Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ $3.99 shipping
Aphrodite and the Rabbis: How the Jews Adapted Roman Culture to Create Judaism as We Know It Hardcover – September 13, 2016
|New from||Used from|
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
"Visotzky offers us a gift in his animated and multi-dimensional study of the interface of Jewish and Greco-Roman cultures. He highlights how Jews creatively engaged with another civilization, creating a Jewish culture that was, and is, fluid, innovative, and diverse." ―The Common Reader
"Visotzky’s witty narrative takes the reader on a tour of rabbinic legends, discussion of values, art and architecture (illustrated with photographs from archaeological finds) in its attempt to claim that Judaism is a thoroughly western religion." ―Congregational Libraries Today
"An excellent introduction for those eager to learn more about the development of Judaism during the rabbinic period." ―The Reporter
"In his highly accessible Aphrodite and the Rabbis, Visotzky...tells a story of the deep influence of Roman culture on the Judaism of Talmudic times." ―Commentary
"A book that teaches of the Judaism of the past, but encourages us to be proud and hopeful of it in the present―an important message from a book that is a scholarly, lively, and worthwhile read." ―Jewish Book Council
"Burton Visotzky’s Aphrodite and the Rabbis [shows] full command of the evidence down to the smallest details. In a clear, accessible, even conversational and story-telling style, Aphrodite and the Rabbismakes sense of Jewish culture in Late Antiquity and throws light on modern-day Jewish life. Aphrodite is a beautiful book - a great achievement." ―Dr. Günter Stemberger, University Professor Emeritus, University of Vienna
"Enables the general reader to understand the meaning of many passages of law and of legend, of archeological finds and of ancient culture, of newly discovered art and of long misunderstood texts by locating them within the larger cultural context within which they first came into being." ―South Florida Jewish Journal
"[Visotzky's] warm and personal style makes Aphrodite and the Rabbis feel like an intimate guided tour of ancient Judaism. For anyone interested in the birth of Judeo-Christian culture, this history is worth a look." ―Shelf Awareness
"Witty and insightful." ―Publishers Weekly
"An erudite, pertinently illustrated, and accessible work of religious history." ―Booklist
"Argues that much of Judaism as known today is an adaptation of life in Roman culture." ―Southern Jewish Life
"APHRODITE AND THE RABBIS is a masterpiece of Jewish thought. Rabbi Burt Visotzky shows us how Roman culture flows through Judaism in ways most of us never imagined. Your Passover Seder will never be the same! This stunning work will bless you and inspire you." ―Rabbi Naomi Levy, author of To Begin Again and Hope Will Find You
"Right from the start of Aphrodite and the Rabbis, the lively writing hooked me. I was fascinated with the mix of history, archaeology, and sociological interpretation. Zeus depicted in a synagogue mosaic? The conflict – sure – but the accommodation between the old Judaism and Greco-Roman culture? Who knew? Well, Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky! His combination of scholarship and charm makes Aphrodite and the Rabbis: How the Jews Adapted Roman Culture to Create Judaism as We Know It a pleasure to read." ―Susan Isaacs
"Understanding how Rome shaped the Rabbis, with Burt Visotzky as tour guide, is a fascinating, funny and enlightening journey. Here is a history that teaches not only about who we were, but has deep lessons about who we are and who we might become." ―Rabbi David Wolpe, Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple and
author, David: The Divided Heart
"An intriguing [...] look at two worlds colliding and coexisiting." ―Kirkus Reviews
“From the opening pages of Aphrodite and the Rabbis, you know you’re in the hands of the rarest kind of guide―charming, self-effacing, and deeply knowledgeable. Burt Visotzky brings to life one of the least known eras of Jewish life and make the compelling case that it continues to shape our lives today. A must-read for any student of Judaism.” ―Bruce Feiler, bestselling author of Walking the Bible and Abraham
"A super-smart, comprehensive, wittily-written admixture of history, legend, archaeology, art, stories, and text analysis. In graceful, colloquial prose, Visotzky leads modern readers through the ancient world to illuminate the debt that rabbinic Judaism owes to Greco-Roman culture. Rarely has a book by a towering Jewish scholar been this much fun to read." ―Letty Cottin Pogrebin, author of Deborah, Golda, and Me: Being Female and Jewish in America
"Burt Visotzky has written a marvelous new book full of insight and humor, yet resting on a lifetime of scholarship and faithfulness. Don't miss it." ―Thomas Cahill, author of The Gifts of the Jews
About the Author
BURTON L. VISOTZKY is Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He worked with Bill Moyers and more recently with Christiane Amanpour on “Back to the Beginning,” aired annually at Christmas time. The author of many books, including Sage Tales: Wisdom and Wonder from the Rabbis of the Talmud, he has been named to “The Forward 50” and repeatedly to the Newsweek/Daily Beast list of the “The 50 Most Influential Jews in America.” He lives in Manhattan.
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Brought on the tips of Macedonian swords, Hellenism spread like fire through the lands of defeated Persian Empire. The technological supremacy and irresistible appeal of its art and literature captivated the minds of people from Egypt to India. The Jewish aristocracy and some of the clergy in the Land of Israel, as well as the Jewish communities of Egypt and the Aramaic Middle East, have adopted Greek and, later, Roman mores, names and sometimes the language. Greek loan words entered the Talmud and Midrashim. They remain imbedded in Hebrew language to the very day.
By the beginning of the 2nd century C.E, after two major Jewish insurrections against Rome, the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed and the population of Judea dispersed, Hellenism facilitated the transformation of Judaism from a Temple cult to a synagogue – assembly of believers worshiping the Word of God, as revealed in the Holy scriptures.
However, concluding his book, Rabbi Visotzky draws an arguable, in my opinion, parallel between the Judaism of the Greco-Roman world and that of American Reform movement. As the rabbis of the past who taking ‘the best of their Roman culture and heartily imbibing Hellenism’, ‘invented a Judaism to survive the destruction of the Jerusalem cult’, the modern Reform movement ‘appropriating Western methods and traditions created Judaism that was consonant with the intellectual life’ of the modern society. Welcoming the fact that the ‘acculturation to the West became a norm to American Reform Judaism’, Rabbi Visotzky writes: “In this Jewish adaptation of the broader culture, the Jewish community stands as a direct inheritor of the Judaism of the Greco-Roman world. God willing, our legacy will be as rich and long-lasting as was theirs.”
From the perspective of the calamitous 20th century, such conclusion is too optimistic. The cultural osmosis between Greco-Roman and Jewish civilizations never was a two-way street of mutual understanding and cooperation. The enthusiastic efforts of the Jews to spread the tenets of Judaism led often to inter-communal clashes. The so called ‘revolts of diaspora’ in Cyrenaica, Egypt, Cyprus and Anatolia in the 1st century C.E. resulted in enormous bloodshed on both sides. Only God knows how many Jewish and non-Jewish lives were lost ‘embracing the broader culture’. Adopting Christianity in the 4th century C.E, the Romans authorities brought ever increasing restrictions on the Jewish life of the empire. And, finally, the Germanic Wars in the West and the epidemics of the 5th century C.E. in the East decimated the Jewish communities everywhere.
In any case, emerging from the Dark Ages, Judaism returned to Hebrew/Aramaic of pre-Roman times. The oldest Jewish cemetery of Europe in Worms, Germany has no tombstones engraved in Greek or Latin, only Hebrew. The Jewish communities of Europe and Mediterranean were asking for religious instruction and receiving it from the sages of Babylonia, not from Rome or Byzantium. It appears that the abandonment of the native Hebrew/Aramaic in favor of Greek or Latin, as well as the adaptation of the ‘broader culture’ didn’t strengthen the Jewish communities, but brought to their demise. The lessons of the past must not be forgotten.
The book Aphrodite and the Rabbis is a treasure trove of exciting facts and amusing details. Despite overly optimistic conclusion it is a valuable contribution to the rarely discussed topic of the Jewish life in Greco-Roman world. Engaging, witty, provocative and highly educating the book is recommended to the wide public, as well as to the experts.
For example, the Passover Seder is quite purposefully designed after Greco-Roman style symposiums (with more decorum, no sex, and less drunkenness). In fact the classic Seder was celebrated reclining, in the Roman style.
But Visotzky explores far more than styles of eating. Roman culture permeated all areas of Jewish life, despite many Jews hostility to Rome. As the predominant culture, it was bound to impact all areas of Jewish life. The author explains an important point: after the destruction of the Second Temple, it took at least two or three centuries for rabbinical culture and authority to extend to most Jewish communities. This meant that certain Jewish communities, like the one in Dura-Europos in modern Syria, decorated their synagogue with human and other figures – something forbidden by rabbinical Judaism. Eventually, the rabbi’s version of Judaism would win.
But even their Judaism was permeated with Greco-Roman culture. The number of loan words in rabbinical Hebrew alone attests to that. This book throws light on an area of Jewish history that few ponder.