Announcements, English

The Academy

A lot has changed since my father called me into his office at Children’s Hospital, some two decades ago, to show me something called “The World Wide Web”. The adolescent gaming nerd that I was, I pictured some kind of apocalyptic computer game about venomous spiders that harbored imperialistic designs. Actually, the truth was far more eschatological, and depending on your perspective, apocalyptic, than I could ever have imagined. The Internet has changed Everything. It is the proverbial dramatic event that casts a shadow over every utterance, every thought in its wake.

Since its inception, the Talmud Blog has endeavored to create a new kind of discourse in the field of Rabbinics, and hopefully beyond. It partially grew out of a dissatisfaction with the spaces available for scholarly communication. For some of us, the sparring articles in journals and books, the hidden footnotes, the local symposia, and the bigger conferences, are too slow and not dynamic enough. With the development and perfection of social networking tools, the future is now.

As a portal to the future, The Talmud Blog is now hosting a number of “Special Projects.” Here, we’ll be presenting new spaces for dialogue. One is The Book Club, where we will be discussing recent books.  Another project is a new kind of forum for scholarly conversation among Talmudists, called ‘The Academy‘.  It is essentially a closed ‘circle’ on Google+, where free-flowing conversation can take place among specialists. We started a pilot version (The Academy 1.0) with a dozen guinea-pig Talmudists, and it has been quite a success. We’re now opening up the Beta version. If you’re a critically trained and producing (that is, publishing) Talmudist, now is the time to participate in this cutting-edge endeavor. And we need you to make this project a success.

To get started, open a Google+ account for yourself, and fill in your areas of expertise and/or academic interest in the relevant spots in your profile. Make sure you activate the ability to receive messages.  Create a Google+ circle called ‘The Academy.’  Then, search for “Resh Metivta”  in the Google+ search bar, and add him as a friend in the academy circle. Once you do that we’ll send you an e-mail with further instructions.  We look forward to seeing you at the Academy, where you can spin your own talmudic web.

Announcements, Around the Web, English

Around the Web and Around Town- November 30, 2011

Yes, we know, it’s been a while since our last around the web post.  This is mainly due to our Twitter feed, which has been covering a lot of internet based Talmudic going-ons.  If you want to stay up-to-date, make sure you regularly check the feed on the sidebar.

Princeton Tigers Logo.svgFirst, in local news, we’d like to give a big Talmud Blog welcome to the most recent addition to our staff- Sarit Kattan-Gribetz!  Sarit joins us from the Religion Department of Princeton University, where she is working towards her PhD.

Yeshiva University reference librarian Zvi Erenyl has put together a handy guide for users of his library looking to research Ancient Judaism.  Many of the links that he has compiled in the guide’s different sections (Primary Sources: Jewish, Epigraphy, Archaeology, etc.) are to fully open-access sites, and most of the rest should be accessible through any university library.  Along with Zvi’s blurbs on each resource, the site is a valuable tool for all.

As blogged by Menachem Mendel, The Schocken Institute for Jewish Studies of the Jewish Theological Seminary is now running an ebookstore.  The price is definitely right for the majority of the titles, for example: Moshe Assis’ A Concordance of Amoraic Terms, Expressions and Phrases in the Yerushalmi is selling for fifteen dollars a volume as an ebook, as opposed to the $145 for the three volume set in print.  Some books have also been out of print for sometime, such as Lieberman’s Sifre Zuta/Talmuda shel Keisarin, and the Facsimile edition of MS JTSA No. 44830 to Avodah Zarah prepared by Abramson.  It seems like they are still adding books.  Personally, I would love to be able to download Finkelstein’s facsimile of the Sifra according to Codex Assemani LXVI.  Menachem Mendel pointed out that the site doesn’t have any information on the electronic format of the books. I called Schocken up to ask them, and it turns out that the books are available in PDF.  Still, they weren’t sure about printing options, searchability, and whether one could open the files up on multiple computers.  After purchasing and downloading one of the files,  I can tell you that there is no search, but that the volumes can be opened on as many computers as you would like and can printed with no problem.

Two exhibits going on now in New York that are related to Talmudic literature should be of interest to our readers. They have both been covered heavily online over the past few months, but just in case you missed them, here they are:

1) “The Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Biblical Times” exhibit at Discovery Times Square makes the Scrolls seem much more exciting than the Shrine of the Book does.  Even better, the exhibit saves the trip to the Kotel.

2) “Edge of Empires: Pagans, Jews, and Christians at Roman Dura-Europos” at the museum of New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World displays artifacts from the Yale University Art Gallery.  I managed to visit before I returned to Israel a few months ago and I highly suggest going.  While cleaning up the blog recently, we even came across the post-which-never-was:

“This is so incredible!”, sighed the pony-tailed man in the exhibition’s opening hall.  As the only other visitor there at the time, it was clear that he was talking to me, and I acknowledged the power of what was on display.  “And it’s so incredible that we’re here at the same time.  I mean, I’m an Orthodox priest, and you must be an Orthodox Jew- what better way to look at these artifacts!”.

After briefly sharing our names and points of origin- he had driven from North Carolina to see the exhibit- our conversation quickly turned to the Gospels’ Jewish context.  It turned out that my new friend the priest was a big believer in the importance of studying early Christianity’s Jewish context, and I got to telling him about the tenents of the Jerusalem School (I suggested he read Flusser and Notley’s The Sage From Galilee).  His exclamation that sparked the conversation was correct.  Seeing the map of Dura Europos and noting the proximity of the town’s synagoguehouse church, and Mithraeum, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the multiethnicity of the city’s blocks.

The exhibit’s two rooms are filled with quite an array of artifacts from Dura, displaying aspects of daily life in the city and especially, ritual life.  The collection, as has been noted on many other online forums, brings together objects from all diferent religious walks of life.  One room also is also lined with black and white photos of Yale’s 1930s digs, many of which are available on their site.

As the catalog admits, the exhibit’s goal is not “to provide a comprehensive historical overview of Dura-Europos”, but to focus on Dura “as a strategic Roman garrison-city, and the ways in which this role created a pluralistic urban society”.  The exhibit accomplishes this more modest goal exquisitely.

Announcements, English

Pet Projects

I am involved in two new and exciting projects at Hebrew U that although at some distance from academic Talmud, may be of interest to some readers of this blog.  The first is the Group for the Study of Late Antiquity organized by Uriel Simonsohn and I.  This is a series of working seminars for late antiquists at Hebrew U and other Israeli universities to get together, read texts and discuss new research projects over wine and cheese.  Each meeting will be lead by a different scholar working on a different corner  of the field.  The first meeting will be held next week on Wednesday November 30.

With Domenico Agostini and Eva Kiesele I also have begun a project of reading and translating a fascinating Middle Persian text entitled Zand ­fragard ī jud-dēw-dād.  This text lay languishing in manuscript (and facsimile) until quite recently, when Goetz Koenig discussed it at an Iranian studies conference, and Yaakov Elman, P. Oktor Skjaervo, Mahnaz Moazami, Yishai Kiel, and I were drawn to it – mainly  on account of its legal sophistication. This is a work that bears some as yet undefined relationship to the Pahlavi Videvdad – a Zoroastrian Middle Persian translation and “midrash” on an Avestan book of that name largely concerned with the laws of ritual impurity. Aside from its rabbinic-like legal conceptualization and reasoning, I have already written about its great potential for illuminating the way in which Middle Persian texts were redacted during the Sasanian and early Islamic period, and perhaps even the Bavli. Before anything, however, we need to carefully read through all 250 pages of it.

Announcements, English

The Book Club

Over the next few weeks the Talmud Blog will be launching some exciting new ventures.  One of these is “The Book Club” – a space where a recent and significant book in the field will be discussed by readers of the Talmud Blog. Each Book Club discussion will be lead by a different discussion leader, and later on in the discussion the book’s author will have an opportunity to weigh in as well.  We will announce the name of the book six weeks in advance in order to give people time to read the book carefully.  When possible, we will try to arrange a discount to purchase the book (though often the most affordable way to read academic books is at your local academic library).  The only rules for participation are reading the book before commenting and observing the Talmud Blog’s normal commenting etiquette.

The first Book Club meeting at the Talmud Blog will discuss Ishay Rosen-Zvi, Demonic Desires: “Yetzer Hara” and the Problem of Evil in Late Antiquity (Philadelphia, 2011).  Readers receive a 20% discount by using the code P2B8 when shopping at the UPenn website.  We hope to open space for discussion on December 15, 2011, which will be accessible as a tab on the main menu.

Looking forward to this exciting endeavor!

Announcements, Around the Web, English

Around the Web- September 20, 2011

First, in local news, we’d like to formally announce the opening of our Twitter account. You can now follow us @TalmudBlog. Thanks to our handy-dandy twitter-widget, our updates appear on the blog itself as well.

The new issue of the “Safranim’s Blog” just came out. The Hebrew language blog brings together the wise words of various Jewish Studies librarians from around Israel. This issue seems to be geared toward Rosh haShanah.

An Israeli organization called “Matmonei Aretz” (“מטמוני ארץ”) announced “the establishment of a Talmudic Museum in Jerusalem”.  The museum is dedicated to emulating the every day life of the Rabbis and is based on the scholarship of Prof. Ze’ev Safrai.

In related news, The Forward’s Philologos explains the meaning of the phrase “yarchei kallah” (h/t). The author seems to be unaware of the theory put forth by I. Gafni in his article “Nestorian Works as a Source for the History of the Yeshivot of Babylonia” (Tarbiz 51), on pages 572-73. Here’s a preview of Gafni’s theory:

אין צורך לומר, שגם מטבעות־לשון וביטויים הקשורים לעולם הלימוד יכלו לנוע במסגרת הממלכה הססאנית מדיאלקט ארמי אחד למשנהו. כאן ראוי להעיר — אמנם בדרך של השערה בלבד — על מושג מעניין, המופיע בתקנות בית־הספר בנציבין. בידוע, רבו ההשערות בדבר האטימולוגיה והמשמעויות הראשוניות של תיבת ׳כלה׳ בתלמוד ובספרות הגאונים, הן כתיבה בודדת והן בצירופיה השונים: ׳ריש כלה׳, ׳בני כלה׳, ׳יומי דכלה׳ ועוד. והנה, בתקנות נציבין נזכר כמה פעמים, כי התלמידים מתגוררים ב׳קליתא׳…

PaleoJudaica referred his readers to the The New York Times’ mention of a new exhibit on the Dead Sea Scrolls opening up in New York this October. From The Times:

The producers describe the show as one of the most comprehensive of its kind ever mounted; it will also include an in-scale re-creation of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, with a three-ton block of stone from the wall itself.

The following item isn’t news per se, but I did come across it recently and it is located somewhere “around the web”. includes dozens of interesting PDFs on, well, Islamic manuscripts, found in its “reference” section. The site also has some Jewish Studies classics like M. Beit-Arie’s Hebrew Codicology. Due to copyright issues, “all publications… have a read-only restriction and cannot be printed.”

Announcements, English, Recent Publications

Recently Announced Books

Not just your everyday cereal bowl. From the Bible Lands Museum's exhibit on Jewish Magic.

Eisenbruans has announced a new volume of editions of magic bowls. Aramaic Bowl Spells: Jewish Babylonian Aramaic Bowls Volume One will include bowls from the very important Schøyen Collection, and is being edited by Shaul Shaked, J.N. Ford, and Siam Bhayro. Shaked is one of the foremost authorities on the bowls, and his work has culminated in a slew of articlestwo volumes, and numerous lectures. I had the pleasure of hearing Ford give a talk at a conference that Shai organized last May in which he highlighted many Mesopotamian motifs that he found in the bowls. To top it off, Bhayro brings his expertise on the heterogeneity of pre-Islamic Mesopotamia and on magic texts from the genizah to the volume, which indeed promises to fill a very big gap in printed scholarship.

It goes without saying that the bowls are of utmost importance to the study of Talmud, and especially of the Bavli. Besides the linguistic importance, noted decades ago by Epstein and others, the bowls represent an important window on “the everyday beliefs and practices of the Jewish, Christian, Mandaean, Manichaean, Zoroastrian and Pagan communities on the eve of the Islamic conquests.” For some free content on the topic see here (profile from the Stanford Archaeological Center), here (an article by bowl expert Dan Levine), here (a summary by Shai of a lecture given by Shaked on rabbinic bowls), and here (another summary at the old Talmud blog, of a lecture by Bhayro on divorce motifs in the bowls).

Eisenbraun’s also announced the third edition of Emanuel Tov’s “Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible“. In its newest edition, the book, published originally in Hebrew as part of the “אנציקלופדיה מקראית”,

has incorporated the insights of the last ten years of scholarship, including new perspectives on the biblical texts among the Dead Sea Scrolls, all of which have now been published. Here are expanded discussions of the contribution of textual criticism to biblical exegesis and of the role of scribes in the transmission of the text. The introduction and references throughout the book have been thoroughly revised with the beginning student of textual criticism in mind.

Many of Prof. Tov’s articles, and even some of his books, are available on his personal website.

Members of the Hebrew University Bible Project at work. Note the Talmud scholar in the red shirt.

Although this may sound a little too biblical for readers interested mainly in the Talmud, textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible is an invaluable tool for understanding exegetical moves made by the rabbis. There are many instances in which midrashim were based on a text different than that which is before us today in most editions of the Tanakh. Additionally, scholars of rabbinic literature have a lot to bring to textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible, and the volumes of the Hebrew University Bible Project even have a dedicated apparatus of quotes from rabbinic literature.

Announcements, Around the Web, English, Events

Talmud in the New World

The first- all-American- attempt at a critical edition of the Talmud

Since the early decades of the twentieth century, the bond between academic Talmud and America has been a strong one.  To name but a few highlights, Julius Kaplan published his  pioneering work on the redaction of the Babylonian Talmud, Solomon Shechter took up residence in the great city of New York, while Henry Malter published the first ever (semi-) critical edition of part of the Babylonian Talmud in Philadelphia in 1928.

The four current authors of this blog normally live in Israel, but are all visiting the United States for the summer.  We are all in transition.

Just the other day, Alan Brill responded to Tomer Persico and his classification of Brill’s blog as “American,” by wondering what it means to  be American, Israeli, or Maltese (added in honor of Henry) in a globalized, fiber-opticized world.   Brill also wondered how (and whether) the Talmud Blog is American, Israeli, or something else.  Some similar questions were raised back on the old Talmud blog, and they are crucial not just for sociological speculations, but related to this blog’s preoccupation with context.  Shai thought then, and continues to maintain, that regardless of the radical changes in our world, context continues to matter.

A lot of what the new wave of “contextual Talmudists” do, is make connections between textual (that is, non-material) things and probe their significance.  It’s a messy business and often difficult to argue or articulate which parallels are worth pursuing and what is a strangely coincidental set of characteristics. The problem plagues virtually every area of comparative historical research, but particularly of ancient times.  If everything in the room that I am now sitting in will vanish (as it one day will), save for a few, arbitrary objects, will anyone be able to reconstruct the feeling of sitting where I sit and breathing the air I breathe, watching the flashes of lightening across a charred Gotham sky, the pitter-patter of a soaking summer rain on the fast streets below? And yet scholars do it all the time, and occasionally get somewhere with the few things that remain. Of course the real interest is not in the texture of banal living, but in the world of thoughts, ideas, and religion. Against all odds, even this sometimes works.

Since we are traveling we would like to: a. ask for help from our Israeli readers; b. apologize for a relative slack in posting; and c. announce some upcoming Talmud Blog events.  Traveling and fasting (some of us preferred to do this simultaneously) has taken a toll and it will be a few days until we get back to a normal posting schedule. Regardless, we’ll have a tougher time keeping tabs on Talmudic goings-on in Israel, so we would appreciate if readers there could keep us posted via email of upcoming events in the Holy Land. For readers in the greater Teaneck area- Shai will be delivering a few shiurim at Congregation Rinat Yisrael on Shabbat Hazon. Yedidah and Amit can be heard on Tuesday nights on the Upper West Side of Manhattan at Mechon Hadar. Before I host Shai in Teaneck, I’ll be at Princeton for two weeks, where I hope to blog from Tikvah’s Undergraduate Summer Seminar.

For further discussion, see here. Also- don’t miss Manuscript Boy‘s exciting updates (days 1, 2, and 3) from the Books within Books colloquium on the European Genizah.

Announcements, English

And We’re Off

I’m proud to announce the opening of a new collective Talmud Blog. Here scholars of rabbinic literature will find announcements (of articles, new publications, conferences, and more); a curated list of links (in the “tools” section) for aiding in talmudic research; original posts that present new research; discussions of critical methodologies, and of course the French import even more beloved than “freedom fries” – Critique.

Detail from Berakhot 2a

The Vilna edition of the Babylonian Talmud begins on page 2a. In Heder they told us that this was because there is always more to learn. Or we might retell the myth by saying that everything we encounter has a pre-history. This blog is a re-imagined version of my now defunct Talmud Blog. I do hope that you, reader, will join us in this exciting enterprise and that you will contribute to the dialogue by posting comments, and where appropriate, guest posting. In that spirit, The Talmud Blog will begin its operations with a series of guest posts by our friend Ari Lamm, who is currently attending the International SBL meeting in London.

We are all very excited about embarking on this journey together.