The Galut Islands

a First Course in Jewish Tradition

The Galut Islands

The Bét Hamiqdash Harishon was destroyed by Nebuch’adnezar , King of Babylon. Am Yisraél were exiled from the Land. The current events of exilic life is embedded in Daniél and Ester (the Bible books of Daniel and Esther). The books of Daniél and Ester starkly contrast and frame the debate: Does God Exist in exile?

The Galut Islands – Midrash, Mishna, Agada – were formed by the tectonic shift this question caused.

We still largely live in the Galut Islands.

Midrash Island

Among the Galut Islands, the magic exported by Midrash Island is that Torah is always relevant. The magic of Midrash is that each time and place contributes to the Torah imperative. The magic transforms imperative into narrative. This means Torah’s imperatives are always applicable, if not exactly the same way, in different times and places. Midrashic magic must be transmitted continuously. The magic grows weak when transmission breaks down. A terrible Greek plague stopped transmission for some time.

After the magic began again a Roman plague occurred a short time later. Midrash broke down again and from this time on Mishna Island grew in importance.

Mishna Island

Principal among the Gakut Island still, Mishna Island hosts the Tanna’im, a vibsrant but small community of argumentative activists. There were several provincial towns and cities in Mishna, more or less independent of each other, until the Roman plague raged through Mishna as well. Thousands died. The survivors gathered in Yavneh. Mishna Island is quite small. Yavneh became very crowded, so Tiberias, Sepphoris, Caesaria, and Bné Braq were incorporated, as well as some smaller towns. These also became quite crowded and then the Roman plague again raged.

Mishna Island expanded by using the Barita Ridge to connect to a much larger island, a continent actually, called Talmud. Before we explore Talmud let’s survey Agada Island.

Agada Island

Unique among the Galut Islands, Agada hosts storytellers who tell sagacious stories. Both Mishna and Midrash host storytellers of a type, but they specialize in law rather than lore. Agada is similar to Midrash in some ways and shares the same magic: Torah is always relevant. Agadic magic differs, however, for it is found outside the Torah; each time and place, furthermore, contributes to the Torah narrative. Imperative is explicit – You shall love God… (Dvarim 6, 5); narrative is a gentler way but no less instructive – For you this shall be food (Bréshit 1, 29). This is an important guide to our explanation of Talmud in the next section.