Mira BalbergNov 16, 2023
Forgetfulness and Fallibility in Late Ancient Rabbinic Culture
University of California Press 2023
The Rabbinic Sages of the Tannaitic era were fixated on memory and terrified of forgetfulness. In promulgating their own interpretations of Jewish law, the Tannaim not only took seriously Moses’s admonitions to remember and not forget, they painstakingly constructed a system of laws thar recognized that helped create and enhance a powerful and dynamic memory form. The rabbis also knew, however, that people are fallible and they’re going to forget. To try to ensure communal coherence within the embrace of the covenant in the face of the loss of a cultic center, the rabbis built a system of legal promulgation and interpretation that anticipated forgetting and devised ways for confronting, correcting, and mitigating damage from it.
In her latest work, Fractured Tablets: Forgetfulness and Fallibility in Late Ancient Rabbinic Culture (U California Press, 2023), Professor Balberg explores and examines how the Tannaitic sages not only understood and approached the problem of forgetting, but how they in essence created that problem, and position themselves as the specialists who can solve it.
Mira Balberg is Professor and David Goodblatt Endowed Chair in Ancient Jewish Civilization at the University of California at San Diego. She joins me today to speak about her latest work.
David Gottlieb is the Director of Jewish Studies at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership in Chicago. He is the author of Second Slayings: The Binding of Isaac and the Formation of Jewish Memory (Gorgias Press, 2019).