The Heretic Whose Teachings the Talmud Preserved and Transmitted

Elisha ben Avuyah became a vehicle for exploring the agonizing conundrums the rabbis were too honest to ignore but too pious to articulate.

The Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem by Franceso Hayez, 1867. Wikipedia.

The Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem by Franceso Hayez, 1867. Wikipedia.

Observation
Aug. 9 2019
About the author

James A. Diamond is a professor of Jewish studies at the University of Waterloo. His books include Maimonides and the Shaping of the Jewish Canon (2014) and, most recently, Jewish Theology Unbound (2018).


One of the most compelling and puzzling figures in the Talmud’s cast of rabbinic characters is Elisha ben Avuyah. Like most sages of that era, Elisha is known to us only through the Talmud and its associated texts. Likely born around the time of the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70 CE, he lived in the Galilee, where Jewish spiritual and intellectual life reconstituted itself in the aftermath of that great national catastrophe—a crushing event that, along with others similarly dire, is commemorated annually by Jews in the liturgy and 25-hour fast of the Ninth of Av, which this year is marked on Sunday August 11.

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More about: Rabbi Akiva, Religion & Holidays, Talmud, Tisha b'Av