Divrei ben Abuya

In the Babylonian Talmud, Elisha ben Abuya was a great sage who lost his faith in God. So great was he that his and subsequent generations continued learning from him - to the extent that the authors of the Talmud needed to create a story that would serve to legitimise his teachings despite his apostasy. His lesson is a lesson for us all: that great stature is not contingent upon blind faith, nor high learning upon the observation of Torah precepts.

August 09, 2006

A New Judaism

Just a quick note to mention that I found myself looking at the Universal Jewish Encyclopedia (published 1941) the other night and was most interested to note certain omissions from its pages. Despite the fact that it was only printed a mere sixty-five years ago, there is no reference to the Holocaust, no mention of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and not so much as an allusion to the State of Israel. I find that it truly boggles the mind to think of the extent to which Judaism has changed in the last century.

The Holocaust, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the State of Israel have each bequeathed to us a lens through which to view the last two thousand years. Through the lens of the Holocaust we see a history wracked with anti-semitism (despite the anachronistic nature of this term prior to the 1800s); through the Dead Sea Scrolls we gain an insight into the sectarian nature of Judaism prior to the Talmud and to the traditions that bridged the Bible to both the Mishna and the New Testament; through the State of Israel we see an exile based around the lack of military power and a messianism that lies within the notion of a secular state.

Isaiah prophesied a new heaven and a new earth, but it seems that in the last century we have been given a new Judaism instead.


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