Telling the Story of Talmudic Stories

March 4 2016

In a recent book, Migrating Tales: the Talmud’s Narratives and Their Historical Context, Richard Kalmin seeks out the origins of numerous tales told in the Babylonian Talmud, which was compiled in the Persian empire around the year 500 CE. Kalmin argues that most are traceable not to Babylonian sources but to Jewish and non-Jewish sources in the eastern Mediterranean, then under the influence of Rome. In his review, Amit Gvaryahu discusses some implications that Kalmin may have overlooked:

Kalmin expertly uses the examples in his book to claim that the borders of empires [during this time period] were porous, and that ideas and traditions moved freely between them. This is undoubtedly correct and an important corrective to the inward gaze of rabbis . . . celebrated in scholarship in recent decades. But more than the borders of empire were porous, the Jews were tight-knit within themselves [even across political boundaries]. Any evaluation of the migration of traditions from the Roman East to Babylonia on biblical and Jewish themes must consider the possibility that these ideas were born and transmitted within the confines of the Jewish community, even though they may also be found in works associated with other groups, most notably Christians (to whom Kalmin points often in the book). . . .

In other words, even if many of these legends were likely influenced by Greek, Roman, or even early Christian sources, most originated among rabbis living in the land of Israel.

Read more at Marginalia

More about: Ancient Near East, Ancient Persia, Babylonian Jewry, History & Ideas, Talmud


Israel’s Covert War on Iran’s Nuclear Program Is Impressive. But Is It Successful?

Sept. 26 2023

The Mossad’s heist of a vast Iranian nuclear archive in 2018 provided abundant evidence that Tehran was not adhering to its commitments; it also provided an enormous amount of actionable intelligence. Two years later, Israel responded to international inspectors’ condemnation of the Islamic Republic’s violations by using this intelligence to launch a spectacular campaign of sabotage—a campaign that is the subject of Target Tehran, by Yonah Jeremy Bob and Ilan Evyatar. David Adesnik writes:

The question that remains open at the conclusion of Target Tehran is whether the Mossad’s tactical wizardry adds up to strategic success in the shadow war with Iran. The authors give a very respectful hearing to skeptics—such as the former Mossad director Tamir Pardo—who believe the country should have embraced the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Bob and Evyatar reject that position, arguing that covert action has proven itself the best way to slow down the nuclear program. They acknowledge, however, that the clerical regime remains fully determined to reach the nuclear threshold. “The Mossad’s secret war, in other words, is not over. Indeed, it may never end,” they write.

Which brings us back to Joe Biden. The clerical regime was headed over a financial cliff when Biden took office, thanks to the reimposition of sanctions after Washington withdrew from the nuclear deal. The billions flowing into Iran on Biden’s watch have made it that much easier for the regime to rebuild whatever Mossad destroys in addition to weathering nationwide protests on behalf of women, life, and freedom. Until Washington and Jerusalem get on the same page—and stay there—Tehran’s nuclear ambitions will remain an affordable luxury for a dictatorship at war with its citizens.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, Mossad, U.S. Foreign policy