web analytics
October 20, 2014 / 26 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

People Of The Book


A constant theme of Rabbi Berel Wein’s writings and lectures is that the Torah is about people, not events. The Torah was never intended to sit on a shelf somewhere as so many books do. In fact, its laws and traditions were intended to be transmitted orally, evidence of the fact that it is people to whom and for whom the Torah was given.

So while great importance is given to the events of the Tanach, it is really impossible to understand the story of the “people” of the books without learning about the character and personalities of the people themselves. And it is the oral tradition that gives us this understanding.

While the Tanach provides us with a thumbnail sketch of many of the great men and women of Jewish history, it is in the Talmud, midrashim and other rabbinic writings where their personalities are developed. The Talmud, written in the period between the second and sixth centuries C.E., is certainly the written repository of the oral law and tradition given on Sinai to Moses. But it is also a window into the hearts and souls of our biblical heroes and villains and an archive of people, events, traditions, customs, disputes, and relationships from biblical times onward.

Imagine the excruciating choice faced by Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, the second-century “great redactor” of the Mishna. Painfully aware of the biblical prohibition against codifying the oral law, he nevertheless was convinced that unless it was preserved in writing, the oral tradition would not survive the cataclysm of Israel’s imminent dispersion. And yet, by miracle or design (or both), the rabbinic writings authored over the next several hundred years as well as the pedagogic approach to learning them have preserved the “people-to-people” focus of the oral transmission.

Perhaps no one understood the importance of oral law as the basis for religious authority in Israel more than Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai, the leader of the Jews during the most tumultuous period in Jewish history. During the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 66 C.E., which led to the destruction of the Temple, Ben Zakkai arranged to be spirited out of the walled city and found his way to Vespasian, the Roman commander. He was nearly executed for greeting Vespasian as “Emperor” (Vespasian was a mere general), but, according to Rabbi Yonason Goldson,

As he finished speaking, messengers arrived informing Vespasian that the emperor had died and that the Roman senate had proclaimed him Caesar. Vespasian was so impressed by Rabban Yochanan’s insight that he offered to fulfill three requests.

“Give me Yavneh and its sages,” asked Rabban Yochanan. He also requested special protection for the family of the sage Rabban Gamliel, and a doctor for Rabbi Tzaddok, who had been fasting daily for the sins of his generation and had grown dangerously weak and frail.

And so Rabban Yochanan asked for Yavneh, a yeshiva in an obscure village to be sure, but one sufficiently distant from the centers of Roman authority for the sages to seek refuge and rebuild Torah for the next generations.

It was Rabban Yochanan’s foresight that preserved the oral Torah, established the academies that served as a foundation of rabbinic authority, and ensured that Torah could become great once again.

The stories of Rabban Yochanan and Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi exemplify the centrality of people with great character and personality in the transmission of Torah. This is not to deny that Heavenly forces are at work, for surely divine inspiration and divine intervention played a central role in these events. Nevertheless, man is not just a created being but a creative one as well, and it is men and women of great intellect, personality, character and commitment that have spelled success for the Jewish people.

The Tanach and the great rabbinic works tell us of the great figures in Jewish history without whom it would be hard to imagine our survival. But the story of the Jews and Torah is also the story of Jewish men and women we don’t know, even in our generation, who quietly and tirelessly work on behalf of the Jewish people, saving lives, feeding children or sheltering families.

Like the Friends of the IDF in Maale Adumim, near Jerusalem, who in their free time raise money and collect clothes, toothpaste and other sundries, then drive north to distribute them to soldiers and reservists (it seems like such a small thing, but try going without toothpaste and toilet paper for a day).

About the Author: Scott Italiaander is a financial adviser and an attorney in Atlanta.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “People Of The Book”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Aerial view of Yemenite Village of HaShiloach, Old City of Jerusalem and Mt. of Olives.
Jews to Double Presence in Old Yemenite Village of Shiloach, Silwan
Latest Indepth Stories
Arab children look at pictures of two of a kind - Arafat and Barghouti.

{Originally posted on author’s site, FirstOne Through} The town of Sayreville, New Jersey is in mourning. The superintendent of the town shut the high school’s football program for the rest of the year due to reports of sexual assaults made by upper classmen of the football team against the junior classmen. According to initial reports, […]

Jordan's King Abdullah

The Arab Spring has challenged Jordan with the task of gradual reform with regard to its monarchy.

The Kinneret/Sea of Galilee

Israel offered Syria the entire Golan Heights, only to find that the Syrians were demanding MORE!

Bibeye doctor

Israeli hasbara too can be described at best as pathetic, at worst non existent.

A ‘good news’ story from the Nepal avalanche disaster to warm your heart. Take out your Kleenex.

Journalists see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as morality play: Israel=evil; Palestine=innocent

Warsaw Ghetto: At its height, the Nazis walled in some 500,000 Jews within the1.3 square mile area.

While police officers face dangers every day on the job, Jews also face danger in their daily lives.

Carter developed a fondness for Arafat believing “they were both ordained to be peacemakers by God”

If Hamas is ISIS, the world asks, why didn’t Israel destroy it given justification and opportunity?

That key is the disarming of Hamas and the demilitarization of Gaza – as the U.S., EU, and others agreed to in principle at the end of Operation Protective Edge.

We have no doubt there are those who deeply desire to present themselves as being of a gender that is not consistent with their anatomy, and we take no joy in the pain and embarrassment they suffer.

Does it not seem ironic that just on the day all of Israel is joyously celebrating another year of having concluded the public reading of the entire Pentateuch, we must mournfully and even tearfully commemorate the death of the individual who imparted to us God’s Torah in the first place?

Why is “Palestine” worthier of “statehood recognition” than ISIS, another terrorist gang seeking it?

More Articles from Scott Italiaander

On his radio program last week, Rush Limbaugh touted Norman Podhoretz’s excellent new book Why Jews are Liberals. As the title suggests, Podhoretz attempts to answer a question that is often asked of Jewish conservatives. Limbaugh distills his analysis down to its essentials: Liberal Jews are liberals first, last and always, and their political liberalism trumps all their other “isms,” including Judaism.

Dear Senator Menendez,

As a politically conservative Jew with a strong attachment to Israel, I commend you, a liberal non-Jewish Democrat, for your strong public stance in favor of the Jewish state. Your recent speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, widely circulated on YouTube, directly contradicts the sentiments of our president vis-à-vis Israel as expressed in his June 4 Cairo speech and in other contexts.

A constant theme of Rabbi Berel Wein’s writings and lectures is that the Torah is about people, not events. The Torah was never intended to sit on a shelf somewhere as so many books do. In fact, its laws and traditions were intended to be transmitted orally, evidence of the fact that it is people to whom and for whom the Torah was given.

A drama is slowly but steadily unfolding in Israel that is rare for that nation or any other civilized country. Fresh from the Lebanon battlefield, Israel’s citizen-soldiers, joined by families of the fallen as well as ordinary citizens, are mobilizing again – this time for a campaign of marches, letters, petitions and other public activities in regard to the recent unpleasantness up yonder.

The reaction to Israeli president Moshe Katsav’s reported “snub” of Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, has almost uniformly focused on the propriety of Mr. Katsav’s apparent refusal to address Mr. Yoffie as “rabbi” and on its implications for Israel-Diaspora relations. But what’ s being missed is a bigger story, which is the failure of the Reform movement to create “facts on the ground” in Israel necessary to gain the attention and respect of Israel’s leaders it so dearly craves.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/people-of-the-book/2006/10/18/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: