JBOM stands for Jewish Book of the Month Club. This is a book club that was started in March by Messianic Rabbi Derek Leman www.derek4messiah.wordpress.com. The motivation behind starting this book club was to get a group together within the greater Body of Messiah reading, getting educated and sharing our thoughts on Jewish works with those who might not normally come in contact with such (like myself :-)). Currently there are over a dozen bloggers participating along with a few congregations and a few more individuals on board as well. The JBOM selection for June is As A Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg. I am also still enthralled in the May JBOM selection The Lost. I had hoped to have The Lost completed by the end of June but yet again I’m behind, so I’m hoping for completion in July. I am also behind in this month’s selection but I should be about half-way through pretty soon. I plan to start the July book The Promise by Chaim Potok as soon as I finish either The Lost or As A Driven Leaf (both of these books have been right at or more than 500 pages! I’m glad to see The Promise clocks in at under 400). So far, I have really enjoyed all of the JBOM selections immensely, but will probably have to take a month off in August to get caught up and then maybe go to a bi-monthly selection…….we shall see.
As A Driven Leaf is a historical fiction novel written in 1939 by Milton Steinberg. Rabbi Milton Steinberg was somewhat controversial to the Jewish Orthodoxy for his association with Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism which emphasises Jewish observance but denies the chosen-ness of Israel, the divine authorship of Torah and the existence of a personal God. Steinberg was well read in Greek and English literature, knew Latin and had a thorough knowledge of modern philosophy and theology. Steinberg drew praise for his historical work The Making of the Modern Jew, which was published in the early 1930’s, for how candid he was of Jewish history “sparing neither the Jews for their foibles nor the Christians for their cruelties”.
Job 13:24-25 Why do you hide your face and count me as your enemy? Will you frighten a driven leaf and pursue dry chaff?
As A Driven Leaf is a story about the age-old conflict between religious and pagan ideas, between faith and reason, and between creed and science, as it pertains to the life of the early Talmudic sage Elisha ben Abuyah. This story is one as it seems that Milton Steinberg could resonate with and relate to on a very personal level. The story takes it’s title from a verse in Job, a book that is also very relatable to this story and at the same time very relevant to each of our lives and the struggles and questions we battle with against the adversary. There isn’t much information about the historical Elisha ben Abuyah. He is infamous for being one of the few rabbis excommunicated during the entire eight hundred years of the Rabbinic period. He is accused of being an apostate, a dualist, a Sadducee, a lover of harlots, and a betrayer of the Jews to the Romans after the Bar Kochba revolt of 132-135 CE and still other’s claim that he became a Messianic Jew (Christian).
“There is no Truth without Faith. There is no Truth unless first there be a Faith on which it may be based” As A Driven Leaf p13.
This story’s historical setting is at the end of the 1st and the beginning of the 2nd century Israel after the Second Temple has been destroyed. I had personally not read a fictional story in many years and was somewhat hesitant at first, but I found myself quickly immersed in the attention to detail “the air danced with angry dust” and nuances that Stienberg set up for each backdrop. Steinberg takes you on an amazingly detailed journey in time, back almost two thousand years ago, though it wasn’t hard for my mind to feel transported to place as foreign as I could imagine and yet at the same time to a familiarness with each turning season and biblical holiday that marked the passing of time in this drama. Early on, the stage is set up for Elisha’s “struggle to live in two worlds, that destroyed his chance to live in either”. While on his death-bed Abuya, Elisha’s father uttered a prophetic statement over young Elisha that would set the course for his life as told in this story “I am concerned only over one thing. I hope you will be wholehearted, not torn in two……..” After his father’s death, Elisha’s uncle Amram seizes the opportunity to terminate Elisha’s Greek studies that his father was so adamant about and that Elisah had a fondness for and replaced them with the Tradition of the Father’s and Torah study. Soon Amram would have Elisha take up residence with the “old and ugly” sage Rabbi Joshua. After his discipleship to Rabbi Joshua, Elisha it seems, is set on a firm foundation in the faith of his forefather’s and the God of Israel, but over many years of hardship after hardship and relational breakdowns, plus the painful untimely death’s of those close to him, Elisha’s faith begin’s to waiver and crack and eventually he becomes unsure and unconfident as doubt sets in and engulfs his mind “Are miracles possible?” “Is Scripture the Word of God?” or ultimately “Is there a God?”. As this journey continues I am anxious to see what Steinberg has in store for Elisha as he travels down this road of perdition.
May grace and shalom be multiplied upon you!