Anxious Rabbis and Mocking Nonrabbis

Richard Kalmin

in Jewish Babylonia between Persia and Roman Palestine

Published in print October 2006 | ISBN: 9780195306194
Published online September 2006 | e-ISBN: 9780199784998 | DOI:
 Anxious Rabbis and Mocking Nonrabbis

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This chapter examines traditions that depict rabbis as sensitive to the fact that their statements appear, or might appear, to nonrabbis to fly in the face of common sense or to contradict the everyday functioning of the world or the meaning of scripture. It addresses the questions: what happens when rabbinic sources acknowledge that a rabbi says or does something that was or might be construed as ludicrous or far-fetched? Is the rabbi ridiculed, and if so, what is his reaction? Does the ridicule provoke anxiety, defensiveness, and/or a desire for revenge? It is shown that Palestinian rabbinic sources tended to be more attuned than Babylonian rabbinic sources to the reactions, whether real or anticipated, of nonrabbis to their statements. Palestinian rabbis tended to be more aware than Babylonian rabbis that their actions and opinions could or did provoke ridicule among nonrabbis. In a significant number of cases — all having to do with the rabbis' worries about their status in the eyes of nonrabbis, and/or rabbinic self-consciousness about nonrabbinic reaction to their statements — Palestinian rabbis revealed their insecurity and discomfort and attempted to demonstrate the reliability of their opinions and interpretations in the face of nonrabbinic ridicule. As a result, Palestinian rabbis, more than their Babylonian counterparts, told stories that vindicated rabbis who were the objects of nonrabbinic ridicule and depicted their antagonists receiving their just desserts.

Keywords: Palestinian rabbis; Babylonian rabbis; rabbinic sources; scripture; ridicule

Chapter.  7289 words. 

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies

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