July 9, 2010
With Stories of the Babylonian Talmud (Johns Hopkins University Press), Jeffrey Rubenstein, the Skirball Professor of Talmud and Rabbinic Literature in the Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, continues his exploration of the ancient rabbinic tradition of the Talmudic sages.
The work offers an analysis of eight stories from the Babylonian Talmud to reconstruct the cultural and religious world of the Babylonian rabbinic academy. Rubenstein combines a textual and literary examination of each story with a comparison to earlier versions from other rabbinic compilations. Rubenstein's analysis uncovers the literary methods used to compose the Talmud and sheds light on the cultural and theological perspectives of the Stammaim—the anonymous editor-redactors of the Babylonian Talmud.
Rubenstein also uses these stories as a window into understanding more broadly the culture of the late Babylonian rabbinic academy, a hierarchically organized and competitive institution where sages studied the Torah. Several of the stories Rubenstein studies describe the dynamics of life in the academy: master-disciple relationships, collegiality and rivalry, and the struggle for leadership positions.
The work is the third installment of Rubenstein’s trilogy on the subject. The others, Talmudic Stories: Narrative Art, Composition, and Culture (1999) and The Culture of the Babylonian Talmud (2003), were also published by Johns Hopkins University Press.