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Rome in Talmudic Imagination

02Nov6:30 pmRome in Talmudic Imagination6:30 pm(GMT+00:00)

Event Details

This session will explore the rabbinical elite’s views of the Romans and the foundational story of Yavneh.

Amram Tropper, Ben Gurion University, Ron Naiweld, French, National Centre for Scientific Research -Moderator: Shai Secunda, Bard College.

Free and open to the public. Reservations:

Another Tale of Two Cities: Jerusalem and Yavneh

Amram Tropper, Ben Gurion University

The rabbinic movement emerged in Yavneh following the destruction of Jerusalem.  Some historians in the modern era credit the founder of the rabbinic movement at Yavneh, Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, with two ingenious strategies. On the Roman front, Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai purportedly outwitted Roman attempts to annihilate Judaism by establishing a rabbinic presence in Yavneh. On the Jewish front, Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai supposedly invented a new form of Judaism at Yavneh by intentionally decoupling the religion from the Jerusalem temple service.  Though influential, these modern accounts of Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai’s strategies rest on a traditional historical method which, under a critical lens, may prove problematic. In this presentation Amram Tropper will discuss the problem of these traditional interpretations and outline alternative ways to think about rabbinic sources on the foundation of Yavneh.

The Symbolic Power of Rome: From Palestine to Babylonia

Ron Naiweld, French, National Centre for Scientific Research

The Babylonian rabbis inherited a complicated image of Rome together with the rest of the rabbinic traditions that arrived to Babylonia from Palestine during the third and the fourth century CE. However, the fact that the Babylonian rabbis did not live under the rule of the Roman Empire allowed them to rework the traditions about Rome in new ways, and to describe the latter as the structural parallel of Israel. In other words, the redactors of the Bavli used Rome as a mirror image of Israel, which enabled them to depict the latter as a “spiritual” Empire, protected by the highest King – God. We will examine this claim through the analysis of some talmudic sources and will link the phenomenon to the process of the “Scholasticization” of rabbinic culture that started already in Palestine and was significantly intensified in Babylonia.



Amram Tropper is Senior Lecturer in Jewish History at Ben-Gurion University. His publications include Wisdom, Politics, and Historiography: Tractate Avot in the Context of the Graeco-Roman Near East (2004), Like Clay in the Hands of the Potter: Sages Stories in Rabbinic Literature (2011), Simeon the Righteous in Rabbinic Literature (2013) and Rewriting Ancient Jewish History: The History of the Jews in Roman Times and the New Historical Method (2016).

Ron Naiweld is a research associate and a lecturer in the CNRS and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, France. His work focuses on the ethical and epistemological aspects of early Jewish and Christian literatures. His book about the Monotheisation of the Biblical Myth will be published in France in 2018.

Shai Secunda is Jacob Neusner Professor of Judaism at Bard College, where he teaches in the Religion Department. He earned his PhD at Yeshiva University’s Bernard Revel Graduate School, and then held posts at Yale and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His research focuses on the Talmud and its Iranian context, and Judaism and its interactions with other traditions. His book The Iranian Talmud, has just been released in paperback.

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