CHAIM SEIDLER-FELLER was Executive Director of the Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life at UCLA for a fantastic 40 years.
He is currently our Director Emeritus and is also the director of the Hartman Fellowship for Campus Professionals. He was ordained in 1971 at Yeshiva University where he completed a Masters in Rabbinic Literature. Chaim is a lecturer in the Departments of Sociology and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at UCLA and in the Department of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University. He is also a faculty member of the Shalom Hartman Institute for Advanced Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, and of the Wexner Heritage Foundation. He was a founding member of Americans for Peace Now. The International Hillel Center granted Chaim the Hillel Professional Recognition Award “for blending the love of Jewish tradition with the modern intellectual approach of the university.” Chaim was a rabbinic consultant to Barbra Streisand during the making of the film Yentl.
He is married to Dr. Doreen Seidler-Feller, a clinical psychologist, and is the father of Shulie, a photo-journalist and Shaul, a rabbinic student at Yeshiva University, who is pursuing an advanced degree in Jewish history.
For more information on Chaim's accomplishments at Hillel, visit our blog.
The following is a list of Chaim's popular lecture topics for speaking engagements. Please contact us for more information regarding potential inclusion in your programs.
Your Word is Fire: The Inner Life of Jewish Power
Prayer is arguably the most difficult practice for the modern Jew. Maimonides presents a unique theory of the origin of fixed, verbal prayer. In doing so, he opens up a discussion of the profound spiritual nature of tefillah (prayer) as a means of nurturing inwardness and a rich contemplative life. The similarity with mystical teaching is striking. This session will focus on the spiritual significance of tefillahas it is elucidated in Maimonides’ teachings.
Wrestling with an Angel: Power, Morality and the State of Israel
The question of how to achieve a balance between power and morality is arguably the most important religious question confronting the Jewish people today. Herein, an examination of texts ranging from the Bible, the classic rabbinic tradition, medieval philosophy, and Zionist thought and poetry in an effort to outline the tension within the sources and then to define a Jewish ethic of power.
“A Decade at Bernie’s”: The Ethical Crisis in Contemporary Jewish Life
A discussion focusing on a perceived ethical failure in public Jewish life that extends from the financial realm into the world of religious observance and onto the State of Israel. We will consider the reasons for the crisis as well as a proposed remedy.
From Survivalism to Renaissance: Constructing a Positive Jewish Identity in the Wake of the Holocaust
The last generation has seen a proliferation of Holocaust memorial, films, books, etc. Is there too much Holocaust in Jewish life? What does the president Jewish sense of external threat mean when the data consistently indicate a steady decline in anti-Semitism? How can we integrate the “good news” into positive, compelling and meaningful Judaism for the future?
Israel on the College Campus: Battlefield or Field of Dreams
Many in the Jewish Community are convinced that American universities are seething with anti-Semitism and are hot beds of anti-Israel activism. This presentation will examine the accuracy of this assertion from the perspective of a campus professional. A nuanced a sober portrait is both troubling and hopeful will be presented.
Toward a Renewal of the Zionist Idea
The establishment of the State of Israel constitutes only a partial fulfillment of the goals of Zionism. Zionism also aimed at renewing the Jewish people and propelling them to constitute a model society. Yet, Zionist discourse has, over the past decades, been stuck in political mode and has become largely irrelevant, even to those who are passionate supporters of Israel. The seminar proposes to reinvigorate the Zionist conversation and to awaken a vital ideology that can be source of Jewish renewal while a meaningful focus to the Zionist project.
Holy Pleasure: Shabbat as the Intersection of Spirituality and Sexuality
Against the background of a world consumed by depersonalizing technology Shabbat emerges as the ‘Day of Love and Relationship’.Drawing on the rabbinic and the mystical traditions,this session will argue that Judaism presents a distinctive spirituality that consciously and deliberately affirms physical pleasure,social interaction and love-making as essential to the Shabbat experience.Texts that will be considered range from Talmud to Zohar and from Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah to Joseph Gikatilla’s Holy Letter(a 13th C mystical ‘love’ manual).
The Triumph of Orthodoxy. What Can We Learn?
Fifty years ago Jewish sociologists predicted the eventual demise of Orthodoxy. The reality, however, is that not only has Orthodox Judaism not disappeared but it has thrived and become the most vibrant denomination in America today. In this workshop we will examine the demographic evidence for the Orthodox resurgence, identify the reasons that explain this success and develop a programmatic application for the general Jewish community.
From Benares to Jerusalem: The Jewish Quest For Spirituality
A survey of the basic elements of the Jewish spiritual tradition and a program for intensifying the inner life of the soul. Utilizing texts this seminar will explore the reason for the absence of spirituality in contemporary Jewish life and will highlight the distinctive aspects of Jewish spirituality. The discussion will engage the current fascination and preoccupation with Kabbalah and spirituality in Jewish life.
Sexual Repression and Obsession in the Jewish Tradition: Examining the Classical Jewish Sources
Although the Jewish tradition is generally open-minded regarding sexual behavior within marriage, certain repressive ideas have gained currency over the centuries and have determined sexual attitudes within segments of the Orthodox community. This workshop will claim that the KitzurShulkhanArukh, a popular 19th century halakhic (Jewish legal) work read broadly by Yeshiva High School students, is largely responsible for the dissemination of these ideas. With Doreen Seidler-Feller
Forging a Contemporary Jewish Sex Ethic
Classical Jewish teachings regarding sexuality, including homosexuality and pre-martial sex, generate personal conflicts and social consequences that demand our attention. So long as these tensions are not addressed, community members are confronted with a choice between the restrictions of the tradition and the permissive orientation of contemporary culture. This session intends to step into that breach by proposing a contemporary sexual ethic. With Doreen Seidler-Feller
Exile:The Secret of Jewish Survival
Is exile a punishment or a gift? How do we explain Jewish survival when other, arguably, greater cultures faded from the historical scene. Through a variety of texts-Biblical, Rabbinic, Hasidic and Homiletic-we will explore an alternative and innovative theological framework for understanding Jewish history. It will be argued that the experience of exile has had a determinative impact on the development of Judaism and that the concept of exile constitutes a distinctive Jewish contribution to civilization.
For your consideration:
The experience of exile originally perceived as a punishment was transformed by the Jewish historical experience into a foundational idea that shaped Jewish moral teachings,directly impacted the Jewish pursuit of excellence and influenced Zionist ideology.We will explore and analyze various concepts and rituals that reflect the exilic worldview and read the writings of contemporary thinkers for whom exile is a formative idea.
It is my contention that this worldview constitutes a unique Jewish contribution to civilization and that it has significance for other cultures as well. Although it is clear that Jewish nationalism has revolutionized modern Jewish life,exile is the force that molded Jewish character throughout our history.
A call for the revitalization of exilic thinking as a key to Jewish survival.
Searching for God in Judaism: A Rational Quest for a Mystical Presence
This discussion constitutes a personal effort at articulating a meaningful notion of God that is spiritually fulfilling and at the same time intellectually uncompromising. The search ranges across the Jewish tradition from the fundamentals of Biblical monotheism to Maimonides’ rationalism and onto Hasidic mysticism. The result is a contemporary notion of God that is both inspiring and humbling.
Creation and/or Evolution:Are Science and Religion Compatible?
Over the past decade,religion has been under assault by a group of militant scientist-atheists.Could this discord possibly be based on little more than a false dichotomy between science and religion?
Discover an original and innovative interpretation of the creation narrative(seven days??),discuss the religious significance of evolution and consider the implications of evolutionary theory and of creation for morality and human freedom.The goal of the seminar will be to establish that religion and science function best in partnership and that evolutionary science and creation theology can coexist.
A Passion for Waiting: The Maimonidean Vision of the Messianic Age
The Jewish community is currently experiencing an explosion of messianic fever, some of it orchestrated by a Brooklyn-based Hasidic sect while another manifestation of Jewish messianism bears on the religious significance of the state of Israel.
What then is the Jewish messianic doctrine? How has it been transformed and envisioned by Maimonides? Will only Jews be redeemed or all of humanity? How does the messianic idea inform and shape contemporary Zionism? Is there to be a personal messiah or a messianic era? Will the messiah ever come?
Encounters Between Isaac and Ishmael: A Jewish Perspective on the Relationship Between Judaism and Islam
In a world riveted by a renascent Islam, this seminar offers a framework to better understand Islam’s contemporary confrontation with Judaism. Through an analysis of Islamic teachings the following issues will be addressed: the myth of a perpetual ‘Golden Age’; are anti-Judaism and violence essential to Islam?; the centrality of Jerusalem to both Islam and Judaism; commonalities and divergences between the two religious traditions and their respective openness to criticism. Quaranic, Biblical, and historical source materials will be utilized to provide a textual background for the discussion
Maimonides Confronts Islam: Between Embrace and Rejection
Although Maimonides flourished in Cairo as a palace physician and as the ‘Rais,’ or head of the Jewish community, he spent his early years fleeing from Islamic extremists who had invaded his native Cordoba (Rumor has it that his family actually converted to Islam while continuing to live secretly as Jews). This bi-polar experience of Islamic rule informs Maimonides’ unique doctrine that is both affirming and loathing of Islam. A bold lesson for our times.
From a God of War to a God of Peace:On the Development of Biblical Morality
Examining the “Song of the Sea” in this week’s Torah portion we are struck by the violent poetic images and the description of God as a ‘Man of War’.Our study session will examine how the prophetic tradition offers a tikkun (repair)to God’s character and in the process develops a moral program whose goal is to create a moral society.
Holy Matter, Sacred Space: Land for Peace in the Jewish Tradition
Current thinking has it that trading land for peace is contrary to halakha and can only be permitted on account of a consideration ofpikuachnefesh (saving an endangered life). However, an analysis of the teachings of RaMBaM and RaMBaN regarding kedushatha’aretz (the sanctity of the land) demonstrates that there exist two distinct conceptual views-one mystical and essentialist and the other rational and instrumental-that define contrasting attitudes towards the land, each of which lends support to a different political option. The views of Maimonides and Nachmanides will be related to mainstream Zionist theory as well as to the opinions of Isaiah Leibowitz and David Hartman.
IMAGINE: John Lennon and the Scandal of Jewish Particularity
Why does it seem as if the classical liberal values that have long been championed by Jews are currently under attack? And why are we out of sync with the zeitgeist ?
In this session we contrast the deeper meaning of the Tower of Babel narrative with the millennial theme song, Imagine,so as to conceptually frame two conflicting worldviews and argue that Judaism offers a distinctive handle on the universal/particular divide. This, in turn, will help us address the negative perception of Jews and of Israel by the progressive idealists on campus today.