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.
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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