Around the Web, English, Recent Publications

Another Synopsis Hits the Web

The Midrash Project of the Shechter Institute of Jewish Studies just added a synopsis of Midrash Qohelet Rabbah. The synopsis was put together by Shaul Barukhi under the guidance of Marc Hirshman and Reuven Kiperwasser, both of whom authored dissertations on Qohelet Rabbah (and in Kiperwasser’s case, also Qohelet Zuta). Hirshman is now at work on an edition of chapters 1-6.

Around the Web, English, Technology

Some Notes and Questions on Digitization (Around the Web- September 5, 2011)

The Sunday Book Review of the New York Times ran an article yesterday by Lev Grossman on the place of the e-book in relation to the scroll and codex. Grossman outlines what he sees as the weaknesses in reading from digital books by pointing out its parallels with reading from a scroll:

Trying to jump from place to place in a long document like a novel is painfully awkward on an e-reader, like trying to play the piano with numb fingers. You either creep through the book incrementally, page by page, or leap wildly from point to point and search term to search term. It’s no wonder that the rise of e-reading has revived two words for classical-era reading technologies: scroll and tablet. That’s the kind of reading you do in an e-book.

Having himself authored a book entitled Codex, Grossman prefers reading from a bound product like the codex:

The codex is built for nonlinear reading — not the way a Web surfer does it, aimlessly questing from document to document, but the way a deep reader does it, navigating the network of internal connections that exists within a single rich document like a novel. Indeed, the codex isn’t just another format, it’s the one for which the novel is optimized.

People studying Talmud, back in the day.

Which, naturally, leads one to think- “what about the Talmud?”. On the one hand, the book is almost uniformly studied from its Vilna Edition; on the other, its digitization has enabled unprecedented search capabilities which have furthered its study. To make it only more complicated, it seems as though the Talmud’s “authors”, whoever they may be, intended on an oral transmission. Some of the earliest genizah fragments of the Talmud are parts of scrolls, and although they probably saw codexes in the hands of Eastern Christians, the early disseminators of the Talmud could never foresee innovations such as the Vilna Sha”s, Bar-Ilan, or Ma’agarim. This preamble is just so that I can ask how you learn the Talmud- from printed book or computer screen, and why?

In related news, Mississippi Fred Macdowell has some helpful tips on “searching online in Hebrew with imperfect OCR“.

Finally, Yitz (not Landes) reviews the iMishnah app for iPhone and iPad over at Tzvee’s Talmud Blog. This Yitz doesn’t use iMishnah but is an avid iTalmud user. It’s well worth the money but I’m a little hesitant about iMishnah- it doesn’t promise much more than the free “ובלכתך בדרך” app, profiled here by Richard Hidary.

Around the Web, English, Technology

Websites on Manuscripts and Websites as Manuscripts

A Google ngram of the use of the word codicology throughout history. Notice how the graph parallels the work of Prof. Beit-Arié (Hattip- Shamma Friedman).

Recently, while casually surfing the web, I came across “a hilariously unsuccessful for-profit online education project” known as, which ran during the internet bubble. In a time when forecasts floated around saying that “distance education” would be “a $9 billion industry by 2003”, Columbia University and other formal and informal institutions of higher learning banded together to “provide high quality educational resources to a global audience through the Internet.” Although the site hasn’t been updated in a few years and a lot of the links are broken, its courses are still up (now for free), and include some in Jewish Studies. To my great delight I came across one entitled “An Introduction to Hebrew Manuscripts“, co-authored by an all-star cast made up of the art historians Joseph Gutmann and Evelyn M. Cohen; the former JTS librarian and professor of Medieval Hebrew Literature and Jewish Bibliography Menahem Schmelzer; and the preeminent codicologist Malachi Beit-Arié. Beit-Arié, who is professor emeritus at Hebrew University, a member of the Israeli Academy of Sciences and Humanities, and past director of the JNUL, is currently at work on a project to create an online database of codicological information collected by the Hebrew Palaeography Project. The “study of books as physical objects” is quite an important field to be familiar with when approaching the Talmud and I immediately read through the seminar’s four sessions.

course images

Prof. Christine Hayes teaching a Yale Open Course. Prof. Hayes now assigns her online lectures to her current Intro to the Old Testament students.

Yet while reading about the different ways in which Jews have transmitted knowledge on paper I could not help but think of how I was learning all of this from a format which had in itself become passé. Within a decade of its publication, the really excellent seminar had already fallen by the way side as its medium fell out of use. Online learning still exists, but in slightly different formats, through the extremely successful iTunes University and Academic Earth. Except for podcasts like Prof. Michael Satlow‘s series “From Israelite to Jew“, most online courses nowadays are video or audio recordings of actual university courses. Both iTunesU and Academic Earth really have a huge amount of valuable information (with some overlap), but only a limited amount of Jewish Studies courses, which is why I was surprised to see that Fathom even had a Jewish Studies section on its site. A couple of years ago my friends and I discovered Prof. Christine Hayes’ online course “Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible)” and we were bothered that we could find practically no other full courses in Jewish Studies. Yeshiva University has a few academic lectures available on iTunes U and the Orthodox adult education organization “Torah in Motion” also has a number of academic lectures available for a dollar or two each. In Hebrew, the Youtube channel of Hebrew U has a few lectures worth watching, like Prof. Avigdor Shinan’s Introduction to Aggadic Literature and videos of the last World Congress of Jewish Studies. Still, this is scarce when compared to both the plethora of other courses available in the humanities and the amount of money which goes into Jewish Studies in the academy. When the number of potential listeners is also taken into account, it is pretty surprising that more Jewish Studies courses or guest lectures aren’t available online.

Perhaps students of Jewish Studies would do well to take the cue from Prof. Beit-Arié and try and curate a website based database that brings together links to the various free courses available online. Such a collection would not only make finding what is already available easier, but might convince more institutions to take part in online learning.

Around the Web, English, Guest Posts, Technology

Some Less-Well-Known-but-Useful Electronic Resources- Guest Post by Richard Hidary

iPad Screenshot 2

Screenshot of the Accordance app for iPad.

This guest post is by Talmudblog friend Richard Hidary, who runs the extremely helpful website

1. ובלכתך בדרך is a free iPad and iPhone app with lots of rabbinic and halakhic works and much more, just search for “onyourway” in the app store.

2. Accordance is not only a fantastic Bible program, and probably the best Dead Sea Scrolls program, but also has some useful rabbinic texts. It runs on Mac and now has a fantastic iPhone and iPad app. It runs suitably on a PC with a Mac emulator. It includes all the scrolls in Hebrew and English and all of the Biblical scrolls in order of Tanakh or in manuscript order (you can pull up the MT and Dead Sea Bible side by side and scroll them together). Modules are also available for the Mishnah according to printed editions, Neusner’s translation of Mishnah, and Kaufman ms. with all punctuation. The best feature is that all these texts are grammatically tagged – useful for easy grammatical analysis and sophisticated searching.

3. Neusner’s translation of the Yerushalmi is available on CD-ROM. It is available at SBL for a discounted price. You can copy it to your hard drive – it’s just a pdf and is very easy to use.

4. Mikraot Gedolot Haketer, which has published only a few books, has made available all of Tanakh and all of the included commentaries on CD-ROM. The software is only for sale at their office in Bar-Ilan and they only accept cash and do not ship. However, if you can get there or send someone, this fine collection of texts is well worth the 490NIS.

5. Jastrow’s dictionary is available on HebrewBooks but also in an easy to use interactive format here. The dictionary is also available as an add in on the iPad app iTalmud where you can touch any word of the Bavli and jump instantly to the dictionary. Unfortunately, the program doesn’t know the root of the word and so usually takes you to the wrong place.

6. Saul Lieberman’s works are available here: Tosefta Kifshuta/Tosefet Rishonim/ Al HaYerushalmi

8. The Steinsaltz Talmud of the daf yomi is posted daily here. You can also go back a few hundred days to get previous dapim from Yevamot and on. There did once exist a CD-ROM of the entire Steinsaltz Talmud but I haven’t been able to locate a copy in any library or in any store (this site advertizes it but doesn’t sell it – I already checked). Does anybody know more about this?

10. On one can find my Version Editor macro for lining up manuscripts, perfect to use in conjunction with the new The Macro is free, but please share your charts so that we can together create a database of texts for use of the general community.

Also on the site, I have begun to post Hebrew dissertations. Many people at Israeli Universities have fantastic research hidden in master’s and PhD theses that never get published. If you fit into that category, or know someone who does, and would like to make your work available, please send a pdf to me at rhidary [at]

Rabbi Dr. Richard Hidary is an assistant professor of Judaic Studies at Yeshiva University, Stern College for Women and an assistant Rabbi at Sephardic Synagogue in Brooklyn.

Around the Web, English

Around the Web – August 19, 2011

El Shaddai Game Cover Art.pngA few months ago, Shai and I had the pleasure of hearing Prof. Daniel Boyarin give a talk at Hebrew University’s Havruta beit midrash entitled “Metatron in the Bavli and in Enoch 3”, based on work he has published in such articles as “The Parables of Enoch and the Foundation of the Rabbinic Sect: A Hypothesis“. Little did we know that while we were sitting in Jerusalem readings texts on Enoch computer programmers out in England were busy putting the final touches on the game El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, for PS3 and Xbox 360. Jim Davila of PaleoJudaica has been keeping the blogosphere up-to-date on the game’s much anticipated release. According to the game’s website, players of El Shaddai star as Enoch:

a young man chosen by God for his strong, pure heart. He is human, but has been called to the heavens by the will of God to serve as a scribe on the Council of Elder. He has descended to earth as an arbiter to pursue the Grigori, a group of fallen angels, and prevent the execution of God’s plan to flood the earth.

The game is openly based on the Deuterocanonical book of Enoch and has received praise for its “sophisticated and visually arresting aesthetics and remarkably deep and nuanced, yet easy to grasp, combat system”.

Over at the Jewish Press, Steven Plaut has an article which attempts to respond to Christian anti-Semiticism directed at the Talmud (Hat-tip to the Adderabbi).  In order to prepare for the weekly “around the web” here at the Talmud Blog, we have a feed going for every time “Talmud” (and other related words) show up on the internet.  I would guess that almost half are related to anti-Semitic websites. A frightening thought. There are great resources out there for people looking to counter these claims (especially “The Talmud in Anti-Semitic Polemics” at ADL).  Many of the anti-Semitic statements made about the Talmud and Christianity are, needless to say, spurious. But there are some passages that do indeed say some pretty nasty things about you know who. Plaut is certainly correct that scholars in previous generation had many false positives, but this does not mean that Jesus is never mentioned in the Talmud.  Plaut is unfortunately ignorant of Talmudic manuscripts – which is grievous regarding an issue with a long history of censorship.  In the information age, any anti-Semite can easily find what he is looking for. For a great, recent work that avoids these kind of apologetics, we have of course Peter Schaefer’s Jesus in the Talmud. The work itself is quite controversial for a number of reasons, but at least it does not shy away from confronting the issues head-on – and with expertise.

Finally, Menachem Mendel announces that Joseph Cedar’s award-winning film Footnote will be screened (for all you poor unfortunate souls who have not seen it yet) at the NY Film festival in early October. Stay tuned for a review by Shai Secunda and Elli Fischer at the Jewish Review of Books.

Around the Web, English, Recent Publications, Talmud in the News

Around the Web (more or less) – August 12, 2011

Mississippi Fred MacDowell of On the Mainline posted a fascinating comment on Christian Hebraism and the Mishnah on Amit’s post from two weeks ago. Although he only identifies here as “S.”, the digital-database savvy and characteristic out-of-the-box thinking of MacDowell is as apparent as ever.

Tālār-e āʾina, 1896. In the Golestān Palace Museum.Encyclopaedia Iranica announced the publication of a volume of collected entries on the Jews of Iran:

Comprising all the entries published in the Encyclopaedia Iranica through 2010, the Jewish Communities of Iran represents the most comprehensive collection of research published to date on the life, history, culture, language, music, literature, and customs of the Jews of Iran, one of the oldest communities of the Jews in the world.

The book is available for preorder on Amazon or Eisenbraun’s.

And finally, Shana Strauch-Schick’s recent dissertation is noted at JTA.  But you heard it first here. Stay tuned for a list of recent dissertations in the field.

August 11, 2011

NEW YORK (JTA) – Yeshiva University’s graduate school of Jewish
studies will award a doctorate in Talmud to a woman, Shana Strauch
Schick, for the first time.
[The dissertation is on ““Intention in the Babylonian Talmud: An
Intellectual History”]

While Yeshiva has multiple programs in Talmud, Schick, 30, is the
first woman to obtain a doctorate in the subject from the Bernard
Revel Graduate School. A New Jersey native now living in suburban
Detroit, Schick successfully defended her dissertation on Aug. 4 and
will formally graduate in September.

“Orthodoxy has long emphasized the value of the study of Talmud,”
Schick told JTA in an interview. “But Talmud study, which in yeshivot
is the central focus of the religious duty to learn Torah, is still
rarely emphasized as a vital part of women’s education.”

Schick holds a master’s degree in Bible from Revel and a bachelor’s
degree in Judaic studies from YU’s Stern College for Women. She plans
to spend the next academic year in Israel doing post-doctoral studies
at Bar-Ilan University.

Around the Web, English, Recent Publications

Around the Web – August 4, 2011

Over at The Immanent Frame, Lena Salaymeh (who has organized an AJS session that I’ll be participating in) posted about orality, religion, and secularism by way of the Talmud and law-school forms.

This may be old news for some, but I just saw Steven Notley and Ze’ev Safrai’s new collection of rabbinic parables reviewed at Biblioblog Library.

Around the Web, English, Technology

Outsourcing Scholarship

parking ticket...avoided. Valuable Information...acquired.

The joys of New York City had me sitting in a car, waiting for a 9-10:30am spot to become legal on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. No matter, I had my laptop and the BBC playing, where I learned of an Oxford University project to outsource papyrological work to the public. They have built a simply incredible website to invite the general, non-scholarly, non-Greek reading public to help transcribe the cache of Greek papyri found at Oxyrhynchus over a century ago.  The tools are impressive, though I still find it hard to believe that most fragments will be properly transcribed by people untrained in the papyrological arts. Could we use this for talmudic research?

Around the Web, English, Technology

Digitally Humanizing Jewish Studies

RAMBI has added RSS feeds (=RAMBIRSS)

The past week has seen some updates in the digital humanities side of Jewish Studies.

For those of us who like wasting time constructively online, RAMBI has added some 17 RSS feeds of recently published articles. Each feed is dedicated to different categories of the catalog.

In its newest version, The Friedberg Genizah Project added another 70,000 images or so to its database. Most of the images are of fragments located in the Cambridge University and British Libraries. The FGP also made some significant “website improvements”, such as a redone “browse by collection function”, a unified advanced search, an expanded text search, joins display, and more (I hope in a future post to provide guidelines for getting the most out of FGP).

Around the Web, English, Talmud in the News

Reading the Talmud in…

The South Korean ambassador to Israel visiting a yeshiva in Bnei Brak, earlier this month (picture from ynet, courtesy of the municipality of Bnei Brak)

The South Korean interest in Talmud has been a real hot-topic over the past few months. This piece outlines the phenomena, but as a simple Google search will show, there are many, many more articles on the subject (see also Menachem Mendel’s coverage).

But what does Talmud Study in South Korea actually look like? Perhaps a recent op-ed by Mario Blejer in the Korean JoongAng Daily, one of South Korea’s three daily English-language newspapers, may help answer that question. Commenting on the current debt crisis in Greece, the former governor of the central bank of Argentina and former director of the Bank of England seeks to find a solution in “the Talmud, the ancient repository of Jewish legal commentary – and one of the oldest sources of human thought on morality and economic activity”.  He then goes on to summarize the sugya of “kofin oto ad she-yomar rotze ani” as it appears in Bavli Kiddushin (50a) in order to “show that there are mechanisms that can – and should – be used to place pressure on the parties in the interest of obtaining superior voluntary outcomes.”

The article’s title, “The Talmud and Greek Debt”, is quite reminiscent, interestingly enough, of studies penned by Saul Lieberman.