Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Epic rabbis in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: The Talmud as Epic. This week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ brings to life rabbinic heroes on their intellectual battlefield: larger-than-life figures worthy of Greek drama.
But when it comes to aggadah, the Talmud’s passages of lore and legend, these one-dimensional names suddenly spring to life. The rabbis, it turns out, were not just law-producing machines; they were also saints and miracle-workers, friends and enemies, politicians and businessmen. Read one way, the Talmud is an epic, in which the rabbis play the role of heroes. But they are heroes of a particular kind: they fight not with swords but words, and the rewards they seek are not kingdoms but holiness and intellectual authority. This elevation of the intellectual and spiritual over the physical constitutes a particularly Jewish vision of heroism, which continues to play a central role in both religious and secular Jewish culture today.
And they were beautiful. Moses was also remembered as beautiful in ancient Jewish traditions (see here and here). The Merkavah mystics also frequently referred to the beauty of God (see, e.g., the passage from the Hekhalot Zutarti quoted here).

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.