 000
9. Geiger and Hirsch and Frankel: The Debate over Religious Evolution 000
10. Herzl and Wise: The Debate over Zionism 000
Afterword 000
Notes 000
Room for Debate: Questions for Reflection and Discussion 000
Further Debate: Recommended Reading 000

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