Studying a Classic Novel of Judaism

By Rife, Susan L | Sarasota Herald Tribune, January 6, 2013 | Go to article overview

Studying a Classic Novel of Judaism


Rife, Susan L, Sarasota Herald Tribune


Rabbi Brenner Glickman first encountered Milton Steinberg's masterpiece of 20th-century Jewish fiction, "As a Driven Leaf," when he was a seminary student at Union College.

"I was still new to learning about Judaism," said Glickman, who is spiritual leader at Temple Emanu-El in Sarasota. "I remember how it opened up so many worlds to me. I absolutely loved it."

The book was not on any required-reading list at Union, but rather was recommended reading.

"It's not an academically rigorous book. It's a novel. But some of our professors recommended it because of how it personalizes some of the rabbis we study in earnest," said Glickman.

The 75th anniversary of the book's publication is this year, and Glickman thought it would make a timely novel for a three-part discussion series at Temple Emanu-El. For the next three Tuesday mornings, Glickman will "dive into" the story of the life and times of Elisha ben Abuyah and Rabbi Akiba, two of Judaism's most prominent Talmudic scholars of the second century.

Elisha ben Abuyah was a man who struggled with his faith and with living in the world of the Jewish Sanhedrin and the Hellenistic secular world.

His counterpart is Rabbi Akiba, "probably our greatest scholar, the most influential of all our rabbis," said Glickman, "so he is important, his teachings are important."

Glickman is dividing his series into three parts, the first a "standard book-talk kind of thing, what happens in the plot, things that affected us because of similar things in our lives."Then he'll look at the historical and literary underpinnings of the book.

"The author created a very rich and detailed novel, but it is based on episodes, some historic, some legends of the Talmud. Some of them are very ...elementary stories in the Talmud. He takes these pieces to create a narrative and greatly elaborates on it," said Glickman.

He'll also devote some time to the author himself, an American rabbi and theologian who lived from 1903 until 1950.

When the book was published in 1939, its author was "a very influential and popular conservative rabbi, so it is equally popular among conservative and Reform Jews," said Glickman. …

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