English, Readings, Recent Publications

New Iranica Antiqua and a Hebrew Inscription on Ahura Mazda’s Tunic

For Talmudists interested in the Bavli’s Sasanian context, a new edition of Iranica Antiqua is always a reason to celebrate. Volume 46 (2011) has just been published, and it does not disappoint. It contains a slew of interesting articles on Sasanian Iran, including:

Maciej Grabowski, “Ardašīr’s Struggle against the Parthians: Towards a Reinterpretation of the Fīrūzābād I Relief”

The proposed reinterpretation of the Fīrūzābād I relief is based on the assumption that we deal with a particular iconographic synopsis of the events that occurred during Ardašīr’s war against the Arsacids (c. 220-228). The concept of iconographic summary of several historical events may be traced back to the Achaemenid period (Bīsotūn relief), and may also be observed in the triumph reliefs of Šāpur I. It is thus suggested that each of the three equestrian combat scenes depicted on the Fīrūzābād I relief recalls one of three major stages of Ardašīr’s struggle against the Parthians. Information from textual sources combined with iconographic observations permit to develop a hypothesis concerning the identity of some of the depicted personages, and thus to reveal proper historical context of each scene. New terminus post quem for the Fīrūzābād I relief is also proposed, this being the year 228 which most probably marks the end of the last phase of the war.

Brucno Overlaet, “Ardashir II or Shapur III? Reflections on the Identity of a King in the Smaller Grotto at Taq-i Bustan,”

Two Sasanian kings are depicted on the back wall of the smaller grotto at Taq-i Bustan near Kermanshah (Iran). They are identified by inscriptions as Shapur II (309-379 A.D.) and his son Shapur III (383-388 A.D.). However, the details of the crowns and the design of the relief oppose this idea. It makes it likely that the figure identified as Shapur III is in fact Ardashir II (379-383 A.D.), the immediate successor and (half)brother of Shapur II. It is suggested that the identifying texts were added when Shapur III came to power.

Jamsheed K. Choksy, “Friends and Friendships in Iranian Society: Human and Immortal”

Constructs, permutations, functions, and bases of friends and friendships in society and sociopolitical hierarchies are analyzed within the context of religiosity in Iran and Iranian regions of Central Asia.

Michael B. Charles, “The Sassanian ‘Immortals”

The Sassanian Persians are generally regarded as having maintained an elite cavalry unit called the ‘Immortals’, the formation of which was inspired by Achaemenian practice, thereby demonstrating continuity between the two dynasties, as per the general scholarly view. This article assembles all the pertinent evidential material from the Greco-Roman sources in order to present a comprehensive critique of this position. It emerges that references to Sassanian Immortals in sources emanating from the Mediterranean world may owe more to classicizing fancy than to historical reality, and particularly a desire to approximate late-antique wars against Persia with those waged by the West against Achaemenian kings.

Bruno Overlaet, “Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hebrew Inscription on Ardashir I’s Rock Relief at Naqsh-i Rustam,”

The relief of Ardashir I at Naqsh-i Rustam is the first Sasanian investiture scene with the two protagonists on horseback. They are identified by a prominent trilingual inscription on the horses as Ardashir I and Ahura Mazda. A Hebrew inscription remained unobserved since the 19th century, however. It is chiselled on the folds of Ahura Mazda’s tunic.

The final article in particular caught my eye. Who might have written a Hebrew inscription hiding in on the folds of Ahura Mazda’s tunic at Naqsh i Rustam? Unfortunately, I was disappointed to find that the piece contains no readings of the Hebrew inscription in question. In fact, aside from a clear photograph on the final page, the article reads more like a notice than a work of actual scholarship.

I contacted Shaul Shaked Schwarzmann University Professor emeritus here at the Hebrew University, who was kind enought to relay the following, tentative remarks:

1. A faint inscription above the main one. I am indicating doubtful readings by parentheses, and editorial supplements by square brackets.

(בניה) שמואל הכהן


(חש?) רברבה חסן בן חסן בן (ס)הל באלחסן מזאר
אלשג סמן
מן חלון

The date 1303 is naturally Seleucid, i.e. 992 CE. The translation of inscription 2 is:

… (?) … Hasan son of Hasan son of Sahl Bu-l-Hasan, visit
of the year
1303. Good
From Hulwan.

The beginning of the inscription is hard to make out, and I doubt whether רברבה is the correct reading. An alternative reading of the beginning of this inscription could be:

הזר ברכה (Persian-Hebrew:) A thousand blessings.

The trouble is that the last one letter looks distinctly like bet.

The two inscriptions could have been engraved at the same time, probably by two different hands. These are obviously inscriptions of the type of “Jimmy was here”. With luck we may be able to identify one of these two persons. The date is perfectly compatible with the Islamic-period names and, I believe, with the shape of the script.

English, Recent Publications, Reviews

Gafni Continues the Debate

A further chapter in the Gafni-Goodblatt debate, and for that matter in the ongoing “Stam Wars,” has recently been published in the journal Jewish History.   In a detailed and important review of Jeffrey Rubenstein’s trilogy- Talmudic Stories, The Culture of the Babylonian Talmud, and Stories of the Babylonian Talmud, Isaiah Gafni comes out fighting.  Gafni acknowledges that scholars like Rubenstein and his predecessors have changed the rules of writing the history of the “Talmudic era” irrevocably, but that does not mean he will accept Rubenstein’s approach whole-cloth, or go along entirely with the latter’s proposed ceasefire for the Gafni-Goodblatt debate.

Anyone who cares about the direction of research into the Talmud’s anonymous layer should read the review itself, so I will not summarize it here.  I will say that Gafni’s main argument is that while he is willing to cede that reworked, originally Palestinian rabbinic stories in the Bavli often reflect Babylonian concerns, he is not prepared to admit that these concerns are always late, or “stammaitic.” In this he takes up an argument put forth by Yaakov Elman in a review of Rubenstein’s The Culture of the Babylonian Talmud, published in 2006 in the Journal of Religion.  Gafni offers numerous examples, expands the claim, and adds further arguments as well.

Last May, Prof. Gafni spoke at a conference organized by Uri Gabbay and me (and hosted by Scholion at the Hebrew University of JerusalemEncounters by the Rivers of Babylon: Scholarly Conversations between Jews, Iranians and Babylonians.  There he added ever more examples to rebut Rubenstein, some of them quite compelling.  Gafni’s article from the conference will hopefully appear in the proceedings of the conference, which hopefully will be published soon.

Dissertations, English, Recent Publications

New Dissertations in the Field

Each year, numerous dissertations are defended on various aspects relating to rabbinic literature. And each year, the variety of angles and approaches to this literature only increases. The most recent crop nicely reflects the participation of women in the study of rabbinic literature, which though certainly higher than decades prior, still seems to lag behind the rest of the human sciences.  There are other things to note. More and more theses are grappling seriously with theory.  Editions of rabbinic texts continue to be produced, though perhaps not at the level that they should be.  New areas of research, like Talmudo-Iranica, are well represented in this list.  And gender remains a focus. Below is a list of recent dissertations (from 2011 and some from 2010) with abstracts, where available. Readers aware of other dissertations of interest to this blog should contact us. 

NOTE: The list will be updated over the next few days.

Yonatan Adler, “Archaeological Evidence for the Observance of Ritual Purity in Erez-Israel from the Hasmonean Period until the End of the Talmudic Era (164 BCE – 400 CE),” (PhD Dissertation, Bar Ilan University, 2011).

The ancient literary sources indicate that the laws of ritual purity played a crucial role in the halakhic discourse of the late Second Temple period. Intensive discussion of this issue is found in the books of the Apocrypha, in the works of Philo and Josephus Flavius, in the documents from the Judean desert, in the books of the New Testament and in the early strata of the Tannaitic literature. The laws of purity continued to remain in the center of halakhic debates even after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 C.E., at least within the circles of the sages from whom we have inherited the early rabbinic literature.

These literary sources present us with a number of fundamental questions: To what extent were the laws of ritual purity observed amongst the greater Jewish population of Ereẓ-Israel? What place did these laws occupy in the daily lives of those who observed them? Were there differences in the level of observance of these laws between various segments within contemporary Jewish society? Were there regional differences with regard to the observance of these laws? What kind of developments and changes occurred over time in the field of ritual purity observance? These research questions, which are of utmost importance in any attempt to understand the religious and social histories of Jewish society in Ereẓ-Israel during the late Second Temple era and during the period of the Mishnah and Talmud, are the focus of the present study.

There are three major types of archaeological finds that reflect on the scope and the nature of ritual purity observance during the historical periods under discussion. The first is stepped water installations, which should be identified as the “miqwa’ot” mentioned in early rabbinic sources, ritual baths that were used for ablutions. Another type of archaeological find that evidences the observance of purity laws is chalk-stone vessels, used especially by those who kept the purity laws due to the insusceptibility of these vessels to ritual impurity. Important additional data may be culled from a study of the distribution of imported pottery as these vessels were considered inherently impure, and as such we may learn about the observance of purity law by examining the extent to which these vessels were either used or avoided.

Tali Artman-Partock, “Dialogue and Dialogism in Rabbinic Literature: Parrhesia in Theory and in Practice in Rabbinic Literature and in Contemporary Christian literature,” (PhD dissertation, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2010).

Mira Balberg, “Recomposed Corporealities: Purity, Body, and Self in the Mishnah” (PhD dissertation, Stanford University, 2011).

The purpose of this dissertation is to trace and analyze the ways in which the rabbis who created the Mishnah, a Palestinian rabbinic legal codex whose final compilation is dated to the first half of the third century C.E., developed a unique notion of a bodily self in their remaking of the biblical laws of purity and impurity. By examining some of the fundamental innovations that the rabbis introduced to the system of purity and impurity that they had inherited from their predecessors, I show that questions of subjectivity and consciousness profoundly shape the concepts of purity and impurity as those are developed in the Mishnah, ultimately presenting the self as a new focal point in the discourse of ritual impurity. In particular, I emphasize the ways in which the human body, which is the main and most critical site in which the drama of purity and impurity takes place, is negotiated in the Mishnah as both subject and object, both as identical to the self and as disparate from it. Through my analysis of various themes in the mishnaic discourse of purity and impurity, I demonstrate that the rabbis constructed the daily engagement with impurity and the ongoing pursuit of ritual purity as closely reflective of one’s relations with one’s self, with one’s human and non-human environment, and with one’s body.

The rabbis of the Mishnah radically expanded the realm and repercussions of impurity, thus shaping the most mundane daily interactions, encounters, and activities that constitute one’s physical presence the world as situations in which one is constantly confronted with the possibility of contracting impurity. In the Mishnah, being in a body means being vulnerable to impurity, in such way that the management of impurity and the incessant awareness of it are defining aspects of the self’s relations with his material surroundings and with his own body. The mishnaic subject, however, does more than simply respond to the world of impurity and attempt to manage his precarious state in it; he is also the one who is shaping this world through his consciousness and deliberation. The rabbis introduce a surprising conceptual innovation, according to which only objects – and persons – that harbor significance have any consequences in terms of impurity. In other words, only things that matter to someone, and in which one has presumably invested some sort of subjective thought, intention, or deliberation, can affect one in terms of impurity.

The notion that the mishnaic self is capable both of being pure and of being impure is what inscribes this self’s activities and encounters in a world pervaded with impurity with a constant quest for the attainment of purity. The quest for purity is manifested in a series of practices, most notably practices of self-examination and self-reflection, and in an unrelenting awareness of the possibility of impurity and of the commitment to maintain a state of purity, in such way that the attainment of a status of purity profoundly depends on one’s relations with oneself. Only one who is capable of mastering himself and being held accountable to oneself, and one who is deeply dedicated to purity and willfully nurtures this dedication, can attain a status of purity. The pursuit of purity is thus constructed in the Mishnah as a process in which the self both exhibits the desired character traits of self-knowledge and self-control and cultivates these qualities. Thereby, the very effort to be pure acquires cultural value in and of itself.

The self, that is, the human subject who is capable of reflection on himself and on his surroundings, is thus in many ways the ultimate point of reference of the discourse of purity and impurity in the Mishnah. Impurity is constructed as shaped by subjective processes, whereas purity is constructed as attained through the development of one’s religious commitments and mental capacities. All this by no means does away with the physical-like and even mechanical way in which the rabbis understand the workings of impurity; however, this does allow the system of purity and impurity to acquire a new and central dimension in the rabbinic discourse, a dimension which, I propose, made this system more meaningful and more relevant in a world in which it was likely to become more and more obsolete.

Meir Ben-Shahar, “Biblical and Post-Biblical History in Rabbinic Literature: Between the First and Second Destruction,” (PhD dissertation, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2010).

Itamar Brenner, “A Hermeneutic Study of the Interpretive Aspect in the Babylonian Talmud (PhD dissertation, Bar Ilan University, 2010).

Binyamin Elbaum, “Midrash Abba Gurion on Esther: The Version and its Redactions,” (PhD dissertation, Bar Ilan University, 2011).

Shmuel Faust, “Criticism in Sage Stories from the Babylonian Talmud,” (PhD dissertation, Bar Ilan University, 2010).

David Flatto, “Between Royal Absolutism and and Independent Judiciary: The Evolution of Separation of Powers in Biblical, Second Temple and Rabbinic Texts,” (PhD dissertation, Harvard University, 2010).

Even as Jewish political sovereignty waned during Late Antiquity, Judaism experienced a profound flourishing in the legal sphere. Confronting a changing political landscape, while encountering distinctive Greco-Roman power structures, Jewish thinkers and exegetes responded by developing bold and novel juristic conceptions. While much scholarship has examined the loss of Jewish power, this study shifts the focus to a crucial question which has been largely ignored: how did Jews think about power and authority in the absence of power, and how did this inform the nature of the societies they constructed in the absence of power? My essential answer is that they drew on their rich legal tradition to focus on law and legal authority as a unique political alternative to traditional rule. This thesis offers a wide-ranging exploration of this crucial dimension of the Jewish legalimagination in its formative stages.

In particular, this study examines representations of legal authority in seminal Jewish texts from the Second Temple and rabbinic periods. Given the primacy of law within Judaism, Jewish sages, thinkers, interpreters, transmitters and jurists from this era grappled with the ideal nature of the administration of justice and produced an impressive array of juristic schemes. Nevertheless, certain essential overriding themes pervade this diverse body of material.

Whereas ancient jurisprudence presumes that law emanates from the seat of power–with an absolutist king or emperor commanding authority in all realms, including the legal domain–a distinctive strand within Jewish jurisprudence advances a different paradigm. Although Ancient Near Eastern and much biblical literature project the king as the supreme judge, Deuteronomy 17 (the primary normative text about kingship and legal authority) dramatically revises this approach by establishing independent judicial officials operating beyond the reach of the king. This seminal, if anomalous, text assumes heightened significance in post-biblical literature.

Elaborating on Deuteronomy 17, post-biblical commentators present a variety of models of judicial administration. Philo attempts to harmonize Deuteronomy with the dominant biblical attitude toward kingship by restoring the monarch’s judicial role. Various Qumran texts seek to circumscribe the sovereign, and largely locate justice outside of the royal domain in priestly quorums. Moreover, certain writings build upon the Deuteronomic foundation in striking ways. A leading voice within tannaitic literature extends and institutionalizes the role of the judiciary and seeks to purge the legal edifice from additional influences of power (beyond royal intervention). At the same time, tannaitic writings elevate the distinct political responsibilities of a sovereign. A very different voice in early Jewish jurisprudence, especially manifest in Josephus’s writings, aims to eliminate political authority altogether and reconstitute the ideal polity upon the foundation of the rule of law. Abandoning the regnant notion of imperial law, such writings advance robust visions of law’s empire.

Proclaiming the supremacy of law and widening its scope, post-biblical writers insist that a legal system must operate independently of powerful political rulers. Without a land, sovereign authority, or coercive powers, and with restricted legal jurisdiction, leading Late Antique Jewish writers promote legal constructs which diverge from the surrounding cultures, and in certain remarkable ways prefigure–or even eclipse–ideas that only enter into Western political and legal tradition centuries later. This dissertation demonstrates that Jewish legalism is not an inevitable, or even a reluctant response to disempowerment, but rather a deeply-rooted ideology revolving around the centrality of law and its profound potential to structure a society and a polity.

Yair Furstenberg, “Eating in a State of Purity during the Tannaitic Period: Tractate Teharot  and its Historical and Cultural Contexts,” (PhD dissertation, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2010).

No other religious phenomenon shaped the daily conduct of many during the latter part of the Second Temple period such as eating in the state of purity. Purity, as a way of life, was shared by most groups and, at the same time, marked the discursive dividing lines between parties and sects. In Rabbinic circles, these purity regulations continued also after the Temple destruction. However, fundamental  changes took place during next two centuries. Whereas in early generations “purity burst”, as time went on the practice of eating in purity decreased until it practically disappeared during the third century. Indeed, eating in the state of purity played a central role in fashioning contemporary world view, including notions of contamination and danger within the private sphere and social status and structure in the public domain. Therefore, examining the factors which shaped and reshaped purity practices during the Talmudic period is of utmost importance for pursuing a clearer view of the rabbinic religious and cultural world and the transformations it went through. Much scholarly progress was made in the last years in the field of purity in antiquity. This was enhanced by the publication of Qumran texts, the reinterpretation of early Christian sources, and new archaeological finds. Also anthropological theories devoted to social aspects of purity regulations enriched the historical endeavor. However, the largest source which systematically surveys all levels of purity laws and includes most of our knowledge of contemporary purity customs has not received the proper scholarly treatment, this is the tannaitic corpus.

This dissertation examines central aspects involved in the reshaping of the field of purities during the tannaitic period, as they are reflected in Tractate Teharot of the Mishna, devoted to food purity. This and other texts offer a novel view of the subject, which stand in contrast to biblical and Second Temple concepts of impurity and contamination. Through careful examination of this literature we can track a trajectory of purity in the rabbinic circles.  The systematic study of the tractate includes four levels of examination, corresponding to the four parts of the dissertation. (I)  The textual framework: How the varying methods of subject arrangement reflect the ways the topic of purity was learned and its sitz im leben (II) Purity management in an impure environment: What are the differences between the various devices for managing purity in  the shadow of impurity which are found in Second Temple and tannaitic sources, and how they uncover different perceptions of impurity and its threat.  (III) Purity laws as social markers: In Second Temple period purity laws were clearly designed to  differentiate social groups and create a clear hierarchy:  haver and  am-ha’aretz, priest and layman. Thus we ask, how did purity function as a social marker as the extent of the phenomenon decreased. (IV) Conceptual development: How the ongoing development of food purity laws and the creation of the ‘grades of impurity’ system by the Tannaim contributed to the evolution of a new concept of impurity and contagion.

Thus we encounter a living process, in which conceptual structures and social relations intertwine and transform drastically, imprinting their influence on the emerging sources.

Tamar Jacobowitz, “Leviticus Rabbah and the Spiritualization of the Laws of Impurity,” (PhD dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 2010).

This dissertation is a literary analysis of three sections in Leviticus Rabbah (LR), an aggadic compendium of midrash on the book of Leviticus, compiled in the Amoraic period. The study demonstrates that the rabbinic authors of LR transformed the levitical laws of purity into a set of exegetically generated reflections on God, the people Israel, and ethical relations. In the first chapter, I explore how LR parashah 14 injects theology into Leviticus 12’s purification ritual for a woman who has given birth. I consider the ways in which the rabbis’ theologizing discourse intersects with a discourse about gender, amplifying God’s role in childbirth at the expense of the mother. In the second chapter on LR parashah 16, I show that the rabbinic composers bring a concern for proper speech and ethical behavior to their reading of Leviticus 13-14’s ritual for the metsora (leper). In this parashah, the rabbis deepen and extend a tenuous biblical link between tsara’at (leprosy) and lashon hara (evil speech), substituting the ritual trappings of the notorious condition with a concern for building an ethical community. In the final chapter on LR 17, I study a related levitical topic, that of house diseases, and argue that the rabbis utilize the Leviticus verses to affirm the ongoing election of Israel from among the nations. Taken together, these three LR parshiyot suggest that the LR composers were engaged in an elaborate project of allegorization. Without undermining the Leviticus verses or contravening their legal import, the LR rabbis launched a way to read levitical purity so that it yielded contemporary meaning.

David Chaim Kalir, “An Edition and Comprehensive Commentary on Chapter II of Tractate Rosh-Hashana in the Babylonian Talmud,” (Hebrew; PhD dissertation, Bar Ilan University, 2011).

Jonathan Kaplan, “A Divine Love Song the Emergence of the Theo-erotic Interpretation of the Song of Songs in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity,” (PhD dissertation, Harvard University, 2010).

Jewish and Christian communities have classically understood the Song of Songs as a statement of divine love for God’s chosen people: Israel or the church, respectively. I adopt the term “theo-erotic” (in contrast to the more commonly used term “allegorical”) to describe this interpretive mode and then chart the hermeneutical and rhetorical shape of Jewish and Christian interpretations of the Song in the first centuries of the common era. The Song portrays an ideal world in which the lovers can be understood as archetypes with which other lovers can be identified, thus enabling theo-erotic interpretation. I argue that the Song’s transmission and translation in the Septuagint, the Qumran manuscripts, references to the Song’s use in Josephus’s Against Apion , 4 Ezra , Mishnah, and Tosefta, and purported allusions to the Song in numerous works from the Second Temple period provide limited evidence for the theo-erotic interpretation of the Song. The first verifiable allusions to and echoes of the Song appear in 4 Ezra and Revelation. I argue that these texts make use of a theo-erotic reading of the Song (as part of a complex of allusions) that recasts the Song into eschatological time and apocalyptic space in describing the community’s ideal and affective relationship with God. Rabbinic texts that record traditions from the Tannaitic Period (ca. 70-200 C.E.) interpret the utterances of the Song typologically as prefigurations of ideals in Israel’s relationship with God. The twenty-five passages that contain interpretations of the Song in Mekilta de-Rabbi Yishmael exemplify this mode of interpretation. In Mekilta the sages historicize and connect many of the Song’s verses with the period of Israel’s exodus from Egypt and the divine revelation at Sinai, understood in ideal terms as the period of Israel’s betrothal to God.

In this reading, Israel adopts the woman’s praises for her lover and reciprocates God’s fidelity through acts of devotion, expressed in characteristically rabbinic ways as the mitzvot , or divine commandments.

Baruch Kehat, “‘The Burden of Proof Lies with the Claimant'” in Rabbinic Literature,” (PhD dissertation, Bar Ilan University, 2010).

Yishai Kiel, “Selected Topics in Laws of Ritual Defilement: Between the Babylonian Talmud and Pahlavi Literature” (English; PhD dissertation, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2011).

One of the most promising and intriguing areas in the emerging interdisciplinary interest in Sasanian literature concerns the contextualized study of the Babylonian Talmud and Zoroastrian literature in Middle Persian. As it stands, Pahlavi literature has proven to be an indispensible source for the study of the Babylonian Talmud, and the Babylonian Talmud in turn has proven to be no less of an illuminating and insightful tool for the study of Pahlavi literature.

In this study I hope to have contributed to the scholarly efforts invested in the exploration and elucidation of Irano-Talmudic connections. On the first level, situated in the broader field of comparative culture, this study attempts to reveal the similarities and differences between the rabbinic and Zoroastrian legal systems. On the second level, situated in the realm of developmental intellectual history, the study engages in a more specific attempt to unearth interreligious connections that may have taken place in the Sasanian period – whether stemming from a more direct discourse or from coexistence in the same cultural milieu.

The study focuses on several legal topics relating to ritual defilement, which reveal intriguing examples of similarity and affinity. Not only the contents of rabbinic and Zoroastrian ritual instructions are addressed, but also the analytical and methodological tools, and the philosophical, legal and anthropological theoretical constructs that are displayed in the detailed discussions of the Babylonian Talmud and Pahlavi literature.

The introductory chapter includes a detailed survey of previous scholarship pertaining to Irano-Talmudic research and the study of ritual purity in rabbinic and Zoroastrian cultures. A detailed account is given regarding the philological tools that are utilized throughout the study, concerning the study of the Babylonian Talmud on the one hand and Pahlavi literature on the other. This chapter also includes a discussion of the comparative methodology that underlies the philological work that is carried out throughout the study.

Chapter one includes a critical edition and comprehensive commentary on Pahlavi Vīdēvdād 3.14. The chapter explores the relations between ritual impurity, religious liability and punitive consequences in Zoroastrian law; the role of knowledge and intention in establishing religious liability; the question of constraint while performing a religious transgression; the categories of carrying, shaking and touching dead matter; doubts that arose with regard to ritual defilement; and the question of aggregation and separation of consecutive sins. Chapter two is devoted to several rabbinic parallels relating to Zoroastrian material addressed in chapter one. The chapter explores the legal categories of carrying, shaking and touching impurity; shared responsibility in the case of transgressions that were performed by two persons; the role of cognition of sin and punishment in establishing legal liability; and doubts that arose with regard to impurity and sin.

Chapter three is devoted to the defilement of implements in Zoroastrian and rabbinic law from a comparative perspective. The chapter focuses on the legal classification of various materials in terms of their susceptibility to ritual impurity, and particularly the classification of glassware and bone implements. The chapter also considers the role of preparedness of articles for use in determining their level of susceptibility to ritual impurity. Chapter four, also devoted to the defilement of implements, focuses on the issue of internal and external contamination of vessels as discussed in rabbinic and Zoroastrian law. The unique legal position which distinguishes the defilement of the exterior from that of the interior is rigorously analyzed and contextualized within a broader discursive framework.

Chapter five is devoted to the matter of legal connectedness and the spread of impurity in Pahlavi literature. The chapter discusses the connectedness of articles and substances to the ground; the inner connectedness of various materials; a legal distinction between solid and powdery substances; and the connectedness of different parts of agricultural produce. Chapter six provides the rabbinic counterpart on the matters of legal connectedness and the spread of ritual defilement and engages in a systematic comparison of rabbinic and Zoroastrian texts pertaining to this matter.

Jenny R. Labendz, “Socratic Torah: Non-Jews in Rabbinic Intellectual Culture,” (PhD dissertation, The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, May 2011).

Yifat Monnickendam: “Halakhic Issues in the Writings of the Syriac Church Fathers Ephrem and Aphrahat” (PhD dissertation, Bar Ilan University, 2011)

Michael Pitkowsky, “‘Mipenei Darkhei Shalom’ (Because of the Paths of Peace) and Related Terms: A Case Study of How Early Concepts and Terminology Developed From Tannaitic to Talmudic Literature,” (PhD dissertation, The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 2011).

There are numerous sources within Tannaitic literature and the Talmuds that describe situations in which rabbis justified legal rules on the basis of their concern about the effect that laws might have on relations between different groups-between Jews and other Jews, and between Jews and Gentiles. The majority of the time that there was such a concern, the rabbis used one of three terms: mipenei darkhei shalom (“Because of the paths of peace”), meshumeivah (“Because of enmity”), or hillul ha-shem (“The desecration of God’s name”). By using these terms, they were acknowledging the role of extra-textual considerations in the legal decision making process.

This dissertation examines the sources within Tannaitic and Talmudic literature in which one of these terms was used. These sources have been examined by previous scholars, but most of their analyses focused on a small number of the sources, or did not subject them to the proper philological and textual analysis that is required before one makes any conclusions about rabbinic texts or terminology. I examined these texts within their textual, legal, political, and social context, before attempting to make any conclusions about their role in Tannaitic or Talmudic discourse.

It is impossible to generalize about the ways in which these terms were used. They are found in different rabbinic corpora, quoted by different authorities, and used in different ways. Sometimes they were used to justify a new law, while in other instances they were used as a justification for either overturning or modifying an existing prohibition. The common thread throughout all of these sources was the expressed desire to place a high value on the relationships that existed between different groups of people and the potentially negative effect that Jewish law and practice might have on these relationships.

Michael Rosenberg, “‘I am Impure’/’I am Forbidden:’ Purity and Prohibition as Distinct Formal Categories in the Laws of Niddah” (PhD dissertation, The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 2011).

This dissertation uses the menstrual laws (laws of “niddah”) in the Bible and Rabbinic literature as a lens for thinking about the relationship between the legal categories of impurity and prohibition. The menstrual laws, it is argued, are a particularly
beneficial topic of inquiry because of their appearance both in the first half of Leviticus (Lev 12 and 15), in the context of concerns of ritual impurity, and in the second half of Leviticus (Lev 18:19 and 20:18), in the context of the Holiness Code legislation, in which the legal rhetoric is one of prohibition rather than impurity.

It is argued that a careful analysis of both the content of Rabbinic rulings regarding the laws of niddah as well as the language used to express these rulings reveals a change over time in Rabbinic thinking. Whereas Tannaitic and early Amoraic Rabbis rarely if ever express awareness of a hard-and-fast formal distinction between categories of impurity-law and of law-framed-as-prohibition, later Babylonian Amoraic Rabbis as well as anonymous editors make use, explicitly and implicitly, of these formal categories. At the same time, however, the content of Rabbinic rulings is not necessarily constrained by awareness or lack of awareness of such a clear conceptual distinction.

Chapter One considers the situation in the Pentateuch and argues that the Bible has two different models of the relationship between impurity-law and prohibition-based-law vis-à-vis niddah. Lev 15 and Lev 20:18, when read together, treat impurity and prohibition as separate categories of law; that is to say, Lev 15 makes no mention of prohibition and Lev 20:18 makes no mention of impurity. Lev 18:19, however, conflates the two categories, defining a prohibition using purity-terminology. These two different approaches are both found in Rabbinic literature about niddah. In Chapter Two, we treat Rabbinic rulings about immersion and show that while Tannaitic and early Amoraic Rabbis express no explicit awareness of a clear divide between impurity and prohibition-related consequences of immersion, late Babylonia editing of earlier sources reveals both an awareness of such a divide as well as anxiety about it. Chapter Three considers the topic of internal inspections performed to determine a woman‟s menstrual state. Here we see that although Tannaitic and early Amoraic Rabbis once again share a common discourse, insofar as they do not generally distinguish between impurity law and prohibition-based law, while late Amoraic Rabbis and anonymous editors use a discourse in which purity and prohibition are clearly demarcated as separate legal categories, the actual rulings of Tannaitic Rabbis in fact have more in common with the rulings of late Amoraic Rabbis and anonymous editors than with early Amoraic Rabbis. Finally,
Chapter Four considers the topic of hymenal blood and argues that we have here a case of precisely those Rabbis most aware of conceptual distinctions between impurity and transgression conflating the two in order to achieve particular legal ends.

Michal Bar-Asher Siegal, “Literary Analogies in Rabbinic and Christian Monastic Sources,” (PhD dissertation, Yale University, 2010).

My research examines literary parallels in Christian and Jewish sources, culminating in an in-depth analysis of previously un-studied parallels between Christian monastic texts, the Apophthegmata Patrum (“The Sayings of the Desert Fathers”) and Babylonian Talmudic traditions. My findings introduce a new type of interaction of Jews and Christians in Babylonia, and suggest, contrary to prior academic views, that this interaction was direct, interdependent, non-polemic and very much literary-based. These Monastic analogies shed a new light on the surprisingly inclusive nature of the Talmudic corpus.

Chapter one recapitulates recent academic findings relating to the setting in which the Talmud was composed and surveys previous literature regarding the Christian background of the Babylonian Talmud. It also suggests a new reading of a passage in BT Avoda Zara 4a, which seems to indicate an isolation of Babylonian rabbis from the Christian population of their time. This chapter concludes with a methodological discussion of the nature of research based on parallel texts. Chapter two introduces the monastic text chosen for this parallel study, the Apophthegmata . I survey the history of the formation and early transmission of the literary traditions collected in the Sayings and then illustrate the transmission routes that would have enabled its literary connection with the Babylonian Talmud. The importance of the monastic movement in the Persian Empire during the time and geographical location of the composition and redaction of the Babylonian Talmud, makes a connection between the two religious populations a great probability. Chapter three surveys a broad list of parallels between the texts of the two religious movements and identifies points of contact and difference. Chapters four and five focus on specific detailed examples that feature a rabbinic borrowing of monastic literary elements: the BT Rashbi traditions (Shabbat 33b) and the Elazar b. Dordya story (Avoda Zara 17a).

This dissertation has the potential to change the way we look at the research of both rabbinic and monastic texts: it changes our perception of the source materials used by the redactors of the Talmud, and teaches us about the circulation of monastic traditions in eastern Syriac circles.

Zvi Septimus, “The Poetic Superstructure of the Babylonian Talmud and the Reader It Fashions,” (PhD dissertation, University of California, Berkely, 2011).

This dissertation proposes a poetics and semiotics of the Bavli (Babylonian Talmud)—how the Bavli, through a complex network of linguistic signs, acts on its implied reader’s attempt to find meaning in the text.  In doing so, I advance a new understanding of how the Bavli was composed, namely as a book written by its own readers in the act of transmission.  In the latter half of the twentieth century, Bavli scholarship focused on the role of the Stam (the collective term for those people responsible for the anonymous voice of the Bavli) in the construction of individual Bavli passages (sugyot). Stam theory details how sugyot were crafted out of pre-existing sources and how the Stam works to control those sources in the service of a particular worldview.  This dissertation locates a different force at work in the construction of the Bavli as a single unified book, an authorship that is above and against the work of the Stam—a Superstam.

By examining the effect of the Bavli’s use of rare and ambiguous terminology, I expand the unit of inquiry from the individual Bavli passage (sugya) to the Bavli in its entirety.  I argue that, for the Bavli’s implied reader, meaning is not found in the work of the Stam.  While the Stam conveys meaning for a local reader, the global reader I explore does not artificially divide the Bavli into its constituent parts.   For this reader, the Superstam acts to subvert the controlling work of the Stam through the placement of key words throughout the book.  These words, when rare or ambiguous, direct the reader to other sugyot in which they appear.  These sugyot, when read simultaneously, work to convey, for the reader, an expression of ambivalence on the part of the Superstam toward those moments of Stammaitic certainty.  I conclude that Super-stammaitic activity itself is the result and product of readers who are trained how to read by the Bavli’s own expectations.  In this way, the Bavli is a text authored by its own readers who, in transmitting the text, become writers again and again.

Shana Strauch-Schick, “Intention in the Babylonian Talmud: An Intellectual History” (PhD dissertation, Yeshiva University, 2011).

This study examines the legal concept of kavvanah, or intention”, and attempts to establish the history of how it was conceptualized and applied by the Amoraim- the rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud (Bavli). Since the Bavli addresses both religious and civil law, it devotes much attention to the role of intention. However, the sources which discuss intention, both explicitly and implicitly, are scattered throughout the Bavli. Nevertheless, it is possible to construct an intellectual history of intention by considering the following: the views of the authors of relevant statements; the time in which they lived and their cultural environment; their affiliations and schools of thought. I attempt to sift through the varied material presented in the Bavli and construct an intellectual history based on each of the various sources which touch on the role and importance of intention. This work focuses primarily on the third and fourth generations of Amoraim who lived during the first half of the fourth century; a period during which it seems the Babylonian Amoraim evinced an increasing interest in the subject. The talmudic redactors who followed in the subsequent centuries continued along the lines laid out by the fourth- generation Amoraim. They addressed numerous issues pertaining to intentionality, applied existing principles to new cases, and formulated explicit principles, which perhaps lay implicit in the amoraic dicta.

Eliezer Treitl, “Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer: Text, Redaction and a Sample Synopsis,” (PhD dissertation, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2010).

Dov Weiss, “Confrontations with God in Late Rabbinic Literature” (PhD dissertation, The University of Chicago, 2011).

This dissertation provides the first full-scale literary and theological treatment of the motif of humans confronting God in rabbinic literature. The sages do not challenge God directly, but indirectly by placing moral critiques of God into the mouths of various biblical heroes. These exegetical dialogues provide a safe space for the rabbis to articulate their own ethical struggles with the divine as they present themselves not as originators of the confrontation but only as their transmitters. In this way, the sages are removed from the picture as they place sole responsibility for the protest onto a particular biblical character.

While this rabbinic topos surfaces in fifth-century C.E. rabbinic texts, it reaches its zenith within the late scriptural commentaries of Tanhuma-Yelammedenu (sixth and seventh century C.E. Byzantine Palestine). Their authors not only generate a plethora of new confrontations with God, but also intensify and radicalize older ones. The ubiquity and boldness of these encounters highlight Tanhuma’s literary proclivity to produce dramatic narratives of tension and suspense. Although scholars have already noted Tanhuma’s privileging of narrativity over homily, they have ignored the content-related implications of this “genre revolution.” This study begins to fill this scholarly lacuna by demonstrating how Tanhuma’s dramatic rewriting of the scriptural narrative provides an excellent locus to extract its distinctive ethical commitments and theological presuppositions.

Beyond tracing and detailing those moral values that drove Tanhuma authors to construct a critique of God, this thesis–more significantly–uncovers a radical Byzantine theology of human power and divine fallibility. Many Tanhuma passages depict God as revising His laws, justice system or cosmic governance only after being ethically challenged by a biblical hero. Indeed, these texts accentuate how rabbinic conceptions of God can be more accurately captured by rabbinic retellings of the scriptural narrative than by their theological maxims or normative formulations.

English, Recent Publications

Redaction and Reconstruction

Two  articles on redaction in the Tannaitic corpus that is not Mishnah were recently published. I thought that each exemplified an interesting facet of the reembracement of source criticism in recent years.

The first is Yoav Rosenthal’s article in Tarbiz 79, on an interesting phenomenon in the MSS of the Tosefta. Rosenthal’s work focuses on the “recent afterlife” of texts; something analogous to the search for “historical traditions about Jesus from the first 48 hours after resurrection”; although he contends that rabbinic works are in fact made of discreet sources, they are not always readily found. The only “rigourous” tools we have are the MSS, which rarely give away the secrets of actual redaction. They’re better at finding the first baby steps the text made when it was being transmitted.

In what might be his most influential work yet, Yoav Rosenthal brings to light some gems first discovered by Adiel Schremer. Rosenthal claims he has found footnotes in Tosefta, which become apparent when comparing the two extant MSS of this work. In some rare instances, a clump of halakhot will be found at the end of the chapter in one MS, and in the middle in another. Rosenthal shows that this clump of halakhot is a commentary on one halakha in the chapter of Tosefta that does not “move around” in the MS tradition, or an addendum to it.

This of course opens the door to the possibilities that (a) there are more such places, but they cannot be found in the MS tradition, and (b) that the Tosefta is made up of multiple layers, and that it was an open text for a certain amount of time.

This should be distinguished from true “redaction”, i.e. the creation of a new text out of sources already available to the redactor. This phenomenon was recently astutely detected in Tosefta Sanhedrin 7 by Ishay Rosen-Zvi, and deserves its own treatment.

A completely different take on the question of redaction is Steven Fraade’s “Anonymity and Redaction in Rabbinic Midrash”, published in the recently-noted Melekhet Mahshevet. In a conference conducted two years before Moulie Vidas suggested that the Stam was being anonymous on purpose, Fraade made the same observations regarding the anonymous material in the Mekhilta. Fraade notes that since Halivni and Friedman popularized the idea that the Bavli is made of different strata, very few scholars have attempted (in print, at any rate) to apply the same tools to other rabbinic texts.

Fraade suggests that it makes less of a difference whether or not the anonymous parts are earlier or later than the named ones, and that the bigger and more interesting task is to parse the effect this combination of multivocality and monovocality has on the reader. Do many names carry more or less weight than one text speaking with no names; and what is the effect of the combination?

In order to do this he read through a sizable chunk of Mekhilta nezikin, and presents the reader with a detailed discussion of parasha 4 in which he points out that the named statements in this midrash are “interlopers in a text that otherwise seems to glory in its anonymity”. He suggests that their names are presented in order to point out the partiality of the single opinions against the redacted text, brought into the debate to highlight the overarching anonymous pedagogical move that is Stam Mekhilta.

Fraade himself sees this article as the beginning of a project; as someone who is already laboring on several readings of parashot of midrash, his insight on the effect of the final redacted product on the early reader is an invaluable tool. I would, however, also focus on actual source criticism, which is easier to employ in Midrash, with all of its rules, terms and patterns, than in Mishnah, Tosefta or Talmudim.

In a way, this reading too is a study on the short-term afterlife of the text: what did the composer mean for the first audience to hear? What would the first – or third – teacher of this text transmit to his students? Are these questions better or are they in fact just a shying away from the old (“protestant”) questions of redaction and source criticism?

English, Recent Publications

The Talmud in Arabic and More Epigraphical Rabbis

Two articles have just been published online which are of interest to readers of this blog. The first is Hayim Lapin’s reconsideration of the so-called “epigraphical rabbis,” published in the most recent Jewish Quarterly Review (subscription required). Hayim Lapin, “Epigraphical Rabbis: A Reconsideration,” JQR 101:3 (2011).  Here is the abstract:

The rabbi or berabbi is used as the title of some sixty-eight men known from inscriptions and other documentary sources from late antiquity. Since the initial survey of these remains by Shaye Cohen in JQR in 1981, no consensus has emerged on the relationship between the epigraphic and documentary use of the title and the rabbinic movement. Along with an updated list of “epigraphical rabbis,” this article reviews the evidence, with particular attention to numbers, chronology, and to the special case of Bet Shearim. Except for one instance, the use of the title in inscriptions as a marker of connection to the rabbinic movement cannot be established. Allowing that the epigraphic practice reflects non-rabbinic uses of the same title is the methodologically safer course. One consequence of this reconsideration is that the inscriptions now appear to be overwhelmingly from the fourth century and later. For scholars who do, nevertheless, insist that the epigraphical title implies membership and scholarly attainment in the rabbinic movement, the late date has important implications for assessing the fate of the rabbinic movement after the fourth century.

There is a great review of the evidence, and a super-cautious conclusion. I did notice that the article’s list of epigraphical rabbis in the Diaspora only barely notes the rabbis in Aramaic incantation bowls. The actual list of rabbis in the bowls continues to grow, and will grow even longer with Shaul Shaked’s publications of the Schoyen collection.

The second article, a bit off of the beaten track, describes a would-be Arabic translation of the Talmud with a fascinating history of its own. Jonathan Marc Gribetz, “An Arabic-Zionist Talmud: Shimon Moyal’s At-Talmud,” Jewish Social Studies 17:1 (2011).  The abstract:

This article offers a close reading of At-Talmud: Asluhu wa-tasalsuluhu wa-ad-abuhu (The Talmud: Its Origin, Transmission, and Ethics; 1909), an Arabic work published in Egypt by the Jaffa-born writer Shimon Moyal. The book was intended to be the first of a multivolume translation of the Talmud into Arabic. The article places this translation project into its historical context in the fin-de-siècle Middle East and explores the various ways in which Moyal, through his translation, attempted to present Judaism more favorably and familiarly to a mixed Christian and Muslim readership. It is further suggested that Moyal’s description of ancient Jewish history, and especially his use of nationalist terminology in recounting this past, may be read for insights about Moyal’s own approach to Zionism. The article thereby also contributes to the scholarly discourse on the character of Sephardi Zionism.

English, Recent Publications

A New Hebrew Fragment of the Book of Ben Sira

TS AS 118.78

There are numerous citations of the Book of Ben Sira in Talmudic literature. And so, it is always nice to learn of new discoveries…

“As is well known, the discovery of the Book of Ben Sira is intimately tied to the discovery of the Cairo Genizah”; with these words Shulamit Elizur and Michael Rand open their recent Dead Sea Discoveries article, in which they publish a new Hebrew fragment of Ben Sira, chapters seven and eight. The new fragment is found in the Additional Series (AS) of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah collection at the University of Cambridge and was identified at the  Ezra Fleischer Institute for the Research of Hebrew Poetry in the Genizah of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. These chapters of the Hebrew version are known from other fragments, hence the new text does not substantially change our knowledge of Ben Sira but rather supplements it with new and sometimes important pieces of evidence.

The readers of The Talmud Blog are the first to learn about two typos in the text (this report is based on “inside-information”). In the apparatus to 7:20, the reading should be שכיר]; and in 8:2 the reading should be לו ק’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 11, 2011

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

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

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

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

English, Recent Publications, Reviews

Another Review of Socrates and the Fat Rabbis

At the old Talmud Blog, I kept a log of reviews of Daniel Boyarin’s Socrates and the Fat Rabbis.  And then I couldn’t keep up. Two months ago, I had the distinct pleasure of responding to a paper of Prof. Boyarin’s which was itself a response to two reviews – that of Adam Becker: “Positing a ‘Cultural Relationship’ between Plato and the Babylonian Talmud’ which appeared with Barry Wimpfheimer, “The Dialogical Talmud: Daniel Boyarin and Rabbinics” in JQR 101:2 (Spring 2011), and Reuven Kiperwasser’s in Jewish History, which interestingly enough had at that point not yet been published. Kiperwasser’s important review has finally appeared in the most recent issue (in print) of Jewish History.  Hopefully, we’ll get to see a response by Prof. Boyarin at this blog in the future.

English, Recent Publications

An Unusual Ashkenazi Qina for the Ninth of Av

Nuremberg Mahzor, 1331

The Ninth of Av is around the corner; here is a short post on an unusual qina (lament) from medieval Ashkenaz…

The Nuremberg Mahzor is a fourteenth century prayer-book according to the eastern Ashkenazi rite. The illuminated manuscript contains not only breathtaking artwork but also important payytanic texts, some of them unattested anywhere else in medieval manuscripts. Among these piyyutim is an unusual qina for the Ninth of Av that relates an imaginative dialogue between the Crusaders and the Jewish people.

The qina opens in medias res with the following verses:

“Come with us, you of smitten cheeks,”                                                                                           Say the uncircumcised and the unclean, my smooth-tongued enemies.                                     “We  are on our way to the land of the lovely diadem, the radiant land.                                   We  shall attack and plunder the spoil of the fortified cities,                                                       There we shall take our share, to each man two lengths of dyed cloth.”                                                                   (Translation by T. Carmi, in his The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse)

The awkwardness of this call had led Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson many years ago to explain that “the impact of the crusader climate opinion was so widespread that during one of the crusades the writer of a lament wrote as though crusader excitatoria (propaganda letters) were addressing the Jews” (A History of the Jewish People, p. 416). More recently, Elisabeth Hollender discussed the qina and wrote: “it is startling to see that here even the liturgical space, the communication with God, is not free from the fear of Christian attractivity… Israel cannot accept this offer, and it is exactly this refusal that shows the Jewish devotion to their religion, their God, as can be seen in the next passage of the qina”. Indeed the qina continues with harsh criticism of Christianity but also with a bitter sense of desperation from the absence of God and the past leaders of Israel.               This intriguing qina (and other qinot from the Nuremberg Mahzor) is discussed in Hollender’s article that was published recently in Giving a Diamond – Essays in Honor of Jospeh Yahalom on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday. The volume (edited by Wout Van Bekkum  and Naoya Katsumata ) was published by Brill and features fifteen essays that deal with various aspects of Hebrew verse and prose compositions from Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages.

Around the Web, English, Recent Publications

Around the Web – August 4, 2011

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

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