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As a Driven Leaf Paperback – March 1, 1996

4.7 out of 5 stars 111 customer reviews

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Paperback, March 1, 1996
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Amazon.com Review

The magnificent work of modern fiction that brings the age of the Talmud to life. The characters include the well-known historical figures: Akiba, Yohanan, Joshua, Eleazar, Beruriah, and Elisha ben Abuyah, whose struggle to live in two worlds destroyed his chance to live in either. Foreword by Chaim Potok

From Publishers Weekly

Guidall gives a spirited, almost theatrical, reading of this minor classic of American Jewish literature, a historical novel about ancient sage-turned-apostate Elisha ben Abuyah in the late first century C.E. 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. Guidall, a veteran actor and recorder of audiobooks, reads with an appropriately weighted force. And he convincingly creates voices for a score of charactersAincluding the protagonist Elisha; his haughty, social-climbing wife, Deborah; the gentle sage and Elisha's mentor, Rabbi Joshua; and Rufus Tinneius, the tyrannical Roman governor of Palestine. A small booklet of notes accompanying the audiobook provides helpful historical background. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Behrman House (March 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0874411033
  • ISBN-13: 978-0874411034
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (111 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #516,354 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
"As a Driven Leaf" is a magnificent work of historical fiction. Brings to life a little know time of ancient Israel. Steinberg paints a picture of life in ancient Israel during the time of the Roman occupation just prior to the final days of the Judean War that answers so many questions of those of us who only knew the period through religious readings. The dilemma that faces the novel's protagonist is a problem that is as current in today's assimilated society as it was in the days when Jews were facing the pull toward Hellenism. Unwilling to accept Judaism's blind faith in God, the protagonist returns to the Hellenistic roots of his childhood, only to find that he loses his place in either world. Great book that should be the subject of discussion groups in synagogues across the country. Highly recommended.
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Although this tale is somewhat wooden in execution and its characters never come fully to life, and while the thrust of the tale, itself, is an intellectual rather than a visceral one, I was greatly moved by it. There is a tradition in the Talmud that four great sages sought to go beyond the realm of man's knowledge. One died. One went insane. One became a heretic. And only the great Akiba came out of it whole, only to be tortured to death by the Romans in the aftermath of the third abortive rebellion against the Empire. Well, Elisha ben Abuyah, the central character of this tale, is the one who became a heretic. He is recalled in the Talmud as a member of the Rabbinate who forsook his faith and people for the Greek way, thereby condemning himself, in life and memory, to excommunication and the label of heretic. This tale attempts to visualize what might have driven such a man and where it would have taken him in the end. The actions of the story are really quite commonplace until one gets to the final Roman war against the Jews in Palestine. But even these events are seen only from a distance. The real crux of this tale is the seeking and the life-events which might have underlay the tale of Elisha and help explain why he did what he did. His is the tale of the child of a Hellenized father, wrested at his father's death from the larger, intellectual Greek world and shoe-horned into a realm of orthodoxy in keeping with the narrow prejudices of his deceased mother's brother. His Greek learning aborted, Elisha becomes an enthusiastic student of his people's traditions rising, in time, to membership in the revered Sanhedrin. But the Greek seeds (or something else) have been planted and in time take root, pushing out the superimposed shrubbery of orthodxy.Read more ›
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The recent vogue among Jews to read this book is not surprising. Indeed, it is a wonderful tribute to an author and theologian of great potential who was taken from us far too young.
The book tells the story of Elisha ben Abuya, one of the contributors to the Talmud who we are told lost his faith. The Talmud tells us little about him, but Steinberg does a marvelous job weaving the character into a historical tapestry that drapes over one of the great crisis of the Jewish nation, the destruction of the second temple and eventual exile. Through the book, we meet the various personalities that participated in the writing of the Talmud. To Steinberg's, each is interesting, unique, and richly brought to life.
That said, many people have made the same mistake with this book that they do with other historical fiction; assuming that they can assume Steinberg accurately describes this milieu. I am fairly certain that were the author alive, he would laugh at such an absurd presumption. Rather, the genius of this work is that Steinberg projects some of the major problems facing modern Jewry on to an ancient context. While several of the arguments that appear in the text are historic, the central conflict between Hellenist (secular humanist) philosophy and Jewish ethics is a modern conflict we continue to fight to this day. Any reader of Rabbi Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, will recognize many of the arguments that Steinberg puts in his character's mouth as coming from the writings of that modern sage.
This book touches modern Jews exactly because it speaks to the trials they face as we weave together and try to make compatible a life of torah and our place in the modern world. Steinberg speaks powerfully and emotionally to that conflict, recognizing that it is more than simply intellectual, but is also visceral.
If you have struggled with such issues, I hearty recommend this work.
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Format: Paperback
This book should be of interest to both Jews and Christians. It follows the life of Elishia Ben Abouya, a brilliant young rabbi who lived in the first century of the common era. Based on accounts reported in the Talmud, this book contains Steinberg's imaginative and sensitive depiction of a time strangely like our own, in which the stresses and strains between the secular world and old and new religion play themselves out. Jews will find many of their rabbinic heroes portrayed -- such as Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Meir. Christians will be fascinated by the tensions between the Hebrew Christians and the Gentile Christians of the first century. Particularly moving is Steinberg's elaboration of Ben Abouya's reaction to the deaths of Meir's children, a story also based on talmudic writings. This is historical fiction at its best. A classic. Very highly recommended.
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