If you find yourself foraging for what to read on the final Saturday afternoon of daylight savings time, here are some exciting-looking articles that recently came out. Enjoy, and feel free to leave your comments below. Continue reading
In an attempt at remaining sane during the present Israeli election cycle, I found myself reading Naftali Cohn‘s The Memory of the Temple and the Making of the Rabbis (although given some of the rhetoric voiced here by wannabe politicians over the past few days, one could argue that a book about the Temple is actually quite relevant to Israeli politics). The book, published in Penn Press’ “Divinations” series, attempts to tackle a rather large topic that has been growing in popularity in recent years: the place of the Temple in rabbinic thought.
Whereas author scholars like Ishay Rosen-Zvi‘s or Daniel Stoekl-Ben-Ezra have devoted studies to specific topics within Temple-related tractates, Cohn devotes his to the Mishnah’s Temple discourse as a whole; reaching the conclusion that the Mishnaic portrayal of the way in which the rituals were performed at the Temple comes to “claim authority for the rabbis” (pg. 120). Claiming authority over the Temple by depicting it as functioning in a rabbinic fashion is essentially a way for the Rabbis of the Mishnah to gain authority over their fellow Judaeans. Cohn explains that the authors of the Mishnah work on multiple fronts, chief among them being the insertion of the Great Court, the Sanhedrin, into the Temple complex, along with its proto-Rabbinic sages who are depicted as the ultimate deciders of Temple practice. Cohn also argues that the manner in which the Mishnah discusses how and where rituals were performed in the Temple is geared at giving authority to the Rabbis. I admit, I’m not well read in ritual theory, but I’ll note that Cohn’s use of it in his analysis of Temple practice may fill in some of what Meir Bar-Ilan missed in Rosen-Zvi’s monograph.
The last chapter of Memory is dedicated to a comparative study of the Mishnah’s Temple, and is entitled “The Mishnah in the Context of a Wider Judaean, Christian, and Roman Temple Discourse.” Cohn combs through a dazzling array of different of sources, such as Pseudepigraphic works, Christian literature, archaeological findings (specifically synagogues and coins), and Hellenistic sources in order to contextualize the Mishnah’s picture of the Temple. Such an attempt should be commended. It is no doubt important, and as Cohn shows, fruitful, to understand the Rabbis’ Temple discourse in such a way. For him, such an analysis proves that the memory of the Temple was a point of contention, and that it was exploited by different communities in their attempts at achieving authority during the Tannaitic period.
As noted, Cohn stresses throughout the book the place of authority in Rabbinic depictions of the Temple, but I’m not so sure a) how Temple discourse in the Mishnah really gives them more authority over their fellow Judaeans, and b) if this is really why the Mishnah (and rabbinic literature more generally) spends so much time discussing the Temple.
Beyond that, I think that before we can really even compare the rabbinic Temple discourse to that of other communities, the Mishnaic Temple narratives must first be understood in their more local context of Tannaitic literature. Such a contextualization should begin with an understanding of the how the narratives concerning the Temple found in the Mishnah relate to the Mishnah’s non-narrative sections. The vast majority of the Mishnah, including its discussion of the Temple, is not what most scholars define as “narrative.” Additionally, recent attempts at analyzing the Mishnah with an eye for genre have yielded interesting results, at times even pointing out that different layers of genre may contain various Mishnaic conceptions of a given set of laws. Maybe the hundreds of non-narrative sections of the Mishnah paint a very different image of the Temple than the narrative ones do? The inclusion of such information would also change how the comparison between the Mishnah and non-Rabbinic works would be performed: the very fact that Temple is discussed by these different groups would not be the only point of comparison, but rather, the differences in the details of the practices themselves (specifically in the earlier Qumranic material) would also need to be unpacked in order to shed light on alternative conceptions of the Temple.
Second, it is very possible that the image of the Temple found in the Mishnah differs from that of the Tosefta or Midrash Halakha. The Mishnah is not the sole Tannaitic text, and, therefore, the “Rabbinic” view of that period probably cannot be deduced from it alone. To be sure, Cohn often uses the Tosefta to better understand Mishnaic passages. At one point, he does more than that, accurately noting a few telling differences between the Mishnah and the Tosefta (pg. 47): the Mishnah never depicts sectarians as actually having the power to perform the ritual as they please, while the Tosefta does so on at least three occasions. Cohn ties this to the Mishnah’s depiction of a “powerful Court that has fully suppressed the sectarians,” a depiction that is absent from the Tosefta. It is very possible that Cohn is on to something here. Scholarship concerning the relationship between the Mishnah and Tosefta has slowly been moving from issues of relative chronology to issues of what may be termed ideology or outlook. This example may be added to the list, and there is a need to further tease out the differences between the idea of the Temple present in these two intertwined Tannaitic works. Similarly, it is very probable that treatment of works of Halakhic Midrash, which to the best of my knowledge are not used in the book at all, would further nuance the position of the Temple in Tannaitic thought.
More can be said, and no doubt will be. I don’t think that I have a better answer to questions like “why the Rabbis spend so much time discussing the Temple?” than Cohn does, although I do think that we have to work a little differently in order to respond to them more fully. Nonetheless, Memory marks a significant step in furthering the research into rabbinic conceptions of the Temple in that it forces us to evaluate the Rabbi’s discourse in the context of post-destruction Judaean society.
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!
Some new sites have gone up over the past couple of weeks that might be of use to our readers.
The first, brought to our attention by Talmud Blog reader and commentor Zohar, is the Israel National Library’s new website of Rabbinic Manuscripts. This site replaces the old one (www.jnul.huji.ac.il/dl/talmud) with a new interface and- perhaps most importantly- the Leiden manuscript of the Yerushalmi, browasable by the pagination of the Venice edition.
The site is still in beta version and they are looking for feedback. Feel free to leave your thoughts on the interface here in the comments section and we’ll make sure to pass them on to the library. Personally, I would prefer an option to search the Yerushalmi by chapter and halakha, and also that they list the folio numbers of the manuscripts. Regardless, users should be aware that much higher quality images of the Leiden manuscript are availble on the website of its home library (easily accesable here). The only problems with that site is that it’s hard to navigate and the pictues take a long time to load- ideally one could find the folio that she needs using the NLI interface, and then just open up the bigger picture on the Leiden site if need be. Also, for manuscripts with wide lines (like Leiden), the viewing window is relatively small. [The site still isn’t linked to that of the Munich library, whose manuscripts can be accesed from there or via the NLI catalog].
The Syriacists over at Harvard’s Dumbarton Oaks research institute have compiled a useful site: “Resources for Syriac Studies– an annotated collection of free and open source books, journals, and more related to the study of Syriac.” Kishmo kein hu– the site lists and describes dozens of PDFs of books available for free online that relate to all aspects of Syriac. I haven’t gone through everything yet, but it seems like they did quite a good job of finding all that’s out there. Many of these items should be of interest to Talmudists, from those who are just getting interested in Syriac (for whom I’d suggest starting with Brock’s A Brief Outline of Syriac Literature), and to those who already turn to Syriac frequently (see R. Payne Smith’s Thesaurus Syriacus).
I confess that I arrived at the conference last week with a healthy dose of skepticism. Though billed as a treatment of “Legal Heterodoxy in Islamic and Jewish History,” I worried that the conference’s subtitle and chronological frame, “Late Antique and Medieval Transformations,” lightly masked a correlation of Islamic:Medieval and Jewish:Late Antique. As I reviewed the schedule in advance, I noticed that the symposium poster announced scholars of classical rabbinics in conversation with scholars of medieval Islam. How, I wondered, would this create a valid historical conversation? And if history is not the goal, why study late antique Judaism alongside medieval Islam? Would the goals be ecumenical? Philosophical? The theoretical study of law?
When Lena Salaymeh, one of the organizers, opened the symposium with a nod to the above disparity, it began an honest discussion of the challenge of placing Islamic and Jewish law in synchronic conversation. The pride of place of rabbinics in both Jewish Studies and the popular Jewish imagination leads to a concomitant lack of emphasis on the medieval transmitters and interpreters of rabbinic culture. Even among those who have studied medieval Rabbanite law, far greater work has been done on Jewish law in Latin Europe than on its counterpart in Arabic lands. Recent decades have seen a resurgence of interest in Geonica, but surprising lacunae include Jewish law in Muslim Andalusia, North African halakhists, and even, relatively speaking, the legal writings of Maimonides. Many books could be written about these and other topics, both from an “internal” perspective and by understanding them in light of their Muslim contexts.
This is not to say that the conference papers did not contribute to the study of Muslim and Jewish law in concert. While previous scholarship has acknowledged connections between Sasanian-era rabbinic and nascent Islamic legal systems, these connections await thorough scrutiny. G. Libson and others have long championed S. D. Goitein’s “Mediterranean society” view of medieval Judaism and Islam, but scholarship has not always appreciated regional or contextual factors in medieval Jewish legal history. Developments in the study of Sasanian culture will improve the study of both Geonic-era Islamic and Jewish legal cultures. Yaakov Elman’s paper, to nobody’s surprise, served as a good touchstone for that project. Only in teasing out what I like to call the “late antique soup” of the pre-Geonic world will we properly understand the rise of Islamic law.
Phenomenologically, I was most excited by the papers of Steven Fraade and Mohammad Fadel. Fraade analyzed rabbinic traditions that valorize legal pluralism, while Fadel focused on the unusual positions of Ibn Hazm (d. 1064), who lived at the end of Muslim hegemony in al-Andalus and rejected the “normative pluralism” of medieval Sunni orthodoxy. Though it went unmentioned, it is highly suggestive that as a religious minority, Geonic culture famously downplayed the multivocal vision of the rabbis, conceivably for similar reasons to Ibn Hazm.
A good conference is marked by the questions it poses and the avenues it opens, and this conference was no exception. In her closing review of the proceedings, Talya Fishman outlined three areas of Jewish studies that could be enhanced by greater understanding of Islamic law: (1) the consolidation of legal traditions in the Geonic period; (2) a change in the “technology” of the law (from oral to written Torah); and (3) Geonic epistemology and treatment of both aggadah and halakhah. To this list one may add the lacunae mentioned above, as well as scholarly understanding of Karaism (something this blog has recently highlighted). Ultimately, Judeo-Islamic studies remains a young and exciting field.
Marc Herman is a graduate student in The University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Religious Studies.
We’ll be back to blogging as usual, although the discussion of Demonic Desires will continue. Stay tuned for Ishay’s response and for announcements regarding the next Book Club.
The complex relationship between Jews and non-Jews lies at the heart of teaching Jewish Studies at university level. A new online teaching resource provides access to a broad range of primary sources and high-quality commentaries by experts in the field, addressing the perceived lack of an easily accessible body of sources, which specifically deal with relations between Jews and non-Jews from a historical and contemporary perspective.
Brouria Bitton-Ashkelony of Hebrew University’s department of Comparative Religion and its Center for the Study of Christianity has officially announced the release of two online bibliographies available on the Center’s website: one on Christianity in Palestine/Eretz-Israel and the other on Syriac Christianity. The four separate browse options (author, year, keyword and era) and the search option mean that the bibliographies are quite easy to navigate.
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 Jerusalem) Encounters 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
The South Korean interest in Talmud has been a real hot-topic over the past few months. This piece outlines the phenomena, but as a simple Google search will show, there are many, many more articles on the subject (see also Menachem Mendel’s coverage).
But what does Talmud Study in South Korea actually look like? Perhaps a recent op-ed by Mario Blejer in the Korean JoongAng Daily, one of South Korea’s three daily English-language newspapers, may help answer that question. Commenting on the current debt crisis in Greece, the former governor of the central bank of Argentina and former director of the Bank of England seeks to find a solution in “the Talmud, the ancient repository of Jewish legal commentary – and one of the oldest sources of human thought on morality and economic activity”. He then goes on to summarize the sugya of “kofin oto ad she-yomar rotze ani” as it appears in Bavli Kiddushin (50a) in order to “show that there are mechanisms that can – and should – be used to place pressure on the parties in the interest of obtaining superior voluntary outcomes.”
The article’s title, “The Talmud and Greek Debt”, is quite reminiscent, interestingly enough, of studies penned by Saul Lieberman.
Since the early decades of the twentieth century, the bond between academic Talmud and America has been a strong one. To name but a few highlights, Julius Kaplan published his pioneering work on the redaction of the Babylonian Talmud, Solomon Shechter took up residence in the great city of New York, while Henry Malter published the first ever (semi-) critical edition of part of the Babylonian Talmud in Philadelphia in 1928.
The four current authors of this blog normally live in Israel, but are all visiting the United States for the summer. We are all in transition.
Just the other day, Alan Brill responded to Tomer Persico and his classification of Brill’s blog as “American,” by wondering what it means to be American, Israeli, or Maltese (added in honor of Henry) in a globalized, fiber-opticized world. Brill also wondered how (and whether) the Talmud Blog is American, Israeli, or something else. Some similar questions were raised back on the old Talmud blog, and they are crucial not just for sociological speculations, but related to this blog’s preoccupation with context. Shai thought then, and continues to maintain, that regardless of the radical changes in our world, context continues to matter.
A lot of what the new wave of “contextual Talmudists” do, is make connections between textual (that is, non-material) things and probe their significance. It’s a messy business and often difficult to argue or articulate which parallels are worth pursuing and what is a strangely coincidental set of characteristics. The problem plagues virtually every area of comparative historical research, but particularly of ancient times. If everything in the room that I am now sitting in will vanish (as it one day will), save for a few, arbitrary objects, will anyone be able to reconstruct the feeling of sitting where I sit and breathing the air I breathe, watching the flashes of lightening across a charred Gotham sky, the pitter-patter of a soaking summer rain on the fast streets below? And yet scholars do it all the time, and occasionally get somewhere with the few things that remain. Of course the real interest is not in the texture of banal living, but in the world of thoughts, ideas, and religion. Against all odds, even this sometimes works.
Since we are traveling we would like to: a. ask for help from our Israeli readers; b. apologize for a relative slack in posting; and c. announce some upcoming Talmud Blog events. Traveling and fasting (some of us preferred to do this simultaneously) has taken a toll and it will be a few days until we get back to a normal posting schedule. Regardless, we’ll have a tougher time keeping tabs on Talmudic goings-on in Israel, so we would appreciate if readers there could keep us posted via email of upcoming events in the Holy Land. For readers in the greater Teaneck area- Shai will be delivering a few shiurim at Congregation Rinat Yisrael on Shabbat Hazon. Yedidah and Amit can be heard on Tuesday nights on the Upper West Side of Manhattan at Mechon Hadar. Before I host Shai in Teaneck, I’ll be at Princeton for two weeks, where I hope to blog from Tikvah’s Undergraduate Summer Seminar.