The Talmud is a literature with distinctive contents and ways of thinking about the world. If it was a source of "energy" we would be among the first to market Talmud-Water or Talmud-Bracelets and try to get Madonna interested in the Talmud.
Wait a second, those are not bad ideas.
We do track a high sense of drama in the world of the Talmud and a conviction that we Jews are stars at the center of the stage. That is at most an idea, a concept or a meme, and not an energy bar.
The idea of DTE is part of what Joselit cites from the book by the forward to a book by Sidney Offit, "Nine Lives: Favorite Profiles of Famous People from the Annals of Moment Magazine." [Help us please - we cannot find any record of this book.]
Here are some of her observations about the phrase.
[Offit...] wonders how it is possible for so many contemporary artists, performers and cultural personalities from Tony Kushner and Jon Stewart to Bob Dylan and Brian Epstein to hail from a Jewish background. But where his predecessors looked to lineage, Offit does them one better. His canny explanation: "displaced Talmudic energy."
Is he actually suggesting that the "famous people" who figure here had at one point in their lives taken up the study of the Talmud and, having subsequently abandoned that pursuit for the stage, found that their engagement with the ancient text continued to influence their way of being? At first blush, readers might be forgiven for thinking that's what Mr. Offit means. After all, he does go so far as to call Jon Stewart a "modern Talmudist."
But I don't think that's really what he has in mind. Rather, by his lights, "Talmudic energy" -- displaced or intact -- has little to do with the actual study of the ancient text as much as it does with a particular sensibility, one sustained by the spirit of inquiry, an appetite for questioning and a penchant for detail.
I don't doubt that the innovative and influential personalities profiled in this book possess these qualities - and in spades. But why call them examples of "displaced Talmudic energy"? Why, in fact, go all the way back to the Talmud? Might not contemporary readers be better served and more effectively enlightened by explanations that highlight economic forces, say, or the historic role of the Jews as latter-day brokers of both goods and ideas? And what about the galvanizing, generative effects of marginality on creativity?
Although essentialism has fallen from grace and out of favor in most contemporary circles, it continues to hang on within Jewish ones, pace Mr. Offit's "displaced Talmudic energy." I'm not sure why, but I suspect it's one way to keep celebrated Jews close at hand and within the fold.