Around the Web, English, Ruminations

Defending the Talmud in the Digital Age: Four Reflections

1. When we relaunched The Talmud Blog, back in 2011, I set a Google reminder for the word “Talmud.” After all, we claimed to provide “Talmudic news, reviews, currents and criticism,” and what better way to stay current than with handy email reminders from the indexers of the Internet. At the time, the Internet was a simpler place, or at least so it seemed. We may have had our suspicions of the influence of Facebook and ad tech on our lives, but certainly not to the extent that we do now. Rather quickly, however, I discovered that my expectations of the Google alert were rather naïve: the vast majority of the material on Talmud that Google dredged up for me in daily emails could best be described as anti-Semitic drivel. Continue reading

Around the Web, English

A Synopsis of the Entire Talmud

Few texts present philologists with as many difficulties as the Babylonian Talmud, whose complicated transmission history – oral and written, spanning centuries and continents – has created countless conundrums that we are only now beginning to understand. At the same time, scholars dispute the proper way to understand the development of the text of the Bavli, meaning that opinions vary with regards to the proper way in which one should explain a difference in the Talmudic text: Is this event a consequence of fluidity during an early stage of oral transmission, or is it perhaps a later interpolation of a learned scribe? Such differences between textual witnesses of the Bavli are countless, and the different scholarly attempts to approach them are related to different ways of understanding how the Talmud developed over time. Thus, the close study of thousands of differences between manuscript versions of the Bavli not only helps explain the sugya at hand, but also sheds light on the development of the Bavli itself. Continue reading

Around the Web, English, Technology

Updates to the Lieberman Databases

I can’t claim to be much of a sports guy. Yes, I enjoy running, and I joined a makeshift ultimate frisbee team at my highschool for a couple of months (we were doomed from the get go- when it came to frisbee, the Modern-Orthodox kids were nothing compared to those from the Conservative day schools; why, I do not know), but that is pretty much the extent of my athletic career. I also cannot say that I follow sports all that much, and perhaps the two are tied together. But still, when it comes to the Olympics, I always end up watching my fair share, more out of awe for the amazing feats of athleticism than out of allegiance for the teams of my two home countries. Most amazing to me is seeing how athletes have progressed over the years, setting new records in almost every sport. While I try and shy away from claims of historical progress, these concrete numbers show that humans really are getting better at performing very specific actions, like “snatching188kg weights.

In the realm of academic Talmud, the bar is also constantly being raised. If only a few decades ago it was completely legitimate to cite in an academic article the Munich manuscript of the Bavli by quoting from Rabinowitz‘s Dikdukei Sofrim, nowadays that would never fly. Rabinowitz’s Dikdukei Sofrim was one of the most influential projects on Talmud study ever (its ambition, however, cost Rabinowitz his life, as he passed away while travelling in Russia to find more Talmudic manuscripts). The situation today is decidely different. From the comfort of an iPad, one can access many more manuscripts than Rabinowitz could ever have dreamed of seeing, and the Dikdukei Sofrim is now mainly used to see what girsa was before each rishonOne who wishes to employ philological methods in studying a sugya now how has a couple of tools for consultation:

Prof. Saul Lieberman

Perhaps the most heavily relied on tool of all, which may deserve more credit, is the Lieberman Institute’s Sol and Evelyn Henkind Talmud Text Database. Named for Prof. Saul Lieberman, the institute has been serving the world of academic Talmud for almost a generation. The Institute’s head, Prof. Shamma Friedman, has informed us that since the database went online last year, replacing the 5th CD-ROM version, it has gone through numerous enhancements in terms of how much material it contains. The website now has almost 1,330 transcriptions of genizah fragments and 300 transcriptions of complete manuscripts, transcribed by a team of dozens of scholars over the past few decades. Another addition are the almost 3,000 high-resolution images of the Mishnah and Talmud. About thirty institutions of higher learning are already subscribed. Along with the website of the Academy for the Hebrew Language and Bar-Ilan’s free Tannaim website, the database ensures that almost all of Rabbinic Literature has been transcribed according to the best manuscripts and is readily available online. Many scholars choose to copy from these databases and then check the transcriptions against photographs of the actual manuscripts, while some still insist on transcribing the manuscript evidence all on their own.

An example of the proper etiquette for citing transcriptions of rabbinic texts available online.

Another, and perhaps even more significant, feature of the Lieberman database is its sophisticated search engine. The possibility of using the Lieberman website to perform searches greatly enhances one’s ability to clarify many issues and phenomena across almost every manuscript and genizah fragment of the Bavli.

For years, alongside the CD-ROM version of the text database, the Lieberman Institute produced a CD-ROM of a “Bibliographical Index”. Similar to Moshe Pinchuk’s site on the Yerushalmi, the index lists secondary literature that relates to specific passages of rabbinic literature. For example- someone looking to find secondary literature on a sugya that they are working on can simply punch in the daf number and immediatley receive references to academic works that deal with it. This database is also set to launch as a website, which will allow for constant upgrading by users and will link to the secondary material that is available online. The index includes the Mishnah, Tosefta, Bavli, and Yerushalmi. A preliminary list of the material included is available here.

These databases, which will continue to grow with the help of user input and future technological advancements, will further serve scholars for years to come, ensuring the continued rise of the academic standard to new records. Come 2016, who knows what we will be able to do.

Around the Web, English, Technology

Some Useful New Websites

Some new sites have gone up over the past couple of weeks that might be of use to our readers.

The first, brought to our attention by Talmud Blog reader and commentor Zohar, is the Israel National Library’s new website of Rabbinic Manuscripts. This site replaces the old one ( with a new interface and- perhaps most importantly- the Leiden manuscript of the Yerushalmi, browasable by the pagination of the Venice edition.

The site is still in beta version and they are looking for feedback. Feel free to leave your thoughts on the interface here in the comments section and we’ll make sure to pass them on to the library. Personally, I would prefer an option to search the Yerushalmi by chapter and halakha, and also that they list the folio numbers of the manuscripts. Regardless, users should be aware that much higher quality images of the Leiden manuscript are availble on the website of its home library (easily accesable here). The only problems with that site is that it’s hard to navigate and the pictues take a long time to load- ideally one could find the folio that she needs using the NLI interface, and then just open up the bigger picture on the Leiden site if need be. Also, for manuscripts with wide lines (like Leiden), the viewing window is relatively small. [The site still isn’t linked to that of the Munich library, whose manuscripts can be accesed from there or via the NLI catalog].

The Syriacists over at Harvard’s Dumbarton Oaks research institute have compiled a useful site: “Resources for Syriac Studies– an annotated collection of free and open source books, journals, and more related to the study of Syriac.” Kishmo kein hu– the site lists and describes dozens of PDFs of books available for free online that relate to all aspects of Syriac. I haven’t gone through everything yet, but it seems like they did quite a good job of finding all that’s out there. Many of these items should be of interest to Talmudists, from those who are just getting interested in Syriac (for whom I’d suggest starting with Brock’s A Brief Outline of Syriac Literature), and to those who already turn to Syriac frequently (see R. Payne Smith’s Thesaurus Syriacus).


Around the Web, Conferences, English

The APJ’s Symposium on Halakha (Jewish Law) and Philosophy of Law: Authority, Halakha, and the ‘Official Vigilante’

We just got this announcement from the Association for the Philosophy of Judaism‘s (APJ) Aaron Segal:

The Association for the Philosophy of Judaism is pleased to invite all interested parties to its forthcoming online symposium on halakha (Jewish law) and the philosophy of law (21-28 March), which will take place on its new site The symposium is entitled “Authority, Halakha, and the Official Vigilante,” and will center around a discussion of the problems of authority and law in relation to Mishna Sanhedrin 9:6, in particular the rule that zealots may attack the Jewish man who is having sexual relations with a Gentile woman. On March 20th materials will be posted on the new website which will contain some discussion of the issues by the symposium participants Sari Kisilevsky (CUNY), Ken Ehrenberg (SUNY), and Laliv Clenman (Leo Baeck). Of particular relevance will be the following texts: Mishna Sanhedrin 9:6, Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 81b-82b, and Palestinian Talmud Sanhedrin 27b.  

Please contact with any questions.

Their old site, Philosophy of Judaism, hosted quite a few interesting symposia and discussions. Hopefully in their new home they’ll be able to reach even more readers.

Around the Web, English

Two New Online Resources (Around the Web-January 11, 2012)

We’ll be back to blogging as usual, although the discussion of Demonic Desires will continue.  Stay tuned for Ishay’s response and for announcements regarding the next Book Club.

A group of mainly British scholars have started to put together an online resource for the teaching and study of Jewish/Non-Jewish Relations.  From the announcement:

The complex relationship between Jews and non-Jews lies at the heart of teaching Jewish Studies at university level.  A new online teaching resource provides access to a broad range of primary sources and high-quality commentaries by experts in the field, addressing the perceived lack of an easily accessible body of sources, which specifically deal with relations between Jews and non-Jews from a historical and contemporary perspective.

Brouria Bitton-Ashkelony of Hebrew University’s department of Comparative Religion and its Center for the Study of Christianity has officially announced the release of two online bibliographies available on the Center’s website: one on Christianity in Palestine/Eretz-Israel and the other on Syriac Christianity.  The four separate browse options (author, year, keyword and era) and the search option mean that the bibliographies are quite easy to navigate.

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.

Around the Web, English


In its continued mission “to organize the world’s information and make it accessible and useful”, Google, in partnership with the Israel Museum, has developed an absolutely beautiful and powerful site for the viewing of the following Dead Sea scrolls:

  • The Great Isaiah Scroll
  • The Temple Scroll
  • The War Scroll
  • The Community Rule Scroll
  • The Commentary on Habakkuk Scroll
Google plans on digitizing more scrolls and fragments in order to eventually create “the first comprehensive and searchable database of the broader collection of scrolls“.

I haven’t spent this much time on Google since they re-digitized PacMan!

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.”

Around the Web, English

Essential Languages for the Study of Rabbinic Literature

The Early Christianity blogosphere has been abuzz discussing which languages one needs in order to study The New Testament. I thought we should take a stab at raising the discussion with regards to Rabbinic literatures. Here’s my attempt, broken down into different sub-fields (DISCLAIMER: I am a student at the Hebrew University):

  • Palestinian:
    • Primary: JPA, Greek, Latin, Syriac
    • Secondary: German
  • Babylonian: 
    • Primary: JBA (RBA), Greek, Middle Persian, Syriac, Latin
    • Secondary: German, French
  • Medieval:
    • Primary: Arabic, Latin
    • Secondary: German

Knowledge of Biblical, Rabbinic, and Modern Hebrew are taken for granted, although a deeper familiarity through coursework or grammars is also important.