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Forward by Chaim PotokThe novel, based on Talmudic sources, admittedly heavily embellished and not holding strictly to pure factual occurrences, follows the life of Rabbi Elisha ben Abuyah, a Jew living during the time after the second Jewish temple had been destroyed and under the thumb of Roman occupation Born to a father who rejected the Jewish faith and embraced Greek thought and motherless from an early age, he is taught to read Greek and appreciate pagan philosophies At ten, his father dies and he is then cared for by his observant Jewish uncle Immediately, the scrolls of his father s are burned and Elisha is steeped in the Jewish faith It is seen as a blessing by those scholars around him that he has been rescued from pagan thought He rises in prominence to eventually become an ordained Rabbi and then a member of the Sanhedrin, that prestigious body of Sages that rules over matters religious and civil within Palestine.Rabbi Elisha s faith begins to falter and he is compelled beyond even his own reasoning to find proof of Truth He decides to search all philosophies, knowing that he charts a very dangerous course He will invite chastisement and eventually personal ruin and excommunication if he persists in his search, causing those around him to fear that he is an apostate.The novel beautifully depicts the course of his life and his pursuit of knowledge and truth I found myself strongly identifying with his passion and compulsion to learn even when those around him began to think the worst of him While I believe we are given a mind by G d and we are expected to use it, it becomes apparent that Elisha s mind begins to turn in on itself and tragedy after tragedy follows One might begin to think that Steinberg is encouraging Elisha s pursuit, especially when he is desperate for answers, but others are so fearful of even his questions he cannot find a safe way to work out his faith within the context of the community of his fellow sages At other times his initial logic makes so much sense , but it becomes apparent that without faith, what appears as truth and logic rings hollow and leaves him without any kind of grounding even when that is exactly what the search was for originally.I strongly recommend this book for those that want to explore what life was like around 70 90 CE in Palestine and Antioch and as a philosophical treatment of faith and logic I would also hope that those within faith communities would read it to learn how to treat someone who is questioning In the fundamental and sometimes not so fundamental denominations, fear of doubt and fear of anything different within the community can propel potential congregants to leave the community to find answers rather than remain and feel safe to work it out This novel is extremely timely even though it was published sixty seven years ago It is rare for me to be so engrossed in a book that I cannot put it down, but in three days I devoured this one and it will find a permanent place on my bookshelf. Basically, this book was written for me, so it s not surprising that I loved it As a Driven Leaf was recommended to me by a rabbi who teaches an Jewish adult education course that I am taking Two weeks ago we were studying the mitzvot commandments , and we looked closely at the one in Deuteronomy 22 6 7 If, along the road, you chance upon a bird s nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs, do not take the mother together with her young Let the mother go, and take only the young, in order that you may fare well and have a long life.This mitzvah takes a central role in the book, solidifying the main character s crisis of faith Elisha ben Abuyah watches a young boy doing as G d commands however, instead of the promised long life, the boy falls out of the tree and dies Thereafter, Elisha leaves his life as rabbi.Part I of the book explores Elisha s education and rise to membership in the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish authority in the Roman empire But even as he achieves the honor, Elisha is plagued by doubts, which culminate in witnessing the child s death Part II is Elisha s life as as secular Greek in the Roman Empire, searching for meaning in classical philosophy and metaphysics His loyalties to his people and to his adopted land are put to a final test during the bar Cochba rebellion that pitted the Jews against the Romans.Elisha ben Abuyah is an historical figure, as are most of his friends and colleagues most notably, the sage Akiba Steinberg s novel brings the rabbinical period to life, and Chaim Potok s excellent introduction clearly places the novel in its context in Jewish historical fiction. I first read this novel before I studied Talmud, so I didn t realize it was based on actual Jewish texts I was fascinated by Steinberg s descriptions of life in Roman Palestine, especially how the Jews lived, since there wasn t any other Jewish historical fiction from this time period I wasn t so happy with the ending, never quite understanding why Elisha had to completely reject his religion when he couldn t reconcile it with Hellenism Later, when I studied the Gemara where his story appeared, I was even less happy The Talmud is quite clear that Elisha ascends to Paradise with Rabbi Akiva and their 2 younger colleagues, and that all except Akiva are traumatized by the experience, Elisha so much that he becomes an apostate Yet Steinberg leaves this crucial scene out of As a Driven Leaf so we never understand what set Elisha on his difficult path. 6 2 18 Starting re read, felt a connection with Williams Stoner Maybe it s just the wife.Stoner Many decades ago, I explored the religion wasn t my path to be, but impressive passion Here be quotes from the foreward by Chaim Potok One day in March 1950 I overheard two students talking in Yiddish Did you hear the news Milton Steinberg died last night Really He was young To which the first responded Now they re punishing him for his books Later that day, I searched for Milton Steinberg s name in the catalogue of the college library, and discovered that he was not listed My query to the librarian elicited the terse response We do not keep his books here So, Milton Steinberg was a Conservative rabbi What could he have written to earn him such reproval from the guardians of my faith How strange that his books had eluded me, especially his novel I was then reading my way through many literatures like a person possessed, and thought that someone in my school a fellow student or an English professor might have brought his work to my attention In retrospect, I think quite probably they would have were he not allied with Mordecai Kaplan s Reconstructionism, whose ideology, though it emphasized Jewish observance, denied the chosenness of the people Israel, the existence of a personal God, and the divine authorship of the Torah I turned to the two books by Milton Steinberg One, The Making of the Modern Jew, published in the early 1930, was a work of history The second was the novel, As a Driven Lead, published in 1939 I turned with some apprehension to the novel I was fine tuned to fiction and knew that it was one thing to write a good history and something else entirely to write a good story Moreover, who had ever heard of a rabbi taking on serious fiction It did not take me long to realize that there was a story in the novel, a gripping story But as I read it that first time, I found myself becoming slowly convinced that the novel was far than a mere story, that its central drama a conflict between religious and pagan ideas, between faith and reason, between postulates of creed and science, as experienced by the early Talmudic sage Elisha ben Abuyah was emblematic not only of all Jewish history but probably of Milton Steinberg himself The novel seemed to me to be an extension of the same quest he had set for himself in The Making of the Modern Jew an exploration of Judaism in conflict with a vigorous and powerful surrounding culture, in this instance the pagan world of Greece and Rome Steinberg had traveled back in time to arrive at the cradle of Rabbinic Judaism and his hero was a heretic Little is known about the historical Elisha ben Abuyah the central character of the novel His father appears to have been a wealthy Jerusalemite He was a student of Greek, loved Greek poetry, and apparently had than a surface knowledge of horses, architecture, and wine He read forbidden books The novel is in essence a Bildungsroman in which we witness the forming of the mind and heart of a Rabbinic sage It is a novel of ideas and passions an often fiery confrontation of cultures in a struggle of contradictory Jewish and pagan core concepts about the world and the human experience original review Another of the many books I d like to reread Here s the copied Kirkus ReviewKIRKUS REVIEWThe extraordinary success of The Nazarene will in a sense pave the way for this book, which also has a Palestinian setting, and a religious motive The period is later the early second century and the story deals with Elisha ben Abuyah, Jewish rabbi, a dissenter whose life was torn by internal struggles towards faith It is a book which should appeal to the market of Lion Feuchtwanger s The Jew of Rome, for Elisha ben Abuyah was virtually another Josephus, betraying his people to the Romans, despised by both sides A childhood under Hellenistic influence an adolescence and early youth under strict Jewish teachers, a marriage without love, and the beginning of a lifelong attempt to rationalize his beliefs The story of a failure, of the ultimate discovery that Faith is essential to Life, and that not all elements can be fitted into the pattern of Euclid, that reason alone cannot control life Semi historical, semi biographical, but written as fiction, with whole periods unknown to historians filled in Not a book for the average reader, but a book that those interested in far off periods of history which have their parallels today, and in the search for a faith as a motive of life, will find interesting and challenging. [ FREE E-PUB ] ☮ As a Driven Leaf ♂ A Spirited Classic Of American Jewish Literature, A Historical Novel About Ancient Sage Turned Apostate Elisha Ben Abuyah In The Late First Century CE At The Heart Of The Tale Are Questions About Faith And The Loss Of Faith And The Repression And Rebellion Of The Jews Of Palestine Elisha Is A Leading Scholar In Palestine, Elected To The Sanhedrin, The Highest Jewish Court In The Land But Two Tragedies Awaken Doubt About God In Elisha S Mind, And Doubt Eats Away At His Faith Declared A Heretic And Excommunicated From The Jewish Community, He Journeys To Antioch In Nearby Syria To Begin A Quest Through Greek And Roman Culture For Some Fundamental Irrefutable Truth The Pace Of The Narrative Picks Up As Elisha Directly Encounters The Full Force Of The Ancient Romans All Consuming Culture Ultimately, Elisha Is Forced By The Power Of Rome To Choose Between Loyalty To His People, Who Are Rebelling Against The Emperor S Domination, And Loyalty To His Own Quest For Truth Publishers Weekly This book has left me with a melancholy feeling and lots of pity for a man who was a free thinker, and who had suffered greatly because of it As a Jew, I enjoyed learning about the history of my people, and this book provided great detail and very lively descriptions, although sometimes too long Many things in this book resonated with things that are happening to us or that we are doing to ourselves these days As an atheist, I found myself entirely identifying with Elisha, although I can t agree with the message of this book that atheism may cause you to harm others, make immoral choices and do terrible things As a philosophy fan, I found the explanations about the different philosophical methods of thinking as opposed to those of faith enlightening and well done And as a reader, I found the book readable, moving and satisfying, although a little slow at some points All in all, I think it is an important read for Jews, for people interested in any belief or philosophy, people who fight for freedom of thought, and anyone looking for a rich and fulfilling read, intense and well written. I read this book for a course in college, and it spoke volumes to me An amazing historical account of the rabbinic age during Roman occupation I have only read it once, but I remember it so fondly Profound emotions and I have thought about it for years This book was engrossing and hard to put down The whole struggle to find a solid personal philosophical spiritual foundation in the middle of conflicting cultures and beliefs was fascinating However, the book s ending was profoundly disappointing to me Elisha the main character and many of his friends and family all suffer tragically from his decision to explore Greek and Roman philosophy.Were his explorations wrong It s hard for me to think that I read this book a few years ago and have been wrestling with this question ever since Is it wrong to be driven to search out truth And yet New Thought , maybe it could be Maybe it is wrong if one is so focused on finding truth that he is blinded to the injustice and oppression going on around him.Maybe that s the key to the book Elisha originally turned away from Judaism because he witnessed an act of injustice Then, after a lifetime of exploring pagan philosophies, he realized that many of the attractive things associated with those philosophies were worthless because they ignored key concepts of justice and mercy The ideas and truths were important and beautiful to those cultures than people were Maybe it isn t wrong to search out religious truths, but it is wrong to be so focused on the quest for ideas and truths that we ignore the social injustices going on around us.That reminds me of something else I read somewhere that we shouldn t search out unanswerable questions about God Maybe that s because it uses up our precious, limited time that we could be using to study things that we can find answers to Things that help us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before our God. I read this back in high school a thousand years ago, as all my friends did Rabbi Elisha Ben Abuya is one of the most tragic and charismatic characters in historical Judaism One of four legendary Mishanaic era rabbis who undertook the study of Kabbalah, Elisha Ben Abuya was the one who became a heretic Of the other three, it is said that one went mad, one died, and one was the great sage Rabbi Akiva The novel begins in 70 CE, after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and ends with the Exile and Diaspora The writing is a bit overwrought, but Steinberg really brings this tumultuous epoch of Judaism to believable life. It took me a while to get through this book, but I m so glad I did In his book, Steinberg fictionalizes the life of Elisha, a rabbi of the Sanhedrin and sage who lived in Palestine after the destruction of the Second Temple, of whom we know little about for certain Elisha s struggle to put reason and logic to faith is one I think many people, including myself, can identify with Though the book plays fast and loose with historical fact and tradition, it was not only enjoyable to read, but gives the reader some real food for thought Highly recommended.