As a Driven Leaf is not your ordinary historical novel. While this guide usually focuses on American Jewish fiction, we cannot ignore the exceptional nature of this book. Written by a practicing rabbi, it offers a captivating imagined biography of a notorious talmudic figure, Elisha ben Abuyah, also known as Akher.
Unveiling the Life of Elisha ben Abuyah
Elisha’s story takes us back to the time of the Romans in Palestine, around the year 100 C.E. In this vibrant reconstruction, the reader is immersed in a world of pagans, Christians, and the esteemed sages of the Rabbinic world. Through his journey, Elisha encounters figures like Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Meir, painting a vivid picture of life during this period.
A Crisis of Faith
Elisha’s intellectual curiosity sets him apart from his peers. From a young age, he devours the Iliad under the guidance of a pagan tutor, nurturing his wandering intellect. However, it is an unfortunate event that shakes his faith to its core. Witnessing a great injustice, Elisha abandons his belief in divine justice, declaring, “There is no reward. There is no Judge. There is no Judgment. For there is no God.”
The Quest for Truth
Cast out from his community, Elisha embarks on a personal quest to reconcile his Jewish beliefs with the rational principles of Greek logic. His journey resonates even today, as many continue to grapple with the same question. How can faith and reason coexist?
The author of this masterpiece, Milton Steinberg, was a rabbi who studied under Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionism. Steinberg’s time at the Jewish Theological Seminary and his experience as a rabbi in Indiana and Manhattan’s Park Avenue Synagogue greatly influenced his writing. Though he passed away at the young age of 46, he left behind an impressive legacy, including the widely acclaimed Basic Judaism.
A Novel That Endures
As a Driven Leaf stands as Steinberg’s only novel, a fact that leaves us wondering about the untapped potential of fictionalizing the myriad characters and stories found within the Talmud. Nevertheless, this novel has received accolades for decades and recently earned a place on the National Yiddish Book Center’s list of the finest works of modern Jewish literature.
If you’re interested in delving deeper into the fascinating life of Milton Steinberg, Simon Noveck’s biography, Milton Steinberg: Portrait of a Rabbi, is a valuable resource. For those seeking other historical novels with Jewish themes, numerous compelling titles exist. From Anita Diamant’s popular The Red Tent to David Liss’s thrilling The Coffee Trader, there is a vast array of literary treasures waiting to be explored.
Experience the rich tapestry of Jewish literature by starting your journey with “As a Driven Leaf” today. Your adventure into this extraordinary world begins at Ames Farm Center.
Reprinted with permission from American Jewish Fiction: A JPS Guide (Jewish Publication Society).