#95 Unorthodox Episodes from the Talmud (2)

Part two of David’s Zoom series, Unorthodox Episodes from the Talmud, mixes Jewish history with textual learning and fascinating storytelling.

The talk continues the story begun in the previous episode regarding Rav Kahana, a third-century sage who fled Babylonian authorities to find refuge in the Land of Israel following a violent confrontation in a rabbinical court.

In this lecture, David describes the next chapter for Rav Kahana following his arrival at the prestigious yeshiva of Tiberius. Through a series of unfortunate actions and misunderstandings, Rav Kahana finds himself once again at the centre of dramatic events involving pride, regret, and death.

As David unravels this extraordinary story, he explores:

  • key Talmudic figures and their contribution to Jewish life, history, learning, and continuity
  • the relationships and tensions between some of the great Jewish figures and academies of the time
  • the political and hierarchical structures of these rabbinical academies
  • the power of the sages and consequences of unsettling them
  • how concepts of right and wrong do not always resonate through centuries
  • the unexpectedly mystical nature of elements of the Talmud.

This lecture places in context the historical situation of the Jewish communities in Babylonia and the Land of Israel. It also reminds us of the importance of Torah scholarship in relation to the shape and influence of different parts of the Jewish world.

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#94 Unorthodox Episodes from the Talmud (1)

David Solomon explores several fascinating episodes described in the Talmud.

This first lecture in the series discusses an unusual Talmudic incident involving disloyalty, self-righteousness, contempt, justice, death, restitution, escape, and consequences.

As with many stories from the Talmud, this incident is set during a time known as the Amoraic period – between the 3rd and 4th centuries CE – when the centre of Jewish life was based in Babylonia. It concerns an investigation of a concept in halacha, Jewish law, known as mesirah – an action in which a Jewish person hands over another Jewish person or their property to a non-Jewish authority.

In the story, a rabbinical court (beth din) summons a man poised to inform on his neighbour to the Babylonian government. This man’s disdain for the authority of the beth din results in unexpected and grave consequences.

David examines the details and text of this remarkable event as well as the context and significance of the Talmudic figures involved. He also:

  • explains the relevance of the legal issue in its historical context
  • draws parallels between these historical incidents and recent issues of Jewish law
  • explores variations in definitions of right and wrong, justice and injustice 
  • describes and contextualises the figures described in the passage
  • reminds us of the details and relevance of the historical setting in which the incident is set.

The Talmudic passage discussed in this lecture can be found towards the end of Tractate Bava Kamma, page 117a.

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#35 Chazal in the Age of Empires: An Overview of the Talmudic Period (part 2)

The consequences of the Roman destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem were devastating and yet Jewish life continued in fascinating ways. In particular, the years that followed saw Jewish spiritual and intellectual endeavours developing in profound and impactful directions. In this podcast episode, David examines the second century CE, exploring the enormous contributions of some remarkable Jewish men and women from the period. He also discusses several extraordinary events, including the conquering of Adiabene, the Kito Wars, and the second Jewish revolt.

This episode has particular resonance today as it explores the historical period which saw a brutal end to aspirations for Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel for almost two millennia. As we celebrate Yom Haatzmaut, Jewish History allows us to see, in context, the true impact of this event and the enormity of the establishment of the State of Israel.

 

Arthur Szyk,1927, Bar Kochba, watercolor and gouache on paper. Public Domain.

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#34 Chazal in the Age of Empires: An Overview of the Talmudic Period (part 1)

The rise of the influence of Chazal, the sages of the Talmud, emerged during the early phases of Roman rule over the Land of Israel.  In this podcast episode, David examines the key characters and events of the early phase of the Talmudic Period. He explores the changing focus of Jewish existence from one based on Temple worship to textual learning and laws. David also offers a range of fascinating stories preserved from the time in the fundamental texts written during this period.

Ephraim Moses Lilien, The Talmud Students, engraving, 1915. Public Domain.

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