ROSH YESHIVA AT TALMUDIC UNIVERSITY of FLORIDA

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Rabbi Akiva Zweig, Rosh Yeshiva, rejoined the faculty at Talmudic University of Florida in 2014 and gives Chaburas as well as teaching Mussar and other subjects to the students. One of the courses he currently gives is the 7 Habits of Highly effective people. As a certified facilitator of the 7 habits Rabbi Zweig is able to mix the teachings of the 7 Habits with Torah teachings to help the students prepare for life. Rabbi Akiva also gives many classes weekly throughout South Florida.  

Here is an amazing lecture that Rabbi Zweig gave at Oxford University about anti-Semitism and Shem.

Oxford speech by HaRav Akiva Zweig - Talmudic University of Florida

It is truly my honor to be addressing all of you this evening. 

In Judaism we have an important rabbinic custom to open any public address by giving respect and homage to the host and location of the event.  

Tonight I acknowledge the importance and prestige of Oxford University, and specifically St John's College, which is prominent under the Oxford umbrella. 

Many of you are aware of the illustrious history of the University of Oxford. The university started well over 900 years ago, and is in fact the second oldest college in the world. It operates the oldest university museum, and the largest university press in the world. 

The far reaching impact of its graduates and students of whom many are heads of state, is both significant and profound. 

I was fascinated to learn that the motto of the University of Oxford is Dominus Illuminatio Mea. Or, The Lord is My Light. Certainly, a credo such as The Lord is My Light, is not only a mantra, but a vision as well as mission statement. Interestingly, I believe that this motto is very relevant to our discussion tonight regarding antisemitism and its deepest origins. 

Perhaps because education is in my blood, as well as my lifelong ambition, I am biased as to the importance and role of education to humanity. 

My father, Rabbi Yochanan Zweig founded a University in Miami Beach, Florida and he is known throughout the world as a Rabbinic and Talmudic scholar and genius. It is not an exaggeration to rank my father as one of the greatest Jewish thinkers and Talmudists of the last several decades. Because I am his student, my father too is our host tonight. 


The organization that has brought all of us here tonight to explore this most important issue of antisemitism, deserves our complete respect and attention. While the entire world is feeling the effects of terrorism, extremism, and abhorrent violence, almost no one is taking a proactive approach to this global devastation. 

ISGAP is being proactive in investigating the underpinnings of antisemitism, at this most important forefront, that of academia.

ISGAP is leading the charge on the education of antisemitism and understanding its devastating effects on humanity. My dear and brilliant friend, Dr Charles Small, is a man of modest disposition and incredible knowledge and perspective. Thank you Dr Small and thank you all principals and members of ISGAP, for inviting me here tonight, to share a traditional Jewish Orthodox viewpoint on both the definition and origins of antisemitism.  

May G-d bless us all that our efforts here this week at Oxford and Saint John's College, have a positive impact towards peaceful coexistence and harmonious relationships among all countries and peoples of the world. 

If you look at the Oxford English Dictionary definition of Semite, you will find, that a Semite is a member of any of the peoples who speak or spoke a Semitic language including in particular Jews and Arabs.   The Merriam Webster Dictionary, specifically mentions any of a number of peoples of southwestern Asia. These include Akkadians, Phoenicians, Hebrews, and Arabs. 

Incredibly, if you look in same Oxford Dictionary definition of ANTISEMITISM, you find that antisemitism refers specifically to hostility or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic or racial group, to the exclusion of all others.

How do we explain this phenomenon? On the one hand a Semite is any member of many different peoples, and on the other hand, being an antisemite, is having a specifically anti-Jewish agenda? 


I would like to call everyone's attention to one etymological piece of information, also courtesy of the Oxford English Dictionary. The dictionary says that the origin of the word Semite, is based on the Biblical character who was a son of Noah. 

This man Noah is famous for having survived a flood that covered the entire world on an ark that G-d instructed him to build. The Bible records that one of the three sons with whom Noah journeyed on the ark, was named Shem. The basis of the word Semite, is this son who was called Shem. So we now know that the word Semite derives from the Hebrew name Shem, who was a son of Noah. 

I would now like to share with you some classic Biblical teachings and expositions in traditional Jewish Orthodox thinking. These pieces of information are based on the 5 Books of Moses, and have been in existence for over three millenniums. 

Firstly, the man named Shem, this son of Noah, is the ancestor of all the Semitic nations. These include what today are the Jews, the Islamic people, and quite possibly large numbers of Christians as well. Certainly, the thinking of all these semitic peoples and their respective religions, share the powerful influence of the Abrahamic tradition, who was himself a descendant of Shem.

According to all classic Jewish literature, this man Shem, established the first known university. It was titled simply the Yeshiva of Shem. Or, the University of Shem. Further, it is recorded in ancient Jewish texts, that some of the students who studied in this University, included many peoples of the world, among them Abraham himself, and several of his descendants.


So what was taught and studied in this first ancient university? The answer is the universal laws of mankind and society. These laws were given by G-d, directly to the first man Adam and later to Noah. These laws describe the basic parameters of a society that recognizes the One G-d, as the Creator of the Universe and King of all mankind. 

In brief, these laws ban the worship of idols, promote morality, as well as the adjudication of civil laws and rights, including the prohibited acts of murder, stealing, and adultery. In Judaism these laws are known simply as the Noahide laws. These are called the Noahide Laws because after the deluge, Noah and all his descendants were instructed by G-d as to their observance.

A centerpiece of these laws, is the concept that ALL MANKIND is created in G-d's Image. This means that there is a reflection of G-d that is innate to every human being, and that every human being has G-dly value. It is because of this G-dliness that murder is abhorrent. It is this G-dliness that uniquely dignifies ALL humanity. 

What I wish to highlight about these laws of morality and adjudication is the following. According to Judaism and Jewish Law and thinking, these laws are universal. Every single human being on the planet is subject to these same rules and ethics.


Moreover, these are the ONLY universal laws. This concept that these are the ONLY rules cannot be overemphasized. This exclusivity necessarily means, that the only requirement by G-d, to live an authentic G-d ordained and condoned existence is to abide by this set of rules.

The significance of this uniquely Jewish teaching is that ALL human beings have these same regulations and ALL human beings are subjects of this one G-d, and ALL human beings are in G-d's image. 

Perforce, all human beings must recognize each other's right of existence, and all must serve this SAME G-d.  

The genuine Jewish view of all humanity, is that no human being has the right to thrust any rule or dictum on any other human being except for these laws. This means that the entirety of humanity should have global views of complete tolerance for each other, AND RESPECT for each other, except in violation of these Noachide laws. 

Under this definition it would be illegal to kill or discriminate against anyone for race, color, or culture. The ONLY guidelines are these rules.

I suggest to all of us sitting here, that this man Shem, the son of Noah, the original Semite, saw it as his mission to universally promulgate these teachings. 

Because he understood that the flooding of the world, was due to man's pervasive corruption, he felt impassioned to prevent the decay of future societies. Shem therefore established this first university as a means of educating the entire world, as to the existence of G-d, and the application of these universal laws. 


Indeed, the word university itself is derived from the word universe. The Oxford English Dictionary says that the Latin root of university means the 'whole׳ or 'society. This of course tells us that the role of university is to educate the WHOLE SOCIETY, as to ways of thinking and paradigms. 

The result of all the above, is that a Semite, is a person who lives by and teaches these universal laws, ethics of morality, as well as a paradigm of monotheism. The Semite focuses on the G-dliness of EVERY human being, and the inherent respect due every person. 

Therefore, ANTI-SEMITE or ANTISEMITISM, is anything that contradicts or attacks these teachings. 

Let's explain this on a practical level. 

A SEMITE world view, is one where all people reflect G-dliness, have a right to exist, have a right to have a relationship with G-d, and a system whereby these rights are protected. 

Furthermore, the adherence to these universal laws and ethics is the basis of all societal behavior, and will bring whatever present reward or long term future existence that G-d will provide. Whether or not this current world lasts forever, and whatever comes next, the whole of existence is meant for ALL people. According to the SEMITE, there is no special club or exclusivity that denies membership. The ONLY requirement are these Noachide rules. This world is meant for every human, and any future existence or experience is meant for every human. 

To my knowledge, the only well known and identifiable group that teaches this authentic Semitic view is the Jews. It is for THIS reason that Anti-Semitism came to be defined as an exclusive antipathy against the Jews only. 

What I mean by this, is that the primary objection to the Semite, is that the Semite does not agree that a relationship with G-d is exclusive. A Semite does NOT think that only one race or one type of person is superior, or that only one type of person has G-dliness, and is supposed to control others or dominate the world. 


An ANTISEMITE, DOES subscribe to the notion that only one type of person, race, or religion, is superior, only one type of person has G-dliness, and therefore will have a relationship with G-d. An ANTISEMITE DOES think that one type of person, or one race, or one religion SHOULD YES dominate the world!!

Therefore, a root cause of anti-Semitism is resentment and hatred of the universal ideas espoused in Jewish educational thinking. 

As an aside, this is the fundamental reason that Jews do not seek to proselytize. There is no Jewish notion that the Jews need to "save" other humans. This is simply because ALL humanity can and should have their own unique relationship with G-d under the umbrella of the universal Noachide laws. Jews do not proselytize, because there is no need to "save" others with Judaism, and because Jews do not have a mission to impose Judaism on humanity. 

As we all know from thousands of years of history of wars and suffering and violence among humans, so much is caused by notions of exclusivity, salvation, and superiority. 

Whether we look back to wars of religious vs pagan, or religious vs religious, or wars of global conquests, or the world wars, we almost always find notions of imposing exclusivity on a relationship with G-d, or superiority of race, or simply global domination. I contend that ALL of this is antisemitism. The Semite teaches respect for all men and their rights to exist, and for each person to have their own unique relationship with G-d under the very broad umbrella of the Noachide principles. 


As we mentioned earlier, the word Semite derives from the name Shem, who was the son of Noah. Interestingly, this word Shem, actually translates to mean name. In other words this man Shem was named NAME.  In Judaism, a common way to refer to G-d is Ha Shem. This translates to "The Name". This is seen as the most respectful of the informal ways to refer to G-d. 

I believe that the reason this son of Noah was called Shem, is because it was his mission to publicize the NAME of G-d. He established the first university whose purpose was to teach the universal Noachide laws, and to educate the entire world as to the fact of the existence of G-d and His Name. 

One last fascinating fact about this man named Shem. Scripture tell us that Shem eventually became the king of Jerusalem and a minister to G-d. (Slide) In light of our understanding this is no mere coincidence. In Judaism, Jerusalem is the city of G-d's Presence. Even today, people from all over the world travel to Jerusalem to connect with spirituality and holiness. It makes perfect sense that the man who sought to educate the universe as to G-d's existence and name, would be the king of this city and a minister of G-d. 

As I stated at the beginning of this address, the motto of The University of Oxford is Dominus Illuminatio Mea, or The Lord is My Light. This motto is a shining example of an authentic Semitic teaching. By stating that there is a G-d and by recognizing that G-d gives guidance, the University of Oxford has shaped itself in true Semitic fashion. Not only is the teaching Semitic, but it is being promulgated by a UNIVERSITY!! This is true Semite tradition! 


It is no wonder that The University of Oxford has succeeded so well for nearly a thousand years. Surely, G-D is blessing this university and helping it achieve its global impact. 

May G-D, or as we say in Judaism, may HaShem, bless us all to recognize and observe these universal Noachide laws, and learn to respect the G-dliness in every human being. In this way we will certainly find tolerance, peace, and harmony for humanity, and spiritual uplifting and fulfillment in a relationship with His Great Name. 

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