English, Postscripts

Postscript: Jonah Frankel, 1928-2012

The world of Jewish Studies and the Talmud Blog mourn the passing of Prof. Jonah Frankel, teacher, pioneer, scholar and Israel prize laureate. Frankel was born in Munich in 1928 and arrived in Palestine when the Nazis came to power. His doctoral dissertation, the first and actually only scholarly treatment of Rashi’s commentary on the Babylonian Talmud to date, remains the standard work of reference on this ubiquitous commentary. It was quoted extensively, thirty years later, by Prof. Israel Ta-Shma in his Sifrut ha-parshanit la-talmud. Frankel also collaborated with his father-in-law, Daniel Goldschmidt, on his editions of Jewish liturgical texts, and was working on an edition of the Ashkenazi Siddur for weekdays. He kept working on the latter project until very close to his death (I regret that I turned down the opportunity to work as his mouse-manipulator when he could not longer get it to do what he wanted); I understand the project is in good hands.

His greatest and lasting contribution to scholarship, however, was his introduction of methods taken from the study of literature to reading rabbinic stories. In many articles and then later, in books, Frankel applied the methods of New Criticism to stories that were supposed to be “history” or at best “folklore”. He insisted that they were nothing but “high literature” and that they deserved the best tools the discipline could give them. As such, he is the intellectual grandfather of almost every innovation in rabbinics since. Although New Criticism fell out of fashion and other methods took over, Frankel got his wish: rabbinic literature is recognized as “literature,” studied in university departments of Hebrew literature, and by literary scholars who do not specialize in Jewish Studies. ‘The Oven of Akhnai’, Rabbi Johanan and Resh Laqish, and Honi the Roofer (not circle-drawer) are household names not merely in academic circles, but also in almost every synagogue, study circle, adult education curriculum and beit midrash. Frankel’s work endures, and so his lips truly are speaking in the grave at this very moment. We hope to be able to host a “yeshivah on his grave,” here at the Talmud blog, in the future.

(The funeral was today, on Har Hamenuhot, in Jerusalem, at 4:30 PM).

English, Readings

Potty Mouth

Looking for material for my MA thesis, “Injuries and Battery in Tannaitic Law” – and thus avoiding working on the actual thesis – I came across this entertaining snippet from the recently published S. Emanuel, Teshuvot Maharam meRothenburg vaHaveirav, §308 (pp. 641-642, author unknown):

One who calls his peer a mamzer, should leave the synagogue, and fast Monday and Thursday and Monday, and receive lashes after every fast, and ask for forgiveness at the last one, and give 12 dinar to the Kahal, and walk on (perhaps: to) his (the plaintiff’s) mother’s grave in the presence of 10 (men) and say (at the grave): “everything I spoke against your honor (kevodekh) was a lie.” And (the insulted party) can waive his share and the Kahal can waive their share as well. And the same law applies to a woman, but she is not whipped but she should pay the plaintiff 5 dinar for each lash, and the same applies for every law. And this is the case if for instance she is a widow, but if she is married, and owns no property, then she should write (a promissory note) that if she is widowed or divorced – she will pay. But “A Whore’s son (הורן זון)” is not like “Mamzer.”

Emanuel quotes the Nimmukin of R. Menahem of Mirzburg, the laws of shaming (106b), in n. 4:

There is no law concerning calling a man a whore’s son, since all he said was: you are a son of a whore, and perhaps his mother was simply promiscuous, or perhaps she was not married, but he should not(?) degrate himself and prostrate himself on his mother’s grave.

Two interesting items here are (1) there is a grave and severe penalty for calling someone a Mamzer, although Talmudic jurisprudence rules quite unequivocally that shaming with words does not count as shaming, and (2) that the offence was apparently directed not at the person being shamed but at his mother.

This of course leads one to suspect that in fact this was a penalty for calling someone a “son of a whore” and not simply a Mamzer. A mamzer could have come from any number of forbidden unions, all odious but not all casting shame upon the mother – the child of a rape victim, for instance. But calling someone a “son of a whore” insults their very own mother directly, in which case redress of the injured party is called for.

My guess is “son of a whore” was just too common an insult to force anyone who uttered it to drag him/herself over to the graveyard and apologize to the dead mother. But it might also mean that in this cultural milieu, Hebrew insults were stronger and more real than German ones.

Dissertations, English, Reviews

Karaite Mishnah (and other friends too)

Ofra Tirosh-Becker, Rabbinic Excerpts in Medieval Karaite Literature, 2 Vols. Jerusalem: Mossad Bialik, 2012, 1219 pp., NIS 111.

Everyone knows about the Karaites. They need little introduction: Ninth century Jews tired of geonic hegemony, going back to scripture to find law and independence. But there is very little beyond that which has trickled outside of the academic circles that busy themselves with the Karaite movement, despite its great importance to the study of rabbinic Judaism.

There is much Karaite material waiting to be read. Simply read.  The great age of Karaite scholarship – in Jerusalem and its environs in the tenth-eleventh centuries – produced a great mass of work, fascinating and useful not only for students of Karaism. However, most Karaite commentaries lack editions of any kind; the Karaite communities have little interest in their own literature, and not much of it was published, while even less is in print today.

“It is one of the ironies of fate […] that the Karaites, the great fighters against the oral Torah, allowed me, with the grace of God, to reconstruct a new segment of the literature of the oral law.” Thus Menahem Kahana in his introduction to Sifre Zutta Deuteronomy (Jerusalem: Magnes, 2003). Kahana discovered this midrash by mistake in a survey of Hebrew manuscripts in Russian libraries, during the first days of Soivet perestroika. Kahana identified fragments catalogued as “Midrash on Deuteronomy,” as belonging to the commentary on Deuteronomy by the Karaite Yeshuah b. Yehudah. But he also discovered a long-lost tannaitic midrash quoted in them as well: Sifre Zutta Deuteronomy, which he proceeded to publish, with an extensive commentary and study.

This is just one dark corner of the Karaite world that Kahana helped expose. But he was not alone in this enterprise. Ofra Tirosh-Becker, a linguist by training, has been working on one aspect of this Karaite material for many years. Her doctoral dissertation – under the same name – was approved in 2000.  In it, she discusses as many quotations of rabbinic works in Karaite literature as she could find.

Our book is an expansion of this dissertation, both in terms of the breadth of the corpus of quotations in vol. 2 and in terms of the “philological and linguistic discussions,” in vol. 1. Tirosh-Becker discusses such questions as the ways in which Karaite scholars treated rabbinic material, whether or not they forged it for their own purposes (usually not, but there is one fake barayta forged by Sahel b. Masliah, mentioned on p. 106-107), and what they called it when they quoted it (usually, “the first ones said”, qâl âlâwalûn). She also devotes an extensive chapter to the question of the script employed in Karaite works: Karaite writers used both Hebrew and Arabic scripts, and wrote both languages in both scripts. This is of importance to the linguist, as many rabbinic sources are transliterated into Arabic script, allowing for the reconstruction of the reading tradition of certain words (e.g.: the reading ribbi is attested, as in all other rabbinic sources – and not rabbi; the letter ג is transliterated as jim and as ghain, depending on its positon in the word: gevul but reghilim).

Additionally, the Karaites employed some Hebrew diacritics in their Arabic to signify phonemes that do no exist in Arabic, like Hebrew vowels, and the rafe sign over the Arabic bah. But this is of importance to the cultural historian, too: why did Rabbinites use only Hebrew script, and Karaites Arabic? Was it an economic divide, or an ideological one? Tirosh-Becker discusses some previous research cursorily, but essentially leaves the field for others to till. She makes that work easier, too: a description of all the manuscripts employed is appended to vol. 1 (chapter 14), and it allows for a survey of material where interesting discussions of rabbinic material might show up. More such discussions abound – the chapters on nikkud (10) and cantillation marks (9) are fascinating as well. Tirosh-Becker also identifies errors that testify both to the oral recitation of the texts, as well as some errors that clearly point to a written provenance of the same texts (I wonder if Karaites stopped copying from the rabbinic texts themselves at some point and started copying from each other; we do know that many rabbinic texts were owned by the Karaite synagogue in Cairo – but the fake barayta was copied over and over as well).

But the great treasure of the book is vol. 2. Spanning over 800 pages, this volume  includes all the quotations of rabbinic literature in Karaite works Tirosh-Becker was able to find.  She was careful to leave the script as she found it – no transliterations for you! – with or without all the diacritics. In a feat of typesetting (it seems the book was created entirely on MS Word), she was able to reproduce the Hebrew diacritics, Arabic diacritics, and scripts accurately and precisely. She also points out where the quotations diverge from the MS chosen by “Maagarim” to represent the work. This is another area where a Talmudist should intervene, and check the quotations to see if they match any one text-type of the Mishnah.

Tirosh-Becker also publishes a large number of quotations from the previously-lost Mekhilta of Rabbi Shimon b. Yohai. This is a real find, and the author promises an article soon with Menahem Kahana on their value (see pp. 112-115 for a discussion, and pp. 856-882 for the quotations). There is a disproportionately large amount of quotations from this Mekhilta in the corpus, pointing to its prominence in Babylonia (indeed, the Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael was sometimes called “the Palestinian Mekhilta”). Many of these quotations are from parts of the Mekhilta not attested in known Genizah fragments, and were reconstructed from the fourteenth century Yemenite Midrash Hagadol twice: by D. Z. Hoffmann, and by J. N. Epstein. The latter was more conservative in his reconstructions, but several quotations discovered by Tirosh-Becker actually support Hoffmann’s more extensive reconstructions. However, these quotations, as far as I could see, are not marked in any way as derived from the Mekhilta, and in some cases (see e.g. pp. 859, 860-862) I’m curious why the author thinks they are from this work and not simply from one of the Talmuds, which contain similar material.

There is also one quotation from the lost Mekhilta to Deuteronomy (1124), a handful of quotations from the Palestinian Talmud (Talmud llshâm), and a long quotation with the story of the Oven of Aknai – a rallying point for laughing Karaites everywhere (1172-1175). The rest of the rabbinic library is proportionately represented too: Mishnah, Sifra, Sifre (Num and Deut), Bavli, Midrash Agada and even some Tosefta.

The unimaginatively named Rabbinic Excerpts in Medieval Karaite Literature is now another resource scholars of rabbinics must consult on matters of text, readings and reception history of the rabbinic text. But it is also a repository of a culture negotiating its relationship with revered predecessors represented in this world by bitter enemies; a story of cultural appropriation and literary positioning. In that sense, Tirosh-Becker’s book is a collection of artifacts still waiting to be read.

English, Talk of the Town

And the Epstein Goes to…

(Scroll down for the most exciting Talmud news in 30 years!)

As is the custom, the friends and members of the Talmud department convened this Sunday to award prizes and remember the founder of the department – J.N. Epstein – and one of its master teachers, E.S. Rosenthal. The Epstein prize was awarded to Ms. Shikma Kaspi, who gave a paper on the increasingly scholastic nature of the debate on the penalty for unintentional murderer in rabbinic law. Kaspi claimed that if biblical law was interested in either apprehending an intentional murderer or hiding the unintentional one in a sacred precinct, rabbinic law – having no such sacred precincts – was increasingly interested in the details and particulars of the mistaken act. Kaspi pointed out that B. Mak 7b brings matters to an absurd conclusion, when – like a 9th grade physics teacher – it maps out the various positions and vectors of a meat-cleaver swung over a mishappen butcher’s shoulder. Kaspi took it to mean that the heat of the moment was no longer a concern for the sages. (Following Isaac Baer, she could have also pointed out that rabbinic though understood the cities of refuge to be not only a kind of protective custody, but a penalty in and of itself, following Greek law).

Dr. Ronni Goldstein of the Bible department was awarded the Rosenthal prize. Goldstein discussed several Rabbinic Hebrew words that are better explained by Akkadian. This continues an effort begun already by B.A. Levine, in his awe-inspiringly short doctoral dissertation, and Goldstein added several more words to this list. Most striking, in my opinion, is the Tannaitic reading of Lev. 24:16: “the man (=the blasphemer) shall be put to death; the entire assembly shall stone him with stones”. In Sifra this verse is read thus: “all the assembly shall be his enemies”. Now, on the face of it, this simply means that since the verse already says that the man shall be put to death, the second clause, that of stoning, is superfluous. Additionally, the requirement to stone the blasphemer has already been stated in 24:16. And so, to avoid  superfluity, the tannaim derive a moral lesson from the verse. Goldstein showed that in Akkadian both ragamu and bel debabu (I misplaced the handout, ANE specialists, please correct me in the comments) have legal connotations: the first is a law-suit or a complaint, and the second is a legal adversary. Tannaitic Hebrew contained both terms, and the Tannaim read רגום as meaning not “stoning” but “suing”. The homily means therefore: “the entire community shall be his legal adversaries”, pointing out that the blasphemer also, apparently, sinned against the entire community.

In the news department, Prof. Menahem Kahana used the occasion to announce that the catalog of all Mishnah, Tosefta, Yerushalmi and Bavli fragments is now in print, and even held up a copy of the title page to prove it. Similar announcements have been made in the past (see, e.g., Yaakov Sussman’s article in Teuda 1 (1980) and its continuation in Mehkerei Talmud 3 (2006)), but this time – as sources confirm – it is for real. The real question, however, is whether the database used to create the printed catalog will be released in the near future as well.

English, Recent Publications

Reading List

To the two things that are certain in life, death and taxes, I would add foiled grand plans. My grand plan was to survey recent dissertations that discuss various aspects of purity in rabbinic literature – it seems that purity is the new fad now in rabbinics – but I haven’t gotten around to reading all of them yet.

Instead, in the interim, I present to you some short observations on the new books section at the Mt. Scopus library.

1. Ben Dunning’s Specters of Paul is fascinating. Just like Rosen-Zvi’s work on Sotah, Dunning is not content with merely pointing out androcentrism in Paul. Instead, he asks himself what this androcentrism is and what it does. He finds that androcentrism takes on many shapes and forms in Paul, amounting to a cacophony of voices in the Pauline corpus on what women are, what we can do with them, what sex, gender and “sexual difference” (apparently a term coined by Luce Irigaray) do in various parts of the corpus, and how these rifts played out in the work of later readers of Paul. Dunning’s interest and focus on these later readers is refreshing, and is thankfully removed from the Protestant turn towards  the “Original” texts and their intent. His focus on the contemporary politics of his readings of Paul – and of course the politics of reading Paul at all, what with his being blamed for everything bad that befell the Jews, ever – is a bit overbearing.

2. Liah Keshet wrote a dissertation under Yaakov Zussman on the Aggada of the Yerushalmi. She created a corpus of Aggadot in y. Maas. Shen. and Maas. and contrasted them with the Aggadot in y. Nezikin. The methodology might be a bit dubious – she says as much herself, asking what  an aggada is and how we should collect them – but the result is a wonderful edition and commentary on large swaths of Yerushalmi,  performed meticulously and cleanly in Zussman-like style, copious notes and all.

3. Paul’s Jewish Matrix is a collection of articles edited by Thomas G. Casey and Justin Taylor that comprises a collection of essays of varying quality on Jewish (“Judaic”) elements in Paul. Menachem Kister is conspicuously absent from the list of authors, which does include Daniel Schwartz on a possible halakhic reading of Romans 14:14 and Shaye Cohen on a similar kind of reading of Paul’s stance on intermarriage.  As Yair Furstenburg noted in a comment at the Talmud Blog’s “Academy” (editor’s note: stay tuned for an announcement about this exciting pilot project), there is still much to discover in Paul as far as his halakhic and other Jewish heritage is concerned. This book is not yet the collection of essays that would tackle that problem.

4. Back to reception studies, The Sword of Judith is a delightful panoply of articles on the reception and transmission of the Judith story in the Jewish, Christian, and dramatic traditions (yes, you read that right). It is an interesting approach, bringing together surveys that are very text-oriented (e.g. Deborah L. Gera’s “The Jewish Textual Traditions” with a list of medieval Jewish Judith stories) with the more esoteric, such as “Judith in Baroque Oratorio” (David Marsh). I wonder if there is any possibility for these kinds of studies in other areas – perhaps a book on rabbinics in Israeli film? An study of the reception of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1950s Israel? Roni Shweka, perhaps?

Hopefully, soon, I will make time for the five dissertations that await their rightful place in the blog post about  them, entitled “Purity and Dissertation.”

English, Recent Publications

Demons in the Outfield

Ishay Rosen-Zvi, the man who brought us the new and improved Sotah ritual, has published his second book, Demonic Desires (not to be confused with another book with the same title). Some of the chapters have previously been published as articles, but the book as a whole gives a full, updated and comprehensive picture of its subject: a detailed and meticulous study of the Yetzer Hara.

The book, in essence, tackles one of the most entrenched myths in the academic study of Jewish sources, since many years before Carnal Israel: that Judaism, historically, is a sex-positive religion.

Rosen-Zvi’s book does not actually say that is what it does – in fact all it claims to do is analyze all the occurrences of yetzer hara in Tannaitic and Amoraic literature (he does not include Tanhuma, for example, or Avot deRabbi Natan). Along the way he comes across three startling conclusions:

  1. The yetzer has a very humble beginning in Tannaitic literature. In the school of R. Akiva, following much of Second Temple Literature, yetzer hara is just another word for “thoughts” or “heart” or “mind”. However, in the school of R. Ishmael, the yetzer is a much more wily and cunning adversary.
  2. This Evil Inclination, the yetzer, is not a rabbinic euphemism for the Freudian Id. It is not part of the person – it is a foreign intruder into the person. It is this yetzer that became current in Amoraic literature.
  3. This yetzer has nothing to do with sex. Nothing at all. It wants people to sin, yes, but it is not a “blind appetite” or just an “inclination” towards the evil; it leads its hosts to every kind of sin it can think of. Most often towards slacking off in Torah study.

This is the claim, and a full review will of course tackle every part of this claim, including the amazing comparative work Rosen-Zvi does with Patristic – especially monastic-literature, expanding on the work of Michal Bar-Asher Siegal. The clincher, however, comes at the end. We know that we think that the yetzer is sexual. So where does that come from? It comes both from the anonymous stratum of the Bavli – both anonymous statements and the give-and-take of the sugya – and from stories in the Bavli. These two come together *in this case* (Rosen-Zvi is careful not to haphazardly say anything about a “Stammaitic Culture”, a very dubious term in his opinion) to form a new image of the yetzer.

The yetzer is turned into sex; but the imagery of the yetzer as a powerful adversary, that can and should be vanquished, that the righteous can kill, and that should be exorcised like a demon, remains in place.

And so, it is no longer really tov meod to have an evil yetzer; it is in fact very bad. When sex is equated with the yetzer, per se, not as a kind of sin, it too becomes very bad. The prayers and admonitions to the yetzer that it leave us alone becomes admonitions not against sin but against sex. Not very positive.

This is, in my opinion, the coolest part of Rosen-Zvi’s exhaustive and authoritative book. Unlike other books in the field, halakha and aggada are discussed together, and all the sources are brought to the table. It can safely be said that it tackles all the occurrences of the term and says something about each one. The various roles and guises of the yetzer are mapped out and neatly laid on a time-line, and also flagged when they fail to fit a neat pattern, which Rosen-Zvi will readily admit (but that happens very rarely; one such instance is the famous mishnah at the end of m. Berakhot on yetzer tov and  yetzer ra; Rosen-Zvi says the “dual yetzer” school of thought is quite marginal in the rest of rabbinic literature).

A real review is in the works for the near future; stay tuned!

Disclosure: Ishay is not only a dear friend, and a teacher and mentor, but also my employer for the past number of years; I have worked on this book, as well as several other projects, for him.

English, Readings

Total Disaster

The word אסון is quite rare in the Hebrew Bible. It appears in Genesis 42:38 and 44:19, where it refers to Jacob’s fear of Benjamin’s death. It also appears in the oft-quoted and frequently debated law of the two fighting men who hurt a pregnant woman in Exodus 21:22-23. Neither locus is very good for explaining what the word means exactly, apart from something bad. To make matters worse, in Exodus – the only legal context in which the word appears– the Septuagint goes uncharacteristically off-script and does not translate the term but rather the sentiment of the law. (In Genesis it translates malakisthênai, which probably means “to succumb [to death]; cf. Xenophon Cyropaideia 2.3.3).

In their distress, dictionaries also include several references to Hebrew Ben Sirah: these are supposed to help, since they are in Hebrew, and they are also translated into Greek and Syriac. The Septuagint of Sirach sometimes translates אסון as thanatos, death, but in one place (34:22-23/LXX 31:22-23) the meaning in Ben Sirah is more general:

[…] בכל מעשיך היה צנוע. וכל אסון לא יגע בך.

Be modest in all your doings/and no אסון will touch you

The Septuagint here translates אסון as arrôstêma, a sicknes or illness, and not simply “death”. This is related to the meaning that survived in modern Hebrew, “disaster.” The Biblical meaning of the word – in Genesis and Exodus – is still unclear.

The verse from Ben Sirah, however, had an interesting afterlife in the Palestinian version of the grace after meals. In a geniza fragment (T-S NS 122.39, no picture on Friedberg), we find a rhyme:

ורצון תעטרינו. ומזון תשבעינו. ואסון העביר מקרבינו.

כי אתה הוא יוצרינו וזונינו וזן את הכל.

Crown us with your benevolence, and satiate us with food, and remove אסון from us

For you are our creator and our feeder, and feeder of all [things].

The choice of the word אסון is interesting. The word rarely appears in the Talmuds, and when it does it is quoted from scripture, mostly Exodus. Additionally, here אסון does not seem to mean “death”, rather something more general, an antonym of רצון. And why choose אסון for the grace after meals? Why not something that rhymes just the same and makes more sense in context, like רזון or חרון?

The wording of the blessing is best explained by the immediate context of the word in Ben Sirah; the verse immediately following is

טוב על לחם תברך שפה. עדות טובו נאמנה.

Good (LXX: clearly, lampron) bless bread with lips/the testimony of his good faith.

The verse on “modesty” is in fact a heading for a list of instructions on how to eat and how to bless, and is situated after a segment called מוסר יין ולחם, The Teaching of Wine and Bread. The composer of this blessing knew Ben Sirah, and read וכל אסון לא יגע בך in the context of the blessing for food.

This snippet of Ben Sirah joins other prayers which are based on or influenced by Ben Sirah, such as מראה כהן, said at the end of the Ashkenazi Avoda Service on the day of Atonement, based on Ben Sirah 51, שבח אבות עולם.  Perhaps the entire Avoda Service itself is also based on the same chapter in many ways, but that is for another time and another post.

English, Recent Publications

Laughing Last

The Oz Vehadar edition of the Yerushalmi has hit the shelves. Apparently it happened last year, but nobody told me. It is nothing short of revolutionary.

The edition itself has been circulating for a number of years now, as the other side of the Artscroll Yerushalmi, but the full edition contains some treats.

First, a preface. The editors review the history of the printing of the Yerushalmi, and list all the commentaries and their sources – which they say they checked against the MSS. They neglect of course to give credit where it is due (MS Escorial of the Yerushalmi was “discovered” in 1977; Hilkhot Hayerushalmi, attributed to Maimonides – perhaps written in his hand – are quoted, but no word about how they were discovered. The first should have been attributed to E.S. Rosenthal, the latter to Saul Lieberman). They also put the text of ed. Venice at the center of the page, noting that MS Leiden was full of mistakes (echoing none other than Zacharias Frankel). The preface also contains an explanation of why it is important to learn Yerushalmi, and what the differences between the Bavli and the Yerushalmi are. The list of Yerushalmi terminology culled from Frankel’s Mevo Hayerushalmi, found in ed. Vilna, is conspicuously missing.

Second, the edition also comes with an incredible upgrade to Baer Ratner’s Ahavat Ziyyon Virushalaim: all the medieval authorities (their names cover a six page list, in three columns) who quoted the sugya or wrote on it are cited and quoted in full. There are no critical notes, and the editions – or MSS – should of course be checked, but this is an amazing step forward. (J. N. Epstein tried to do this almost eighty years ago, and the index cards that were salvaged from Mt. Scopus – the Israeli soldiers used to roll tobacco in them – are the basis of a continuing project by Yaakov Sussman to finish the work. A sample of this work can be found at the end of Haym Soloveitchik’s Hayayin Biyemei Habeinayyim). (Another similar tool, which also provides references to scholarly literature – mostly in Hebrew – can be found here).

Third, the editors are aware of the various MSS of the Yerushalmi, and even some genizah fragments. The latter were known already in ed. Vilna (1924) and are quoted as variants at the bottom of the page. I haven’t checked systematically, and the publishers do not mention if they have other geniza fragments. I suspect that they don’t. Variants from MS Leiden, Vatican, and Escorial are quoted in the margins of the Yerushalmi page.

The page layout itself was changed, and the publishers assure us that this was done in consultation with the Gedolim.
With or without the Gedolim, the set is not yet finished, and the size of the volumes is hulking – the Yerushalmi is printed three times in each volume, each time with a different set of commentaries. The full edition of Zeraim is nine volumes. This would mean about 20 volumes in all. The price tag (NIS 110/volume) is also quite hefty. Despite these shortcomings, this is a serious step forward towards making serious Yerusalmi scholarship easier and more comfortable to do. All we need now is the geniza fragments.

English, Technology

Hebrew Manuscripts Galore

And now for some more good digitization news from Israel.
Yisrael Dubitsky of the National Library of Israel announces:

We are delighted to announce that The National Library of Israel’s online catalogue now includes more than 2000 linked records to freely available digitized Hebrew manuscripts online (post-dating the Dead Sea Scrolls) from institutions around the world. These represent many more Judaica records than are currently available through either the Digital Scriptorium,  the Catalogue of Digitized Medieval Manuscripts  or similar digitized manuscript aggregators.

The link for the National Library of Israel catalog is http://jnul.huji.ac.il/heb/aleph500.
Find your MS under כתבי יד or Manuscripts, and if there is a digital image, you will find a link – if they have it!

English, Recent Publications

Redaction and Reconstruction

Two  articles on redaction in the Tannaitic corpus that is not Mishnah were recently published. I thought that each exemplified an interesting facet of the reembracement of source criticism in recent years.

The first is Yoav Rosenthal’s article in Tarbiz 79, on an interesting phenomenon in the MSS of the Tosefta. Rosenthal’s work focuses on the “recent afterlife” of texts; something analogous to the search for “historical traditions about Jesus from the first 48 hours after resurrection”; although he contends that rabbinic works are in fact made of discreet sources, they are not always readily found. The only “rigourous” tools we have are the MSS, which rarely give away the secrets of actual redaction. They’re better at finding the first baby steps the text made when it was being transmitted.

In what might be his most influential work yet, Yoav Rosenthal brings to light some gems first discovered by Adiel Schremer. Rosenthal claims he has found footnotes in Tosefta, which become apparent when comparing the two extant MSS of this work. In some rare instances, a clump of halakhot will be found at the end of the chapter in one MS, and in the middle in another. Rosenthal shows that this clump of halakhot is a commentary on one halakha in the chapter of Tosefta that does not “move around” in the MS tradition, or an addendum to it.

This of course opens the door to the possibilities that (a) there are more such places, but they cannot be found in the MS tradition, and (b) that the Tosefta is made up of multiple layers, and that it was an open text for a certain amount of time.

This should be distinguished from true “redaction”, i.e. the creation of a new text out of sources already available to the redactor. This phenomenon was recently astutely detected in Tosefta Sanhedrin 7 by Ishay Rosen-Zvi, and deserves its own treatment.

A completely different take on the question of redaction is Steven Fraade’s “Anonymity and Redaction in Rabbinic Midrash”, published in the recently-noted Melekhet Mahshevet. In a conference conducted two years before Moulie Vidas suggested that the Stam was being anonymous on purpose, Fraade made the same observations regarding the anonymous material in the Mekhilta. Fraade notes that since Halivni and Friedman popularized the idea that the Bavli is made of different strata, very few scholars have attempted (in print, at any rate) to apply the same tools to other rabbinic texts.

Fraade suggests that it makes less of a difference whether or not the anonymous parts are earlier or later than the named ones, and that the bigger and more interesting task is to parse the effect this combination of multivocality and monovocality has on the reader. Do many names carry more or less weight than one text speaking with no names; and what is the effect of the combination?

In order to do this he read through a sizable chunk of Mekhilta nezikin, and presents the reader with a detailed discussion of parasha 4 in which he points out that the named statements in this midrash are “interlopers in a text that otherwise seems to glory in its anonymity”. He suggests that their names are presented in order to point out the partiality of the single opinions against the redacted text, brought into the debate to highlight the overarching anonymous pedagogical move that is Stam Mekhilta.

Fraade himself sees this article as the beginning of a project; as someone who is already laboring on several readings of parashot of midrash, his insight on the effect of the final redacted product on the early reader is an invaluable tool. I would, however, also focus on actual source criticism, which is easier to employ in Midrash, with all of its rules, terms and patterns, than in Mishnah, Tosefta or Talmudim.

In a way, this reading too is a study on the short-term afterlife of the text: what did the composer mean for the first audience to hear? What would the first – or third – teacher of this text transmit to his students? Are these questions better or are they in fact just a shying away from the old (“protestant”) questions of redaction and source criticism?