The Charm of Wise Hesitancy: Talmudic Stories in Contemporary Israeli Culture

The Charm of Wise Hesitancy: Talmudic Stories in Contemporary Israeli Culture

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David C. Jacobson

Series: Israel: Society, Culture and History
ISBN: 9781618115546 (hardcover) / 9781618117885 (pb)
Pages: 184 pp.
Publication Date: May 2017

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In recent decades, there has been a resurgence of interest among both secular and religious Israelis in Talmudic stories. This growing fascination with Talmudic stories has been inspired by contemporary Israeli writers who have sought to make readers aware of the special qualities of these well-crafted narratives that portray universal human situations, including marriages, relationships between parents and children, power struggles between people, and the challenge of trying to live a good life. The Charm of Wise Hesitancy explores the resurgence of interest in Talmudic stories in Israel and presents some of the most popular Talmudic stories in contemporary Israeli culture, as well as creative interpretations of those stories by Israeli writers, thereby providing readers with an opportunity to consider how these stories may be relevant to their own lives.

David C. Jacobson is Professor of Judaic Studies at Brown University. He is author of Modern Midrash: The Retelling of Traditional Jewish Narratives by Twentieth-Century Hebrew Writers (State University of New York Press, 1987); Does David Still Play Before You? Israeli Poetry and the Bible (Wayne State University Press, 1997); Creator, Are You Listening? Israeli Poets on God and Prayer (Indiana University Press, 2007); Beyond Political Messianism: The Poetry of Second-Generation Religious Zionist Settlers (Academic Studies Press, 2011); Israeli and Palestinian Identities in History and Literature, edited with Kamal Abdel-Malek (St. Martin's Press, 1999); and History and Literature: New Readings of Jewish Texts in Honor of Arnold J. Band, edited with William Cutter (Brown Judaic Studies, 2002).


In his book, David Jacobson offers a wide range of Israeli contemporary commentaries to Talmudic legends. With love, knowledge, and profound commitment, Jacobson explores one of the most fascinating revolutions in Jewish culture in recent decades: the rediscovery of rabbinic literature by Israeli culture.
— Ruhama Weiss, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Jerusalem
The Zionist revolution and mainstream Israeli culture tried to vault from the world of the Bible to a revolutionary present, leaving the rabbis and their texts behind. Yet the break was never that clean, and dogmatic secularism has come on hard times. Recent years have seen the recovery and creative reinterpretation of classic rabbinic texts by secular and religious readers, making for one of the most fascinating currents in contemporary Israeli culture. This pioneering study not only judiciously gathers and synthesizes these new voices for scholarly readers while carefully attending to the differences among them, but also places them in the context of important but insufficiently-understood currents of cultural and intellectual history. David Jacobson has, with his customary learning, discernment, and deft literary taste, done a great service to students of Israel, Talmud, literature, education, and religion.
— Yehudah Mirsky, Brandeis University

Table of Contents

Introduction: Recovering a Repressed Past
Chapter One: The Rediscovery of Talmudic Stories
Chapter Two: Authority, Autonomy, and Interpersonal Relations: The Oven of Akhnai
Chapter Three: When Opposites Attract: Rabbi Yohanan and Resh Lakish
Chapter Four: Women and Torah Study: Beruria
Chapter Five: Eros Repressed and Restored: Rabbi Hiya Bar Ashi and Heruta
Chapter Six: An Ideal Marriage: Rabbi Akiva and the Daughter of Ben Calba Savua
Chapter Seven: Human Failings and National Destruction: Kamtza and Bar Kamtza