English, Recent Publications, Talk of the Town

Of Intertexts, Rugelach, and Marginalia: Discussing Boyarin’s Intertextuality upon its Appearance in Hebrew

As noted a few weeks ago on The Talmud Blog, Boyarin’s Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash is now out in Hebrew, after a long wait. Last night, students, havrutot, friends, and admirers of Boyarin and Boyarenesque scholarship coalesced at Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute to celebrate the appearance of Midrash Tannaim – the Hebrew title of Intertextuality. The three speakers, introduced by Prof. Galit Hasan-Rokem, dealt with different parts of Boyarin’s Torah as it pertains to their own fields of expertise.

Professor Menahem Kahana, a scholar of Midrashic literature and the head of Hebrew University’s department of Talmud and Halakha (!), reminisced about the times when he and “Danny” (Hebrew- “Donny“) would engage in philological exploits into the depths of the Mekhilta. Such exploits engendered two very different scholarly tomes- Boyarin’s Intertextuality and Kahana’s Mekhiltot. Kahana, whose praises for Intertextuailty are listed in Ishay Rosen-Zvi’s afterword to Midrash Tannaim, chose to argue for more historical understandings than those presented by Boyarin in his early work. In his own words, “The multi-vocality of history is no less important than the multi-vocality of the text”. Of course, historically attuned readings are quite present in Boyarin’s later work, and the other speakers also struggled with critically engaging a book more than two decades after its initial publication, whose author no longer fully agrees with everything he wrote in it.

Dr. Dina Stein of the department of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at Haifa University also began with a personal story involving her and Boyarin. Years ago, she had purchased a copy of Todorov’s Symbolism and Interpretation from a used bookstore in Berkeley. She soon realized that the copy in her possession had originally belonged to Boyarin, who had referenced relevant rabbinic passages in the book’s margins, as can be seen in the picture to the right. Yet those passages, to the best of her knowledge, are surprisingly absent from Boyarin’s published work. Stein also pointed out that not only were those stories left out, but the book in which they were cited had left Boyarin’s library, first to a store that is no longer even open, and then, redemptively, to a fellow Rabbinics scholar. Indeed, those changes are perhaps symbolic of a deeper shift apparent in Boyarin’s scholarly output: A move from the semiotics of midrash, of understanding rabbinic hermeneutics to work in “an almost too perfect” way, to historicist readings of the rabbis. As Stein suggested, perhaps Intertextuaility is Boyarin’s Shir haShirim. In his response, Boyarin acknowledged that Socrates might be his Kohelet, but added that that is because the Bavli is the Kohelet of the Rabbis (“בעיניי, הבבלי הוא הקהלת של חז”ל”).

In his distinctly clear yet sharp style, Dr. Joshua Levinson of Hebrew University’s department of Hebrew Literature presented an overview of Intertextuality‘s continued influence on rabbinic studies. Instead of deciding what exegesis is and then asking whether rabbinic midrash fits the criteria, Boyarin took the text’s claim to be exegetical seriously and then asked what its hermeneutic methods are. Levinson then showed how such an outlook affected research into other genres of rabbinic literature, such as the exegetical narratives of Genesis Rabbah- Levinson’s own field of expertise in which he has pioneered new paths of understanding.

Although speakers came from as far away as Berkeley and Haifa, the evening’s overall atmosphere was characteristically Jerusalemite, and not just because of the rugelach from Marzipan or the classically South Jerusalem institution in which it was held. Rather, what created the special ambiance was the very presence of such scholars on the same stage, along with an audience of researchers and students of Talmud, Jewish thought, and literature in what seemed like a mixture that can only come into being in Jerusalem. Despite their differences, and regardless of which ‘Boyarin’ they prefer most, all in attendance seemed more than happy to gather in appreciation of their shared teacher.

English, Recent Publications

Boyarin’s Intertextuality Now Available in Hebrew

Last spring, future Talmud blog contributors and other Jerusalemite students of Rabbinic literature were lucky enough to spend a delightful evening with Prof. Daniel Boyarin, discussing Carnal Israel from the hindsight of twenty years. Prof. Boyarin had scheduled his trip to Israel for the release of a translation of his earlier work, Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash in Hebrew. Little did we know that only a few months later some of us would be collaborating on a web log. Nor did we fully understand how long we would have to wait for the release of Midrash Tanaim: Intertextualiut viKriyat Mechilta (Hartman, Alma, and Keter 2011).

Truth be told, now that the volume is in my hands, the time spent on its preparation (and its strange recall by the publisher after its initial release…) seems to have been well spent. I only purchased it a few hours ago but I’ve already started plowing through the two new chapters Prof. Boyarin wrote for the Hebrew edition: “Midrash as Anti-Philosophy” and “Rhetoric, Theology and Allegory in Paul and Origen”. Both seem to offer authoritative summaries of some of Boyarin’s scholarship since Intertextuality‘s English release in 1990. Another chapter by Ishay Rosen-Zvi provides an overview of the affect that Boyarin has had on research into Rabbinic literature- “What is Left to Interpret? Thoughts on Boyarin and his Footsteps”. These chapters add significant value to the book, but its main contribution is no doubt the way it makes Boyarin’s scholarship accessible to the Israeli reader. Boyarin has still left plenty of writings to translate, and I hope that we’ll soon see translations of other works of his as well. You can hear Boyarin and other scholars (Menahem Kahana, Galit Hasan-Rokem, Joshua Levinson, and Dina Stein) discuss the book at the Shalom Hartman Institute on November 27 at 8:30pm.

Talmud Bloggers and Boyarin (far right with the wine glass), Spring 2011