The Stabilization of Rabbinic Culture, 100 C.E. -350 C.E. Texts on Education and Their Late Antique Context

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Drawing on the great progress in Talmudic scholarship over the last century, The Stabilization of Rabbinic Culture is both an introduction to a close reading of rabbinic literature and a demonstration of the development of rabbinic thought on education in the first centuries of the Common Era. In Roman Palestine and Sasanid Persia, a small group of approximately two thousand Jewish scholars and rabbis sustained a thriving national and educational culture. They procured loyalty to the national language and oversaw the retention of a national identity. This accomplishment was unique in the Roman Near East, and few physical artifacts remain. The scope of oral teaching, however, was vast and was committed to writing only in the high Middle Ages. The content of this oral tradition remains the staple of Jewish learning through modern times.

Though oral learning was common in many ancient cultures, the Jewish approach has a different theoretical basis and different aims. Marc Hirshman explores the evolution and institutionalization of Jewish culture in both Babylonian and Palestinian sources. At its core, he argues, the Jewish cultural thrust in the first centuries of the Common Era was a sustained effort to preserve the language of its culture in its most pristine form. Hirshman traces and outlines the ideals and practices of rabbinic learning as presented in the relatively few extensive discussions of the subject in late antique rabbinic sources. The Stabilization of Rabbinic Culture is a pioneering attempt to characterize the unique approach to learning developed by the rabbinic leadership in late antiquity.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This lucid and thoughtful book is the first extensive investigation into attitudes towards
Torah-study and educational practice in rabbinic Judaism. In a series of close analyses, Marc Hirshman expertly leads his readers through a number of important and complex passages in rabbinic literature, thereby exposing them not only to the rabbis' ideas but to their ways of thinking, and to how the rabbis wished to inculcate their students with those paths to knowledge."

—David Stern, Ruth Meltzer Professor of Classical Hebrew Literature at the University of Pennsylvania

"In this learned and engaging book Marc Hirshman illumines a central aspect of rabbinic culture, the attitude toward Torah study, through sensitive close readings of the most important rabbinic discussions of the subject and attention to the wider cultural context. This is an important contribution to our understanding of the world of the rabbis."

—Martha Himmelfarb, author of A Kingdom of Priests: Ancestry and Merit in Ancient Judaism

"Marc Hirshman is one of the most interesting and perceptive interpreters of rabbinic Judaism, and this new book of his explores this fascinating but underappreciated cultural and religious movement in a way that both scholars and laypersons can enjoy. For Jews today, his discussions of Jewish education in rabbinic times and its connections to Greco-Roman culture are especially valuable."

—Jon D. Levenson, Albert A. List Professor of Jewish Studies at Harvard Divinity School and author of Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195387742
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 9/4/2009
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Marc Hirshman holds the Mandel Chair for Jewish Education at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is academic chair of the Melton Center for Jewish Education. He is also the academic head of the Center for the Study of the Land of Israel at the Yitzchak Ben Zvi Institute.

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Table of Contents

1 Contours of Rabbinic Study: An Introduction 3

2 Learning, Speech, and Thought in Late Antiquity 17

3 Sifre Deuteronomy: The Precariousness of Oral Torah 31

4 A Talmudic Primer on Education (Eruvin 53a-55a) 49

5 Cultures in Conflict (Avoda Zara 18b-19b) 65

6 Education and Accountability (Bava Batra 20b-22a) 83

7 Teaching with Authority: A Comparative View 97

8 The Stabilization of Rabbinic Culture 09

Appendix 1 A Survey of Secondary Literature on Education and Literacy in Rabbinic Literature 121

Appendix 2 Portraits of Jewish Sages Engaged in Study 127

Notes 133

Bibliography 169

Source Index 175

Subject Index 181

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