The 57th episode of The Jewish Drinking Show features a discussion on angels and…asparagus. Featuring Prof. Mika Ahuvia, whose research includes her doctoral dissertation, “Israel Among the Angels: A Study of Angels in Jewish Texts from the Fourth to Eighth Century CE” (Princeton, 2014), so she is well-situated to discuss the curious intersection of angels and a curious beverage called asparagus in the Babylonian Talmud (Berakhot 51a).
Prof. Ahuvia is the Marsha and Jay Glazer Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies and assistant professor of Classical Judaism at the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies in the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. Her forthcoming book (out this summer), On My Right Michael, On My Left Gabriel: Angels in Ancient Jewish Culture, is based off of her doctoral dissertation and analyzes conceptions of angels among ancient Jews.
The episode in video format is here:
A tip of the hat goes to Rabbi Josh Waxman, who pointed out Pliny the Elder’s writing on this topic.
The Sefaria source sheet used for this episode is available here.
For the first-time ever, I have time-stamps on the YouTube video; here is a listing:
0:00 – Welcome
0:19 – Introduction to Prof. Mika Ahuvia
01:18 – Introduction to Angels & Asparagus
01:57 – Introduction to central text on Angels & Asparagus – a statement from Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha (Berakhot 51a)
03:53 – How common is rabbinic epistemology from angels in the Talmud?
04:58 – What is going on with angels in the Talmud?
08:07 – Returning to Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha’s statement (Berakhot 51a)
09:49 – Broader perspective on asparagus in the Talmud (“A Wild Asparagus Ride”) – there are a bunch of Tannaitic texts on asparagus (mostly on Berakhot 51a)
11:00 – Detour to discuss drunkenness in Rabbinic literature
13:50 – Return to discussing asparagus of Tannaitic texts in the Talmud
15:18 – Briefly mentioning Amoraic texts on asparagus in the Talmud (Kiddushin 70a, Pesahim 110b, Berakhot 51a)
16:19 – Returning to our text regarding angels and asparagus
17:06 – Referencing a Stammaitic text on asparagus suggests that sometimes it’s made with wine and sometimes with beer (Berakhot 51a)
18:04 – Sneak peak into next week’s episode on “Wine in Ben Sira” featuring Prof. Michael Satlow
18:40 – Pliny the Elder on Asparagus
25:05 – Returning again to the statement of Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha (Berakhot 51a)
27:55 – Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s statement regarding the Angel of Death (Berakhot 51a)
29:29 – Going back to one of the Tannaitic texts on asparagus, regarding social practices (Berakhot 51a)
30:30 – Drinking strange beverages
31:29 – Maybe the rabbis referred to angels/demons as destructive operatives in the world?
34:02 – Angels and demons do not show up together in Rabbinic literature
35:22 – Prof. Ahuvia’s thankfulness for the Pliny the Elder reference
35:42 – Sneak peak at Prof. Ahuvia’s forthcoming book
37:38 – Wrapping-up