English, Zutot


In his book on Minhag in early Ashkenaz, I. M. Ta-Shema hid this in a footnote; I thought it would be of interest to the community.

It seems to me that the source of the [Ashkenazi] custom to separate the [marriage] cermony [and hold the betrothal ceremony on Friday, and the huppah on Saturday morning] is the early custom, which was apparently defunct by the 11th century, to sign the ketubah only after the marriage was consummated (בעילת מצווה). And see the words of the Italian payytan Amitai b. Shefatiah, in the 9th century:

ומה נאה לחתן ביום חתונתו

להראות טהרת בתולי אשתו

בראש תלוי לחתום בכתובתו

ולעשות שלימה שמחתו

עד יום צאת טבילה

And how fitting for a bridegroom on the day of his wedding

to show the very purity of his wife’s virginity

with his head held high (?) to sign his ketubah

and to make his happiness whole [i.e. to have sex with his wife]

until the day the immersion is due

(I. David, The Poems of Amitai, Jerusalem 1975, p. 23, ll. 227-229; my hasty translation)

And from this we learn two things:

(1) the ketubah was attested and became valid only after consummation; (2) at this time the ketubah was signed in public and was accompanied by a celebration, and was one of the high points of the marriage ceremonies […] At the same time the blessing “who planted a nut” was said, see Halakhot Gedolot, ed. Hildesheimer, part II, Jerusalem 1980, p. 226.

I. M. Ta-Shema, Minhag Ashkenaz ha-Kadmon, p. 43 n. 50.

Edited 12 September @ 15:09; “mitzvah penetration” was changed to “consummation,” due to popular demand.

English, Recent Publications, Reviews

Footnote’s Footnotes

The latest Jewish Review of Books just arrived in my mailbox today. I have a review, co-written with Elli Fischer, of Joseph Cedar’s talmudic superdrama, Footnote.  We deal with a number of things in the review, including the movie’s “texture” and its use of cinematic footnotes. We also consider some of the gender implications of the movie, especially vis a vis Israeli masculinity (though there was not enough space to deal with the near total absence of women from the film, and the implications of that). Speaking of “gender” as much as possible we tried to get beyond the academic gossip that engendered the film and which the film itself engenders.  It is pretty much all anyone in Jerusalem discusses these days, aside from heavy philology. But fear not, the gossip is still there, if you look for it.

There are other interesting articles in the issue, including a timely one by Moshe Halbertal about law and forgiveness (and narrative) in the Talmud. The two names that lurk at every turn in his reading are “Robert” and “Cover”.  But for some reason, they go unmentioned.

English, General Culture, Recent Publications

The Sony Pictures Introduction to Talmudic Studies

A very interesting contribution to Talmudic Studies has just come out, and from a source that only a few months ago would have seemed rather unlikely- Sony Pictures Classics. SPC is distributing Yossi Cedar’s Footnote in North America and has just released the film’s press kit.

After providing a description of Talmudic Literature, the document discusses at length the field of research known as “Talmudic Studies”, dedicating a few paragraphs to “The Talmud Department at the Hebrew University- The Jerusalem School”:

The Talmud Department was one of the first of eight departments that were set up when the Hebrew University was established in 1928, and still exists to this day… The founder of the department, Prof. Yaacov Nachum Epstein, a legendary Talmud researcher with degrees from German universities and once a student of East European yeshivas, solidified the nature of the department that characterizes it to this day.

In light of Epstein’s studies, the Jerusalem school focuses on the bland textual reconstruction of the Talmudic texts and their wording during the preliminary research stages. The winding and unwinding of these long scrolls of ancient texts over the years resulted in many mistakes and errors, which raise doubt as to the authenticity of the text that were obtained. Therefore, before any researcher can ask himself questions that pertain to the content of the text, the concepts conveyed therein, the literary design or the history reflected therein, he must do his best to reconstruct the original text after it was obtained through dubious channels after hundreds of years.

This nondescript textual study, known as ‘philology’, requires extreme diligence. The researcher must collect photographs of the existing manuscripts of the text, some hidden away in libraries and basements around the world, and conduct a meticulous comparison of each and every word. This is painstaking work, rummaging around lost archives to find one more manuscript that will shed light on a baffling sentence in a forgotten text. Endless searching and documentation of small errors made by the Jewish book copier in the Middle Ages, in frozen Europe or remote Yemen, who lost focus for a split second…

This style is not very popular and the Talmud department attracts very few students as opposed to other departments. And among these students, some are forced to leave due to the high scholastic demands and the taxing nature of the work and studies. Nonetheless, many renowned researchers in diverse fields of Judaic studies included this department on their academic route and its academic standards are highly acclaimed in the field of Judaic studies the world over.

The critics of the Jerusalem school claim the exaggerated adherence to details prevents a view of the overall picture, and its members are an exclusive and arrogant clique that has lost its relevance.

The press kit is fascinating in the way that it seeks to provide a background to such a specialized field for the purposes of general culture (a movie).  It is definitely worth checking out.  Maybe someday it will even be considered required reading for Rabbinics courses.

English, Events


Though not a Talmudist, few appreciated the dramatic potential of Summertime like Janis Joplin

It’s the summer, and some of you are swimming at the beach, hiking in the woods, and generally far away from the darkness of microfilm collections and poorly-lit reading rooms. Two upcoming events in Jerusalem will give your brain a chance to exercise and your pupils some time to readjust to the indoors.

First, tomorrow, Tuesday July 11  at 7:30pm at the Jerusalem theater, the Van Leer Institute and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem will be hosting a screening and discussion of Joseph Cedar’s Footnote – a film close to the heart of this blog and which I hope to write a review of (with Elli Fischer) for the Jewish Review of Books. Participants at the event will include Cedar himself, along with Hebrew U professors Israel Bartal, Shlomo Naeh, Avinoam Rosenak, and more.

Second, as Prof. David Halivni continues to push back the date of the redaction of the Babylonian Talmud, the renewed Jewish National Library will have Prof. Halivni give a talk next Sunday, July 17th at 1pm when he will finally ask “Was there a Redaction of the Babylonian Talmud?”

(You can submit events of interest to thetalmudblog[at]gmail[dot]com)