Maya's Reviews > As a Driven Leaf

As a Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg
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Feb 21, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: judaism-and-jewish-history
Read in May, 2006 — I own a copy , read count: 1

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 dies and he is then cared for by his observant Jewish uncle.

Immediately, the scrolls of his father’s are burned and Elisha is steeped in the Jewish faith. It is seen as a blessing by those scholars around him that he has been rescued from pagan thought. He rises in prominence to eventually become an ordained Rabbi and then a member of the Sanhedrin, that prestigious body of Sages that rules over matters religious and civil within Palestine.

Rabbi Elisha’s faith begins to falter and he is compelled beyond even his own reasoning to find proof of Truth. He decides to search all philosophies, knowing that he charts a very dangerous course. He will invite chastisement and eventually personal ruin and excommunication if he persists in his search, causing those around him to fear that he is an apostate.

The novel beautifully depicts the course of his life and his pursuit of knowledge and truth. I found myself strongly identifying with his passion and compulsion to learn even when those around him began to think the worst of him. While I believe we are given a mind by G-d and we are expected to use it, it becomes apparent that Elisha’s mind begins to turn in on itself and tragedy after tragedy follows.

One might begin to think that Steinberg is encouraging Elisha’s pursuit, especially when he is desperate for answers, but others are so fearful of even his questions he cannot find a safe way to work out his faith within the context of the community of his fellow sages. At other times his initial logic “makes so much sense”, but it becomes apparent that without faith, what appears as truth and logic rings hollow and leaves him without any kind of grounding even when that is exactly what the search was for originally.

I strongly recommend this book for those that want to explore what life was like around 70-90 CE in Palestine and Antioch and as a philosophical treatment of faith and logic. I would also hope that those within faith communities would read it to learn how to treat someone who is questioning. In the more fundamental (and sometimes not so fundamental) denominations, fear of doubt and fear of anything different within the community can propel potential congregants to leave the community to find answers rather than remain and feel safe to work it out. This novel is extremely timely even though it was published sixty-seven years ago.

It is rare for me to be so engrossed in a book that I cannot put it down, but in three days I devoured this one and it will find a permanent place on my bookshelf.
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02/12/2016 marked as: read

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