English, Ruminations

Crib Sheet

Pg. 128 of Ginzberg

Ah, finals… In Israel, the period bears multiple names- “bein hasemesterim“, “hufsha“, “tekufat hamivkhanim“, none of which seem to fully own up to the fact that the average BA student has four weeks to complete coursework for around eight classes or so.

But enough complaining. This testing period has had me reading quite a lot of secondary literature on the Yerushalmi, a Talmud which I believe has received relatively little attention here on The Talmud Blog. One of the phenomena that I’ve been taken by over the past couple of months is that of the gerashim in Palestinian corpora. E.S. Rosenthal’s pioneering essay on the Vatican 30 manuscript of Genesis Rabbah in the 1958 Agnon festchrift (immediately followed by a classic Leah Goldberg poem) paved the way for the study of this form of referencing parallel sections found in many rabbinic works from the land of Israel. Even though I’ve been interested in this phenomena for a while now, only now while studying for my test on the Yerushalmi did the thought occur to me that this method of referencing parallel passages might be a function of the transmission of the work in the form of a codex as opposed to on a scroll. That is, if those who first placed the gerashim in the text of say, the Yerushalmi, were familiar with the text in a written as opposed to oral form, then it seems likely that they were familiar with it on a codex. Placing keywords to reference other passages doesn’t help so much in the case of scrolls, whereas with a codex one would be able to just turn the page to the passage referenced.

Alternatively, maybe those responsible for the gerashim worked in a setting based on the simultaneous use of written and oral transmission of the reciter of the text. Perhaps the work was meant to be read from a written source- be it a scroll or a codex- and then completed from memory at the points in which the gerashim were embedded into the text.

English, Recent Publications, Talmud in the News, Technology

From the Pages of Haaretz

One of the best parts of the holiday season here in Israel is that the local papers have to put out more supplemental material to keep everyone occupied. In addition to the regular weekend magazines, each holiday gets its own special section.  This seems to mean more articles that relate to rabbinic literature, as editors scramble to fill these now numerous weekend and holiday editions. Two of them, from Saturday’s Haaretz, are worthy of discussion here.

In the book section, folklorist Eli Yasif has a review of a recent collection of papers given at the fifteenth World Congress of Jewish Studies’s session on Louis Ginzberg’s Legends of The Jews. The papers, originally delivered in honor of the passing of one hundred years since the start of the book’s publication, cover a wide variety of topics, some only tangentially related to Legends (videos of the lectures have been available online for quite some time now on Hebrew University’s youtube channel). Together they also provide ample room for Yasif to discuss the “American” characteristics of Legends, and hence the name of the article, “An American Legend”. Yasif seeks to better understand why the work has become a standard on bookshelves across America, often in its shortened Legends of The Bible version, whereas Israelis have for the most part gotten their dosage of aggadah exclusively from Bialik and Ravnitsky’s Sefer ha-Agadah (a point brieflly addressed on the Talmud Blog this past summer). He offers a few explanations, such as Legend‘s size and the lack of a Hebrew translation of the one volume Legends of the Bible. To his reasons I would add that Bialik would have still been a household name in Israel even if he hadn’t co-penned Sefer ha-Agadah. Bialik’s stature clearly played a role in his collection’s success while Ginzberg’s pedigree and position in the Conservative movement in America did not help in Israel. As Yasif mentions, the academic virtues of Legends far exceed those of Sefer ha-Agadah. I would venture that its relative slow appreciation in academic circles in Israel, also noted by Yasif, might be due in part to the rather late appearance of an index to the Hebrew edition. Although a Hebrew edition had already appeared in the sixties, the index was only published in the recent Shechter edition.

The other Haaretz article deals with the technological aspects of the Friedberg Genizah Project. Some of the most exciting parts of the article are its discussions of the project’s breadth and of the technology behinds the “joins” – cases where previously unconnected fragments can be shown to have actually stemmed from one artifact. Amazingly, project director Prof. Yaakov Shweka promises to have 99% of all genizah fragments online by the end of 2012. The article’s discussion of the technology behind fragment recognition is truly fascinating and well worth reading. It turns out that some of the programmers joined the team because of their work developing face-recognition programs for Google and Facebook. Similar technology is being used to recognize and piece together various fragments dispersed in libraries all over the globe. The hope is to one day apply this technology to sift through Qumran fragments as well.

From Tahrir to Ben Ezra, it is exciting to see that even Genizah study is being affected by Facebook.