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As a Driven Leaf
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As a Driven Leaf

4.1  ·  Rating details ·  2,234 Ratings  ·  163 Reviews
The age of the Talmud is brought to life in a breathtaking saga. This masterpiece of modern fiction tells the gripping tale of renegade talmudic sage Elisha ben Abuyah's struggle to reconcile his faith with the allure of Hellenistic culture. Set in Roman Palestine, As a Driven Leaf draws readers into the dramatic era of Rabbinic Judaism. Watch the great Talmudic sages at w ...more
Paperback, 480 pages
Published October 1st 1996 by Behrman House Publishing (first published 1939)
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Michael Fishman
Apr 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
One of the books that forever changed the way I look at the world. I only gave it a 4-star rating because there are parts where it drags on. But the meat-and-potatoes of it are stellar.

Perhaps one of the quintessential works of Jewish Fiction, As a Driven Leaf was written by Rabbi Milton Steinberg, who was mostly an historian. This was his first foray into writing fiction, and in this book Rabbi Steinberg demonstrates a mastery not only of talmudic folklore, but also of Greco-Roman society, as w
Feb 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Forward by Chaim Potok
The novel, based on Talmudic sources, admittedly heavily embellished and not holding strictly to pure factual occurrences, follows the life of Rabbi Elisha ben Abuyah, a Jew living during the time after the second Jewish temple had been destroyed and under the thumb of Roman occupation. Born to a father who rejected the Jewish faith and embraced Greek thought and motherless from an early age, he is taught to read Greek and appreciate pagan philosophies. At ten, his father d
Maggie Anton
I first read this novel before I studied Talmud, so I didn't realize it was based on actual Jewish texts. I was fascinated by Steinberg's descriptions of life in Roman Palestine, especially how the Jews lived, since there wasn't any other Jewish historical fiction from this time period. I wasn't so happy with the ending, never quite understanding why Elisha had to completely reject his religion when he couldn't reconcile it with Hellenism.

Later, when I studied the Gemara where his story appear
Feb 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Basically, this book was written for me, so it's not surprising that I loved it.

As a Driven Leaf was recommended to me by a rabbi who teaches an Jewish adult education course that I am taking. Two weeks ago we were studying the mitzvot (commandments), and we looked closely at the one in Deuteronomy 22:6-7:
If, along the road, you chance upon a bird's nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs, do not take the mother together with her young. Let the mother go, and take only the
Nov 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book has left me with a melancholy feeling and lots of pity for a man who was a free thinker, and who had suffered greatly because of it. As a Jew, I enjoyed learning more about the history of my people, and this book provided great detail and very lively descriptions, although sometimes too long. Many things in this book resonated with things that are happening to us or that we are doing to ourselves these days. As an atheist, I found myself entirely identifying with Elisha, although I can ...more
Feb 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: those-crazy-jews
I read this back in high school a thousand years ago, as all my friends did.

Rabbi Elisha Ben Abuya is one of the most tragic and charismatic characters in historical Judaism. One of four legendary Mishanaic-era rabbis who undertook the study of Kabbalah, Elisha Ben Abuya was the one who became a heretic.(Of the other three, it is said that one went mad, one died, and one was the great sage Rabbi Akiva.) The novel begins in 70 CE, after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and ends with t
Oct 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
It took me a while to get through this book, but I'm so glad I did!

In his book, Steinberg fictionalizes the life of Elisha, a rabbi of the Sanhedrin and sage who lived in Palestine after the destruction of the Second Temple, of whom we know little about for certain. Elisha's struggle to put reason and logic to faith is one I think many people, including myself, can identify with.

Though the book plays fast and loose with historical fact and tradition, it was not only enjoyable to read, but give
I read this book for a course in college, and it spoke volumes to me. An amazing historical account of the rabbinic age during Roman occupation. I have only read it once, but I remember it so fondly. Profound emotions and I have thought about it for years...
Paula  Obermeier McCarty
This book was engrossing and hard to put down. The whole struggle to find a solid personal philosophical/spiritual foundation in the middle of conflicting cultures and beliefs was fascinating. However, the book's ending was profoundly disappointing to me. Elisha (the main character) and many of his friends and family all suffer tragically from his decision to explore Greek and Roman philosophy.

Were his explorations wrong? It's hard for me to think that. I read this book a few years ago and have
Jan Rice
Jul 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, history, religion
Begins in 80 CE, 10 years after the destruction of the Temple, and goes on through the reigns of Trajan and Hadrian, covering the periods of the Diaspora and Bar Kokhba revolts. "There is no Truth without Faith. There is no Truth unless first there be a Faith on which it may be based." The paradox of the relatedness of Faith and Reason foreshadows the action which then comes full circle, as Elisha struggles not only with Faith vs. Reason, but also with the problem of evil, with loyalty vs. betra ...more
Feb 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This book helped me understand so much about the characteristics of faith, the purpose of faith and the problem of faith. You might read that and think "the problem of faith, what is he talking about?", but this book shows, through the life of the protagonist that faith is not a part of this world. It doesn't belong, but that's just the point-it shouldn't belong. There's nothing logical or reasonable about faith, and that's why it's so important. If religion was something to be reasoned through, ...more
Andrea Levin
Apr 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: judaica, novels
I first read this historical novel for a college course on Classical Judaism over 20 years ago, and I liked it enough to hold onto my copy through the course of several book cullings. I just reread it for my synagogue's book club and was pleased to find it just as absorbing as I remembered it. I enjoyed the exploration of the religious and philosophical landscape of the Roman-ruled Palestine in the 1st - 2nd centuries CE (including early Rabbinic Judaism, early Jewish Christianity, early gentile ...more
Judah Sussman
Mar 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Amazing novel that revisits in a fictional storyline the early Talmudic period. The questions the book ask are relevant today and the story that encompasses the theological and philosophical undercurrent is interwoven with a beautiful and engrossing style of writing.
May 29, 2017 rated it liked it
Started out very slow, but picked up and was an interesting way to learn about 1st century Jewish schools of thought and history.
Jim Leffert
Mar 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This classic 1939 novel is undoubtedly the best fictional work ever written about the intellectual, spiritual, cultural, and political challenges faced by Jewish elite during the period after the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in 70 CE. During this period, the Mishnah--the compendium of legal discussions and teachings that formed the foundation of Rabbinic Judaism and of the Talmud--took shape. I found As a Driven Leaf to be intellectual stimulating, historically revealing, and personally af ...more
Sep 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Another of the many books I'd like to reread. Here's the copied Kirkus Review

The extraordinary success of The Nazarene will in a sense pave the way for this book, which also has a Palestinian setting, and a religious motive. The period is later -- the early second century -- and the story deals with Elisha ben Abuyah, Jewish rabbi, a dissenter whose life was torn by internal struggles towards faith. It is a book which should appeal to the market of Lion Feuchtwanger's The Jew of Rom
Dani Meier
Apr 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
I greatly enjoyed this book. Steinberg did an amazing job describing the characters and giving me a full picture of all these grand tannaitic sages. Although Steingberg took some liberties with the plot, it seems he really stuck to the general character descriptions as depicted in gemaras and mishnas and I really got a great picture of what it was like to live in that time. Moreover, Elisha ben Avuya's struggle was so great and so interesting and even so relevant to today's times. I am merely le ...more
Apr 23, 2007 rated it liked it
A great read ... Elisha is a very sympathetic figure and for the most part the story is even handed, I think, though I was very troubled by the ending. I found his conflict to be eloquently expressed and extremely relatable. While I found the story to be mostly accurate I was irked by some of the modernizations and places where he clearly took liverties for the sake of fiction - Steinberg's prerogative, of course, but still a little unnerving. Did the tannaim really hang out as couples like some ...more
Jul 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, judaism, history
Really connected with this book. It brought to life a period in history I know little about, and dealt with the question of the foundations of faith (rational or irrational) that has been asked throughout the ages. Engrossing read for me, as the question is very much on my mind as well.
While the characters sometimes think and act more "modern" than likely, the story still shows how little has changed 2000 years later- humanity's problems and how the individual may choose to deal with them.

Not c
Feb 08, 2012 rated it liked it
Since I picked up the book at a thrift store, I had no idea what it was about and was merely tempted by the cover (sad, but true). Then, I put off reading it for about a year or more. Now, after spending the time digging in to Jewish life early in the ad dominum time frame, I am happy to had read this account of a rabbi who lost his faith and tried to use logic and reason to find it again. I had hoped to learn more about the lives of Jews in the time period, but instead was pushed to test reason ...more
Elisha ben Avuyah is one of my favorite Talmudic figures, so I had to read this book as soon as I learned it existed. If I had been writing a book about his life, it would have been in a slightly different light and would have put more of an emphasis of the story where R' Meir tries to convince Elisha to get back on the derech and Elisha "proves" to him (suing Talmudic logic) that it can't be done--that scene is so tragic (in the classic sense of the word) I can't even describe it. Anyway, this ...more
Elisabeth Jaffe
Aug 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recentlyread
This book is a timeless story about the unsuccessful search for truth. It takes place during the time of the Roman empire and tells the story about a religious Jewish man who lost his faith and went to search for truth using Euclid's method of reasoning only to find that even the laws and rules of mathematics are based on faith. His search led him back to his people, the same people he betrayed. He is neither hero or villain, just a desperate man who spent his whole life searching for something ...more
Karen B
To be true to one's inner voice or to live by faith in the religion to which he was born, that is the dilemma Elisha ben Abuya faces throughout his life. In his quest to gain knowledge he leaves behind his childhood home and friends and ventures to Antioch looking for a greater meaning to life and God. Don't we all question God's infinite wisdom from time to time? Is there a one of us who has not occastionally questioned the meaning of life?
I found parts of the book slow going, but well worth co
Sep 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Fictional account of a Jewish rabbi questioning his beliefs in the first century Palestine . . . . yeah. I couldn't get through the book jacket without yawning. But, it was for my book club so I persevered. And - it really grew on me. Like mold. Actually, like in a way that it really made me think and think about it. In the end, I felt that it was a book that was definitely not a "page-turner" but one that I learned so much from. I liked how the author didn't take sides but just presented the st ...more
May 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is perhaps one of my favorite books ever. I read it for a history class although it's historical fiction. It takes place about 70AD and shows the role of faith in everybody's life, whether they be devout Jews or the Roman intellectual and cultural elite. I found the story fascinating from a historical standpoint and the ultimate end to the journey almost soul-shocking and, personally, testimony building. I had never thought of faith in the manner it was discussed, trying not to give away th ...more
Jan 07, 2010 rated it liked it
Very well researched and written book about historical people, places, times as the basis but fleshed out with believable fiction. Although I slogged through the middle and had to make the effort to finish it, I'm glad I read this book. Reading about how Jews might have lived amongst the Greeks and Romans was intriguing. Also the plot - that a learned, affluent, highly respected and pious Rabbi could reach a turning point in his life where he absolutely questions his religion and way of life - w ...more
Alberto Mansur
Jul 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The timeless struggle between reason and faith, the need to understand, to make sense of a morality based on religion and its tenets about right and wrong, about a God-made plan for the universe and its rationality.

I first read it in high school and came back to it again twenty years later, this book remains a seminal piece of who I am and an example of how there's places where faith alone is not enough and of how reason can only go so far.
Apr 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-fiction
I have some strongly mixed feelings about this book - the female characters seemed mere foils for the men and some of the situations and plots were overly cliched. That said, Steinberg does a great job of putting you into this world and Elisha ben Abuyah's quest. For a book that's obviously so personal, really tremendous how he didn't allow his alter-ego character to go without serious, serious flaws. Some of the religious-philosophical discussions are just fascinating.
Aug 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is a book about rabbinical Judaism around the 100 AC. It is fiction, but it was written by a rabbi and is faithful to the teachings and historical flavor of that era. It is a story of a rabbi who ultimately losses his faith in order to follow Greek reasoning only to find out in the end that Greek reasoning would lead him back to his faith. It is an amazing read and I highly recommend it for those who are interested.
Jul 24, 2015 rated it liked it
This novel is very good at presenting the philosophical differences between the Hebrew and Hellenic view of life. By making the protagonist an expert in both, the author gets to make a compelling argument for each world view.

I am only giving this book 3 stars because I found it lacking as a work of literature. The dialogue, in particular, seemed rather forced, as did the "love story".
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American author, philosopher, rabbi, teacher, and theologian
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“Then there were so many things to be said that they did not speak of any of them.” 5 likes
“Does man not face life with a greater assurance is he believes that a benevolent providence foresees the future? And yet he must at the same time be confident that his will is free, otherwise moral support is meaningless altogether. Doctrines in themselves are not important to me, but their consequences are. For example, I urge upon men that they regard themselves as embodiments of the divine essence. If I convince them, their days are endowed with a sense of abiding significance and unturning glory. Then not all the misfortunes and degradations to which they may be subjected can take from them their feelings of oneness with angels and stars. And as for our people, persecuted and dispersed, they live under the shadow of death, cherishing a dream that is recurrently shattered by the caprice of tyrants and then dreamed again half in despair. What can enable such a people to persist except a conviction of a special relationship to God?” 2 likes
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