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SPIRITS BEHIND THE LAW: The Talmudic Scholars
 
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by Rabbi Jonathan Duker

Hardcover, 123 pages
ISBN 13: 978-965-7108-97-0
ISBN 10: 965-7108-97-7
Publication: 2007


The scholars of the Talmud and Midrash had an immeasurable impact on Judaism. Throughout centuries of Jewish history, students of Jewish law have tried to understand the meaning and application of their words. It is important to know who these scholars were who made, and continue to make, such a significant impact on Jewish life. This work portrays fifteen of these scholars based on the stories of their lives that appear in the Talmudic and midrashic traditions. By weaving the original accounts together with insightful analysis, the writer provides a human portrait of these great masters while remaining faithful to the poetry of the original narratives.


About the Author
Jonathan Duker received his rabbinical ordination from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. He earned his B.A. and M.A. in Jewish history from Yeshiva University. Rabbi Duker has been teaching rabbinic thought and halakha in Israel since his aliyah in the summer of 2004. He lives in Beit Shemesh with his wife Susan and their children.


Praise for The Spirits Behind the Law:

“Rabbi Jonathan Duker's book is eminently readable. He capably and creatively synthesizes many disparate sources into a coherent and meaningful flow. Readers of different backgrounds will find this book an engaging entry to the world of Hazal [Rabbinic teachers], and utilize the insights therein as a springboard to deeper thought and religious development.”
–Rabbi Hayyim Angel, Rabbi of the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue of New York (Congregation Shearith Israel); Adjunct Instructor in Bible, Yeshiva University


“Rabbi Duker has filled a void experienced by students of Gemara by enabling them to understand the personalities behind the Sugyot.”
–Rabbi Chaim Soloveichik, Rabbi of Beit Knesset Ohr Shalom, Ramat Beit Shemesh


“The pathway to Talmudic thought is to understand the lives of Talmud scholars. Indeed, one of the best ways to teach Torah ethics is to observe the ways Talmudic scholars carry themselves.
Jonathan Duker, a young talmid chacham, has written an extraordinary book, elucidating the lives of these rabbis. His insights are written powerfully yet simply, making the work valuable for both the beginning and advanced student. Jon’s love of Torah and brilliance of learning comes through on every page. The book is a treasure for both rabbis and laypersons; as well as for teachers and their students looking for the key to open up the genius and sweetness of Talmudic study.”
–Rabbi Avraham Weiss, founder and dean of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah; Rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale


As we study the Talmud, we come across the names of our great Sages, usually attached to a particular law or halachic position. Often, however, the names are attached to a story about the individual. That is because the Talmud wants us to see these rabbis as real people with dynamic lives.

In this fine work, Rabbi Jonathan Duker portrays 15 of these scholars based on the stories of their lives that appear in Talmudic and Midrashic sources. By weaving the original accounts together with insightful analysis, he provides a human portrait of these great teachers while remaining faithful to the poetry of the original narrative. With his work, we are able to understand the personalities behind the sugyot.
-Prof. Oscar Mohl, The Jewish Press


Jonathan Duker's The Spirits Behind the Law offers insight into the personalities of the Talmudic sages. Examining the background and personal life of the ancient Rabbis is a job usually left to the world of academic Talmud study. Even the most diligent yeshiva student will rarely be aware of the different generations of the expounders of the oral tradition - indeed, such students are not trained to be sensitive to them - and they are the poorer for it. The general notion that "the Gemara says" offers students only a vague shadow of the complex world of the Sages, with little sense of the realities of pre and post-Temple eras, Israel vs. Babylon and so on.

Duker's volume does not pretend to be a groundbreaking academic study. Fifteen of the most prominent figures of the Mishnah and Gemara are chosen, and the author weaves a biographical narrative mainly from aggadic material. Thus we learn not only of Rabbi Zeira's love of the land of Israel and Resh Lakish's repentance, but also of the demands of Rabban Gamliel of Yavneh forbidding dissent in his study hall.

The Spirits Behind the Law acknowledges that it owes much to Bialik and Ravnitzky's Sefer ha-Aggadah, but its presentation will allow easy access to the student who wants to develop a more personal relationship with the pages and personalities of the Gemara.
-Shalom Z. Berger
Lookstein Digest


This work portrays fifteen Talmudic scholars based on the stories of their lives that appear in the Talmudic and midrashic traditions.
-Jewish Book World


The scholars of the Talmud and Midrash had an immeasurable impact on Judaism. Throughout centuries of Jewish history, students of Jewish law have tried to understand the meaning and application of their words. It is important to know who these scholars were who made, and continue to make, such a significant impact on Jewish life.

This work portrays fifteen of these scholars based on the stories of their lives that appear in the Talmudic and midrashic traditions. By weaving the original accounts together with insightful analysis, the writer provides a human portrait of these great masters while remaining faithful to the poetry of the original narratives.

Jonathan Duker received his rabbinical ordination from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. He and his family made aliyah in 2004, and now lives in Beit Shemesh where he teaches rabbinic thought and halakhah.

Anyone who wants a deeper understanding of the important period of the ancient rabbis will gain immeasurably by reading this excellent volume.
-Dov Peretz Elkins
Jewish Media Review