English, Events, Guest Posts

Meeting the Bavli at the National Library: Notes from an Uncultured Anthropologist- Guest Post by Assaf Harel

Pumbedita & Vilna in Silicon Valley” is the title of the opening session in a series of five public meetings at the National Library of Israel. The series aims to investigate the relevance of the Bavli in the 21st century. Baldly, the first session asks: “Is the Babylonian Talmud relevant to the secular-western society in which we live?” Continue reading

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Conferences, English, Events

Conferences

With Shavuot behind us, no holidays on the horizon until September, and summer break in many other parts of the world, it’s high time for conference season here in the Holy Land. Here’s a list of what will be going over the next few weeks.

First off is The Fourteenth International Orion Symposium on “The Religious Worldviews Reflected in the Dead Sea Scrolls,” to take place on May 28-30 at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. From the conference website:

…This symposium will address aspects of the religious thought reflected in the texts of the Judean Desert in their wider religious context. Comparison with other ancient writings affords the opportunity to refine our understanding. Papers will carefully analyze specific texts and deal with broader themes and topics that shed new light on the worldviews, beliefs, and forms of religious experience reflected in the Scrolls…

The full program is available here. Those who won’t be able to make it can be comforted by the fact that Orion is usually pretty good about putting out conference volumes (see here for the most recent one).

At the same time, there will be a conference in memory of the scholar of aggada, Yona Frankel. The conference starts the evening of May 28th at the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem, and continues the following day at Ben Gurion university in Beer Sheva.

The following week, on June 2-4, Tel Aviv University’s Center for Religious and Interreligious Studies will be having a joint conference with The Cambridge University Project for Religion in the Humanities entitled “‘With God on Our Side’: Holy War and Sacred Struggle in Judaism, Christianity and Islam A Collaborative International Conference in Interreligious Studies” here’s the schedule. This is the first conference to come out of a new joint venture in interreligious studies of the two universities.

And on that same week there will be a conference in honor of the folklore-rabbinicist, Galit Hasan-Rokem in Jerusalem (June 5-6).

Later in June, on the 25-27, Hebrew University will be hosting a conference entitled “Patristic Studies in the Twenty-first Century: An International Conference to Mark the 50th Anniversary of AIEP/IAPS.” From the preliminary schedule, this looks like it will be kind of mega-conference with big international scholars participating and also a fascinating mix of typical academic research and also more reflective theology. Our very own Ophir will be speaking on “The Ritualization of Narration in Jewish and Christian Liturgical Poetry” on the second day.

And most importantly, stay tuned for information about a special Talmud blog event, also in Jerusalem, on June 27th.

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English, Events

The Talmud Blog Live- Ron on “The Torah as the Divine Logos in Tannaitic Literature”

After over a year and a half of blogging, last night, for the first time ever, all of the Talmud Blog’s editors and contributors were actually in the same place at the same time. And what better reason could there have been for such a gathering than to attend, along with a diverse crowd of Talmud Blog followers, a presentation by Dr. Ron Naiweld on “The Torah as the Divine Logos in Tannaitic Literature”.

It is our pleasure to present to you the audio of the lecture here. Enjoy, and feel free to offer your comments below.

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English, Events

The Talmud Blog Live: Dr. Ron Naiweld on “The Torah as the Divine Logos in Tannaitic Literature”

We are excited to announce the Talmud Blog’s third “live” event, which will take place next Tuesday, December 25th, 7:30 PM at Ohel Moshe 5, Jerusalem. We’ll be hosting our very own Dr. Ron Naiweld, a contributor to the blog. Ron will be speaking (in Hebrew) on “Beyond the Letter and the Spirit: The Torah as the Divine Logos in Tannaitic Literature”. More information on his talk, including an abstract, can be found on the event’s Facebook page.

Reader’s interested in attending are invited to RSVP either by emailing us (thetalmudblog [at] gmail [dot] com) or, preferably, via the event page.

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English, Events

The Talmud Blog Hosts Michal Bar Asher-Siegal

In a beautifully appointed Jerusalem home, and framed by some Avigdor Arikha, Michal Bar Asher-Siegal led an extremely animated discussion that compared many of the motifs comprising the Bavli’s Resh Lakish story cycle with similar elements from Syriac Christian hagiographical texts. Like those cool guys from Chicago, Michal was on a mission to convince scholars of the significance and necessity of reading the Talmud alongside these (then) very popular Christian works.  And in our humble opinion, she succeeded marvelously. For those of you who want to see if you’re convinced, we’ve uploaded the audio of the lecture here, and the handout here.  Let us know what you think!

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English, Events

The Talmud Blog Hosts Zvi Septimus

It’s 10:00pm in New York, and, like many others, I’m watching the debate. But there’s one thing that I can’t stop thinking about, and that’s the lecture that I just heard at Drisha by Zvi Septimus, “Was Resh Lakish a Hedonist or an Ascetic? How The Bavli Conveys Meaning”.

For all of those who couldn’t make it, the audio of the lecture is available here, and here’s the audio of the questions and answers (some may want to listen to them before the lecture itself). The sourcesheet is available here. And for those in Jerusalem next week, make sure to come hear Michal Bar-Asher Siegal speak about “The Babylonian Talmud and Christian literature: Resh Lakish and the Monastic Repentant Robber“!

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English, Events, Talk of the Town, Talmud in the News

The Afghani ‘Geniza’

A few months ago, news broke in the Israeli media of an important manuscript trove that was discovered in Afghanistan. A spate of articles appeared in the press, each one covering just a bit more than the one prior it. Even Israeli television did not lost interest. With all the breathless reporting, the purple prose, and the melodramatic music playing in the background, it has been difficult to get a clear picture of what the value of the collection really is.

Last evening, Shaul Shaked delivered the annual Sara Soroudi lecture on Mount Scopus in a small, stuffy, and packed seminar room. In his unassuming and dignified manner, Shaked gave an initial report on the find, and presented some documents which he read and commented upon.  First things first: The collection apparently stems from around Dareh-Usuf in the vicinity of Balkhs in Northern Afghanistan. Of course neither Shaked nor the other Israeli researches interested in the documents have themselves seen the cave in which the collection was supposedly found. However, Shaked said that his sources in the region, which he claims are trustworthy, did testify to having seen the specific cave that stored the documents.

We know that Jews lived in Afghanistan in the Middle Ages from inscribed gravestones in Kur, but until now we have had virtually no further evidence about the community. Documents have been trickling out for some time now, and particularly in the last two years. There seem to be some two-hundred fragments, though more turn up all the time. And the majority of the collection is held with dealers in London, though in some other locations as well – including Jerusalem. As of yet, all of the research has been done via photographs. The dealers have yet to make a deal.

The find is known as a geniza by name alone. Like the Cairo Geniza, its contents are haphazard and do not represent a planned archival storage. Other than that, there is no evidence that the cave in which the contents were allegedly stored was associated with a specific Jewish communal institution. Further, its contents do not seem to have accrued gradually, rather apparently as a result of one (emergency?) deposit. The texts are mainly in Judeo-Persian, but also in Hebrew, Aramaic, Judeo-Arabic, and Arabic proper (that is in Arabic script, and sometimes even written by Muslims).

Shaked provided a nice sample of documents, many of which were actually quite colorful and of interest beyond specialists. He discussed two piyutim that have yet to be identified. One poetically referred to a mosaic of nations of the world. Tafsirs were a favored genre in the Judeo-Persian world, and Shaked discussed two of them – one on Genesis and the other on Jeremiah. Both hewed very closely to the original Hebrew, and the tafsir on Jeremiah contained “Babylonian” vocalization on both the biblical text and the Persian translation. “Babylonian” vocalization is actually quite common in the documents, and seems to point to a ninth century CE dating.

In general, medieval Persian-speaking Jews were not particularly interested in rabbinic texts. Shaked did show, however, a few texts of interest to Talmudists. One was a fragment from the second chapter of Mishna Avodah Zara. It seems that the text is close to the known geniza fragments, which would then again imply that written Mishna fragments outside of the Babylonian Talmud stem from a Palestinian and not Babylonian tradition – even when they may well have been written down in Iraq. Mention was also made of fragments associated with Saadya’s commentary on Jeremiah and his responses to Hiwi, while a fragment was shown that refers to the ba’alei miqrayim – perhaps a reference to Karaites. In addition, a charming philosophical text spoke of the endless production of books and book learning. The apparent connection to the Muslim world could be seen in a hadith-like Arabic fragment from the collection; while a business ledger dated to the eleventh century provided a window into everyday life. Finally, a long and detailed letter recounted the story of a poor chap who fled Bamiyan due to accusations of improper business practices and Sabbath desecration. He had to leave his wife back in Bamiyan in order to go live in Razny, and he defends himself in the letter. And so, a nearly millennium old human interest story.

From the evidence, the people associated with the documents seem to have known not only Judeo-Persian and Hebrew, but also Arabic, which may point to recent origins in Babylonia. Regardless, from the small sample that was shown, there is no doubt that the collection is extremely important for reconstructing the history and texture of life of c. eleventh century Afghani Jewry.

The problem of course is that nothing can really be published until the collection is purchased. And here one begins to wonder about matters that Shaked did not discuss: Have some of the dealers been feeding off of the media hype and inflating the prices beyond reason? There is no doubt that there are serious potential buyers out there interested in purchasing these truly important documents and making them available to scholars. But generally, buyers with the serious funds needed for a collection of this sort are not dumb, and they are not interested in paying far beyond the reasonable value. No doubt, antiquity dealers have a right to charge a handsome sum for a valuable collection, but it must be within reason.  They should know that sales of this type are based essentially on trust. And let us not forget, they too have a responsibility to preserve the heritage reflected in the documents by making them available for research.  If the documents are to finally reach scholars, it will take a dealer, or a group of dealers prepared to negotiate in good faith. There is simply no other way.

UPDATE: See Avraham Yoskovich’s comment in the comments section for a review of Haggai Ben-Shammai’s “companion” lecture at the National Library on Tuesday, May 1, 2012.

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English, Events

Vered Noam on Josephus and the Rabbis

Tomorrow at 10:30 Prof. Vered Noam will deliver a paper entitled “The Story of King Jannaeus in b. Qiddushin 66a—A Pharisaic Reply to Sectarian Polemic”. The lecture is part of the Orion Center‘s Greenfield Scholars Seminars and will take place in room 2001 of the Rabin building on Mt. Scopus.

אגדת ינאי (בבלי קידושין סו ע”א): כתב הגנה פרושית כנגד טענות כיתתיות

בסוגיית קידושין (סו ע”א) משוקעת אגדה המתארת את הקרע בין ינאי המלך והפרושים. מקבילה קרובה של אגדה זו מצויה בקדמוניות היהודים ליוסף בן מתתיהו. האגדה נידונה הרבה במחקר בשל חשיבותה להבנת המתחים הפוליטיים והיריבות הכתתית בתקופת המדינה החשמונאית, ובשל קרבתה המסקרנת לעדותו של יוספוס. נדמה לי, עם זאת, ששני היבטים של סיפור זה טרם מוצו – הסגנון והמינוח המשמשים בו, והרמיזות המקראיות שהוא נוקט. מאפיינים אלה עשויים לשמש מפתח למוצאו ולמגמתו של הסיפור, שהוא, לדעתי, שריד נדיר של מסמך פרושי פולמוסי.

Noam, along with Tal Ilan, is currently working on “A Literary-Historical Investigation of the Parallel Traditions in Josephus and in Rabbinic Literature”, and this lecture seems to be a part of that larger project. Shai and I hope to be in attendance and plan on reporting back.

[On this story see, most recently, Richard Kalmin, Jewish Babylonia between Persia and Roman Palestine pp. 53-60.]

And speaking of Tel Aviv U (where Noam is a professor), Ishay Rosen-Zvi has just announced two nice scholarships ($5000) for qualified international students to come and study (in English) towards an MA in Jewish Studies at Tel Aviv U. For more information, click here.

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English, Events, Guest Posts

The Burning of the Talmud in Rome on Rosh Hashanah, 1553- Guest Post by Menachem Butler

Last Monday I received a most fascinating email from Chief Rabbi Riccardo di Segni, MD, of Rome, with a picture of a plaque unveiled just the previous afternoon in the market place of Rome to commemorate when, in 1553, the Inquisitors confiscated every copy of the Talmud in Italy; the search took about nine days. On Rosh Hashanah 5314 (9 September 1553), the Talmud and many other Jewish books were burnt in the Campo dei Fiori. Throughout the remainder of the sixteenth-century, a complete edition of the Talmud could not be found anywhere in Italy. Chief Rabbi Riccardo di Segni described this event as “the beginning of the persecution of the Jewish printed book, after that of manuscripts.”

The idea for this plaque placement came after the Boyarin family of Berkeley, California, toured Italy a half-dozen years ago. As Prof. Daniel Boyarin described in remarks delivered at an event celebrating the completion of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’ Talmud translation into Italian at the Campo dei Fiori in November 2010, the idea was conceived “[f]ive years ago when we walked in this beautiful place, [and Chava Boyarin] observed the statue in memory of Giordano Bruno’s martyrdom here, and remarked that there was no memorial for the wagon-loads of Talmud manuscripts and books burnt here in 1553.”

Professor Daniel Boyarin’s entire remarks are transcribed below and a recording is available here. At the event last year, it was announced that a permanent plaque would be affixed at that location in time for this year’s Rosh Hashanah, 458 years after the Talmud was burnt at that very location. Chief Rabbi Riccardo di Segni sent me the picture below of the plaque that now rests on the street of the marketplace in the Campo dei Fiori.

Chief Rabbi Riccardo di Segni told me that in the week since the plaque has been affixed, many tourists and local residents have passed through the marketplace and have stopped to learn about the event that took place at that very location in 1553. “Many tourists who casually crossed the square yesterday were Jewish,” he wrote to me. “One of them told me that he was a young boy who escaped from Berlin in 1938, so he knew what burning of books means, and he was deeply moved by this commemoration. After 458 years, we remember.”

As you can see in the picture, the text of the plaque is in Italian, with two quotations in Hebrew. The first is a quote from the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 18a), which offers the Talmudic account of the martyrdom of R. Hannaniah b. Teradyon. The second passage is from the elegy, Sha’ali Serufah ba-Esh, composed by Rabbi Meir ben Baruch, Maharam of Rothenburg, upon seeing the wagons of Talmudic manuscripts and commentaries burnt in a Paris marketplace in 1242. Sha’ali Serufah ba-Esh is among the most powerful elegies read on Tisha be-Av within Ashkenazic communities worldwide.

The Talmudic account of the martyrdom of R. Hannaniah b. Teradyon, who was burnt alive while wrapped in a Torah scroll, has been described by Moshe David Herr, “Persecutions and Martyrdom in Hadrian’s Days,” Scripta Hierosolymitana 23 (1972): 85-125, esp. 110-119 (Hebrew); Gerald J. Blidstein, “Rabbis, Romans, and Martyrdom: Three Views,” Tradition 21:3 (Fall 1984): 54-62; Daniel Boyarin, Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999); and Daniel Boyarin, “A Contribution to the History of Martyrdom in Israel,” in Daniel Boyarin, Menachem Hershman, Shamma Friedman, Menahem Schmelzer, and Israel M. Ta-Shma, eds., Atarah Le-Hayim: Haim Zalman Dimitrovsky Jubilee Volume (Jerusalem: Hebrew University Magnes Press, 1999), 3-27 (Hebrew); Joseph Dan, “Narrative of the Ten Martyrs: Mysticism and Martyology,” in Hana Amit, Aviad Hacohen, and Haim Beer, eds., Mincha le-Menachem: A Collection of Essays in Honor of Rabbi Menachem Hacohen (Tel-Aviv: haKibbutz haMeuchad, 2007), 367-390 (Hebrew), and broader on The Ten Martyrs, see Jan Wilhelm van Henten, “Jewish and Christian Martyrs,” in Marcel Poorthuis and Joshua Schwartz, eds., Saints and Role Models in Judaism and Christianity (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2004), 163-181; and Ra’anan S. Boustan, “The Hagiographic Vita of a Priestly Rabbinic Martyr: The Figure of Rabbi Ishmael in The Story of the Ten Martyrs,” in Martyr to Mystic: Rabbinic Martyrology and the Making of Merkavah Mysticism (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005), 99-148.

For scholarly discussions on the 1553 burning of the Talmud in Campo dei Fiori, see Avraham Yaari, The Burning of the Talmud in Italy (Tel-Aviv: Abraham Zioni, 1954; Hebrew), reprinted in Studies in Hebrew Booklore (Jerusalem: Mosad ha-Rav Kook, 1958), 198–234 (Hebrew); Kenneth R. Stow, “The Burning of the Talmud in 1553, in Light of Sixteenth-Century Catholic Attitudes Toward the Talmud,” Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance 34:3 (September 1972): 435-449; Kenneth R. Stow, Catholic Thought and Papal Jewry Policy 1555-1593, Moreshet Series, vol. 5 (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1977), 49-50, 54-59; as well as the more-recent scholarship by Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, “Censorship, Editing and the Reshaping of Jewish Identity: The Catholic Church and Hebrew Literature in the Sixteenth Century,” in Allison Coudert and Jeffrey S. Shoulson, eds., Hebraica Veritas?: Christian Hebraists and the Study of Judaism in Early Modern Europe (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 125-155; Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, “The Burning of the Talmud,” in The Censor, the Editor, and the Text: The Catholic Church and the Shaping of the Jewish Canon in the Sixteenth Century, trans. Jackie Feldman (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007), 32-56, 211-222; Fausto Parente, “The Index, the Holy Office, the Condemnation of the Talmud and Publication of Clement VIII’s Index,” in Gigliola Fragnito, ed., Church, Censorship and Culture in Early Modern Italy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 163-193, which was drawn to my attention by Prof. Ariel Toaff; and most-recently (in a volume just published last week), in Piet van Boxel, “Robert Bellarmine Reads Rashi: Rabbinic Bible Commentaries and the Burning of the Talmud,” in Joseph Hacker and Adam Shear, eds., The Hebrew Book in Early Modern Italy (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011), 121-132 (chapter six), available here.

About the burning of the Talmud during June 1242, see Susan L. Einbinder, Beautiful Death: Jewish Poetry and Martyrdom in Medieval France (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), 70-99 (Chapter three: “Burning Jewish Books”), and for the text of Maharam mi-Rothenberg’s Sha’ali Serufah ba-Esh, see Daniel Goldschmidt, ed., Seder ha‐Kinot le‐Tisha be‐Av (Jerusalem: Mosad ha-Rav Kook, 1972), 135-137 (no. 42) (Hebrew), which appears in English translation in Robert Chazan, ed., Church, State, and Jew in the Middle Ages (New York: Behrman House, Inc., 1980), 229-231, and in slightly modified form in Susan L. Einbinder, Beautiful Death, 76-78. The complete entire audio recording of Professor Daniel Boyarin’s remarks at the Campo dei Fiori is available here, and Rabbi Steinsaltz’ remarks are available here.

Five years ago when we walked in this beautiful place, [Chava Boyarin] observed the statue in memory of Giordano Bruno’s martyrdom here, and remarked that there was no memorial for the wagonloads of Talmud manuscripts and books burnt here in 1553.

‘Once these books are removed,’ an advisor to the Roman Inquisition had written, ‘it will soon result that the more that they are without the wisdom of their rabbis, so much more will they be prepared and disposed to receive the Christian faith and,’ what he calls, ‘the wisdom of the word of God.’ This Inquisitor well understood one thing. He understood that the Talmud and the study of Talmud are what have sustained the Jewish People and kept us against all odds alive and thriving. The wisdom of our rabbis is the word of God, and it this that has kept us faithful to the word of God ’till this day.

In Rome, the Inquisition raged while in the Benedictine monastery at Camaldoli near Arezzo, sat the Florentine humanists who studied the Talmud and Kabbalah together with rabbis. Giordano Bruno, whose own martyrdom, some 20 years after that of the Talmud here, was in large part owing to his having been influenced by those humanists and their interest in Jewish holy books. The placing of this plaque today thus closes the circle and indicates to us that it is not the Inquisition that has won the day, but the spirit of Camaldoli. Today in Rome, Jews and Christians study the Talmud and others of our shared holy books, not only with each other but with Muslims as well. Bruno might have dreamed that this would happen.

Daya le-Chakimah be-Ramiza, “a hint to a Sage is sufficient.” I only had to make the suggestion to the Rabbi of Rome, Rav Riccardo di Segni, and the process was set in motion that has brought us here today. Chazak u-Varukh!

Not only is this a day of mourning; however, it is also a day of celebration. Safadnu Et ha-Talmud Kan, ve-ha-Yom hi-Kimu Yeshiva al-Kivro. We have mourned and memorialized the Talmud in this place, and Rabbi Steinsaltz, shlita, has built a yeshiva on what was intended to be its grave.

The spirit of Bruno has been vindicated, but also the Talmud itself. For while the Inquisition sought to end all Talmud and Talmudic study, more people study the Talmud today than ever before in history, in large part due because of the great, and now completed, Baruch Hashem, project of Rabbi Steinsaltz, shlita.

We mourn the burnt holy books and rejoice together on the completion of this commentary on the Talmud.

Menachem Butler is the co-editor of the Seforim blog. This is his first contribution to the Talmud blog. 

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