As A Driven Leaf Essay, Research Paper
As a Driven leaf is a historical novel set in Roman Palestine. The protagonist, Elisha ben Abuyah, a talmudic rabbi in the first half of the second century, was excommunicated for heresy.
Little is known of Elisha. The Talmud says of him: Four men entered Pardes [the Garden, the realm of theosophy and hidden teachings]…. Ben Azzai died…. Ben Zoma went mad…. Acher [Elisha] mutilated the shoots [commited heresy]…. R. Akiva departed unhurt.
What we do know about Elisha comes mostly from his pupil and disciple R. Meir, a major character in the book who remained loyal to Elisha and became an honored sage. Meir’s teachings laid the groundwork for the Mishnah of Judah ha-Nasi.
Fascinated by Hellenism, Elisha became enchanted with its presumed systematic logic. Drawing on talmudic and historical sources, Steinberg portrays the clash between Judaism and a modern, secular society. In the novel you will meet some of the great sages of the Talmud, watch them at work in the Sanhedrin, hear them dispensing legal decisions, become immersed in their arguments about theology and Torah, agonize with them on whether to cooperate with or rebel against an increasingly oppressive Rome, and visit the centers of learning in ancient Palestine.
You will also encounter the budding Christian groups and the debate over whether the Law of Moses had or had not been annulled. Seeking a faith born of reason, Elisha was ultimately left without faith or community, sadly disillusioned by the mystery religions and the barbaric side of Roman/Greek culture, and broken by the realization that Greek philosophy, itself, was based on postulates and axioms–that is, on faith.
Based on accounts reported in the Talmud, this book contains Steinberg’s imaginative and sensitive depiction of a time strangely like our own, in which the stresses and strains between the secular world and old and new religion play themselves out. Jews will find many of their rabbinic heroes portrayed — such as Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Meir. Christians will be fascinated by the tensions between the Hebrew Christians and the Gentile Christians of the first century. Particularly moving is Steinberg’s elaboration of Ben Abouya’s reaction to the deaths of Meir’s children, a story also based on talmudic writings.
Although this tale is somewhat slow and its characters never fully come to life, and the tale also gets it+s message across intellectually rather than a visually, I was still greatly moved by it. I identified with Elisha’s struggle, ( was not exactly in his possition But see what he is staying) and I came away from the novel with a great sense of hope, and a realization that truth not only requires a leap of faith, but that it is not absolute. Instead of getting caught up in proving theories, it is important to choose a path and walk on it.