The Bible has been central to the teaching of the Jewish heritage in secular Israeli schools since the state’s founding. Secularists saw the Bible as the most relevant precursor to the Zionist enterprise and downplayed the importance of rabbinic texts such as Talmud and Midrash, which they associated with the Diaspora culture against which Zionism rebelled. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, a resurgence of interest in legends about Talmudic rabbis has developed among some secular Israelis, who now find them to be a source of cultural renewal in the context of the complex challenges of Israeli existence. Alternative study houses have provided secular Israelis with the opportunity to study these legends, a number of writers have published works seeking to discern their contemporary relevance, and plays and novels drawing on them have been published.

About the Speaker: David C. Jacobson is Professor of Judaic Studies at BrownUniversity. The focus of his research is on European and Israeli Hebrew writers who transformed biblical narratives, rabbinic legends, and Hasidic tales into modern works of literature that convey the relationship of the author to the Jewish tradition and to issues of contemporary significance. In 1977, he received his Ph.D. at UCLA, under the supervision of Professor Arnold J. Band. His publications include Creator, Are You Listening? Israeli Poets on God and Prayer (Indiana University Press, 2007) and Beyond Political Messianism: The Poetry of Second-Generation Religious Zionist Settlers (Academic Studies Press, 2011).