Conferences, English, Guest Posts, Readings

Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 18b and Yevamot 37b: is this temporary marriage?- Guest Post by Zvi Septimus and Lena Salaymeh

Zvi Septimus and Lena Salaymeh are currently (at the time of publication) giving a lecture entitled “Marriage for Sex in Medieval Jewish and Islamic Legal Debates” at The Jewish Law Association’s 17th International Conference, going on now at Yale University.  This post is a summary of their talk and an opportunity to participate in the discussion. 

Two well-known and seemingly anomalous lines in the Babylonian Talmud have troubled many Talmud commentators for the last thousand years—yet these lines were notably ignored by the Gaonim: “When Rav came to Ardashir, he announced, ‘Who will have me for a day?’  When Rav Nahman came to Shkentziv, he announced, ‘Who will have me for a day?’”  What do these proclamations mean? The subsequent give and take of the Talmud implies that both Rav and Rav Nahman were the equivalent of modern-day rock stars.  They would send their entourage to the next stop on their tour in order to scout out groupies willing to engage in casual sex—or a temporary marital relationship—during their stay in various cities.  After their encounter they would be on their way, off to the next city to be coupled with the next willing set of groupies.  Had these rabbis actually been modern-day rock stars, these stories would probably not trouble us or the medieval commentators, many of whom felt forced to sanitize them.  But these stories are about rabbis.

The trouble with the rock star metaphor is that it implies that sexual relationships, or any relationship for that matter, between men and woman in the ancient world were anything like the way they are today, or even the medieval Christian and Muslim worlds in which medieval Talmud commentators lived.  The story we will now tell is about the evolution of the contexts in which these two Bavli lines were positioned from the time of their first appearance as historical anecdotes of the near past to the time when, as part of a Talmudic sugya, they needed to be incorporated into the complex web of rabbinic legislation.

The two statements of these rabbis appear in succession at two very different locales in the Talmud.  The first, in the order of tractates, and, as we argue, the development of the sugya, is at Yoma 18b and the second is at Yevamot 37b.  The Yevamot context is far more expansive and has therefore generally received more attention from traditional jurists seeking to contextualize the statements legally—to make laws for their contemporaries based on the way the Talmud discusses them.  At stake, for jurists like Alfasi, Maimonides, the Ravad, Nahmanides, the Rosh, and the Tur, is the legislative approach they would take toward casual or time-bound sexual relationships in their own eras in light of both the Talmud’s attitude toward such relationships and their own social and religious realities.  While traditional marriage may receive the most attention, there are many types of sexual relationships between men and women discussed in the Talmud.  Indeed, considerable effort is expended fleshing out sexual relationships between men and women outside of the standard permanent marriage arrangement, including conditional marriage and divorce, levirate marriage, servant marriage, slave marriage, concubines, casual sex, prostitution, and incest.  The Bavli’s discussion of these varieties of sexual relationships is reflective of late antique Near Eastern customary practices.  The question we would like to pose today is: To which of these categories did the Bavli’s redactors and the rabbinic commentators assign the relationships expressed by the stories of Rav and Rav Nahman?

Even within the Bavli itself, the statements of Rav and Rav Nahman—”who will have me for a day?”—can be seen in multiple contexts.  The first is to look at the statements themselves as actual stories recorded at or slightly after the times of their occurrence.  The second is to view them in the context of the extended sugya at Yoma 18b.  And the third is to understand them within the framework of Yevamot 37b.  When looked at this way, the stories can have three separate meanings.  To compound matters, there are numerous manuscripts containing alternate versions and textual variants.  Each of these, in addition, portrays different attitudes toward the story itself.  Of primary concern is the question of what type of relationship is meant by the words “who will have me for a day?”  Is it casual sex, a form of pilegesh relationship, or a temporary marriage?  If it were a pilegesh relationship, then was qiddushin performed?  Was nissuin performed?  Was there a ketubbah?  Is it realistic to think that the rabbis would be willing to pay the 100 or 200 zuz marriage settlement for a day’s worth of enjoyment, or, from a different perspective, a day’s worth of abating sexual urges in a legitimized manner?  Secondly, was the marriage for a day or “days”?  The manuscripts contain both readings.  If “days,” then was the marriage for a specific amount of time or just designated as temporary in some non-specific way?  If for a pre-determined amount of time, was this marriage naturally dissolved or was a get required?  If for a non-specific amount of time, could either party leave at will or was the husband the sole authority in determining the marriage’s end?  Further does the term yiud in these Bavli passages refer to non-sexual seclusion or is it a term referring to designating the woman as a partner, perhaps a pilegesh, where there would be neither qiddushin nor a ketubbah?  These questions are not only of interest to modern academic analysis of the positions of the authors of each sugya, or versions of the sugya preserved in a manuscript tradition, they also drive the medieval commentatorial tradition of those sugyot and the efforts of the codifiers and jurists in trying to incorporate these sugyot into their legal systems.

The inconclusiveness of these narratives and the widespread Near Eastern practices of temporary marriage suggest that at the time of the Bavli’s redaction, some form of temporary marriage was being practiced.  Indeed, Yaakov Elman argues that these “two prominent rabbis contracted temporary marriages in accord with the Sassanian institution.”  So, if rabbinic Jews practiced temporary marriages in late antiquity, then did these Jewish temporary wives receive a ketubbah?  Moreover, how did these temporary marriages end?  Did the rabbis in Yoma 18b or Yevamot 37b deliver divorce decrees or was a divorce effected at the moment of their departure or the conclusion of the day(s)?  This is of course probably depends on whether these temporary arrangements were actual marriages or merely pilagshut. The Bavli does not provide a clear answer on any of these technical details.

This leads us to wonder, how did the Gaonim understand this rabbinic practice of temporary marriage considering their context of Islamic debates about it?  It was not until the late 8th or early 9th century that a majority of Muslim scholars prohibited temporary marriages; prior to that time, temporary marriages were widely practiced and debated.  There is a notable geographic distribution, with Muslim jurists from Mecca generally permitting temporary marriage and jurists from Iraq and Medina opposing it.  Since the Gaonic academies were located in Iraq, it is quite likely that the Gaonim were exposed to these debates about temporary marriage among Muslim jurists.  There are three different forms of temporary marriage in the late antique Near Eastern world.  First: the Shīʿī version, in which the temporary marriage contract specifies the duration of the marriage, which ends automatically without a divorce declaration.  Second: the Sunnī version, in which the temporary marriage contract does not specify the duration, but the husband and wife or one of them intend to divorce and this type only ends with a divorce declaration.  The Sunnī version is a legal fiction because the husband and wife may have agreed upon the specific duration of the marriage, but simply did not specify it in the contract; in addition, in the Sunnī version, either the husband or the wife may intend to divorce the other without this affecting the validity of the marriage.  The third version may be understood as one component of the second version: the uninformed temporary marriage mentioned by Rabbi Eliezer Ben Yaaqov, in which the husband intends to divorce the wife with a get, but has not informed her.  Yet, somewhat surprisingly, there is little Gaonic discussion of the Yoma 18b or the Yevamot 37b sugyot.  Why is it that the “Who will have me for a day?” statements in the Talmud did not generate Gaonic commentary?

We want to end with this question and encourage those of you who are able, to attend our panel at the Jewish Law Association meeting or continue this conversation in the comments section of The Talmud Blog.

Lena Salaymeh is Robbins Post-Doctoral Fellow at UC Berkeley School of Law and recently earned her PhD in the History department at UC Berkeley; and Zvi Septimus is Anne Tanenbaum Post-Doctoral fellow at the University of Toronto. He was previously Alan M. Stroock Fellow for Advanced Research in Judaica at Harvard University and received his PhD in Jewish Studies from UC Berekely.

Announcements, Conferences, English

Rabbinics in the International Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature

The international meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature will be held next week (July 22-26) in Amsterdam. As always, many sessions will be devoted to rabbinic literature; most notably this year are two multi-session units that will focus on (1) the Tanhuma midrashim and (2) on the dynamics between verse and prose in late antique Jewish and Christian texts. In addition, a session of the Judaica unit will be devoted to Midrash. So if you are heading to Amsterdam, prepare yourselves for a feast of five days of rigorous discussions of rabbinic literature in different contexts and settings. If you’re not, at least you’ll know what you’re missing! Full details concerning the sessions and the papers (including abstracts) can be found here.



The Tanhuma – Text and Story I

Gila Vachman, Hebrew University- The charachteristics of the later layer of the Tanhuma literature as demonstrated in Geniza fragments

Paul Mandel, Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies- The Religious World of Midrash Tanhuma: A Comparison with early aggadic midrashic parallels

Dov Weiss, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign- Confrontational Theology in Tanhuma-Yelammedenu


Judaism in Transition: Cultural Changes of the Byzantine Era

Marc Bregman, University of North Carolina at Greensboro- From Synagogue Sermon to Literary Homily The Early Stratum of Tanhuma-Yelammedenu Literature


The Tanhuma – Text and Story II

Elisha S. Ancselovits, Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, Jerusalem- Hukkim as Inexplicable Laws: An Ideological Innovation of the Tanhuma

Yehonatan Wormser, University of Haifa- Early and Late Layers in the Tanhuma-Yelammedenu Literature – The Linguistic Aspect

Tamas Biro, University of Amsterdam- May I circumcise myself? On rituals and “halakhically incorrect” cognition in midrashic exegesis



Dynamics between Verse and Prose: General Approaches and Case Studies

Marc Bregman, University of North Carolina at Greensboro- The Metastructure of Midrash and Piyyut

Moshe Lavee, University of Haifa- The Art of Composition: Common Aspects of Rabbinic Homilies and Qerova Poetry

Michael D. Swartz, Ohio State University- Becoming Spirits: On the Functions of Angels in Piyyut and Esoteric Literature

Yehoshua Granat, The Hebrew University- Retelling the Jonah Story in Early Medieval Hebrew Prose and Verse


The Story of the Ten Martyrs between Verse and Prose – A Textual Workshop

Raanan Boustan, University of California-Los Angeles; Ophir Münz-Manor, Open University of Israel and The Talmud Blog


Tanhuma and Its Milieu

Rivka Ulmer, Bucknell University- The Yelammedenu Unit in Midrash Tanhuma and in Pesiqta Rabbati- a Text Linguistic Inquiry

Arnon Atzmon, Bar-Ilan University- The Tanhuma and the Pesikta

Amos Geula, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem- The relation between two lost Midrashic compositions: the lost Midrash Yelamdenu and Midrash wa-yehullu

Orly Amitay, University of Haifa- The Midrash of Ten Kings



Dynamics between Verse and Prose: A Comparative Outlook

Kevin Kalish, Bridgewater State University- Eve Lamenting Her Sons: Ephrem Graecus’ Re-imagining of Genesis 4

Peter Sh. Lehnardt, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev- Bound to Be Unbound: Genesis 22 in Early Jewish and Christian Liturgical Poetry

Laura S. Lieber, Duke University- “The Play’s the Thing”: Theatricality in Aramaic Piyyutim


The Reception of Tanhuma

Moshe Lavee, University of Haifa- Ten Dinars for the Talmud, a Fifth for the Tanhuma- Assessing the Cultural Value of a Literary Work

Shalem Yahalom, Bar Ilan University- The Tanhuma in a New Shell: Incorporating the Tanhuma in the Latter Midrash Rabbah Texts

Ronit Nikolsky, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen- The Tanhuma Material in Sefer Maasiot


Judaica – Midrash

Shamir Yona, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Ariel Ram Pasternak, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev- The “Better” Proverb in Rabbinic Literature

Katharina Keim, University of Manchester- The Function of the Rabbinic Attributions in the Pirke deRabbi Eliezer

Deborah A. Green, University of Oregon- Expelled from the Garden Again: Eve and Shekhinah in Genesis Rabbah

Barak S. Cohen, Bar-Ilan University- ‘Forced’ Amoraic Interpretations of Biblical Sources: A New Methodological Perspective

Aaron Koller, Yeshiva University- Redeeming the Queen: Rabbinic Readings of the Book of Esther



Dynamics between Verse and Prose: Piyyut, Midrash, and Targum

Gila Vachman, Hebrew University- From Piyyyut to Midrash: The Dedication Offerings in Midrash Chadash

Jan-Wim Wesselius, Protestantse Theologische Universiteit- The See-Saw between Poetry and Prose in the Targumim to the Poetic Books of the Bible

Conferences, English

Conference Review: Legal Heterodoxy in Islamic and Jewish History: Late Antique and Medieval Transformations, University of California, Berkeley, April 23-24- Guest Post by Marc Herman

I confess that I arrived at the conference last week with a healthy dose of skepticism.  Though billed as a treatment of “Legal Heterodoxy in Islamic and Jewish History,” I worried that the conference’s subtitle and chronological frame, “Late Antique and Medieval Transformations,” lightly masked a correlation of Islamic:Medieval and Jewish:Late Antique.  As I reviewed the schedule in advance, I noticed that the symposium poster announced scholars of classical rabbinics in conversation with scholars of medieval Islam.  How, I wondered, would this create a valid historical conversation?  And if history is not the goal, why study late antique Judaism alongside medieval Islam?  Would the goals be ecumenical?  Philosophical?  The theoretical study of law?

When Lena Salaymeh, one of the organizers, opened the symposium with a nod to the above disparity, it began an honest discussion of the challenge of placing Islamic and Jewish law in synchronic conversation.  The pride of place of rabbinics in both Jewish Studies and the popular Jewish imagination leads to a concomitant lack of emphasis on the medieval transmitters and interpreters of rabbinic culture.  Even among those who have studied medieval Rabbanite law, far greater work has been done on Jewish law in Latin Europe than on its counterpart in Arabic lands.  Recent decades have seen a resurgence of interest in Geonica, but surprising lacunae include Jewish law in Muslim Andalusia, North African halakhists, and even, relatively speaking, the legal writings of Maimonides.  Many books could be written about these and other topics, both from an “internal” perspective and by understanding them in light of their Muslim contexts.

This is not to say that the conference papers did not contribute to the study of Muslim and Jewish law in concert.  While previous scholarship has acknowledged connections between Sasanian-era rabbinic and nascent Islamic legal systems, these connections await thorough scrutiny.  G. Libson and others have long championed S. D. Goitein’s “Mediterranean society” view of medieval Judaism and Islam, but scholarship has not always appreciated regional or contextual factors in medieval Jewish legal history.  Developments in the study of Sasanian culture will improve the study of both Geonic-era Islamic and Jewish legal cultures.  Yaakov Elman’s paper, to nobody’s surprise, served as a good touchstone for that project. Only in teasing out what I like to call the “late antique soup” of the pre-Geonic world will we properly understand the rise of Islamic law.

Phenomenologically, I was most excited by the papers of Steven Fraade and Mohammad Fadel.  Fraade analyzed rabbinic traditions that valorize legal pluralism, while Fadel focused on the unusual positions of Ibn Hazm (d. 1064), who lived at the end of Muslim hegemony in al-Andalus and rejected the “normative pluralism” of medieval Sunni orthodoxy.  Though it went unmentioned, it is highly suggestive that as a religious minority, Geonic culture famously downplayed the multivocal vision of the rabbis, conceivably for similar reasons to Ibn Hazm.

A good conference is marked by the questions it poses and the avenues it opens, and this conference was no exception.  In her closing review of the proceedings, Talya Fishman outlined three areas of Jewish studies that could be enhanced by greater understanding of Islamic law: (1) the consolidation of legal traditions in the Geonic period; (2) a change in the “technology” of the law (from oral to written Torah); and (3) Geonic epistemology and treatment of both aggadah and halakhah.  To this list one may add the lacunae mentioned above, as well as scholarly understanding of Karaism (something this blog has recently highlighted).  Ultimately, Judeo-Islamic studies remains a young and exciting field.

Marc Herman is a graduate student in The University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Religious Studies.

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.

Conferences, English

Halakha in the Holiday Season

While vendors here in the open-market already began selling sufganiyot a few months ago, the recent displays of hanukiyot are a sure sign of the impending holiday season. Veteran readers of The Talmud Blog may recall Shai’s classic 2009 post “Hanukah at Scholion“. For others, the Holiday of Lights might bring to mind memories of family gatherings, Youtube videos, and fried delicacies. This year, Israel based readers are encouraged to attend Yad-Ben Zvi’s Hanukah conference on Halakha. Here’s a brief description by one of the events’ organizers:

Yad Ben Zvi’s upcoming conference on ”Halakhic Revolutions – Then and Now” (December 25) is intended to serve a double purpose: it will provide an opportunity for four authors of recently published historical studies on halakhic topics (Aharon Shemesh, Cana Werman, Vered Noam and Hillel Newman) to discuss their work, and it will also serve in the same vein as a forum for other scholars to address questions of halakhic change and dynamics from antiquity to the present. The additional speakers include Rami Reiner, Adiel Schremer, Maoz Kahana, Hanan Gafni, Yair Sheleg and Moshe Halbertal.

Conferences, English

Next Month: AJS

In case you need some convincing to go to the AJS next month, here are some sessions that might persuade you to make the trip to DC.

Three trends of note:  (1) There seems to be new interest in thinking through the formation and construction of the self (the gendered self, the religious self, the embodied self), and the idea of personhood in rabbinic sources.  (2)  The recent fascination with reading rabbinic texts in conversation with legal theory and comparative legal systems has continued.  (3) Irano-Talmudica is still going strong, and there’s a “second generation” now!

Talmudic redaction, material culture, rabbinic exegesis, and rabbis in Greco-Roman and Christian contexts are also well-represented this year.  That means there’s something for everyone…

Sunday, 9:30-11am: The Androgyne: Breaking the Gender Binary in Rabbinic Law and Literature (Grand Hyatt Washington, Renwick)

“Defying the Binary?: The Androgynus in Tosefta Bikkurim,” Sara Lev (Reconstructionist Rabbinical College)

“Stoning the ANDROGYNUS: Subverting the Boundaries of Masculinity,” Max Strassfeld (Stanford University)

“Seed and Sexuality: Rabbinic Concerns about Female Semination,” Tirzah Meacham (University of Toronto)

Chair: Judith Hauptman (The Jewish Theological Seminary)

Sunday, 11:15-1pm: The Formation of the Religious Self in Ancient Judaism (Grand Hyatt Washington, Penn A)

Abstract: This panel examines ancient Jewish texts in an effort to reconstruct the regimen of pious behaviors they seek to inculcate. The ancient Jewish texts we explore advocate the repeated performance of certain behaviors and the avoidance of others. This panel explores what was at stake when they did so. We examine several regimens of pious behavior (disciplining the senses, training one’s vision and daily performance of the Shema rituals) and argue that these regimens regulated the interaction between practitioners and the world around them, even while they led to the creation of religious subjects. We note that regimens of pious behavior gradually transformed the subject by steering him away from postures that were deemed to be unproductive or harmful and towards those that were assumed to edify and ennoble. Rather than merely changing the external behavior of the practitioner, regimens of pious behavior effected a fundamental change in how the practitioner located himself within his environment. Regimes of pious behavior sought to form the self and subjectivity of the religious practitioner. The panel contributes to our understanding of the dynamics of ancient Jewish religion by 1) highlighting how religious life operates in the concrete physical and sensory domain, and 2) showing that cultivating patterns of behavior – rather than dictating doctrine – leads to the construction of the religious self.
Chair: Steven P. Weitzman (Stanford University)

“Sensory Disciplining and Construction of the Self in the Book of Proverbs,” Greg Schmidt Goering (University of Virginia)

“Prohibition and the Production of the Rabbinic Self,” Rachel Neis (University of Michigan)

“The Shema Rituals and the Embodied Self in Tannaitic Literature,” Elizabeth Shanks Alexander (University of Virginia)

Respondent: Steven P. Weitzman (Stanford University)

Sunday, 4:15-6:15: Materiality and Politics in Jewish Antiquity (Grand Hyatt Washington, Lafayette Park)

“Hellenistic Diaspora Narratives and the Construction of an Embodied Self,” Francoise Mirguet (Arizona State University)

“Idols in Color: Polychromy, Avodah Zara and Jewish Views of Imperial Roman Sculpture,” Steven Fine (Yeshiva University)

“Preliminary Observations on the Occurrence of Ritual Implements and Iconography at the Ostia Synagogue,” Joshua Ezra Burns (Marquette University)

“The Maccabean Revolt: Who Is to Be Blamed?,” Louis H. Feldman (Yeshiva University)

Chair: Hayim Lapin (University of Maryland)

Sunday, 4:15-6:15: Rabbinic Theology: Radicalism and Revisionism (Grand Hyatt Washington, Roosevelt)

“Season(s) of Judgment: Competing Notions of Divine Justice in m. Rosh Hashana 1:2,” Joshua Cahan (The Jewish Theological Seminary)

“Crumbling Walls & Faltering Houses: Aggadic Dialectic on Disaster, Merit, and Miracle in Bavli Taanit,” Julia Watts Belser (Harvard Divinity School)

“Cultural Enthusiasm: The Transmission of The Sugya of ‘AVERA- LISHMA’ (Transgress for God’s sake),” Yuval Blankovsky (Universitaet Potsdam)

“The Paulinian and Matthean Moments of Rabbinic QABBALAT HATORAH,” Aryeh Cohen (American Jewish University)

Chair: Michael Pitkowsky (Jewish Theological Seminary)

Monday, 8:30-10:30am: Theory and History of Talmudic Redaction (Grand Hyatt Washington, Renwick)

“Caesarean Revisions and the History of the Talmud,” Moulie Vidas (University of California, Davis)

“Stylistic and Mnemonic Factors as Clues to the Intellectual History and Evolution of a Talmudic Text,” Jay Rovner (The Jewish Theological Seminary)

“‘Impurity in Public is Overridden Because the Headplate Renders it Acceptable’ – On Bavli Reconceptualization of Tannaitic Legal Thought,” Leib Moscovitz (Bar-Ilan University)

“Mingling Moments: Conjunctive Time and Rabbinic Modes of Temporality in the Babylonian Talmud,” Lynn Kaye (New York University)

Chair: Yonatan Feintuch (Bar-Ilan University)

Monday, 11am-12:45pm: Rabbinic and Medieval Exegesis (Grand Hyatt Washington, Constitution C)

“Parsing the Poetic Genre of the Song of Songs in Early Rabbinic Interpretation,” Jonathan Kaplan (Yale University)

“Peshat in the Torah Commentary of Moses ben Nahman (Ramban),” Martin I. Lockshin (York University)

“Nahmanides’ Structural Analysis of the Pattern and Design of Biblical Narrative,” Michelle J. Levine (Stern College)

“The Apocalyptic Messiah in Pesiqta Rabbati,” Rivka Ulmer (Bucknell University)

Chair: Naomi Grunhaus (Yeshiva University)

Monday, 2-4pm: Studies in Irano-Talmudica: The Next Generation (Grand Hyatt Washington, Constitution B)

Abstract: The field of Irano-Talmudica, as it has been dubbed by Shai Secunda, is expanding at an ever more rapid rate, and this panel is primarily dedicated to introducing new faces in the field, including three doctoral candidates whose dissertations are nearly completed, and their work, and one more senior new face, that of Dr. Mahnaz Moazami, of Columbia University’s Center for Iranian Studies who also teaching Middle Persian at Yeshiva University.  Samuel Thrope, a doctoral candidate at the University of California at Berekeley, presents a study that involves a fresh rethinking of the way to view the Skand Gumānīg Wizār, the “Doubt-Smashing Document,” a Zoroastrian religious polemic against Judaism, Christianity and Manichaeism. Thrope examines its very polemical interpretation of the Garden of Eden story and explores what it reveals of the author’s wider intentions.  The other papers involve various aspects of the Zoroastrian legal system and their relations—convergent or divergent—to rabbinic concerns. Yishai Kiel of Hebrew University and Shanah Schick of Yeshiva University deal with question of liability and intention in ritual and legal contexts and compare Zoroastrian approaches to parallel rabbinic texts. Mahnaz Moazami of Columbia University and Yaakov Elman examine the intersection of rabbinic and Sasanian exegesis of their respective scriptures and legal/ritual issues.  Mahnaz Moazami of Columbia University and Yaakov Elman of Yeshiva University deal with an interesting case of the intersection of legal and exegetical concerns in the Babylonian Talmud and the Pahlavi Vidēvdād, both fifth-century Sasanian compilations.

“Bad Seed: Rewriting the Garden of Eden in a Zoroastrian Critique of Judaism,” Samuel Thrope (University of California, Berkeley)

“Intention and Negligence in Rabbinic and Zoroastrian Tort Law,” Shana A. Strauch Schick (Bar-Ilan University)

“‘Shared Liability’ in Rabbinic and Zoroastrian Literature: A Comparative Analysis,” Yishai Kiel (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

“Scriptural and Unscriptural Prohibitions: Zoroastrian and Rabbinic Sin-Counting and the Severity of Atonement,” Yaakov Elman (Yeshiva University) and Mahnaz Moazami (Columbia University)

Chair: Steven Fine (Yeshiva University)

Monday, 4:30-6:30pm: Gender and Genesis: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Rachel and Leah (Grand Hyatt Washington, Constitution C)

Abstract: Rachel and Leah are paradigms of sororal relationships in the Bible, and the authors of Genesis use their rivalry to propel the narrative and to ensure the fall of Laban. Rabbinic midrash excerbates or ameliorates the sisters’ rivalry to serve their exegetical needs. Medieval kabbalists invert the rivalry and place Leah in higher esteem than Rachel. This theological twist gave rise to innovative rituals first introduced in Safed, and still practiced today among some Hasidim. Male biblical authors, the Rabbis and Kabbalists used Rachel and Leah to serve their narrative, exegetical, and theological needs. Modern Israeli female poets reclaim Rachel and Leah and see them as part of a new sorority.

“Rachel and Leah: Dangerous Sisters and the Fall of the House of Laban,” Amy Kalmanofsky (The Jewish Theological Seminary)

“Strange Bedfellows: Rachel and Leah and Jacob,” Gwynn Kessler (Swarthmore College)

Respondent: Wendy Ilene Zierler (Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion)

Chair: Wendy Ilene Zierler (Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion)

Monday, 4:30-6:30pm: Rabbinic Rhetoric (Grand Hyatt Washington, Roosevelt)

Abstract: This panel will focus on rabbinic thought, with particular interest in the role rhetorical devices and rhetoric as a discipline play in the late ancient corpus of rabbinic texts in its
various genres, analyzed from literary, intellectual, and historical standpoints and contexts. We will begin discussion by setting up a theoretical and historical framework in which to illuminate the complex relationships between philosophical, rhetorical and rabbinic traditions in the scope of ancient and late ancient period. We will begin by setting up a theoretical and historical framework in which to illuminate the complex relationships between philosophical, rhetorical and rabbinic traditions in the scope of the late ancient period. The notion of truth in relationship to law will serve as a conceptual focus of the discussion in the panel. We will continue by exploring the relationships between philosophical truth and rhetorical readings of the text of the Talmuds through a case study of textual redundancy as a source of truth in interpretation. We will then broaden the scope of the discussion by looking into literary-rhetorical forms of the Babylonian Talmud as a whole in terms of finalized truth reached through seemingly open dialectical discussion in individual sugyot in contrast to overall open-endedness of the Talmud as a larger literary unit or a “book.” We will conclude by looking even more broadly into the role of the rhetorical device of refutation in making claims of the legal truth in Rabbinic tradition in the Mishnah, and its interpretation in the Bavli. Each paper will take up to 20 minutes, and the time that remains will be given to questions from the floor and to general discussion.

“Gorgias and the Rabbis: Rhetoric, Law, and Truth in the Talmud,” Richard Hidary (Yeshiva University)

“The Rules of Redundancy: How Changes in Rabbinic Rules of Exegesis Contributed to the Growing Complexity of Sugyot,” David Brodsky (New York University)

“Rhetorical Ends of the Talmud: From Local Conclusiveness to Metatextual Openness,” Zvi Septimus (Harvard University)

“PERITROPE (Self-Refutation) in Sextus Empiricus and the Rabbinic discourse,” Sergey Dolgopolski (University at Buffalo, SUNY)

Chair: Barry Scott Wimpfheimer (Northwestern University)

Tuesday, 8:30-10:30: The Making of Rabbinic Law, Power, and Authority (Grand Hyatt Washington, Renwick)

“Rabbinic Specialization,” Tzvi Michael Novick (University of Notre Dame)

“The Study of Tannaitic Law in its Ancient Legal Context,” Jonathan Milgram (The Jewish Theological Seminary)

“Narrating the Trial of Herod/Jannaeus: Late Antique Jewish Conceptions of Law and Power,” David C. Flatto (Pennsylvania State University)

“The Image of Moses in SIFRE ZUTA and the Construction of Rabbinic Authority,” Nehemia Polen (Hebrew College)

Chair: Christine Hayes (Yale University)

Tuesday, 10:45am-12:45pm: Comparative Contextualizations of Jewish Legal History (Grand Hyatt Washington, Independence I)

Abstract: This panel offers a critical comparison of historical moments of intersection between rabbinic legal culture and non-rabbinic contexts. Our objective is to situate specific rabbinic legal ideas within their diverse antique or late antique contexts through case-study comparisons with neighboring legal traditions. The panel’s theoretical goal is to assert that rabbinic and non-rabbinic legal similarities result not merely from “borrowing” or from “influence,” but from historical instances of dialectic interchange, from shared customary traditions, and from shared contexts.  Each of the three papers uses a doctrinal case study to address broad questions of comparison and contextualization. Two of the papers examine issues related to the legal treatment of the MOREDET (the recalcitrant or insubordinate wife) from the perspective of two distinct historical contexts: one Sasanian and the other Islamic. One paper scrutinizes the relationship between Sasanian and Jewish practices by exploring how the MOREDET is classified, what legal ramifications result from her status, and the procedure of document issuance. Another paper investigates how a Gaonic decree concerning the MOREDET has been interpreted within rabbinic historiography and seeks to historicize the relationship between this decree and its presumed Islamic context. The third paper continues the panel’s theme of comparative contextualization by examining the relationship between Roman and rabbinic discussions of animals as legal subjects, with particular focus on how the Mishnah’s treatment of the matter relates to Roman legal (and philosophical) ideas.  By presenting these three distinct perspectives on rabbinic law, this panel challenges some aspects of the emplotted – to use Hayden White’s terminology – historical narrative of Jewish law. In so doing, we seek to problematize the boundary between rabbinic and non-rabbinic in the historical construction of rabbinic legal authority.

“Animals as Legal Subjects in Roman and Rabbinic Law,” Beth A. Berkowitz (The Jewish Theological Seminary)

“The Disobedient Wife in Sasanian and Rabbinic Law,” Shai Secunda (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

“The Recalcitrant Wife in Jewish Law and Islamic Context,” Lena Salaymeh (University of California, Berkeley)

Respondent: Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert (Stanford University)

Chair: Jeffrey L. Rubenstein (New York University)

Tuesday, 1:45-3:45pm: New Perspectives on Eating and Identity in Jewish Studies (Grand Hyatt Washington, Independence G)

“In Defense of Kosher Food: Ancient Apologies for KASHRUT,” Jordan D. Rosenblum (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Tuesday, 1:45-3:45pm: Rituals and Ritual Concepts in Mishnah and Tosefta (Grand Hyatt Washington, Renwick)

“The Multiple Speech Acts of the Cemetery Blessing,” Yehuda Septimus (Brooklyn College / Touro College)

“Extending Greetings to the Other,” Michael Pitkowsky (Jewish Theological Seminary)

“Concepts of Pollution in Numbers 5 and Mishnah SOTAH,” Eve Levavi Feinstein (Independent Scholar)

Chair: Elizabeth Shanks Alexander (University of Virginia)

Tuesday, 4-5:45pm: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity (Grand Hyatt Washington, Independence I)

“Performance and Piety: Theaters and Synagogues in Later Rabbinic Culture,” Loren R. Spielman (Portland State University)

“Shifting attitudes to time, society, and calendars in Jewish and Christian late Antiquity,” Sacha Stern (University College London)

Chair: Jonathan Milgram (The Jewish Theological Seminary)

Conferences, English

If You’re Going to San Francisco…

For those attending the SBL/AAR, here is a quick round up of rabbinics-related sessions and panels of interest.  And for those not attending, now you will at least know what people are talking about. Following the list, there are additional papers that are not part of rabbinics-only panels.  If there are papers missing, feel free to add them in the comments.  And if you’re at the conference, feel free to discuss the sessions as they happen. 

Friday, 8:20 to 10:25am: A Reassessment of the Synagogue in Late Antiquity: Between Continuity and Renewal 
Room: A30 Grand Ballroom

The session aims to explore developments relating to the primary and central Jewish institution of Late Antiquity, the synagogue, from the diachronic and synchronic perspectives.
Lee I. Levine, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Presiding
Introduction (5 min.)
Jodi Magness, University of North Carolina,
The Chronology of Late Antique Synagogues in Palestine (20 min.)
Zeev Weiss, Hebrew University of Jerusalem,
The Synagogue in Ancient Palestine: Shaping Sacred Space in the Byzantine Realm (15 min.)
Lee I. Levine, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, The Flourishing of Jewish Art in Late Antiquity (15 min.)
Jonathan Price, Tel Aviv University,
The Place of Synagogue Inscriptions in the Epigraphic Culture of the Roman Near East (20 min.)
Ophir Münz-Manor, Open University of Israel, The Talmud Blog,
The Ancient Synagogue in its Byzantine-Christian Context: The Case of Hebrew Liturgical Poetry (Piyyut) (20 min.)

Sunday, 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM – S20-226: History and Literature of Early Rabbinic Judaism
Room: Grand Ballroom C – Intercontinental

Christine Hayes, Yale University, Presiding
Lee Levine, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
The Emergence of the Patriarchate: A Third or Fourth Century Phenomenon? (20 min)
Discussion (10 min)
Holger Michael Zellentin, University of Nottingham
No Exit: Punishment, Hell, and Early Byzantium According to the Talmud Yerushalmi (20 min)
Discussion (10 min)
Michael Rosenberg, Jewish Theological Seminary of America
On the Immersion of Proselytes: Identity Marker, or Purification? (20 min)
Discussion (10 min)
Discussion (10 min)
David Brodsky, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
From Disagreement to Talmudic Discourse: Progymnasmata and the Evolution of the Talmudic Sugya (20 min)

Monday, 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM: From the Babylonian Exile through the Babylonian Talmud: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Ancient Judaism
Room: 3008 – Convention Center

The centuries between the time of the Babylonian Exile and the flourishing of rabbinic Judaism as embodied in the Babylonian Talmud were marked by wide-ranging religious transformations, literary developments, and social and cultural growth. The Journal of Ancient Judaism and the JAJ Supplement Series address this crucial period. Celebrating our first two years of publication we invite scholars in the field to discuss the concept of Ancient Judaism by asking for the distinctions and continuities between the Israel of Biblical times, Second Temple Judaism, and the Judaism that developed under the rabbis.

Maxine Grossman, University of Maryland College Park, Presiding
Armin Lange, Universität Wien, Presiding
Thomas Römer, Université de Lausanne, Panelist
James VanderKam, University of Notre Dame, Panelist
Lawrence Schiffman, Yeshiva University, Panelist
Christine Hayes, Yale University, Panelist
James Kugel, Bar Ilan University, Panelist

Monday, 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM – S21-221: History and Literature of Early Rabbinic Judaism
Room: 3000 – Convention Center

Theme: Review of Legal Fictions: Studies of Law and Narrative in the Discursive Worlds of Ancient Jewish Sectarians and Sages, by Steven Fraade

Alyssa Gray, Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (New York Branch), Presiding
Moshe Bernstein, Yeshiva University, Panelist
Charlotte Fonrobert, Stanford University, Panelist
Jonathan Klawans, Boston University, Panelist
Richard Sarason, Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, Panelist
Steven Fraade, Yale University, Respondent
Business Meeting (30 min)

Monday, 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM – S21-229: Midrash
Room: Mission II & III – Renaissance Parc 55

Theme: Egyptian Cultural Icons in Midrash
This panel discussion is devoted to the topic of the significance of Egypt in Midrashic texts, with a particular focus on a critical consideration of “Egyptian Cultural Icons in Midrash” by Rivka Ulmer.

W. David Nelson, Groton School, Presiding
Susan Tower Hollis, Empire State College, State University of New York, Panelist (20 min)
Isaac Kalimi, University of Chicago, Panelist (20 min)
Deborah Green, University of Oregon, Panelist (20 min)
Steven Daniel Sacks, Cornell College, Panelist (20 min)
Yaakov Elman, Yeshiva University, Panelist (20 min)
Rivka Ulmer, Bucknell University, Respondent (20 min)
Discussion (30 min)

Tuesday, 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM – S22-119: History and Literature of Early Rabbinic Judaism
Room: Sierra J – Marriott Marquis

Theme: Methodological Considerations for the Study of the Babylonian Talmud in Light of Syriac and Middle Persian Sources

Carol Bakhos, University of California-Los Angeles, Presiding
Yaakov Elman, Yeshiva University, Panelist (20 min)
Richard Kalmin, Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Panelist (20 min)
Prods Oktor Skjaervo, Harvard University, Panelist (20 min)
Michal Bar-Asher Siegal, Tel Aviv University, Panelist (20 min)
Richard Payne, Mount Holyoke College, Panelist (20 min)
Adam Becker, New York University, Panelist (20 min)
Discussion (30 min)

Tuesday, 9:00 AM to 10:30 AM – S22-127: Midrash
Room: Twin Peaks – Intercontinental

Theme: Meaning and Messianism in Midrash

W. David Nelson, Groton School, Presiding
Serge Ruzer, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Comprehensive Messianic Midrash in the Making: From 1 Enoch to Gospels to Genesis Rabbah (20 min)
Rachel Adelman, Harvard University
Preempting the Redemption: The Bones of the Ephraimites and the Messianic Pretender in Midrash (20 min)
Jonathan Kaplan, Yale University
Finding the Elusive Lover: Early Rabbinic Re-reading of the Song of Songs as a Statement of God’s Abiding Presence with Israel (20 min)
Marc Bregman, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
The Early History of Midrashic Texts (20 min)
Discussion (10 min)

Additional papers of interest:

Sunday, 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM – S20-130a – Meals in the Greco-Roman World
Room: 3012 – Convention Center

Food and Identity in Early Rabbinic Judaism Jordan D. Rosenblum, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Sunday, 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM – S20-220a – Early Jewish Christian Relations
Room: Cyril Magnin I – Renaissance Parc 55

Rabbis and Disciples of Jesus—A Conflict Over Interpretive Authority Karin Hedner Zetterholm, Lund University

There’s Something about Mary’s Child: Rabbinic Polemics and the Early Christian Scribal Reception of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas Stephen J. Davis, Yale University

Sunday, 3:00 pm-4:30 pm – A20-275 – Lesbian-Feminist Issues and Religion Group and Religion and Disability Studies Group

Brides and Blemishes: Queering Women’s Disability in the Babylonian Talmud, Julia Watts Belser, Missouri State University

Sunday, 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM – S20-340 – Speech and Talk: Discourses and Social Practices in the Ancient Mediterranean World
Room: Yerba Buena 15 – Marriott Marquis

Décor, Decorum, and Declamation: The Spatial Setting of Rabbinic Speech Gil Klein, Loyola Marymount University
The Memory of Hagar’s Talk in Christian and Jewish Texts Marianne Kartzow, Universitetet i Oslo

Sunday, 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM – S20-337 – Rhetoric and the New Testament
Room: Nob Hill D – Marriott Marquis

Early Rabbinic Rhetoric: An Introductory Catalogue Jack N. Lightstone, Brock University

Monday, 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM – S21-143 – Sensory Perception in the Bible and Early Judaism and Christianity
Room: Sierra J – Marriott Marquis

The Garden of Eden: A Sensual Study in Rabbinic Midrash Deborah Green, University of Oregon

Monday, 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM – S21-211a – Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah
Room: Golden Gate C3 – Marriott Marquis

The Voluntary Nature of the Nehemiah Covenant in Rabbinic Literature David A. Glatt-Gilad, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Monday, 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM – S21-304
Biblical Hebrew Poetry
Room: 2012 – Convention Center

Did the Rabbis “Forget” Parallelism? A Reassessment of Biblical Hebrew Parallelism in Tannaitic Midrashim Jonathan Kaplan, Yale University

Monday, 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM – S21-331 – Religious Competition in the Third Century CE: Interdisciplinary Approaches
Room: Yerba Buena 12 – Marriott Marquis

Inscription as Competition: Graffiti and Cultural Identity in the Greco-Roman Levant Karen B. Stern, Brooklyn College of City University of New York
. Authority and Empire in Sasanian Persia: The Socio-cultural Interface between the Babylonian Sages and Zoroastrian Priests  Jason Mokhtarian, Indiana University (Bloomington)
Gregg Gardner, University of British Columbia, Respondent

Conferences, English, Guest Posts

SBL Conference, Day 2 Part 2- Guest Post by Ari Lamm

This is the last post in a three part series of guest posts by Ari Lamm. For prior installments see the Guest Contributors page.

During my back-and-forth with Paul Heger I had to make the trek from the back of the room, near the outlets sustaining my laptop, to the front where I could be better heard by my interlocutor. On my way back to my seat I passed Dr. Shani Tzoref (Israel Antiquities Authority), on account of whose upcoming presentation I had attended this section (“Nonbiblical Dead Sea Scrolls: Themes and Perspectives Consultation”) in the first place. Dr. Tzoref’s paper was absolutely fascinating, and I more than suspect that the following summary will not do it justice. In lieu of a proper report, in fact, I will simply point to what I considered to be the paper’s highlights.

Dr. Tzoref began by referring to Daniel Schwartz’s famous heuristic regarding early Jewish law, classifying the Qumranic approach as “realist” and the rabbinic approach as “nominalist.” Adding a further wrinkle to this distinction, Tzoref categorized the Josephan approach as “subjectivist.” In distinguishing between the three, Tzoref provided a helpful analogy to baseball umpiring (for those foreigners not familiar with the intricacies of America’s beloved national pastime, I’m sure the analogy works equally well for whatever heathen contest you happen to fancy…): a realist umpire says, “I call it like it is”; a subjectivist umpire says, “I call it like I see ‘em”; a nominalist umpire says, “They ain’t balls and strikes ‘till I say they are!”

A realist umpire says, “I call it like it is”; a subjectivist umpire says, “I call it like I see ‘em”; a nominalist umpire says, “They ain’t balls and strikes ‘till I say they are!”

Tzoref focused specifically on marriage at Qumran as a focal point for fine-tuning our conception of ancient Jewish perspectives on the operating structures of Biblical rules in a broader sense. According to Eyal Regev, Tzoref explained, CD’s view of marriage is highly idealized – and I would note, in addition, that Schwartz himself attempted to articulate the Qumran community’s “realist” construction of marriage, based on the principle of “yesod ha-beriah” – and is in fact diametrically opposed to the idea of celibate Essenes that we encounter in Josephus’ portrayal of the group. However, Joan Taylor’s recent re-reading of War 2 – containing Josephus’ seemingly contradictory reports of the Essenes as, on the one hand, disdainful of marriage (War 2.119), and, on the other, as valuing marriage and developing special rules to ensure its sanctity (War 2.160) – yields the conclusion that Josephus has two kinds of Essenes in mind all along. He certainly knows that not all do away with marriage, but he also knows of the popular conception (found in Philo as well) that the Essenes did away with marriage entirely. He thus employed this popular (but mistaken) view to make a general point about lust, faithfulness, and the basic unreliability of women in the sexual realm. (Tzoref did not cite Taylor’s essay – or if she did, I missed it – but I recall her making this point as early as 2007, in an article in Studia Philonica Annual; I’d appreciate anyone correcting the reference).

This fascinating reading is complicated somewhat by 4Q271, in which we read the instruction that a cadre of experienced, trustworthy women should examine a woman prior to marriage (rather than in the event of an accusation, as per Deuteronomy) to verify her virginity. Even given Taylor’s distinction between the various potential goals of Josephus’ presentation of the Essene view of women and marriage, we are still left to reconcile Josephus’ invocation of the Essene community as a model for his point about the untrustworthiness of women with 4Q271’s explicit reliance on female evaluations of an urgent matter of sexual purity.

In due course, Tzoref argued that while Qumran and Josephus are consistent in maintaining a general mistrust of women – manifested, in this instance, in a fear that a woman will sleep with someone else before marriage – this mistrust rises merely to the level of presumption. As such, it may be rebutted where and when appropriate. Indeed, in this case the Mevaqer selects specific women whom he knows to be trustworthy, and relies upon them for the inspection.

Tzoref’s resolution of this problem pointed eventually to a more general point about Josephus’ “subjectivist” perspective. Indeed, Josephus’ general mistrust of women is reflected in his subjectivist explication of the core issue at stake in this case, namely, marriage to a virgin. For Josephus, this is simply a good policy, as he writes, “men should be wise in the affairs of wedlock; and that it was profitable both to cities and families that children should be known to be genuine” (Ant. 3.276).

Over the course of the rest of her presentation, Tzoref identified a variety of realist-subjectivist-nominalist differences in perspective between Qumran, Josephus and the rabbis. She pointed specifically to priest-captive marriage, and the various rationales for the prohibition of mixed kinds.

In the discussion period I pointed to Jeffrey Rubenstein’s substantial critique of Schwartz’s position, wherein he notes several instances in which the bifurcation between Qumran realism and rabbinic nominalism does not withstand scrutiny. I conceded, however, that Rubenstein himself admits that Schwartz’s case is strongest with regard to marriage (although not uncle-niece marriage, where Rubenstein quite convincingly rebuts Schwartz’s claim).

As the section participants began to file out of the room with the conclusion of Tzoref’s presentation, a fire alarm began to sound. As King’s College staff began unceremoniously dumping various and sundry distinguished historians on the sidewalk in the back of the building, I somehow found myself conversing with Bernard Jackson (Liverpool Hope University). We just had time to set a date for tea (we were in England, after all) before I set out on an immensely enjoyable walk to Westminster station with a former teacher of mine (during which we discussed the relative merits and faults of the present British monarchy).

Upon my return to the conference building, I set out for the “Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Law Section.” Yuval Sinai (Netanya Academic College School of Law) led off the section with a survey of ancient and medieval Jewish sources dealing with collective punishment. Sinai noted the tendency of some Israeli Supreme Court justices (especially Mishael Heshin) to invoke “the law of Moses, and…what is written in the Bible” in support of rejecting wholesale the legitimacy of the strategy of collective punishment. Sinai argued that Heshin has failed in this regard to take stock of the breadth and depth of Jewish tradition. Noting both counterexamples, and Jewish authorities from the medieval period onwards who have attempted to reconcile this data, Sinai hypothesized that, in the main, Jewish tradition has seen the prohibition on collective punishment as an ideal law, but one that either cannot be, or is not, always put into practice.

Commending Sinai on an extensive and erudite presentation, Bernard Jackson suggested that we delineate two separate issues addressed by Sinai: the internal tension within Biblical sources, and the use to which these (and other) sources have been put within the modern State of Israel. Jackson guessed that Heshin is not concerned with halakhahper se, but with establishing a general “moreshet Yisrael” (“Jewish tradition”) approach to (re)constructing Jewish values – what Jackson called the “Ahad Ha’am approach” after the great Hebrew essayist and founder of cultural Zionism. While expressing general agreement, Sinai cautioned that in endeavoring to build a tradition from scratch, one runs the risk of cherry-picking sources to fit an agenda.

After taking a break for tea (in my case, Diet Coke) with Drs. Bernard Jackson and Yuval Sinai, I returned for one more presentation in this section – by Andreas Kunz-Lubcke (Univeristy of Leipzig) on legal resonances within the Rape of Tamar narrative – before hurrying off to the Hellenistic Judaism Section just in time for Vincent Skemp’s (St. Catherine University) presentation entitled, “The Alleged Prohibtion on Pronouncing the Tetragrammaton, an Assessment of the Evidence in Second Temple Judaism.”

Skemp set out as his task to explore the available evidence concerning whether the Tetragrammaton could or should be pronounced, and by whom. Complicating this question is the matter of determining its spelling in antiquity. Indeed, sometimes it is spelled as a trigrammaton (as at Elephantine and in some of the Dead Sea Scrolls) or bigrammaton. Related to this issue is the question of how many letters or sounds composing the Divine Name constituted an utterance. With regard to its actual deployment in ancient sources, we find that it is at times written in paleo-Hebrew – even, on occasion, in Greek texts. Sometimes ancient sources record the Name in Assyrian text; sometimes it is written with different ink; sometimes with dots to mark it out; in one case it is written with an extrayod at the end. In any event, while rabbinic literature ends up prohibiting pronouncing the Name, some scholars argue that this represents a minority opinion and that the popular practice to pronounce the Name was dominant. In fact, there are some late rabbinic texts that seek historical explanations for the ban (see e.g. bR.H. 18b).

After surveying a variety of Biblical and post-Biblical (including rabbinic) sources that touch on the matter, Skemp concluded with an interesting note on contemporary scholarly practice. He specifically mentioned Emanuel Tov’s policy of refraining from writing the full Tetragrammaton, as well as Louis Feldman’s practice to omit the “O” of the word “God.”

During Skemp’s lecture I experienced a nagging feeling in the back of my head that a reference was missing from the presentation. By the time the discussion period arrived I finally recalled the source I was searching for: Ruth 2:4. As a sophomore in Yeshiva University I remember Professor Moshe Bernstein marveling at the stark employment of the Tetragrammaton in this verse; for some reason this observation always stuck with me, and I managed to put it to good use in the discussion period following Skemp’s lecture. I pointed out that Ruth 2:4 (which actually serves as the basis for mBer 9:5, a source Skemp cited) is actually an example of non-elites employing the Tetragrammaton as part of an everyday, non-Temple-related, greeting formula.

Ari Lamm is concluding a year as a Fulbright scholar based at University College, London and the School of Oriental and African Studies. 

Conferences, English, Recent Publications

Bar Ilan Talmud Conference Proceedings

Back in 2007, I attended a Talmud conference at Bar Ilan University. It was an international meeting, and included a nice variety of scholars from both sides of the Atlantic, along with a “continental” Talmudist or two. The proceedings have recently been published by Bar Ilan University Press under the title Malekhet Mahshevet: Studies in the Redaction and Development of Talmudic Literature (eds. Aron Shemesh and Aron Amit).   Although the volume does not include all of the original papers, I’ll quote Uriel Shklunik by saying that the volume is like finely sifted flour.  Some highlights are the ongoing debate about the dating of the Stam between Robert Brody and Shamma Friedman, Yaakov Elman’s continued research of the introduction to talmudic tractates, and Steven Fraade’s preliminary probe: “Anonymity and Redaction in Legal Midrash.” For an English table of contents, see here.

Conferences, English, Guest Posts

SBL Conference Day 2 – Guest Post by Ari Lamm

  continued from day 1

I got a bit of a later start on Tuesday than I had on Monday.  Busy packing up our London apartment for our move back to New York – my wife and daughter had already made their way home a week earlier – I ended up missing the first two lectures of Tuesday’s initial block of sessions.  Fortunately, I managed to attend several fantastic lectures over the course of the day.

As soon as my Northern Line train pulled into Waterloo Station I navigated my way through the complex maze of underpasses leading to the King’s College campus, and dashed upstairs to the “Non-biblical Dead Sea Scrolls: Themes and Perspectives” section. This session was convened specifically to address the topic, “Images of the Feminine in the Dead Sea Scrolls.” I arrived just in time to get my laptop ready for Claire Ruth Pfann’ (University of the Holy Land) presentation entitled, “Women at Qumran: Fact or Fiction?” Making use of what she referred to as a revised version of De Vaux’s chronology of the site, Pfann concluded that throughout the history of habitation at Qumran, finds that might indicate the presence of women (e.g. hairnets, feminine fabric patterns, jewelry, spindle whorls, etc.) are absent. During the period Pfann has designated IIb (66-68 CE), however, we begin to find in sealed loci possible indicators of female habitation of the site. These finds continue to appear in layer III (post-73 CE). Pfann thus sees evidence for Revolt-related female habitation at Qumran just prior to the revolt (during a period beginning in 66 CE), but not beforehand.

The discussion period following Pfann’s presentation produced the most heated exchange that I had seen at SBL to that point. Jodi Magness (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) questioned Pfann’s decision to posit a separate stage of habitation commencing in 66 CE, rather than a single period beginning some time early in the reign of Herod Archelaus (i.e. around 4 BCE). Pfann’s view, doggedly defended during the subsequent session break by Stephen Pfann (University of the Holy Land), is that an observable change in material culture before and after 66 CE – as well as the eventual presence at the site of Revolt-era coins (97 from Year 2, and 3 from Year 3) – is sufficient to suggest a separate habitation, which may be dated to 66 CE. Magness countered – as far as I could understand (and hear…things got pretty tense!) – that no “change in material culture” in fact occurred. Instead, the original inhabitants from approximately 4 BCE simply adapted to evolving tastes in dishware and the like. In other words, Magness strenuously insisted, no evidence exists that should force us to suggest a fresh habitation of the site in 66 CE.

Once presentations resumed following the break, I returned to the same section only to encounter my least favorite presentation of the conference: Paul Heger’s (University of Toronto) paper entitled, “The Status of Women in Scripture, Rabbinic and Qumran Literatures.” At the risk of oversimplifying things (although this tendency was precisely my problem with the paper itself), Heger argued that while the Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls and rabbinic literature all more or less agree that women possess a subordinate legal status, the Rabbis venture even further in saddling women with a subordinate social status as well.

Paul Gaugin, "Eve - Don't Listen to the Liar.' 1889. Watecolor and paste. Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, TX. courtesy of wikicommons.

Heger introduced his lecture by presenting what he saw as a simple, unbiased reading of the Fall from Eden narrative. In Heger’s view, the text does not fault Eden any more so than Adam for sinning against God; in fact, as Heger implied at several points during his talk, the biblical narrative may even skew against Adam on occasion.

Heger then seemed to assume that the soundness of his reading should be readily apparent to most, perhaps all those who engage the text. Given this, Heger employed his reading as the standard against which both Qumranic and rabbinic  interpretations should be measured. Heger then proceeded to highlight commentary on this narrative from various Dead Sea Scroll sources, which he noted tended to see this episode as a cautionary tale against man’s lustful and generally sinful nature. Eve, he noted, is not implicated as a villain in these readings.

In contrast, Heger pointed to a slew of rabbinic texts, culled from sources as diverse as the Tosefta, Genesis Rabbah, and the Bavli, that cast Eve, especially her feminine sexuality, as the primary culprit in humankind’s Fall. Although noting that exceptions exist, Heger viewed this as the dominant depiction of Eve within rabbinic literature, and as such an indicator that the Rabbis went further than other erstwhile Biblical interpreters in marginalizing women. Heger noted, however, that the Rabbis may not have been directly concerned – at least in this context – with women’s social status per se. Their excessive social demotion of women, therefore, may have been a mere byproduct of an earnest inquiry into the dangers of sexual temptation for males concerned to avoid transgression.

I found Heger’s paper deeply unsatisfying from both a methodological and interpretative perspective. During the discussion period I raised several points with respect to the former. First, I asked that we consider the hazards of attempting to create a coherent programmatic statement out of rabbinic texts drawn from a variety of disparate geographical and chronological contexts. On a related note, I pointed out the problematic nature of referring to “the Rabbis” – as if reducing several hundred years of complex and multivalent development into a single corporate identity somehow makes things simpler instead of vastly more complicated. Finally, I commented that some of the texts to which Heger pointed over the course of his analysis (BT Yoma 18b, in particular) have actually been noted for their reflection of a specifically Sasanian milieu, rather than as merely several points on a broad, rabbinic continuum.

Heger responded rather forcefully that by no means had he suggested that “the Rabbis” only had negative things to say about women. The denigration of Eve, however, is so pervasive throughout rabbinic thought that, in Heger’s view, we may deduce the rabbinic view of women (or some part of it) from the texts in which it appears as a theme. I did not feel at all that this answer addressed my question.

Following Heger’s paper, those who stayed until the end of the morning session were treated to a phenomenal paper by Shani Tzoref (listed as University of Sydney, but announced beforehand as affiliated with the Israel Antiquities Authority). This paper remained my favorite of the conference. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to cover this paper, along with the rest of the lectures I attended throughout the remainder of Day 2, in a subsequent post.

Ari Lamm is concluding a year as a Fulbright scholar based at University College, London and the School of Oriental and African Studies.