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The Rabbis Confront Death: Four Stories from the Midrash with Burt Visotzky

Hosted By: Orange County Community Scholar Program (CSP)

Midrash Mishle (The Midrash to Proverbs, 9th century CE) waxes narrative with four stories of death and mourning. These legends offer a comprehensive rabbinic view on death, mourning, and consolation that have meaningful lessons for us today. This series discusses the Midrashic literature surrounding the death of famous Jewish figures.

The Death of Moses
Tuesday December 7, 2021
Unlike the biblical narrative at the end of Deuteronomy, in this Midrash, Moses does not go gentle into that good night. Instead, he goes through the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, similar to what we know from modern accounts of death and dying.

The Death of Rabbi Meir’s Sons
Tuesday December 14, 2021
This event discusses how Rabbi Meir’s wife breaks the news to Rabbi Meir about the sudden death of their two sons, and how the couple mourn their loss together – from theodicy to consolation.

The Death of the Apostate Elisha ben Avuyah
Tuesday December 21, 2021
Elisha’s disciple Rabbi Meir tries to convince him to repent, but Elisha dies unrepentant! How does one cope with a loss that has no apparent redemption or closure?

The Death of Rabbi Akiba
Tuesday December 28, 2021
In Midrash Mishle’s version, Akiba does not die by torture, but rather dies quietly in prison. This Midrash focuses on how his disciple (and surrogate son), Joshua of Gerasa, buries and mourns him with the help of Elijah the Prophet.

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Professor Burton L. Visotzky

PROF. BURTON L. VISOTZKY, PhD, serves as Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he joined the faculty upon his ordination in 1977. Visotzky was a dean of the Graduate School and founding Rabbi of the egalitarian Women’s League Seminary Synagogue. He serves as the Louis Stein Director of the Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies at JTS, programming on public policy, and directs JTS’s Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue. A member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Prof. Visotzky served as Master Visiting Professor of Jewish Studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome (where he will return to teach in Spring 2022). He is the author of ten books, editor of seven other volumes, and has authored over 125 articles and reviews. His book, APHRODITE AND THE RABBIS: How the Jews adapted Roman Culture to Create Judaism as We Know It, was published in 2016. He has been featured on radio, television, and in print. In 1995-1996, he collaborated with Bill Moyers on the ten-part PBS series, “Genesis: A Living Conversation.” He consulted DreamWorks on their 1998 film, “Prince of Egypt.” In 2012, Visotzky worked with Christiane Amanpour on her four-hour mini-series, “Back to the Beginning.” Rabbi Visotzky has been named to “The Forward 50” and repeatedly to the Newsweek/Daily Beast list of “The 50 Most Influential Jews in America.” Prof. Visotzky holds an EdM from Harvard University; and has been visiting faculty at Oxford; Cambridge; and Princeton Universities; and the Russian State University of the Humanities in Moscow.
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