Dissertations, English

Dissertations and Thesis, 2014

With another December upon us and another calendar year almost through, as usual we have put together a list of recent dissertations with relevance for Talmud. It is always nice to see projects that we have followed over the years come to fruition, and even offer promise of further interesting research in years ahead. Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind, please do drop us a line and we will be happy to add dissertations and theses that we missed. And to all the recent graduates: we’ll tak’ a right gude-willie waught, for auld lang syne.


Mika Ahuvia, Israel Among the Angels—Angels and Authority in Late Antique Jewish Texts, Princeton University, 2014.

This dissertation examines how Jews conceptualized angels in rabbinic, liturgical, ritual, and early mystical sources from the fourth through the eighth century C.E. in Palestine and Babylonia. While some rabbinic traditions uphold the angels as messengers of God, others were more ambivalent toward them, discouraging attention to angels and privileging the close relationship between Israel and God instead. Chapter two centers on the liturgical works of the sixth century poet Yannai and his synthesis of diverse Jewish traditions about angels in his liturgical texts. This chapter contextualizes Yannai’s encouragement of his audience to think of themselves as praying with the angels, and examines how Yannai singles out certain authorities within the synagogue for comparison with the angels. Chapter three highlights the variety of ways in which Jews invoked angels and other authorities for assistance in so-called “magical” or ritual bowls, amulets, and manuals from Babylonia and Palestine. Ritual texts in particular show that named and unnamed angels were part of a spectrum of authority figures to which ancient Jews appealed in their times of need. Alongside angels, Jews turned to ritual practitioners, folk heroes, and rabbis for guidance and intercession with God. Chapter four investigates the early mystical treatise Hekhalot Rabbati, which captures the worldview of those Jews most preoccupied with angels. Jewish mystics strove to live in synchronicity with the angels, to achieve angelic status, and even to command the angels. As each chapter demonstrates, no systematic angelology predominated among Jews in late antiquity. Rather, different circles of Jews upheld different traditions about angels. Ancient Jewish texts on angels reveal a diverse and dynamic society, where many mediating figures bridged the gap between Israel and God and served a variety of functions for individuals and communities.

Ari Bergmann, “Halevy, Halivni and the Oral Formation of the Babylonian Talmud,” Columbia University, 2014.

This dissertation is dedicated to a detailed analysis and comparison of the theories on the process of the formation of the Babylonian Talmud by Yitzhak Isaac Halevy and David Weiss Halivni. These two scholars exhibited a similar mastery of the talmudic corpus and were able to combine the roles of historian and literary critic to provide a full construct of the formation of the Bavli with supporting internal evidence to support their claims. However, their historical construct and findings are diametrically opposed.

Yitzhak Isaac Halevy presented a comprehensive theory of the process of the formation of the Talmud in his magnum opus Dorot Harishonim. The scope of his work was unprecedented and his construct on the formation of the Talmud encompassed the entire process of the formation of the Bavli, from the Amoraim in the 4th century to the end of the saboraic era (which he argued closed in the end of the 6th century). Halevy was the ultimate guardian of tradition and argued that the process of the formation of the Bavli took place entirely within the amoraic academy by a highly structured and coordinated process and was sealed by an international rabbinical assembly. While Halevy was primarily a historian, David Weiss Halivni is primarily a talmudist and commentator on the Talmud itself. Halivni offers his bold construct of the history of the formation of the Bavli in the context of his commentary Meqorot Umesorot, which spans almost the entire Babylonian Talmud. Halivni explains the process of the formation of the Bavli as taking place well after amoraic times in a massive unstructured process of reconstruction. This dissertation will demonstrate that both of the theories of Halevy and Halivni are in need of careful analysis and revision. Halevy’s construct despite providing valuable scholarly insights is tainted by a strong ideological agenda. On the other hand, Halivni, as a literary critic, provides insightful literary analysis and his conclusions on the uniqueness of the stam have been firmly established in contemporary scholarship. However, when analyzing Halivni’s theory one must distinguish between his literary conclusions and his historical construct. The later is a constantly evolving theory, and it has presented numerous problems as it has developed over time, mainly in the introductions to Meqorot Umesorot.

The body of this dissertation consists of three chapters, each focusing on a different model for the formation of the Bavli. Chapter One focuses on Halevy, beginning with his biography and continuing with an in-depth analysis of the scope and purpose of his Dorot Harishonim and the ideological import of his research. The second chapter addresses the theory of Halivni on the formation of the Bavli. After a biographical sketch of Halivni’s life, I review the scope and purpose of Meqorot Umesorot with a special emphasis on his scholarship ki’peshuto, followed by a detailed analysis of his model and the evidence he offers in support of it. The third chapter proposes an alternative model for the formation of the Talmud which combines aspects of Halevy’s and Halivni’s theories. I propose a model that includes a fixed oral text, accompanied by an oral fluid commentary. This dual form of transmission accounts for the diverse structure and style of the apodictic material and the dialectical interpretative argumentation of the stam. The fixed apodictic text, the proto-Talmud follows the basic contour of Halevy’s model, while the understanding of the stam follows many aspects of Halivni’s description of the reconstruction of the dialectical argumentation by the Stammaim. By applying form criticism to determine the Sitz im Leben of talmudic transmission and teaching, combined with recent scholarship on the various forms of oral transmission, I propose a framework which allows for a developmental model which integrates the perceptive historical insights of Halevy with Halivni’s literary findings.

Amy Birkan, “The Limited Scope of Victimhood in Rabbinic Law: ‘The Plaintiff Must Distance Himself from Harm,”  The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2014.

A fundamental precept in Rabbinic law is that greater responsibility falls on the plaintiff to avert her harm than on the defendant not to cause it. This work is comprised of six chapters each of which presents a different facet of plaintiff-responsibility. The first chapter, dealing with Tort,
exposes the substantive responsibility legislation places on the plaintiff to be vigilant in the public sector in order to avoid obstacles created by the tortfeasor. The second chapter analyzes the Rabbinic approach to psycho-emotional harm, which centers on the notion that the דעת בר is the exclusive master of her mind and is therefore singularly responsible for any damage generated therein. The third chapter looks at the scope of the responsibility placed on the plaintiff to be self-determining by examining rulings in cases of enticement. Here legislation is required to choose whether or not an agent is accountable for breaking law when she does so as a result of the defendant’s influence. The forms of enticement dealt with include bribery, authoritative coercion, and seduction. The fourth chapter looks at the same concept, an agent’s responsibility to be self-determining, but through the category Acts Done under Provocation. The rulings for these cases are used to demonstrate the extent to which legislation requires the plaintiff to select a response to the defendant’s inciting act. It also examines whether or not legislation ever considers provocation a valid excuse for a harmful reaction it triggers. The rulings for this class of cases have strong implications on legislation’s notion of involuntary acts. The fifth chapter examines plaintiff-responsibility in the context of capital crime. It is shown that the factor of whether or not the plaintiff could have evaded lethal conditions created by the defendant is critical for determining the latter’s culpability. The material also presents the Bavli’s extension of the doctrine that foremost responsibility falls on the plaintiff to save her life to a legal imperative for the plaintiff to heal herself following the defendant’s attack. The sixth chapter looks at a policy created in the Bavli in the branch of נזקי the plaintiff must distance himself from’) על הניזק להרחיק את עצמו מן הנזק termed שכנים harm’). In place of requiring the tortfeasor to desist from common activities on her land that generate harm to the plaintiff’s property, the Bavli requires the plaintiff at all times to take measures to avoid the harm. The broad picture that emerges through the legalities addressed
in this work is that Rabbinic legislation accentuates the plaintiff’s responsibility to actively ensure her wellbeing through vigilance and self-determination.

Aaron Glaim, “Reciprocity, Sacrifice and Salvation in Judean Religion at the Turn of the Era,” Brown University, 2014.

Joshua Gutoff, “Talmud Study and the Development of the Moral Imagination: A Theoretical Framework,” The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 2013.

This dissertation in Talmud pedagogy presents an approach designed to help nurture the moral imagination of students. Influenced by the work of literary scholars such as Wayne C. Booth and Martha Nussbaum, and Talmudists including David Kraemer, Daniel Boyarin, and Marjorie Lehman, this work is based on the hypothesis that particular reading strategies can help develop both empathy and a creative ethical vision, and that the nature of Talmud makes it particularly useful for such an approach.

Following Bakhtin, three levels of Talmudic discourse are identified: one concerned with a teaching addressed to an audience; one in which two or more characters interact directly; and one in which the redactor brings various texts and voices into conversation with each other. These levels are mapped against the kinds of moral concerns each presents, and then examined individually.

I first address how students might read normative statements of law, ethics, or theology in such a way that the reading itself contributes to their moral development, independent of the wisdom or utility of the specific teachings. I identify the different imaginative skills demanded by such a reading and their moral significance, and illustrate ways in which teachers who are focusing on the propositional content of the Talmud can make the achievement of their curricular goals an opportunity for practicing those skills.

Turning to interactions between characters or voices, I discuss how, by attending to the nuances of the language and behavior between the characters, students can arrive at ethically compelling readings of passages without committing to either the reality of the events described or the righteousness of any of the characters.

Lastly, I look at teaching that highlights the activity of the Stam , the anonymous redactor of the Talmud. I demonstrate that the student’s awareness of the Stam ‘s creative work can lead to an understanding of theStam as an independent moral agent, and then to an exploration of meaning and import of his choices.

In the concluding chapter I discuss some the implications of this dissertation, both for education, and for the role Talmud plays in broader Jewish culture, and close by reflecting on the relationship between the imagination and play in regard to religion and religious texts.

Margaret Jacobi, “Literary Construction in the Babylonian Talmud: A Case Study from Perek Helek,” University of Birmingham, 2014.

Perek Helek, the last chapter of Tractate Sanhedrin in the Babylonian Talmud (BT), is unusual in consisting almost entirely of aggadah (non-legal material). The present study is a source and literary analysis of six units (sugyot) from the chapter, which are almost continuous over ten pages of Talmud.

The sugyot relate to specific groups and individuals who, according to the Mishnah, are denied a place in the World to Come. They cover subjects in the books of Genesis, Numbers and Samuel.

Comparisons with the Tosefta, Palestinian Talmud and midrashim suggest that the BT is less concerned with the World to Come than Palestinian sources are. Rather, it focuses on the wrong-doing of the groups and individuals and issues of justice and authority. The BT also includes vivid stories which appear to be Babylonian in origin and are often self-mocking.

My findings also suggest that the sugyot based on passages in a given biblical book (Genesis or Numbers) have more elements in common than sugyot based on the same mishnah but derived from a different biblical book. In conclusion I discuss the possible implications of my findings for the more general question of how the chapter was edited.

Ayelet Libson, “Radical Subjectivity: Law and Self-Knowledge in the Babylonian Talmud,” New York University, 2014.

This dissertation examines the emergence of self-knowledge as a determining legal consideration among the rabbis of late antiquity, from the second to the seventh centuries C.E. Based on close readings of rabbinic texts from Palestine and Babylonia, the dissertation analyzes the central legal role accorded to individuals’ knowledge of their bodies and mental states in areas of law such as menstrual purity laws, family law and the laws of the Sabbath.

Legal systems generally aim to structure their statutes in a form as objective as possible, in an attempt to transcend the personal viewpoints of the parties involved. One way in which law treats people objectively is by regulating behavior; it does not seek to coerce feelings or attitudes, and it does not investigate feelings or attitudes unless wrongful behavior has been previously established. While the rule of law is usually upheld by focusing on external, objective standards, I highlight a unique phenomenon which develops in the Babylonian Talmud, in which legal decision making is based on personal knowledge, experience and intuition–which are by definition subjective. Although rabbinic culture is highly legalistic, I demonstrate that the later rabbis were themselves concerned with the reaches of their own legal authority, and therefore carved out an unexpected space for the experience of individuals, not only as an extra-legal factor, but as constituting law itself. I argue that the ancient rabbis came to recognize that certain kinds of knowledge–especially knowledge of the body–could only be mediated through an individual’s own experience, thereby allowing for an unprecedented degree of personal autonomy.

Scholars have demonstrated that the period of late antiquity saw the emergence of a sophisticated conception of the inner self. I locate talmudic discourse within this culture, and demonstrate how the rabbis incorporated the innovative notions of selfhood and an inner world specifically into the legal realm. The dissertation combines philological-historical investigation with the tools of legal and philosophical analysis to produce a study which contributes to a better understanding of talmudic law and ethics. The fruits of this inquiry will be of interest not only to scholars of ancient law, but also to those considering questions of jurisprudence, gender, and the nature of the self.

John Mandsager, “To Stake a Claim: The Making of Rabbinic Agricultural Spaces in the Roman Countryside,” Stanford University, 2014.

This dissertation argues that the prescriptions for Jewish practice and the boundaries of Jewish space in the Late Antique countryside may be considered a call by the rabbis for the transformation of a landscape filled with many different neighbors, from non-rabbinic Jews to Roman conquerors. The rabbinic sources set forth the vision for an idealized Jewish landscape filled with rabbinic Jews who manage their estates in accordance with God’s will. In modern scholarship, agricultural rituals and spaces in the Mishnah and the Tosefta are often set aside in favor of consideration of urban life and society. By interrogating the importance of these spaces and their rituals, this dissertation shows that the authors of Jewish literature adopt Roman ideals of rural life but subvert those ideals to impose a specifically Jewish vernacular upon the landscape. The commitment to Biblical laws of agriculture, even in light of profound changes to the landscape wrought by Roman imperial domination, serves to challenge that domination through the assertion of distinctly Jewish agricultural spaces. In this dissertation, the halakhic reasoning and argumentation found in early rabbinic literature is analyzed through textual, literary, and spatial analysis to reveal the cultural and spatial ideals of the creators of these texts. These legal texts describe a world filled with outsiders, from Roman conquerors to Jews with different interpretations of scripture and practice: the laws of Jewish farming serve to differentiate normative Jewish practice and social structures from those others. It is the spatial aspect of agricultural life, from its fences to its regimented rows of crops that serve to physically and visually mark a Jewish space as distinct. This dissertation offers tools for spatial analysis of legal texts in rabbinic Judaism specifically and imperial spaces more broadly.

Elana Stein-Hein, “Rabbinic Legal Loopholes: Formalism, Equity and Subjectivity,Columbia University, 2014.

Rabbinic law is particularly well known for its use of legal dodges and technical circumventions. This dissertation focuses on three main questions about such loopholes: 1) Why is rabbinic law so replete with them? 2) Are they always permitted, and if not, what are the parameters of their use? 3) What does the use of legal loopholes reveal about rabbinic views of the relationship between intention and action? We attempt to answer these questions by analyzing a particular subset of rabbinic legal loopholes known as ha‘arama (cunning). Tracing the history and use of ha‘arama from tannaitic to amoraic sources, this work places rabbinic legal loopholes in context of Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern worldviews, Greco-Roman perspectives, and later contemporaneous Zoroastrian approaches. Working with both tannaitic and amoraic materials, with Palestinian and Babylonian sources, we observe a progression within rabbinic thinking on this front: from rigid legal formalism to a concern for the inner spirit of the law, and from emphasis on the inner spirit of the law to an interest in the inner spirit of the individual legal agent.

Mira Wasserman, “The Humanity of the Talmud: Reading for Ethics in Bavli Avoda Zara,” University of California, Berkeley, 2014.

In this dissertation, I argue that there is an ethical dimension to the Babylonian Talmud, and that literary analysis is the approach best suited to uncover it. Paying special attention to the discursive forms of the Talmud, I show how juxtapositions of narrative and legal dialectics cooperate in generating the Talmud’s distinctive ethics, which I characterize as an attentiveness to the “exceptional particulars” of life.

To demonstrate the features and rewards of a literary approach, I offer a sustained reading of a single tractate from the Babylonian Talmud, ‘Avoda Zara (AZ). AZ and other talmudic discussions about non-Jews offer a rich resource for considerations of ethics because they are centrally concerned with constituting social relationships and with examining aspects of human experience that exceed the domain of Jewish law. AZ investigates what distinguishes Jews from non-Jews, what Jews and non-Jews share in common, and what it means to be a human being.

I read AZ as a cohesive literary work unified by the overarching project of examining the place of humanity in the cosmos. The talmudic materials are organized as a journey down the cosmic chain of being, from the supernal realm of souls and spirit, to the material world of embodied, animal existence, to the inanimate domain of physical objects. In tracing this descent, I discover in AZ the outlines of a rabbinic anthropology that affirms the common humanity of Jews and non-Jews, and highlights the role of Jewish law in constituting Jewish difference.

As I make my way through AZ, I bring the talmudic text into dialogue with critical insights and issues from philosophy and literary theory. Pointing to ways that the editors of AZ engage the philosophic currents of their time, I challenge the prevailing characterization of the Bavli editors as inwardly focused. Even more important, I explore how AZ engages the critical questions of our time–questions of identity and alterity, of universalism and particularism, of justice and community.


יהושפט הראל, ‘סוגיות ארץ ישראליות לסדר קדשים’, האוניברסיטה העברית בירושלים, תשע”ד.
אסתר פישר. זה יצרו מבחוץ וזו יצרה בפנים – היבטים מגדריים של המיניות בספרות חז”ל, אונ’ בר אילן, 2014
עבודה זו עוסקת בשיח של חז”ל על מיניות נשים מתוך השוואתה לשיח המקביל על מיניות גברים. העבודה בוחנת את מאפייני המיניות הנשית העולים מתוך ספרות חז”ל: מהן הנחות היסוד העומדות בבסיס מאפיינים אלו; באילו אופנים דומה המיניות הנשית למיניות הגברית ובאילו אופנים היא שונה ממנה; מה היחס בין המקורות האגדיים למקורות ההלכתיים העוסקים בהיבטים המגדריים של המין והמיניות בספרות חז”ל. הנחת המוצא של העבודה היא שספרות חז”ל היא ספרות פטריארכלית; היא נכתבה על ידי גברים עבור קהל קוראים גברי, ולכן עוסקת לרוב בגברים. משום כך ההבניה המגדרית הרווחת אצל חז”ל רואה בגבר סובייקט בעל צרכים, רצונות ותשוקות, ואילו באישה היא רואה אובייקט שייעודו למלא את צרכי הסובייקט ואת תשוקותיו. עם זאת לטענתי מאפיין זה אינו מוחלט בתרבויות פטריארכליות בכלל ובתרבות חז”ל בפרט. כיוון שספרות חז”ל היא רב-רובדית ופוליפונית, היא טומנת בחובה יותר מאשר צורה אחת להבניה מגדרית. מתוך הבנת הפוטנציאל הטמון בריבוי הקולות בספרות חז”ל, המחקר הנוכחי בוחן את ההבניות המגדריות של המיניות בספרות זו. המחקר מתמקד בטקסטים המרכזיים והקנוניים של תקופת חז”ל, דהיינו החיבורים שנוצרו ונערכו בין המאה הראשונה לספירה למאה השביעית לספירה בארץ-ישראל ובבבל. ההנחה היא שהדיונים המתועדים בספרות זו היו בעלי תפקיד כפול בעולמם של חז”ל: הם ביטאו את הקודים התרבותיים על אודות מגדר שרווחו בתקופתם, אך בה בעת גם לימדו גברים ונשים מי הם, מה טיבם וכיצד עליהם לנהוג; הם שיקפו תפיסות על אודות המציאות אך גם יצרו מציאות. עבודה זו מפגישה בין שני תחומי מחקר: האחד הוא מחקר ספרות חז”ל והשני – ביקורת מגדר, אשר אחד מענפיה המרכזיים הוא חקר הגוף והמיניות. המפגש בין תחומים אלה הוביל בשנים האחרונות לפיתוח מחקר מגדרי בספרות חז”ל, שבו נטועה עבודה זו.



Yehudah Huberman, “‘Because of the Sight of the Eye’: An Historical Philological Inquiry of the Term and Halakhic Category,” Bar-Ilan University, 2013.


יש”י גזונדהייט, “מאבקי סמכות בין חכמים בבבל במאה הרביעית והשתקפותם בשתי תבניות דיאלוג ייחודיות”, אוניברסטית בן גוריון בנגב, 2014.
רון נחמיה לסרי, “‘מי שאחזו בולמוס’: קריאה ספרותית ותרבותית בתופעת הבולמוס בספרות החכמים”, אוניברסטית בן גוריון בנגב, 2014.
דוד סבתו, “מצוות בני נוח בספרות התנאית”, האוניברסיטה העברית, תשע”ד.
איתן פינסקי, “הגרמטיקליזציה של הפועל הוה בצירוף הוה+בינוני בארמית של התלמוד הבבלי”, האוניברסיטה העברית, 2013.
ידידה קורן, “הערלה והערלים בספרות היהודית העתיקה ויצירת היהודי הערל”, אוניברסיטת תל-אביב, תשע”ד.
Announcements, English, Guest Posts

A Tantalizing Tale of Temura Fragments – Guest Post by Noah Bickart

As a Talmudist at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, I have long been accustomed to fantastical tales about the discovery of ancient manuscripts of the Babylonian Talmud. That famous picture of Schechter in the Geniza hangs everywhere in our halls. We are taught from the beginning not only to read Raphael Nathan Rabinovitch’s Dikdukei Soferim, but to imagine him on some Sunday morning in Rome, unlocking the Vatican Apostolic Library with his own set of keys, sitting down to transcribe Vatican 109 by candlelight. We hear of our own Haim Zalman Dimitrovsky, who supervised the doctorates of so many of our own teachers (Shamma Friedman, Mayer Rabinowitz, Joel Roth, and Burton L. Visotzky among countless others), roaming the monasteries of Italy, excato knife in hand, no binding safe from the search for more Seridei Bavli. And yet, we are accustomed to thinking that the time for these kinds of monumental discoveries, of even a few leaves of a Tractate stuffed into the binding of a 16th century print, has long past, and that only European libraries and monasteries might hold more finds. You can imagine my surprise when I found myself staring at an image in a Facebook message of what looked to my own eyes as an early European manuscript of the Bavli, apparently having formed the cover of a book of Church Music published in Prague in 1604, now housed in Fales Library at New York University.

A young scholar of musicology, Sam Zerin, who happens to be married to a former student of mine, Rachel Dudley Zerin, is pursuing a doctorate under Professor Stanley Boorman at NYU. Dr. Boorman, with his students, is now working on this collection, comprising about a dozen volumes, all of which are bound in Vellum manuscripts, mostly Latin music texts. Yet three volumes are bound in parchment from a single manuscript in a language Dr. Boorman didn’t read. Sam, his student, immediately recognized the script as Hebrew, and offered to ask his wife Rachel if she knew anyone at JTS who might be able to identify the text. Having been subjected to my (in)famous synopses in a class she took with me on Aggadah in Seder Nashim some years ago, Rachel had Sam send me some pictures of these bindings.

When I saw the first picture, it became clear that this might actually be a major discovery. The topic was Temura (הוא לה’ קריבה ואין תמורתו לה’ קריבה) and featured a dispute between Rava and Abaye, meaning that what I was looking at was either the Babylonian Talmud or some text which quoted or paraphrased it. Some brief searching in the Bar Ilan Responsa database led me to assume that this might be a section of Yalkut Shimoni‘s version of Temura 3b, which more closely matched this MS than did the printed texts of the Bavli, yet searching in the Lieberman database of Talmudic manuscripts revealed that indeed this was a manuscript of Temura. At this point I called Professor Neil Danzig and sent him the pictures. The questions were broad: might this text hold the key to resolving the dispute between Y.N. Epstein and E.S. Rosenthal on the relative age and provenance of the “Lishna Aharina” sections of Temura? How does this version of Temura compare to the fragments of this chapter found in the Geniza? Neither of us slept. I spent the night immersed in Temura.

When we spoke in the morning, we were both convinced that the covers from these three books were fashioned from a single manuscript of (or at least the first chapter of) Temura, written somewhere in Europe in the 12th or 13th century. Professor Danzing noted three features which pointed to an early date and “Proto-Ashkenazi” provenance for this text. First, the divine name is represented by three and not two letters “yod.” Second, the manuscript shows clear signs of striation. Third, the letters, “gimel” are elongated. We made an appointment to visit Dr. Boorman and these books at Fales Library.


A picture of one of the fragments.

The meeting between Drs. Boorman and Danzig was a beautiful example of everything that is right in the academy. Two scholars whose fields almost never overlap were brought together by a single artifact. Each scholar was able to explain in detail various but not overlapping aspects of this object, and each was able to convince the other of the worth of this object for his respective field. It was Professor Boorman who made the case to the conservator on duty that the bindings really needed to be opened, that the worth of this text to our field was worth potentially damaging his book.

Needless to say, I plan on transcribing this fragment in the coming months, comparing its readings to all the extant witnesses of the tractate as well as other variants recorded in the Shita Mequbetzet, and related works, with the aim of publishing an article on the fragment and its textual tradition. In the meantime, if any of the readers of the blog have any insights or thoughts about how to proceed, or know of any witnesses to Temura not listed in the Sussman catalog, I would love to hear about them.

Noah B. Bickart is an an adjunct instructor in Talmud & Rabbinics at JTS where he also serves as the Principal of the Rebecca and Israel Ivry Prozdor High School Program and is completing a PhD on scholastic terminology in the Babylonian Talmud and parallels to Syriac Christian literature.

English, Guest Posts, Recent Publications

On Paul Mandel’s ‘Was Rabbi Akiva a Martyr?’- Daniel Boyarin

Daniel Boyarin’s study of martryology in late antique Judaism and Christianity has been one of the most enduring legacies of his scholarship. A recently published study by Paul Mandel on the martyrdom of R. Akiva in rabbinic texts raises some questions about Boyarin’s readings, and it is accompanied by a lengthy Appendix  on the matter (available here with permission from the author and publisher). The Talmud blog is honored to provide a space for Professor Boyarin to respond.

My teacher, Prof. Saul Lieberman, May the Memory of the Righteous be for a Blessing, used to say that the proper Festchrift for a senior scholar was one in which his students and colleagues corrected all of the errors he or she had made in his work over the decades. I begin, then, by thanking Prof. Paul Mandel for catching and correcting an important error in my work, one that was, moreover, compounded by successive revisions of the argument in which the initial error was never corrected until quite recently. I also wish to congratulate him on a very important and largely compelling article. Let me step back a moment and fill in the background here for those who might not know of what I speak.

Mandel recently published an important article (“Was Rabbi Aqiva a Martyr? Palestinian and Babylonian Influences in the Development of a Legend,” in Ronit Nikolsky, Tal Ilan  eds, Rabbinic Traditions between Palestine and Babylonia (Brill 2014))  in which he argued that in the Yerushalmi and in the earlier stages of the Bavli’s transmission, the story of Rabbi Akiva’s death [Berakhot 61b] is not portrayed as a martyrdom but as something he calls a “political drama” (It’s not clear to me how a martyrology is ever not a political drama, but nonetheless). The important evidence is that in the earliest forms of the text as preserved in one family of Bavli MSS, significant markers of the martyrological character of the story are missing, only to be added in later families of manuscripts to Massekhet Berakhot. The argument, and it is a quite compelling one, leads to the conclusion that the martyrological elements in the story are a later addition, perhaps—even probably—is added to the story in the Byzantine era and under the impact of Christian martyrological literature. As I’ve said already, by and large, I find this article convincing. The conclusion, of course, invalidates my own interpretations of this story in its form as a martyrology as late-ancient and intimately bound up with the formation of the very notion of martyrology as a Jewish/Christian co-invention in the third and fourth centuries. One is always sorry to lose a treasured reading, but זה בונה וזה סותר,כך דרכה של תורה. The work lines up with other analyses of this type (including at least one of my own) in which we see that notions that we ascribe to the Bavli are really the product of late stages of transmission of the text and the earliest forms of the Bavli-text as found in manuscripts line up much more closely with the Yerushalmi. Indeed, Rabbi Akiva may not have been fully understood as a martyr until some time later than we thought, although it may not be gainsaid that there are martyrological moments even in the earliest Bavli transmissions of the story.

As said, Mandel is to be congratulated on this achievement. He, however, devotes quite a bit of time in the article, and especially in an appendix, discussing an egregious error that I made in doing my own work on this topic, and it is this aspect that I would like to take up here. First off, as said, of course he is right. When I originally translated this text, I simply skipped an entire line in transcribing from the Vilna edition of Berakhot, a regrettable error in its own right, especially since the line that I skipped strongly supported my interpretation of the story.

Here is the bit of text, as I wrote it and as it ought to have been transcribed. I wrote:

In the hour that they took R. Aqiva out [to be executed], his disciples said to him, “Our master, so far? [i.e., is this necessary].

I should have written:

At the hour that they were bringing out Rabbi Aqiva for execution, it was the time of the reciting of the Shema, and they were flaying his flesh with iron combs; and he was accepting upon himself the yoke of the heavenly kingdom. His students said to him: Our master, so far? [i.e., is this necessary?]

Mandel makes much depend on this missing line of text:

What is particularly significant in this text [i.e., Boyarin’s mistaken text] is the fact that the query of the disciples to Rabbi Aqiva appears directly after the exposition declaring his being taken out for execution; there is no mention of the torture or of Rabbi Aqiva’s recital of the Shema at this time. This means that the disciples’ alarmed question, “Our teacher, so far?,” must be taken to be a challenge to the very act of his impending death, as Boyarin indeed explains in a bracketed addition: [“i.e., is this necessary?”], meaning “is this [acquiescence to your] execution necessary?” Rabbi Aqiva’s answer, based upon his midrashic comment to Deut 6:5, thus becomes a forceful argument for the “joining of Eros and Thanatos”; Rabbi Aqiva’s message to his students is: “Death is not only required of me at this time [“it is necessary”], but all the more: I have actively sought out just this martyrdom all my life as a fulfillment of the commandment to love God.”

I cannot, for the life of me, see how the addition of the elements of Rabbi Akiva being flayed alive, nor that the moment was the time of the reading of the Shema, detract one iota from the martryological interpretation of the story as it appears in the textus receptus. The students, nonetheless, see their teacher being flayed, a grisly form of execution, and ask whether it is necessary that this awful thing happens, to which he answers, yes. Rabbi Akiva, moreover, prepares to accept the yoke of the kingdom, i.e., his tormented death, at this very moment by reciting the Shema, as it happens. It is trivializing of the story in the extreme to make the disciples question a merely halakhic one: Is it necessary to read the Shema at such a time? Their question remains directed at the master’s impending death as well as present pain. His answer is precisely that through the recitation of the Shema at the time of being tortured and killed, he fulfills the mitzva of “with all your soul.” Had the addition of the line I inadvertently skipped been lethal for my reading, this would have been a much more important error than it is. I cannot see, however, how adding the detail of Rabbi Akiva being flayed alive (certainly a martyrological trope) or the moment being the time for the reading of the Shema detracts from the martyrological reading of the textus receptus. If anything it surely enhances that character.

אמר להם: כל ימי הייתי מצטער על פסוק זה:
‘בכל נפשך’ (דברים ו ה)  אפילו נוטל את נשמתך. –
אמרתי: מתי יבא לידי ואקיימנו?

Any way that it is construed then, the textus receptus surely describes a desire for martyrdom on the part of its hero protagonist, with or without missing lines of text. Despite having little effect on the interpretation of the passage in the textus receptus, it remains a regrettable error nonetheless. The same error was repeated, moreover, in three other publications about this narrative both in Hebrew and in English over the years. I am chastened and embarrassed.

More egregious than that is the evident fact that even when I claimed later on in one of the publications to be citing from a manuscript, the error persisted, so once again the work was sloppy at this point. I had clearly been reading the MS at the time of the later work, as a large new chunk of text considered there was copied from the MS. At that time, moreover, some elements of the variant readings of the Oxford MS did enter my translation (interestingly the variant that Mandel considers “most significant,” the repetition of אמרו, is represented in my revised text!) of this story then. The haplography (if that be the right term for a skipped line) remained in place, although, to be sure, the flaying is indeed absent in the Oxford text, and that is an important part of Mandel’s argument as well. The repetition of the error is, to me, unaccountable. I hope that there are few errors of such a nature in others of my works but hardly imagine that none exist, much as I have tried to be careful over the years both with copying, translating, and checking manuscript variants. It is necessary to restate, however, that the skipped line does not affect my original interpretation of the text; as said above, putting it back in only enhances my reading. In the latest version of the text (the recent Hebrew translation of Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash), the line is restored with only positive effect). The error itself is, therefore, regrettable and mortifying but not, in itself, of great interpretative significance.

The argument of my various readings of this narrative (and they are in different discursive contexts and themes) stands even better once the text of the textus receptus is restored. Much of this is, therefore, a red herring that detracts from the genuine innovation of Mandel’s own case which I would now quickly lay out. Where earlier scholars in general read the story in the Bavli as we have it as representing an early (at least ideological) reality, Mandel shows that it reflects rather a later ideological reality. He does so by demonstrating that the earliest witnesses to the Bavli text read quite differently: in them, the disciples’ question is not: Is it necessary to suffer and die, Master, but rather is it necessary to read the Shema in such a condition of danger. Where some—not Boyarin as Mandel himself remarks—would have read the text as representing something about the actual death of R. Akiva and some, Boyarin, as representing fairly early rabbinic representations of that death, Mandel thus shows that in its earliest form it is considerably less martyrological in its import and that the strongly martyrological elements are later additions to the text during its transmission. Where, then, I had thought it to be evidence of a third or fourth century rabbinic contribution to a developing shared discourse of martyrology, Mandel shows, I think, that it is rather evidence for continuing later influence of Christian martyrologies on the developing talmudic text. I by and large accept this conclusion which takes Prof. Lieberman’s point from The Martyrs of Caesarea and expands it. The story of R. Akiva’s martyrdom is thus a much less apt example for an early, common, discourse shared by Rabbis and Christians in Caesarea. So be it; a fine and important conclusion. It is curious, however, that Mandel in treating only the fate of this story, completely ignores the rather significant other evidence that I have cited for early rabbinic martyrological discourse defined exactly as I have done as eroticized and even desired death for God. Within the mini-corpus of my texts on this subject, there are citations and discussions of Sifra Ahare Mot 8,3, on the “three boys,” Sifre Devarim on the death of Rabbi Hananiah ben Tradyon, and especially the Mekhilta Shirata 3 on Rabbi Akiva’s own drasha: We have loved you until death. Even without the story in the Bavli, the inference that eroticized death, a conflated eros and thanatos, was quite early found in rabbinic literature seems quite sound. (And, this, it should not be necessary to add, even without accepting ascriptions of tannaitic sayings to their alleged authors or imagining that the tannaitic midrash took shape before the late third or even early fourth century).

Such deliberate, not accidental, elision of evidence is evidence of Tendenz. Mandel shows his hand when he claims that his refutation of my historical interpretation of the Bavli text destroys entire the thesis that I have developed in Dying for God and even more so in Border Lines of ongoing blurred borders between nascent Christianity and rabbinic Jews. This, I suspect, is his real target, and it is arrant nonsense. The argument about Rabbi Akiva’s alleged martyrdom is only one chapter out of four in the former book and not even mentioned (as Mandel concedes) in the latter one, in which there are a couple of hundred pages of textual evidence, analysis, and reasoning that have nothing to do with martyrology at all. Moreover, in the Hebrew publication in the Dimitrovsky volume, there is an extensive discussion of other martyrological tales from the Talmud, as well from Tractate Avoda Zara and translated from the universally acknowledged best MS of that text, in addition to the discussions of tannaitic midrash as mentioned above. There may very well be other textual errors lurking in both books, and surely other ways of construing the evidence, ones that might even convince me, as Mandel has here, that I need to revise my thesis, but invalidating one important and highly evocative piece of evidence does not go far in challenging a thesis that is argued on a much much broader evidentiary base. Mandel’s argument on this score, then, is an argumentum ad hominem (by discrediting the author of the argument and not the evidence or reasoning) and as such simply and plainly invalid.

Daniel Boyarin is Hermann P. and Sophia Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture at the University of California, Berkeley.

English, Reviews

Straight-up Philology, Served Cold

Robert Brody, Mishnah and Tosefta Studies, (Jerusalem: The Hebrew University Magnes Press, 2014)

The “Jerusalem school” of rabbinics has traditionally avoided writing in any language other than Hebrew. In his introduction to the collected works of J. N. Epstein, Ezra Zion Melammed wrote that his teacher, J. N. Epstein “while living in the exile of Europe, wrote most of his studies in foreign languages, and from the day he ascended to Jerusalem, to teach at the Hebrew University, wrote all his studies in Hebrew […]. He also rewrote his opus magnum, Introduction to the Mishnaic Text, which was written in German and ready for the press, in his clear Hebrew […].” Even in the United States, students of this school published mainly in Hebrew: Saul Lieberman, Israel Francus, Abraham Goldberg, and Shamma Friedman wrote most of their enduring and important works in Hebrew (David Weiss-Halivni is somewhat of an exception to this rule, but the bulk of his scholarship, too, is written in Hebrew). One of Jacob Neusner’s standard complaints was the lack of scholarship in “a European language” –  and the field has seen a sea change in this regard. Most scholars of rabbinics now publish extensively if not exclusively in “European languages,” especially English.


Except, of course, in Jerusalem. Here, Robert Brody is somewhat of an exception. He is the only Hebrew University professor of Talmud who published an important monograph in a language other than Hebrew. Mishnah and Tosefta Studies now joins his The Geonim of Babylonia and the Shaping of Medieval Jewish Culture as an important addition to Brody’s English oeuvre. It is part of a long-term project, which Brody describes in his introduction, of a commentary on Bavli Ketubot out of which grew a commentary on Mishnah and Tosefta Ketubot. In the course of that work, Brody understood that he wanted to “tackle in a more systematic way several topics about which I had thought, and sometimes lectured, over a period of years.” And he wanted to do it in English. The language shouldn’t fool you, thought: Brody might be writing in English, but the book is decidedly Jerusalemite: a crash-course in straight-up philology, clearheaded and free of jargon, served cold.

Brody takes us back to basics: examining all the evidence, sometimes offering simple solutions for complex problems, and sometimes admitting cheerfully that he has none. He moves abruptly from example to example – it seems that he is really interested in presenting examples, and that the niceties of introductions and conclusions are so burdensome that he sometimes does away with them – stopping to point out how they refute this or that scholarly consensus that has solidified over the years.

In the four parts of the book, Brody discusses four scholarly paradigms that have become dominant over the last decades in the field of Mishnah/Tosefta studies. He discusses each one with a series of test cases, through which the reader can grasp Brody’s guiding principle: the evidence is always prime, each case is different, and scholarly paradigms are only as useful as the answers they provide. Each of these paradigms is associated with a scholar or several scholars who introduced them to the scholarly community. In each case Brody discusses the work of those scholars, often pointing out that the paradigms which are named for them are far from their original intent. The four paradigms are:

1. There are two distinct versions of the Mishnah, one influenced by the Bavli and transmitted with the Bavli, the other influenced by the Yerushalmi and transmitted alone. An outgrowth of this paradigm is that the MSS of the Mishnah are considered more “Palestinian” and thus more “authentic” than the Mishnah in the Bavli. This paradigm was developed by Jacob Sussman and David Rosenthal, and is discussed little beyond Jerusalem and its satellites (e.g. Christine Hayes’s Between the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds, which problematizes this thesis as well). While this thesis seems simple enough – and of little importance to non-philologists – it has important implications for the history of the redaction and transmission of the text of the Mishnah, and also emphasizes the fuzziness between redaction and transmission in the first place. As Ishay Rosen-Zvi notes, studies of the orality of the Mishnah, for example, would do well to think of the Sussmanian assertion that the Mishnah was a completely oral text in the formative stages of its creation, as well as note the scholastic changes that the Mishnah underwent while it was being studied in the Talmudic academies which placed it at the center of their curriculum. Or did they? Brody tests Sussman-Rosenthal’s thesis of Talmuds influencing Mishnah text by examining several examples of discrepancies between the two versions of Mishnah which do not match this model. For example, there is no Babylonian Talmud on tractate Shekalim, but the distinction between the two strands of transmission  -independent manuscripts versus Bavli manuscripts – still exists. Additionally, there is no Palestinian Talmud on the order Kodashim, but the distinction still stands. Brody discusses the ways in which we could account for these differences in the absence of a simple model like the one suggested by Sussman and Rosenthal.

2. The Tosefta predates the Mishnah. This paradigm is often attributed to a series of articles which culminated in Shamma Friedman’s Tosefta Atikta (Ramat Gan: Bar Ilan Universtiy Press, 2003). Brody agrees that “there is no doubt that Friedman is correct in claiming that the Tosefta sometimes preserves sources which are identical or very similar to those underlying specific passages of the Mishnah.” In Brody’s opinion, however, the operative word is sometimes. Since he has no general preference for one option over the other, he presents himself as an impartial observer, in each case trying to point out which option makes more sense (his treatment of Judith Hauptman’s Rereading the Mishnah, which espouses a similar point of view but makes more far-reaching claims, is somewhat less deferential).

3. The two MSS of the Tosefta present versions of the Tosefta which are independent of each other, and which have their origins in the distant past of the redaction and early oral transmission of the Tosefta. Here Brody really shines as a master philologist. In  his opus magnum, a slim Hebrew book called The Textual History of the Sheiltot (New York and Jerusalem: AAJR, 1991) Brody offers his stemmatic analysis of the relationship between all known textual witnesses of the Geonic work Sheiltot, a compendium of sermons on the weekly Torah reading, based mainly on the Babylonian Talmud. While Sheiltot has nine full MSS and countless more textual witnesses, Tosefta has between three full witnesses and some additional partial ones. Brody transferred his philological acumen from one work to the other to point out some facts that have the potential to revolutionize the textual study of the Tosefta.

First, Brody asserts that all the witnesses of the Tosefta are descended from one single written exemplar. Even the major discrepancies between the manuscripts can be explained according to this model. Thus, unlike the Babylonian Talmud, the Tosefta is best analyzed as a written text, and the variant readings as errors or corrections in the transmission of a written text. Most intriguing is his discussion of what Yoav Rosenthal has termed “changes of place,” when one segment appears in different places in two witnesses not as a part of a list with an interchanging order of segments, but simply on its own. While Rosenthal in a recent article uses these changes to reconstruct a complex redactional history of the Tosefta, Brody is – as usual – skeptical. He prefers to ascribe these changes to insertion of marginal glosses in the wrong column, noting that the gap between the two places where these kinds of segments are located in the two MSS tends to be roughly the size of one column of text or its multiples – 140 words or so (pp. 50-51).

4. Rabbinic texts are best presented in diplomatic editions, according to the “best manuscript” available. Brody “passionately” disagrees, and thus the book ends with an “impassioned plea” to change the dominant practice of printing rabbinic texts as diplomatic editions of one manuscript, rather than making educated editorial statements as to the wording of the original text itself. Two recent editions come to mind – Kahana’s diplomatic edition of Sifre Numbers, as opposed to Milikowsky’s eclectic edition of Seder Olam, which is closer to Brody’s plea.

The plea itself is in fact somewhat less than “impassioned,” as is the rest of the book: Brody is direct and curt. This book has no funny anecdotes about renaissance scholars , no apologies for the relevance of scholarship, and definitely no cultural criticism. In a field that constantly says its texts are indeterminate and fluid while adhering for the most part to whatever can be found in the canonized translations and computerized databases, Brody refreshingly lacks any desire to self-reflect. Words stand in the center of this book, and perhaps out of respect for those same words, they are used sparingly.

The book is generally well-edited, except for the too-common passive constructs and several copyediting glitches – for example, the name Lieberman (as in Saul) is sometimes spelled Liebermann and sometimes not. This could have easily been corrected. I would have also appreciated Hebrew texts as well as the translations Brody provides, but they will probably be in the Hebrew book slated for publication soon. This book is an important contribution to the textual study of Mishnah and Tosefta, an important corrective to comfortable paradigms and rules-of-thumb that dominate rabbinics, and for the first time all of this is available in English. Ignore it at your peril, and assign it to your graduate students.

English, Ruminations

Stray Thoughts on Art History and Talmudic Philology

Perhaps more than other historical disciplines, art history is not merely auxiliary to art, it is integral. It can and has been argued that what renders a banal object a bona fide art-object is some conscious level of participation in the story of art. This is a deep truth about visuality – one which was once compellingly evoked in a scene about a time-traveling modern who baffled his nineteenth century friends with amateurish, minimalist etchings on frosted glass. And it is especially true of modern and contemporary art despite – or maybe because of – incessant attempts by provocateurs to try and blow up art history with one fell swoop of shocking red paint. When you vigorously oppose history’s centrality you only enhance it.

Cy Twombly, Academy

At New York City’s MOMA, the viewer snakes his way through the museum’s classic fifth and fourth floors and thereby traces a visual narrative with his feet and eyes. The curators have ever so carefully placed these famous galleries in their “correct” sequence with corresponding plaques on the wall so that the story coheres and the art properly resonates against its general historical milieu and its own art historical context.  Without a previous “academy” to react to, Cy Twombly’s Academy is just vulgar scribbling (it of course remains that even after). One might say that herein lies the successful retort (teshuva nitzahat) to the everyday ‘heretics’ of modern art: Yes, you might technically be able to execute some of  the chaos of contemporary art on your bedroom wall, but did you do it at the right moment, with the right intention, and with the right interviews and critics drawing out the greater significance of the project?  Regardless, something is lost when art must always narcissistically fold into its own history. The pleasure of the thing, and perhaps even its essence, gets away.

For some time now the dominant critical mode of  studying the Babylonian Talmud has consisted of dissecting the sources on the page and placing them on a linear, chronological graph. The early tannaitic passage evolves into a later version, which is reinterpreted by early amoraim, reread by late amoraim, recast by editors, and reworked by redactors. Our mantra is a stutter: “re- re- re- re- re-“.  If a Talmudist succeeds in unraveling this history and explaining its historical  development – or better yet – correlating it to its historical context,  the assumption is that he has succeeded in solving it.  The thrill of this scholarly chase, its secret sleuthing and precious eureka moments, can be exhilarating, but also exhausting. What is left after the “problem” of a sugya’s development is “solved” other than to exhale Ruscha’s bright onomatopoeia?



This somewhat unfair characterization of the field need not be seen as a passionate lament, nor as a call to devolve into pre-scientific thinking (in any case, you cannot really go home again). It is instead offered as an honest, even hopeful question: Is this all there is? Or: What other critical modes might be combined with the currently dominant one to create a more complex – and hence truer – picture of the Talmud as something more than just the sum of its evolving parts?

First, we cannot forget that the growing research into the Bavli’s Sasanian context is still in its early years and will continue to yield succulent and novel insights, not all of it simply “more of the same.” There are new relevant sources that continue to come to light, and more importantly, new ways of correlating these sources to talmudic parallels. It is not all cut-and-dry Talmudic history.  Readers of the Talmud blog also know that there already are other approaches out there that look beyond diachronology. These include the oft-maligned mishpat ivri school – especially as reinvigorated by Robert Cover, and also a group of  literary approaches – particularly those focused on the text’s effect on its readers. In more hopeful moments I realize that where we are now is actually not such a bad place at all.

English, Guest Posts, Reviews

‘Introduction to the Grammar of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic’- A Review

Elitzur Bar-Asher Siegal, Introduction to the Grammar of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, (Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2013) – Reviewed by Aaron Koller

For those interested in the grammar of the Bavli, the past few years have seen a steady stream of important new publications. The book under review here will take pride of place in any serious study of the language, as it is the only volume that presents a full picture of the language. An advanced seminar can now work through Bar-Asher Siegal’s book, pore over Sokoloff’s monumental Dictionary of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), study Moshe Morgenstern’s Studies in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2011; see my review here), and use the series of high-quality publications of magic bowls (many also with the involvement of Morgenstern),[1] and emerge with a good knowledge of the dialect.


Perhaps more, however, students in such a seminar will emerge with a deep sense of the challenges facing researchers of the dialect. Those challenges are well adumbrated in Morgenstern’s volume, and they are addressed in Bar-Asher Siegal’s book throughout. These challenges also make the notion of an introductory grammar to the dialect somewhat problematic from the outset. So while Bar-Asher Siegal’s book is excellent, as will be detailed below, it should also be said that the problems of genre and audience are serious here. The author himself notes at the outset that because of the nature of JBA and our data, it is “difficult to write an introductory grammar book of the sort available for Biblical Hebrew, Biblical Aramaic, Classical Arabic, Classical Greek, Classical Latin, etc.” (§0.8, p. 33).

One of the strengths of the book is its precision, both philological and linguistic. (There is a seven-page “glossary for linguistic terminology” at the end [251-257], apparently reflecting the author’s understanding of the demands he is making of his readers.) While there are exercises for each chapter (found, oddly, at the end of the book in a single bloc (pp. 259-286)), this can be a teaching grammar only for advanced students. But let me be clear: the rigor reflected on every page of the book is to be applauded, even if it makes things complex. The only alternatives, in the current state of our knowledge, are to forego a serious analysis of the language or to rely on the printed editions in all their glorious corruption.

Bar-Asher Siegal’s book relies on original research in the manuscripts of the Bavli and original grammatical analysis by a scholar who moves effortlessly between Semitic philology and linguistics. This is as good as an “introduction to Jewish Babylonian Aramaic” can be, and it is difficult to imagine anyone producing a better grammar of this type until there are qualitative advances in the field of JBA.

Bar-Asher Siegal argues, both in the introduction to the book (pp. 28-31) and in an article published in the same year,[2] that there are no really reliable manuscripts for the Bavli. This is against the methodology preached by Yechezkel Kutscher, which has proven so productive for the Mishnah and the Sifra, in particular. Whereas Morgenstern contends that there are such texts, but they are texts not seriously studied by Kutscher – namely, the Early Eastern manuscripts – Bar-Asher Siegal’s claim is that there are no manuscripts that can be utilized as the “primary texts” due to their exceptional reliability. What that means in practical terms is that each and every linguistic phenomenon, from orthography to morphology to syntax, has to be investigated thoroughly and independently in all of the manuscripts. And the result is that many of the paragraphs in the grammar contain references to textual readings in particular manuscripts.[3]

This position comes as something of a disappointment to textual scholars, who would like to be able to study the reliable manuscripts and be confident in the text found therein. Bar-Asher Siegal’s denial that this is the case means there is no text that can be studied to learn the grammar; there is an inescapable circle of reconstructing the grammar and ascertaining the text. If this were a pure circle, there would be no entry point, of course, and there would seemingly be no reliable criteria for determining which witness to follow on any given feature. We need some place to start. While Morgenstern looks to the EEMs, Eljakim Wajsberg has said that there are some “actually good” manuscripts of the Bavli, but apparently is confident in only two: a Yemenite manuscript in Oxford of Sukkah, and a Geniza fragment of Bava Metsia‘.[4] Even if they are not infallible, these texts give us an entry point into the grammar. Here we have mostly reliable manuscripts that provide some of the needed grammatical data. Using this foundation, Bar-Asher Siegal’s method can then be employed: each feature and phenomenon can be studied throughout all of the witnesses in an effort to write a real grammar.

One of the theoretical points made by the author which constantly accompany the analysis is that the text of the Bavli is a problematic witness for JBA. This is for two reasons. First, the Bavli seems to reflect different dialects. This is true not only in the well-known tractates with a somewhat different grammar;[5] randomly distributed throughout the Talmud are features that ought no co-exist within the same dialect. One example is found in §4.2, #6 (pp. 91-92). Here Bar-Asher Siegal discusses forms such as תלמידיך “your student,” where the singular form shows an unexpected yod before the suffixed possessive pronoun, and תלמידך “your students,” where the plural form does not have the expected yod before the suffixed possessive pronoun. He explains how each form may have developed – the former through reanalysis of the yod as part of the suffix rather than a pluralizing morpheme on the noun, and the latter through a sound change of ay > a before a word-final consonant (/_C#). Bar-Asher Siegal then comments:

If this situation reflects the actual forms of JBA, then clearly the two phenomena could not reflect one stage in one language, since either /y/ elided or its morphological role was reanalyzed. Thus, the various forms should either reflect different historical stages or two dialects. This is another example where JBA regularly reflects more than one linguistics system.

Second, however, and more fundamentally, the Bavli may not reflect JBA because scribes often try to mask developments within colloquial language in their written texts. When manuscripts differ between a more archaic and a later form, it often cannot be known whether the text originally had the older form and this was later mistakenly updated, or whether it original reflected the newer form and was then mistakenly “corrected” to the older form. Bar-Asher Siegal explains carefully (and in more detail than the summary offered here) on p. 30 why this is such a far-reaching problem, and concludes, “we may have to be satisfied with the fact that it is not always possible to determine which phenomenon is original. Often it is only possible to raise the various options regarding each and every form.” Fortunately, much of the time Bar-Asher Siegal does reach a conclusion regarding which form is to be preferred, but this caution is indeed found throughout the book.

After the methodological introduction, the book opens with a paragraph introducing orthography, that ends, “The goal of this section is to provide an overview of the different orthographic practices one will encounter in the manuscripts” (§1.1, p. 37). This makes it clear that beginning Talmudists are not the target audience of the book.[6] But this exemplifies the strengths of the book, as well: the grammar of JBA has never received this thorough and sophisticated a study, and anyone, beginner student to advanced scholar, who studies any section of the book will be enriched by it.

Here and there are claims or analyses with which one could quibble. To take one example, Bar-Asher Siegal discusses the pharygealization of the א in words borrowed into JBA. Following Breuer, he identifies this process in the word Ṭayyi’, for example, which appears as טייעא in JBA. Here it may also be that the ע is the result of a folk etymology, however; in many of the other examples he gives of this phenomenon (§3.1.4, pp. 71-72), one wonders whether the presence of a non-etymological ע simply points to the lack of any opposition between א and ע in the dialect, as he discusses in a different example (עדי “these”) later (§, p. 81). This is the level at which the criticisms take place, however: building on the wide-ranging and fundamental work offered in this book itself, it may be possible to offer suggestions in different areas.

There are comparisons made throughout the book to other languages. Generally, these comparisons have one of two purposes. Sometimes there is a historical point being made, or implied; this is the case when the comparison is to Mishnaic Hebrew, Mandaic, Syriac, or North Eastern Neo-Aramaic dialects, for example. In such cases, it is likely that when there is similarity there is influence. Comparisons are also made to Akkadian, Greek, and other languages, presumably just for typological purposes (although Akkadian certainly did leave an impression on Eastern Aramaic, including JBA). Cross-linguistic data is put to good use in understanding how some of the distinctive features of JBA developed and are used. One example are the enclitic forms of the pronouns used on participles. Bar-Asher Siegal is able to observe that across languages, it is not uncommon for co-referential (redundant) pronouns to become a copula or a marker of agreement, and the originally dislocated element gain a central role in the clause, so that an originally marked construction becomes unmarked (§4.5.2, pp. 98-99). This allows for a clear presentation of the development of עדיפנא אנא “I am preferable” from an original אנא עדיף אנא.

Beginning in chapter 5 (p. 111), the book focuses on the verb. It should be noted that there is no artificial division found in this book between morphology and syntax, so never is the student asked to memorize forms without being told what function those forms play. As forms are introduced, their roles in the language are made clear, as can be seen in the Table of Contents (available here). At the back of the book (beginning on p. 334), there is an alternative Table of Contents, however, with the subjects arranged in the order one might find them in a traditional grammar: orthography, phonology (vowels, consonants), morphology (nouns, pronouns, verbs), syntax. In both it is clear that syntax plays a much larger role in this grammar than in most “introductory” grammars, especially in the later chapters. Indeed, although Bar-Asher Siegal is gracious in giving credit to early scholars for describing the syntax of JBA, the reader will find sophisticated discussions of many syntactic constructions here. The student of general Semitics may well benefit from these discussions even if only for comparative purposes.

One of the more ambitious parts of the book is a full presentation of the Tense – Aspect – Mood (TAM) system of JBA (§7.2, pp. 162-168). Here Bar-Asher Siegal parts ways with most older presentations, and denies that the prefix conjugation expresses the irrealis mood; he also argues that the verb הו”י, in different forms, serves to mark the tense of imperfective verbs as past or future. As in some of Morgenstern’s work, there is here a constant interplay between the conceptualization of the grammar (here, the TAM system) and the philological work with the manuscripts. It is of critical importance for the broad theory to ascertain whether the proper verbal form in a passage is איעול or עייל, for example, but the theory itself also provides justification for preferring one form (in this case, איעול), so there is something of a feedback loop here, which needs caution but also strengthens the analysis.

Related to the TAM system is the forms of the verb הו”י, and Bar-Asher Siegal deftly shows (§, pp. 168-170) that the verb went from a fully-conjugated verb in a sentence such as כי הוינן אזלין בתריה דר’ יוחנן “when we were walking after R. Yohanan” (b. Berakhot 23a, in MS M) to being frozen in its 3ms form, such as כי הוה אזלינן בתריה דר’ אלעזר “when we were walking after R. El‘azar” (b. Shabbat 12a). The analysis concludes with the note that cross-linguistically, “loss of agreement is related to cliticization,” and it is therefore possible that הוה had become a tense prefix before the participle, rather than a real verb.

There are stimulating proposals and analyses in every section. Those who put the most into the book will get the most out of it. Following the exercises and the vocabulary sections will enable students to feel quite comfortable with JBA as a language. There are some typographical errors which will hopefully be corrected in future editions, but none that I noticed could create obstacles for learning.

I mentioned earlier that this is the best introduction to JBA with the current state of the field. The field is at a high point now, in terms of the quality, quantity, and sophistication of the research being produced. But it is also now clear what would be needed to usher in a new era of JBA studies: a full critical edition of the Bavli. This would, in light of the discussion above, need to be an eclectic edition, and producing such an edition would perforce generate new linguistic and philological insights at every turn. It would also continue the feedback loop: as our texts get better, the grammar will get better, and as the grammar gets better, both the texts and how well we understand them will improve.

Bar-Asher Siegal’s text ends, rather abruptly, with a quotation from Mo‘ed Qaṭan 28a: רבה הוה קא יתיב קמיה דרב נחמן, חזייה דקא מנמנם “Rabbah was sitting in the presence of Rav Nahman, and saw that he was dozing off.” For anyone with an interest in the Bavli, it will be difficult to doze off in the middle of this book. The rigor and thoroughness make for intellectually stimulating and productive study, and open up new avenues in grammatical and linguistic analysis of the Bavli, that most cherished and most challenging of texts.


[1] See Shaul Shaked, James Nathan Ford, and Siam Bhayro, with contributions from Matthew Morgenstern and Naama Vilozny, Aramaic Bowl Spells: Jewish Babylonian Aramaic Bowls (Leiden: Brill, 2013).

[2] See also Bar-Asher Siegal’s more systematic discussion in “Reconsidering the Study of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic- Five Decades After E. Y. Kutscher and his Influential Methodology,” Zeitschrift der Deutschen  Morgenländischen Gesellschaft  163 (2013), 341-364.

[3] It should be noted that the book does not contain a list of the manuscripts used or the abbreviations utilized to refer to them; the reader is sent to Sokoloff’s Dictionary for that. While Sokoloff’s foundational position in the study of JBA makes this not unreasonable, it still would have been convenient to include the list in the book.

[4] See Eitan Pinsky, “הגרמטיקליזציה של הפועל הוה בצירוף הוה+בינוני בארמית של התלמוד הבבלי” (MA thesis: Hebrew University, 2013), 10 n. 43.

[5] On which see most thoroughly Yochanan Breuer, “The Babylonian Aramaic in Tractate Karetot according to MS Oxford [Bodl. heb. b. 1],” Aramaic Studies 5 (2007), 1-45.

[6] Even advanced students will have to work hard to follow what is being said in passages such as, “Locative PPC [= predicative possessive construction]. In this type of PPC the PR [= possessor] is encoded as the place where the PD [= possessed] is located. The common construction is structurally an existential sentence with the PD behaving as its subject, and the PR as the location. In JBA the PR follows the preposition ב ‘in’ (§, p. 107).” The first example given is then לית ביה מיא “It does not have water” (B. Qam. 61a), which seems much simpler than the analysis provided.

Aaron Koller is associate professor of Jewish Studies at Yeshiva University. His most recent book is Esther in Ancient Jewish Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

Announcements, English

The Talmud Blog- Now in Hebrew!

In case you haven’t noticed, the Talmud Blog has undergone some changes over the last couple of weeks. We’ve updated our look, reorganized things a bit, and prepared the site for Hebrew posts.

Like all virtual artifacts, the blog is ‘located’ in The Cloud. But most of the humans who work on the blog are based in Jerusalem. We also have a considerable readership in Israel, even if most of our audience lives in the United States. So the time has come, as we enter our fourth year of collective web-logging, to post in Hebrew as well. You will be able to access these on the top right tab “פוסטים בעברית“. Yakov Z. Mayer, a doctoral student at Tel-Aviv University, will be editing our Hebrew content.

That said, given the internationalism we aspire to, the main language will remain English, which like it or not has overtaken Latin as the language of science and letters. We should add that potential submissions in Hebrew, English are very much welcome. 

English, Events

How Open is ‘Open’?

For those of you who couldn’t make it to last night’s event– we’re sorry, but we unfortunately failed to to take Germany-USA into account when reserving the space a few weeks back. I would like to summarize some of the topics and projects that were discussed for the benefit of the larger Talmud Blog community and also to help developers and digital humanists at large understand the problems facing talmudists.

After an extremely helpful introduction on what the term “open” means by the apostle of digital humanities in the Holy Land, Sinai Rusinek, yours truly attempted to briefly summarize the main stages of rabbinic text curatorship and which websites talmudists use while performing such “manuscript work.” One of the issues I raised is the simple inconvenience of having to keep track of what is out there: the internet is a big place, and the number of websites containing either images or transcriptions of manuscripts is constantly growing. Between the National Library’s online catalog, which links to every available online image of Hebrew manuscripts, and The Talmud Blog‘s “Toolbox,” one can get to all of these different resources, but it is unfortunate that there is not more of an attempt to centralize all of these different projects under one roof.

The conversation quickly turned to the question of what questions we can ask using our computers, and three different subfields quickly emerged. The first two dealt with working with manuscripts:

A) How can we use computers to help us edit rabbinic texts? This question was addressed via two parallel projects, one led by Hayim Lapin and another by Daniel Stoekl ben Ezra, both of whom began editing the text of the Mishnah ahead of English and French translations and are now working together. Different issues that arose under this topic were how to crowd-source such relatively mundane tasks as transcribing manuscripts and tagging lemma, using Hebrew in TEI, and to what extent should scholars make their synopsi or databases of manuscripts available to the public. For example, many of the transcriptions currently available online are presented as PDFs, but others may want to access them in different formats so that they can more easily (and legally, where those issues arise) use them in making their own editions or to ask other questions of the text.

File:Karl Lachmann - Imagines philologorum.jpg

Karl Lachmann (1793-1851)

B) Can computers help us ask questions with regards to what one participant termed “fundamental issues of how the Bavli was formed and transmitted?” Time and again, and especially now that the Cairo Genizah corpus is more readily available, a certain brand of philological work of the Bavli has problematized the notion that we can use Lachmannian stemmatics to try and understand the relationship between manuscripts. How can we use computers simply to keep track, quantify, and characterize the various differences between talmudic manuscripts? As mentioned, these questions pertain not just to how to “edit” the talmudic text- what the text can be- but also to the very question of what the talmudic text is.

C) Manuscripts aside, what other questions can we ask of rabbinic texts using computers? The questions that came up for the most part dealt with the Bavli, harkening back to some issues discussed here on the blog. Itay Marienberg-Milikwosky of Ben Gurion University’s Department of Hebrew Literature described some of the projects he has started working on in a Franco Moretti inspired lab for digital humanities at Ben Gurion. One of the projects he is working on is trying to restructure how we think of the sugya. Given that the term itself is somewhat foreign to the Bavli and is largely a construct of later interpreters, Itay has been using word-frequency statistics and other quantitative computations to map the Bavli differently, taking special note of how- and perhaps even why- the Bavli repeats itself (“חזרתיות” in his words). You can be assured that Shai and I will be pressuring Itay to guest-post on his findings.

Additional themes that arose related to the relationship between the academic talmudist and the programming or non-academic other. In terms of the latter, how much can projects such as Sefaria (presented by Ephraim Damboritz) and Sefer haAggadah (presented by Amit Assis) benefit from academic talmud? In terms of the former- how and where should talmudists be working with programmers? On the one hand, some talmudist participants were adamant about not studying programming and insisting on working alongside programmers instead. At the other end of the spectrum were those eager to create programming boot camps for talmudists and other humanities scholars. In between were the newbies who got lost after the ‘m’ of XML. Either way, it was clear that talk of “open resources” brings together scholars who are themselves rather open to new ways of thinking about their research.

Next Steps

I would like to see a couple of things come from this evening. First of all, it is clear that a growing number of talmudists are excited by the possibilities that digital humanities opens open up before them, and that many of them already have some idea of how they would like to use moderately sophisticated programs in their own research. I think it would be great if we could use The Talmud Blog– perhaps in the comments section here, through guest posts and maybe even by adding a forum- to create some kind of clearing space for ideas and projects.  Such a space is needed to connect people who may have similar projects in mind, to generate discussions about what we can do with digital humanities, and to address the more philosophical questions of how humanities scholarship is changing before our eyes in this digital age. Let us know what you think!

English, Guest Posts

H. Lapin on ‘The Digital Mishnah Project’

Ahead of tomorrow’s joint event of The Talmud Blog and Digital Humanities Israel on “Open digital Bible, Mishna and Talmud,” Hayim Lapin of the University of Maryland has written this guest-post on The Digital Mishnah Project. Feel free to leave Hayim your feedback in the comments section below or on the project’s site.

I am pleased to formally announce the relocation of my project to a server at the University of Maryland. I would also like to thank the Talmud Blog for hosting this guest post, which will also appear on my project blog at blog.umd.edu/digitalmishnah. The transition to the new site is not entirely complete, but it is complete enough to talk about it here.

In this post, I’d like to describe the project, give a brief user’s guide, and talk about next steps. At Yitz Landes’s suggestion I’ve also provided a PDF of my paper for the Peter Schäfer festschrift on this topic.

1. The project to date

The project initially was conceived as a side project to an annotated translation of the Mishnah that I am editing with Shaye Cohen (Harvard) and Bob Goldenberg (SUNY Stony Brook, emer.), under contract with Oxford, for which I am also contributing translation and annotations for tractate Neziqin, or Bava Qamma, Bava Metsi’a, and Bava Batra. Since I was going to spend time looking at manuscript variants anyway, I reasoned, why not just work more systematically, and develop a digital edition. Much more complicated than I imagined!

The demo as it is available today on the development server is not significantly different in functionality from what was available in April 2013. However, there is now much more text available. While all the texts need further editing (including for encoding errors that interfere with output), there is enough available to get a very good start at a critical edition (or at least a variorum edition) of tractate Neziqin including several Genizah fragments, with an emphasis on transcribing fragments that constitute joinable sections of larger manuscripts.

2. User’s guide

When you access the demo edition, you will have two choices: “Browse” and “Compare.”

Following the link to the Browse page gives you the list of transcribed witnesses. Selecting one will allow you to browse through the manuscript page by page, column by column, or chapter by chapter with a more compact display of the text.

When you first get to the Compare page, all the witnesses installed to date are displayed and the interactive form is not yet activated [bad design alert!]. It will only be activated when you use the collapsing menus on the left to select text at the Chapter or Mishnah level. You are welcome to poke around and see where there are pieces of text (typically based on Genizah fragments) outside of the Bavot. However, significant amounts of text and of witnesses are only available for these three tractates.

To compare texts, select order (Neziqin) > tractate (one of the Bavot) > chapter (1-10) > mishnah (any one, or whole chapter).

The system will limit the table to those witnesses that have text for the selected passage and enable the table.  At that point, you can select witnesses by putting a numeral into the text field. The output will be sorted based on that number. Then select the Compare button on the right. Output will appear below the form, and you may need to scroll down to it.

There are three output options. By default, you get an alignment in tabular form. Also possible are a text and apparatus (really, just a proof of concept) and a pretty featureless presentation in parallel columns.

3. Desired features

Here are a number of features I would like to see. I would also be glad to hear about additional features that potential users would find useful.

  • Highlighting of orthographic and/or substantive variants in alignment table view. (Current highlighting uses CollateX’s own output, and there appear to be some errors. In addition to correcting these errors, it would be useful to highlight and color code types of variation.)
  • In parallel column view, selecting one text highlights the corresponding text in the other columns.
  • Downloading results (excel, TEI parallel segmentation, etc.).
  • Quantitative analysis (distance, grouping, stemmatics)
  • Correcting output. The preceding features are only as useful as the alignment is good. While down the road, the project will be able to generate an edited alignment table that will obviate the on the fly collation that is currently offered, for the present, users need a way of adjusting the output to reflect what a human eye and brain (carbon-based liveware) can see. At a minimum, this corrected alignment should be available to be reprocessed in the various output and analysis options.
  • Morphological tagging. This is something that Daniel Stoekl ben Ezra and I have been working on (see below).

4. Behind the scenes

For those interested in what is happening behind the scenes, here is a brief description.

The application is built in cocoon. The source code is available at https://github.com/umd-mith/mishnah.

The texts are transcribed and encoded in TEI, a specification of XML developed for textual editing. The transcriptions aim at fairly detailed representation of textual and codicological features, so that the database might be useful also for those interested in the history of the book.

For the Browse function, the system selects the requested source, citation, and transforms the base XML into HTML (using XSLT), and presents it on the monitor.

For the Compare function, the system extracts the selected text from the selected witnesses, passes it through the CollateX program, and then transforms the result into HTML using XSLT. The process is actually somewhat more complicated, since in order to get good alignment a certain amount of massaging is required before passing the information into CollateX, and the output requires then requires some further handling. The text is tokenized (broken into words as comparison units), the tokens are regularized (all abbreviations are expanded, matres lectionis are removed, final aleph is treated as final heh, etc.). CollateX then aligns the regularized tokens, but the output needs to be re-merged with the full tokens. This re-merged text is what is presented in the output.

Ideally, the transcriptions would be done directly into TEI using an XML editor. (Oxygen now has fairly good support for right-to-left editing in “author” mode.) In practice, and especially when supervising long distance, it is easier for transcribers to work in Word. I have developed a set of Word macros that allow transcribers to do the kind of full inputting of data the project requires, and an XSLT transformation to transform the word document from Microsoft’s Open XML to TEI, with a certain amount of post-processing required.

5. Technical next steps

Both for internal processing and in order to align this project more closely with that of Daniel Stoekl ben Ezra (with whom I have been collaborating), the XML schema that governs how to do the markup will need to be changed, so that each word has its own unique address (@xml:id). This also means that tags that can straddle others (say, damage that extends from the end of one text to the beginning of another) will need to be revised. Once I am revising the schema, it will be useful to tighten it, and limit the values that can be used for attributes. This will make it easier for transcribers to work directly in XML.

Encoding of Genizah fragments pose a particular set of problems. (1) We need a method for virtually joining fragments that belong to a single manuscript while also retaining the integrity of the original fragment. At present, each fragment is encoded separately and breaks have pointers to locations in a central reference text. A procedure is necessary to then process the texts and generate a composite. At present this is envisioned with texts that are known to join. At a later stage the approach could be generalized to search for possible joins. (2) Fragmentary texts in general pose a problem in alignment, since we need to distinguish textual absences from physical gaps due to preservation for the alignment program. The system of pointing described in (1) will facilitate this.

The above are necessary to make the present version of the demo function effectively. Toward a next phase, one essential feature is the correction of the alignment output (see also above). I can envision two use cases. In one, the individual user makes corrections for his or her own use, and the edition does not provide a “curated” alignment. Alternatively, we build a content management system that allows the editors to oversee the construction of corrected alignments that become part of the application. When completed, this “curated” version replaces the collation that takes place on the fly. In either case, corrected output makes possible a suite of statistical functions that I would like to implement.

Finally, for our proposed model digital edition, Daniel Stoekl ben Ezra and I have discussed a morphological tagging component. Here we have worked with Meni Adler (BGU) to create preliminary morphological analysis based on modern Hebrew and with a programmer to create a markup tool. Ideally, the corrected markup could then be recycled to train morphological analysis programs on rabbinic Hebrew and Medieval/Early Modern orthography.

I have benefited from the support of the Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies, the History Department, and the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH). MITH, and in particular then assistant director Travis Brown, built the web application and worked with me as I slowly and painfully learned how to build the parts that I built directly. Trevor Muñoz of MITH was insistent that I develop a schema and helped to do so, the wisdom of which I am only now learning. Many professional transcribers and students worked on transcriptions and markup. These are listed in the file ref.xml available in the project repository, and I hope to make an honor roll more visible at a later date.

Many scholars and institutions have been gracious about sharing texts and information. Michael Krupp shared transcriptions of the first four orders of the Mishnah. Peter Schaefer and Gottfried Reeg made available the Mishnah texts from all editions of the Yerushalmi included in the Synopsis. Accordance, through the good offices of Marty Abegg, made pointed transcriptions of the Kaufmann manuscript available. Daniel Stoekl ben Ezra and I have been collaborating for some time now, and have proposed a jointly edited model edition of Bava Metsi’a pending funding.

English, Events

The Talmud Blog and Digital Humanities Israel

Joint meeting of the Talmud Blog and Digital Humanities Israel

Next Thursday evening, June 26th, The Talmud Blog and “Digital Humanities Israel” will be holding a joint meeting at the “Open Hub” of The National Library in Givat Ram (1st floor) on the topic of open digital resources in the study of the Bible, Mishnah, and Talmud (BMT):

How can open digital resources contribute to BMT scholarship? What new questions can be asked using digital tools and methods?

The Talmud Blog and Digital Humanities Israel will dedicate a special joint meeting to open digital resources, tools and studies in Bible, Mishnah and Talmud scholarship.

Resources and projects dedicated to ancient Jewish sources will be presented, along with new ideas for possible implementations of digital tools and methods for the study of these resources. No prior technological knowledge is required! An open discussion session will follow.

Doors open at 19:00. Presentations by Yitz Landes (The Talmud Blog), Sinai Rusinek (Digital Humanities Israel), Ephraim Damboritz (Sefaria), and others will begin promptly at 19:30.


An open talmud.