The first Oxford Seminar in Advanced Jewish Studies took place at Yarnton from January to June 2013, on the theme of ‘Orthodoxy, Theological Debate and Contemporary Judaism: Exploring Questions Raised in the Thought of Louis Jacobs’. The Seminar was led by Dr Adam Ferziger, of Bar-Ilan University, together with Dr Miri Freud-Kandel, the Centre’s Fellow in Modern Judaism. It opened with a lecture by Professor David Weiss Halivni (Bar-Ilan University) entitled ‘Is the Critical Method Compatible with Orthodoxy?’ followed by a two-day residential symposium on ‘Orthodox Judaism and Theology in the Twenty-first Century’.
The Seminar examined the state of contemporary Orthodox Judaism in general, and addressed specific issues such as the place of rational debate in contemporary Judaism, changing approaches to interpretations of revelation, the impact of gender issues and the viability of concepts such as inclusivism, pluralism and openness in Orthodox Judaism.
Many of the topics under discussion reflected questions raised in the theological writings of Louis Jacobs. The research seminar provided an opportunity to bring together scholars to examine the principles and texts on which Jacobs built his theology. Also under consideration was the extent to which Orthodoxy has attempted to answer the questions Jacobs posed for it over fifty years ago. In addition to twice-weekly seminars in Oxford throughout Hilary and Trinity terms, several lectures and panel discussions were arranged in London in conjunction with the Friends of Louis Jacobs, and a Yom Limmud weekend took place at Yarnton in early May.
The opportunity for experts to come together in such a Seminar setting for an extended period of time, freed from teaching and administrative responsibilities, facilitated the production, publication and dissemination of understanding the possible future directions for Orthodox Judaism and the role of theology and theological debate in contemporary Judaism.