#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)

In this Zoom lecture series, David 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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#36 Chazal in the Age of Empires: An Overview of the Talmudic Period (part 3)

The period of the 3rd to 5th centuries (CE) saw a different type of world emerging from one that had, for centuries, been controlled by two empires: Rome and Parthia. In this podcast episode, David explores the new Jewish reality and the revolutionary innovations that resulted. In particular, he examines the extraordinary project of the Talmud, its remarkable later contributors, and allows us to understand the significance of these developments within the context of Jewish and world history.

Rabbi Ashi teaching at the Sura Academy. From Diaspora Museum, Tel Avi. Image used under Creative Commons licence https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

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#31 The Geonic Period: Jewish History of the 6th to 10th Centuries (part 1)

During the 6th and 7th centuries, Jewish populations were centred in territories ruled by the Sassanian, Byzantine and the Western Roman empires. In this podcast episode, David Solomon examines how Jewish life unfolded during these two centuries. He explores the changing fortunes of the renowned Jewish academies of Sura and Pumbedita; the role and status of the Jewish exilarch over generations; the brief existence of a semi-independent Jewish State in Jerusalem; and the rise and fall of Jewish communal safety throughout the generations.

Image: Reproduction of the Madaba Map, a 6th century AD floor mosaic in the early Byzantine church of Saint George at Madaba containing the oldest surviving original cartographic depiction of the Holy Land and especially Jerusalem, Jerusalem. Creative Commons (see https://www.flickr.com/photos/carolemage/15010441404).

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