In this episode, Karl Stevens (the priest) and Daniel Bogard (the rabbi) introduce Chevruta scripture study by looking at “The Oven of Acknai,” a story from the Babylonian Talmud. A link to the podcast is below, and the podcast is available through the iTunes Store and other fine podcast suppliers. The text of the story is below the podcast feed.
The Oven of Acknai
(Babylonian Talmud: Baba Metzia 59b)
If a man made an oven out of separate coils [of clay, placing one upon another], then put sand between each of the coils — such an oven, R. Eliezer declared, it is not susceptible to defilement, while the sages declared it susceptible.
It is taught: On that day R. Eliezer brought forward every imaginable argument, but the Sages did not accept any of them. Finally he said to them: “If the Halakhah (religious law) is in accordance with me, let this carob tree prove it!” Sure enough the carob tree immediately uprooted itself and moved one hundred cubits, and some say 400 cubits, from its place. “No proof can be brought from a carob tree,” they retorted.
And again he said to them “If the Halakhah agrees with me, let this stream of water prove it!” Sure enough, the stream of water flowed backward. “No proof can be brought from a stream of water,” they rejoined.
Again he urged, “If the Halakhah agrees with me, let the walls of the house of study prove it!” Sure enough, the walls tilted as if to fall. But R. Joshua, rebuked the walls, saying, “When disciples of the wise are engaged in a halakhic dispute, what right have you to interfere?” (in deference to R. Joshua they did not fall and in deference to R. Eliezer they did not resume their upright position; they are still standing aslant today).
Again R. Eliezer then said to the Sages, “If the Halakhah agrees with me, let it be proved from heaven.” Sure enough, a Divine Voice (bat kol) cried out, “Why do you dispute with R. Eliezer, with whom the Halakhah always agrees?” R. Joshua stood up and protested: “The Torah is not in heaven!” (Deut. 30:12). We pay no attention to a divine voice because long ago at Mount Sinai You wrote in your Torah, `After the majority must one incline!’ (Ex. 23:2)”
Nathan met [the prophet] Elijah and asked him, “What did the Holy One do at that moment?” Elijah replied, “He laughed [with joy], saying, ‘My children have defeated Me, My children have defeated Me.”
A note about the artwork: Karl made this piece after reading a different excerpt from the Babylonian Talmud. You can read about it on his website, prayerbookart.com.