Monday, December 08, 2008

The Academy of Shem and Ever??

Here's what one rabbi has to say, by way of explanation.

My question: If we're talking about Noah's son Shem and Shem's grandson Ever, how could either of them still have been alive by the time of Yitzchak/Isaac, who allegedly studied at their academy? And/or, whether or not they were still alive, could their academy have survived for, what, the 10 or so generations between Noah and Avraham? How many schools last at least 500 years?


Blogger BZ said...

See Genesis 11 and do the math.

Shem was 100+35+30+34+30+32+30+29+70+100 = 490 years old when Isaac was born, and Shem lived a total of 600 years.

Likewise, Ever was 34+30+32+30+29+70+100 = 325 when Isaac was born, and lived a total of 433 years.

Mon Dec 08, 06:37:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

This assumes, of course, that one takes those numbers literally. I don't take much else about the Tanach/Bible literally, so why should my opinion of "number of years lived" be any different?

As for the alleged academy, that's pure midrash (rough translation: rabbinic legend and/or interpretation), to the best of my knowledge. Is there a quote from B'reishit/Genesis indicating the existence of such an institution? Even if there is one, I don't know how literally I would take it.

Mon Dec 08, 07:41:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Elie said...

If you don't take the ages literally, than don't take the "Yeshivas Shem V'Ever" literally either! View it as a place of learning where the Noahide teachings/values - the ones that made him "tam" and worthy of being saved - were passed along to his descendants. The institution could obviously continue even after the deaths of its founders - just as yeshivas today do!

But per the math above, Ever - though not Shem - was still alive when Yaakov was in attendance.

Tue Dec 09, 11:40:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Elie said...

the ones that made him "tam"

that should have been "tammim" (Gen 6:9)

Tue Dec 09, 12:23:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Ever the skeptic, I don't believe that the Academy of Shem and Ever ever existed. My theory (which you're perfectly free to take or leave) is that the rabbis who composed the midrashim needed to "cover" the absence of Yitzchak (Isaac) from the story of Avraham's return from the Akeidah (Binding of Isaac), so they imagined a fantastical story about Yitzchak studying at an academy for 14 (?) years following the Akeidah. They then used the same academy as an explanation of what the twins Esav (Esau) and Yaakov (Jacob) were fighting about in Rivka's (Rebecca's) womb.

Tue Dec 09, 05:53:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Elie said...

Again, I think you're taking "yeshiva" too literally (anachronistically) here? We're obviously not talking proto-Lakewood here (satiric posts notwithstanding!). But isn't it logical that there would have been some educational forum for Shem to pass down to future generations the monotheistic values and laws given to his father? And we know Shem is depicted as the son who most closely preserved that tradition (Gen 9:27).

In fact I find it more believable on a "pshat" level that Abraham learned these core values somewhere, than to take literally the midrashic concept that he invented/discovered monotheism all by himself.

Wed Dec 10, 10:51:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"I find it more believable on a "pshat" level that Abraham learned these core values somewhere, than to take literally the midrashic concept that he invented/discovered monotheism all by himself." That's an interesting thought.

And thanks for linking to that oldie but goodie of yours. :)

Wed Dec 10, 11:00:00 AM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a really good question and one that I'm proud to be able to answer. It's midrash, as you say, but the point of midrash is that it's text-based. It's not just fanciful stories: it's a genre of Biblical commentary that purports to explain the text. In fact it's frequently hyper-literal, taking things literally that would otherwise seem figurative. I love it and I find that it enhances my experience of Biblical study enormously.

The first question is, why would we think that Shem is running a yeshiva? It seems to me (midrash is often a matter of putting a jigsaw together) that this is based on three verses that seem to call for explanation.

The first is Genesis 9:27 where Noah blesses his son Yaphet with the words "May G-d expand Yaphet and may he dwell in the tents of [his brother] Shem." What tents are these? And what's so special about them? That's part 1.

The second is in Genesis 25:22. When Rivkah feels her fetuses struggling in her womb she "goes out" to "inquire of G-d". She apparently didn't ask G-d herself, because it doesn't say "she prayed". She didn't ask Abraham or Isaac, because she wouldn't have needed to "go out" in order to ask someone else at home. So there was someone living nearby (which implies that they were relatives) who was not only a fellow monotheist but a sage. Who? Well, the most senior relative she had was Shem, according to the chronology that BZ helpfully supplied. That's part 2.

Finally, in Genesis 25:27 we hear that Esov was a wild man who hunted in the fields while Jacob was "a simple man who stayed in tents". The clear implication from even a naive reading is that Esov was a jock and Jacob was bookish. But as I said before, midrash is often hyper-literal. Precisely which tents did Jacob stay in? Why, the very ones mentioned in Genesis 9:27 as being the ones that it's a blessing to stay in, the ones belonging to the monotheist sage Shem. That's part 3, and in my opinion it makes a sufficient case for the existence of "the yeshiva of Shem and Ever" at least in midrashic terms.

You can believe this or not (even Orthodox Jews aren't expected to believe all midrashim as factual) , but I don't think it's unreasonable to say that it's both consistent with and a more satisfying reading than a non-midrashic reading of the text. After all, the non-midrashic meaning requires that we ignore the questions about whose tents, which tents, what's the significance of the tents, and who Rivka went to visit.

Now, why suppose that Jacob spent time learning in these tents? I don't have a good midrashic explanation for this but here's a bit of logic. We already know that he has been characterised as someone who "stayed in tents". We've established midrashically that this means he studied. Why would we think that he'd do anything else during this period than continue what he did before? He was studying before; he just continued his studies. No need to introduce new elements; we don't start asking whether Esov suddenly stopped hunting.

If you like midrash as a genre (and I hope that this comment at least demonstrated that it is a respectable genre of commentary) then I highly commend written by Josh Waxman. It's what turned me on to midrash in the first place.

Tue Dec 16, 06:42:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

fascinating. i still don't believe it, but our rabbis certainly found creative ways 2 explain gaps in torah text

pardon poor typing--broke both wrists. see dec. 12 post

Tue Dec 16, 06:45:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Gutman said...

Did you see the new video, "A Light Unto the Nations - Noah and Abraham" ? You will enjoy it.
Be well
Gutman Locks

Mon Aug 12, 06:09:00 AM 2013  

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