Online Friday Noon Study Group

June 12, 2020 @ 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm

July 17, 2020 12-1

 Last Friday our discussion of Chapters 4 and 5 of Barry Holtz’s Rabbi Akiva focused on

  • Akiva’s tact, modesty, and kavannah while engaging in communal prayer.   Tractate Berakhot 31a describes the intensity of  Akiva’s piety/intentionality when praying alone.  Did he, perhaps when he was leading the prayer service, shorten the prayers so as to not outstrip his peers in prayer?  Were those who composed this tractate setting up Akiva as a role model, to send a warning to others who might tend to “show-off” when they led the prayer?

  • Akiva’s efforts to tactfully balance the need for ongoing continuity of tradition while also acknowledging challenges to that tradition–establishing the multivocality/legal pluralism that characterizes the Talmud.

  • the ostensible concern for maintaining ritual purity and how that purity might have been permanently compromised by how the Oven of Akhnai was constructed, despite Rabbi Eliezer’s claim that the oven could be purified.

  • the real concern in the debate over the oven may have been political–Eliezer championing tradition passed down through the ages (mesorah) and Rabbi Joshua and others championing intellect and innovation (hiddush).

  • the significance of the majority decision against Eliezer’s rulings:  that answers to problems do not reside in miracles and statements from heaven (“lo bashamayim hi”) but in the application of human intellect in interpreting the Torah.

  • the excommunication of Eliezer and the political animus that may have underpinned it, and the compassion Akiva showed toward Eliezer despite the latter’s treatment of Akiva.

At our Zoom session on July 24, we’ll consider any loose ends from Chapter 5, and then move on to a discussion of Chapter 6 (pp.130-144), “In the Orchard,” which covers another Talmudic legend that easily rivals that of the Oven of Akhnai in terms of its popularity.

Our informal discussion group will be conducted online every Friday from 12-1.   All are welcome to join us, regardless of their level of expertise or attendance at previous noon study group discussions. If you have questions, or would like the Zoom link, please contact Jay Jacoby at

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