Many Jews are convinced that the laws and customs that originated with the rabbis were taught at Sinai to the Israelites during the days of Moses and are called “Oral Law,” even though the Torah itself states that only the Decalogue that people call The Ten Commandments were spoken there. Rabbi Dr. Benyamin Lau describes the true origin of rabbinical laws. He also informs us about the rabbis and the occurrences of the times they lived in his five-volume series “The Sages.”

The fifth book, written first in Hebrew, is now translated and sold in English. It is called “The Sages, Character, Context & Creativity.” It focuses “on the teachings of the second generation of talmudic sages – the founders of the great rabbinic academies in Babylonia and the Land of Israel at the end of the third century CE.” It is very informative. The prior four Sages books are, The Second Temple Period, From Yavneh to the Bar Kokhba Revolt, The Galilean Period, and From the Mishna to the Talmud.

Rabbi Dr. Yehuda Brandes tells readers in the Foreword that, in his opinion, “the main purpose of this series is to set the various sages of the Mishna and Talmud before the eyes of students who study their teachings. All too often, teachers of rabbinic literature do not bother to introduce their students to the various sages mentioned in the text.” A complete understanding of rabbinical rulings is only gained by knowing the person making the ruling, why he did so, and the conditions of the time that prompted him to act. Rabbi Lau does this in clear, understandable language.

We read of the death of the first generation of Babylonian rabbis, Rav in 247 CE and Shmuel in 254 CE, their successors, and the founding of rabbinical academies in Southern Babylonia in Sura and Northern Babylonia in several cities. We also read of the academies in the Land of Israel, the significant differences between Babylonia and Israel, conditions during the reign of the last pagan Roman Emperor Diocletian when Jews were satisfied to live in peace under Roman rule, and the power of his successor Constantine. This first Christian emperor started a period in which Israel suffered. We also read of Israeli rabbis’ dislike for the rabbis of Babylonia. They thought the Babylonian Jews acted improperly by not returning to Israel when Cyrus allowed Jews to return from their exile to their homeland in Israel

There is much in this 278-page book that will enlighten readers.