Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

A historical novel about the life of Elisha ben Abuyah, a Talmudic scholar who struggles with faith and reason in ancient Judea.


"As a Driven Leaf" by Milton Steinberg is a compelling historical novel set in the first century, focusing on the life of Elisha ben Abuyah, a Talmudic rabbi. This thought-provoking narrative delves into the complexities of faith, philosophy, and the pursuit of knowledge, offering a captivating exploration of the human experience.

Brief Synopsis

The novel is set in the backdrop of ancient Judea, a time of great religious and political upheaval. Elisha, a brilliant young scholar, finds himself torn between his unwavering dedication to Jewish law and his insatiable thirst for secular knowledge. As he grapples with the conflict between tradition and enlightenment, Elisha embarks on a journey that leads him to question his faith, morality, and the very essence of existence.

Plot Overview and Setting

The story unfolds in the tumultuous landscape of ancient Judea, amid the backdrop of Roman occupation and the rigid hierarchy of Jewish religious authority. As Elisha navigates this complex environment, he encounters a diverse array of characters and experiences that shape his worldview and inner turmoil.

Main Characters

The novel features several compelling characters who play pivotal roles in Elisha's journey:

Elisha ben AbuyahA talented and inquisitive rabbinical scholar struggling to reconcile his religious beliefs with secular knowledge.
Rabbi JoshuaElisha's mentor and a revered figure in the Jewish community, embodying traditional values and strict adherence to Jewish law.
MeirElisha's close friend and fellow scholar, sharing a deep bond with Elisha while embodying unwavering devotion to Jewish tradition.
BeruriahA fiercely independent and intellectually curious woman who challenges Elisha's perceptions and beliefs, leaving a lasting impact on his journey.

Summary of Different Story Points over Chapters

Chapters 1-3

Elisha, a dedicated student of Jewish law, becomes increasingly drawn to secular knowledge, causing tension with his mentor, Rabbi Joshua. His burgeoning curiosity and skepticism lead him to explore Greek philosophy, igniting a profound internal conflict.

Chapters 4-6

Elisha's intellectual pursuits deepen, and he forms a close bond with Meir, who shares his passion for learning. However, Elisha's growing skepticism and unorthodox views raise concern within the Jewish community, straining his relationships and reputation.

Chapters 7-9

Elisha's encounters with Beruriah, a woman of immense intellect and independence, challenge his preconceptions and ignite a transformative shift in his perspective. As he grapples with conflicting ideologies, Elisha faces the profound implications of his choices.

Chapters 10-12

Elisha's pursuit of knowledge leads him to Rome, where he is exposed to the opulence and intellectual richness of the Roman world. Amidst the allure of Roman culture, Elisha confronts the complexities of assimilation and the erosion of his religious convictions.

Chapters 13-15

Returning to Judea, Elisha finds himself embroiled in the political turmoil and religious fervor of the Jewish revolt against Roman rule. Amidst the chaos, he is forced to confront the consequences of his intellectual journey and the profound impact on his identity.

Main Events

  1. Elisha's growing fascination with secular knowledge and Greek philosophy sparks internal conflict and estrangement from his mentor.
  2. Elisha's bond with Meir and his encounters with Beruriah challenge his orthodox beliefs, leading to a transformative shift in his worldview.
  3. Elisha's exposure to Roman culture and intellectual pursuits in Rome prompts a struggle with assimilation and the erosion of his religious convictions.
  4. Elisha becomes entangled in the tumultuous Jewish revolt against Roman rule, facing the repercussions of his intellectual journey amidst political upheaval.

Themes and Insights


  1. Clash of Tradition and Enlightenment: The novel delves into the perpetual conflict between adherence to tradition and the pursuit of knowledge, exploring the tensions between religious orthodoxy and intellectual curiosity.
  2. Identity and Belonging: Elisha's journey raises profound questions about personal identity, cultural assimilation, and the struggle to find a sense of belonging amidst conflicting ideologies.
  3. Moral Dilemmas and Ethical Choices: The narrative confronts complex moral quandaries, ethical decision-making, and the repercussions of individual choices in the face of societal and religious norms.


The novel offers a poignant exploration of the human quest for meaning, knowledge, and spiritual fulfillment. It delves into the complexities of belief, the pursuit of truth, and the enduring impact of intellectual awakening on personal and communal identity.

Reader's Takeaway

"As a Driven Leaf" offers a captivating and thought-provoking journey through the intricate tapestry of faith, knowledge, and personal conviction. Readers will be engrossed by the compelling characters, profound philosophical dilemmas, and the timeless relevance of the novel's themes.


Milton Steinberg's "As a Driven Leaf" stands as a timeless exploration of the human spirit, intellectual curiosity, and the enduring pursuit of truth amidst the complexities of faith and tradition. Through the compelling narrative and richly drawn characters, the novel resonates with profound insights and thought-provoking themes, leaving a lasting impression on readers.

As a Driven Leaf FAQ

  1. What is the genre of 'As a Driven Leaf'?

    As a Driven Leaf is a historical fiction novel.

  2. Who is the author of 'As a Driven Leaf'?

    The author of 'As a Driven Leaf' is Milton Steinberg.

  3. What is the setting of 'As a Driven Leaf'?

    The novel is set in ancient Israel and Babylonia during the time of the Talmud.

  4. What is the main theme of 'As a Driven Leaf'?

    The main themes of the novel include the conflict between reason and faith, the pursuit of knowledge, and the struggle for identity.

  5. Is 'As a Driven Leaf' based on historical events?

    Yes, the novel is based on historical events and characters from the Talmud.