> With Our Compliments: Leader's Discussion Guide for As A Driven Leaf

Book Summary

As A Driven Leaf is an historical novel that brings to life the age of the Talmud. Set in Roman Palestine, it draws its readers into the culture and drama of Rabbinic Judaism. In its pages 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 increasingly oppressive Rome, and visit the centers of learning in ancient Palestine.

The protagonist is Elisha ben Abuyah, a Talmudic rabbi who lived in the first half of the second century and was excommunicated for heresy Little is actually known of the historical 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' [committed 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 novel who remained loyal to Elisha and became an honored sage. R. Meir's teachings laid the groundwork for the Mishnah of Judah ha-Nasi.

Fascinated by Hellenism, Elisha became enchanted with the allure of its systematic logic. Drawing on talmudic and historical sources, Steinberg portrays the clash between Judaism and a modern, secular society. Though the culture and drama presented in As A Driven Leaf reflect Steinberg's research of the Rabbinic period, the intellectual and theological crises he depicts provide enough rich material for the modern reader to consider those issues in the context of today's world.

Readers will also encounter a budding Christianity, 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 of religion on the one hand, and the barbaric side of Roman and Greek culture on the other, and broken by the realization that Greek philosophy, itself, was based upon postulates and axioms--that is, on faith.