around 500 C.E., the Temple had been gone for 400 years--as much time as separates us today from Shakespeare. For the Amoraim, there were no sacrifices to perform, and in Babylonia, where they lived, there was no requirement to tithe crops at all.
Yet the rabbis devoted as much intellectual force to getting tumah right as if it were still a matter of life and death, and they write about the sacrifices as if they might be called on to perform one tomorrow. The law, for them, existed in a virtual realm, immune from time and change.
from Adam Kirsch: Tablet: Appreciating the Talmud's Sublime Devotion to Torah for Its Own Sake
[James] Agee realizes too late that he has triggered a reflex of terror: a white man running after a black couple, in Alabama in 1936, is an aggressor, a potential killer. He is immediately stricken by "the nakedness and depth and meaning of their fear, and . . . my horror and pity and self-hatred," but nothing he can say can convince the couple of his good intentions: "The least I could have done was to throw myself flat on my face and embrace and kiss their feet." After reading this chapter, there is no need for the reader to ask why Let Us Now Praise Famous Men is devoted to white sharecroppers, not black ones. Agee has demonstrated that the racial barrier is so enormous, the fear and distrust so instinctive, that there is no way to cross it.
from Adam Kirsch: New Republic: What Would James Agee Say About the George Zimmerman Trial?