As I have always freely admitted, I am not a Talmudic scholar, but for this book, I am doing my best to read and understand the appropriate parts of the Talmud. The more I read, the more I fall under the charm of this vast book. Come to think of it, it’s not just a book. It’s more like an early version of the Internet in the idea, often expressed by great scholars, that no matter where you start studying the Talmud, you are at the beginning… a mysterious, charming, and playful idea
that can lure any unsuspecting reader into a new adventure of a life-long study.
This is most appropriate for dealing with the New Year. What other source would tell you, with a straight face, that any given year starts four times? And yet, here is the quotation; you can’t make a thing like this up. The names of the months mentioned are, of course, the Hebrew months, but don’t let that trick you into thinking you can’t apply it to the normal calendar…
“There are four new years. On the first of Nisan is New Year for kings and for festivals. On the first of Elul is New Year for the tithe of cattle. Rabbi Eleazar and Rabbi Simeon, however, place this on the first of Tishri. On the first of Tishri is New Year for years, for release and jubilee years, for plantation and for the tithe of vegetables. On the first of Shevat is New Year for trees, according to the ruling of Beth Shammai; Beth Hillel, however, place it on the fifteenth of that Month.”
The rabbis encouraged participation by their students, and loved questions and even arguments. So, as their new student, I will say, “Dear Rabbis, since we are so inclusive, let us allow the current New Year to join the fold. And please wish us all a wonderful 2013. We had a very brutal, painful 2012 and we badly need a simple, healthy, prosperous and joyful year to heal the wounds.” To which request another interesting quotation might represent an answer, Talmud style.
“Rabbi Zebid said: If the first day of the New Year is warm, all the year will be warm; if cold, all the year will be cold.” Of course Rabbi Zebid did not refer only to the weather… the statement means we must have a loving, warm, happy day of celebration, followed by a string of 365 pleasant days. And so Hillel and I say, Happy New Year, everyone!
There are scholars who claim that Hillel was young Jesus’ teacher. Other scholars scoff at the idea since a positive proof does not exist. I have no doubt in my mind that it is true, and while indeed no physical proof exists, I have strong faith in oral and written traditions, so The Golden Rule itself is my proof. In Hillel’s words: “Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you.” In Jesus’ words: “Therefore all things whatsoever would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” This is entirely the same concept – reciprocity – and while it exists in a certain form in every ethical religion, no other statement is as similar as these two are to each other. It is almost the same sentence, except that one is presented in the negative (do not do unto others) and the other in the positive (do ye even so to them). It can be argued that it explains the fact that Judaism does not encourage missionary work, and Christianity does encourage it, but the intent of love and respect for your neighbor is the same.
I have been asked for more details about the end of Crassus, which I thought was a good idea! Looking for the classical description of Plutarch about the famous battle of Carrhae, I came across a real treat. Youtube has the film from the History Channel that was made some years ago
about this exact subject! It’s a truly wonderful production, and I thought if I just showed you the links it would be more fun than anything I could possibly write. Enjoy!
I apologize, but I am unable to post my usual Sunday segment. I will try to put it up early next week.
Many thanks and I hope you have a great week!
Marcus Licinius Crassus
(The picture is taken from a website that declared that it is copyright free and public domain. If anyone disagrees, please let me know and I will remove it immediately).
In the last segment, we said goodbye to one of the few Romans who seemed to have treated Judea with at least some respect. Governor Gabinius returned to Rome, and Crassus came to take his place. Almost immediately, the new governor had to prepare to march against the Parthians right away. Naturally he needed money, sinceas we know, wars are very expensive.
The Temple was his choice as a source of money. It contained incredible riches – money contributed from all over the habitable world, from every place where Jews resided, be it a large city, a small town, or a rural village. For generations, the Temple’s wealth accumulated as coins, gold, jewels, and costly embroidered fabrics. This is not a legend of a “lost city of gold” or such like. Several highly regarded ancient historians, including Strabo of Cappadocia, discussed the treasures of the Temple as a matter that was well-known by contemporaries.
THE NEXT BIG THING: WRITERS TELL ABOUT THEMSELVES AND PASS IT ALONG
I was invited by the inspiring writer, Revital Shiri-Horowitz, to join in this fun event. This project consists of a chain of women writers who introduce their next books to their readers, tagging each other as they go along. I was honored to participate and to be in such great company. Please look at Revital’s website – you don’t want to miss her fascinating work! http://revitalsh.wordpress.com/2012/12/04/the-next-big-thing-a-new-novel-is-written/
How did you come by the idea?
I had the idea on my mind for years, but I was intimidated by the attitude of most scholars and biographers who generally feel that there is not enough material about Hillel and that his life is too encrusted with legend. Eventually I realized that there is a good way to do it by using the historical material by the ancient historian, Josephus, as a starting point, and of course the primary material from the Talmud. They can create the tapestry of Hillel’s life and times.
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters if it were a movie?
I can only choose actors from the past, who are no longer with us. I am not too familiar with the new generation of actors because I rarely watch movies. I have an idea of what Hillel looked like, basing the assumptions on his ancestor, King David, who is one of the very few personalities whose appearance was described in the Bible. As a matter of fact you can see it in the blog in one of the past postings, where I explained that I would have chosen Paul Newman to play Hillel. For his wife I would have liked a very beautiful, dark-haired, small and delicate type of woman. I think Hedy Lamarr would have been perfect, or Elizabeth Taylor.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
The fascinating life of a peace-loving, brilliant man, told against the turbulent, violent and
exciting times in which he lived.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I am writing the first draft on line, as this blog. I am far from the ending, it is an evolving project.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I think the best match is Pontius Pilate by Ann Wroe, but possibly any of the biographies written by André Maurois. We use the same system.
Who or What inspired you to write this book?
First, the fact that two thousand years after Hillel’s death, he is still constantly quoted by modern writers and thinkers, even on PBS! Second, the challenge presented by Encyclopedia Britannica – it said that Hillel’s biography cannot be written. I disagreed and decided to set out and do it.
The wonderful writer, Revital Shiri-Horowitz, tapped me for The Next Big Thing. I’m passing the tap onto the amazing and versatile writer, Mary Findley! I admire her work, and here is the link to her website: http://elkjerkyforthesoul.wordpress.com which I am sure you will enjoy!
I am stepping away from the historical part about the rise of the Herodian Dynasty for this posting. I decided to do so because a few days ago I came across one of the most surprising stories, and concepts, in the Talmud. It is not an obscure story, exactly, but I think many take it for granted and don’t dwell on the implications – perhaps deliberately, since the implications are, to an extent, almost a heresy…
This is about the concept named Bat Kol. The word, in Hebrew and Aramaic, mean “Daughter of the Voice.” Basically, it is a divine voice, though because of the word “daughter”may mean not God’s voice directly, but His messenger. The nature of this voice is described in so many ways as to make it confusing, but a couple of characteristics are always the same. For example, the source using it is always invisible. Also, it comes from the direction of Heaven – the older, longer
sources actually say it The Bat Kol that fell from Heaven.