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Rabbinic Stories (Classics of Western Spirituality) [Paperback]

By Jeffrey L. Rubenstein (Editor) & Jeffrey L. Rubenstein (Translator)
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Item Specifications...

Pages   315
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.08" Width: 6.16" Height: 0.91"
Weight:   1 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Feb 27, 2003
Publisher   Paulist Press
ISBN  0809140241  
EAN  9780809140244  

Availability  0 units.

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Item Description...
Stories from the main works of classical rabbinic literature which were produced by Jewish sages in either Hebrew or Aramaic between 200 and 600 C.E.

Publishers Description
Stories from the main works of classical rabbinic literature, which were produced by Jewish sages in either Hebrew or Aramaic, between 200 and 600 CE.

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More About Jeffrey L. Rubenstein & Jeffrey L. Rubenstein

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Jeffrey L. Rubenstein is a professor in the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University. He is the author of The History of Sukkot in the Second Temple and Rabbinic Periods, Rabbinic Stories, and Talmudic Stories: Narrative Art, Composition, and Culture, the last available from Johns Hopkins.

Jeffrey L. Rubenstein has an academic affiliation as follows - New York University.

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Product Categories
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Reviews - What do our customers think?
More than Stories  Oct 26, 2007
What is the Talmud? Who put it together, and why? If you are curious about those questions, this book is an excellent choice. Rubenstein takes a literary approach to a number of key stories in the Talmud and uses them to examine the Sages of the Babylonian Academies.

The only quibble I have with this book is the title: "Rabbinic Stories." Perhaps the reason it was chosen had to do with the project of fitting the book into the "Classics of Western Spirituality" series -- and this book, is, admittedly, a rather odd fit into that series. It is not just a collection of well-translated stories -- it is a collection of essays as well, essays that make a difficult set of texts much more lucid.

If you want a sense of the lives and intentions of the rabbis who created the Talmud, this is an excellent book.

Great Stories, Disappointing Book  Jul 5, 2002
Despite the superb quality of the rabbinic stories themselves, I found this book a tremendous disappointment. The first problem is with the selection of stories for this volume. Rubenstein would like to provide a "standard corpus" of rabbinic stories, yet he states at the outset that he has selected only stories about the sages themselves and has excluded stories that expand on biblical narratives (p.4). Maybe this decision can be justified, but Rubenstein makes no attempt to do so, and as a result leaves out many wonderful stories that would surely have to be included in any "standard corpus" (including, for example, the story of how Abraham came to reject his father's idols, or the story of how Joshua forgot 300 laws). What makes the decision particularly odd is that some of the stories included do not involve the sages -- for example, Alexander Macedon and the Faraway King (contrasting one Gentile's justice with another one's greed) or the Martyrdom of Hannah and her Seven Sons -- while others (for example, those in the chapter on suffering) involve sages as characters but are really "about" a theological issue.

The second problem involves the format of the book. The stories are grouped thematically, which is fine, with an introduction to each chapter and sometimes to each story. Rubenstein admits in his general introduction that the individual introductions presume familiarity with the story, which means that the reader has to flip back and forth from introduction to story. To make things even more complicated, a lot of important information (definitions, notes on wordplay, explications of difficult passages, and so on) is provided in endnotes, forcing the reader to flip from intro to story to endnotes and back again. I found this process very annoying, made more so by the fact that the introductions are nothing special (usually just a summary of the story, with perhaps a statement of the most obvious moral and a few comments on the narrative structure).

Rubenstein follows the practice of form analytical criticism, breaking each story down into very brief sections labeled with letters and numbers, in order to emphasize the structure of each story and to facilitate comparison between different versions. This can be helpful (particularly when dealing with different versions of the same story), but can also be distracting, and is occasionally forced (for example, in order to give each of the four parts of the Yerushalmi's story of Elisha b. Abuya a "tripartite" structure, Rubenstein seems to ignore an obvious break in [A](3) (which would give it four parts), and creates an artificial break between [D](2) and [D](3)).

Most significantly, by the halfway point, I found myself questioning the purpose of a book that collects rabbinic stories, pulling them out of their context of explicating either the law or the Bible. Apart from some of the obvious morals, I repeatedly found myself wondering why the rabbis told this particular story, and what function it served in a larger argument. For example, why is the story of the destruction of the Temple told in Tractate Gittin (which deals with the law of divorce)? How much more meaningful is the Oven of Akhnai in the context of the discussion of the sin of "verbal wronging"? Although many of the stories here can stand on their own as examples of the folktales or fables of a particular culture, most of them are also part of a larger argument and can support a much deeper analysis than is given here.

This selection of stories does have the virtue of being fairly short and a very quick read. It is also a faithful translation and allows you to compare different versions (unlike, for example, the Sefer Ha-Aggadah (The Book of Legends), which is much more complete but "retells" the stories and combines variants). Overall, not a bad introduction, but with very little meat on the bones.


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