English, Events

Discovering the “Talmudic DNA” at the National Library

Last Wednesday night, a mixed group of retirees, middle-aged Jerusalemites, and younger students convened at the National Library of Israel for the second event of the series “Meetings in the Bavli,” titled “The Talmudic DNA.” The evening began with a reading of the sugya of “zeh neheneh v’zeh lo haser” from Bava Qamma 20a-20b by the Israeli blogger/scholar of religion/activist/social critic par excellence, Tomer Persico. Continue reading

English, Events, Guest Posts

Meeting the Bavli at the National Library: Notes from an Uncultured Anthropologist- Guest Post by Assaf Harel

Pumbedita & Vilna in Silicon Valley” is the title of the opening session in a series of five public meetings at the National Library of Israel. The series aims to investigate the relevance of the Bavli in the 21st century. Baldly, the first session asks: “Is the Babylonian Talmud relevant to the secular-western society in which we live?” Continue reading

English, Events

Talmud Today

Miami Boys Choir's classic album "Torah Today"

In a previous incarnation, I mentioned a symposium entitled “Talmud Now?” held at the National Library. That tireless recorder of the Israeli-Jewish Renaissance,  Menachem Mendel, has just noted that the the symposium was recorded and is now on-line. Watch it now, in all six parts.

Back in November when I posted the event, it generated a bit of discussion, particularly by mv who noted:

Two observations based on the identity of the panelists:

1. Two of the participants are rabbis, and the other two are also associated with institutions committed or associated with a religious form of Judaism (SHI, HUC). Casual Google prosopography (not serious research or personal acquaintance, so take this with a grain of salt) suggests that all come from the orthodox world.

I am not noting this to criticize the organizers or to complain against them: not every panel needs to be “representative” of the society it wishes to study or impact, but it is interesting that it includes no one from secular Israel, or at least from the institutions that identify themselves as secular (oh, one can think of Alma, a secular scholar from one of the universities, or even a poet or a novelist that is not connected with the religious institutions).

Even to the extent that this is somewhat undesirable, the blame must be shared with us secular Talmudists as well: for many years and with much resources, we have tried and failed to convince Israel’s cultural elite that the Talmud is a document worth engaging with. There are exception, of course; but Israeli culture largely ignores the Talmud, and when it does pay attention to it, it is mostly through “religious” mediators (think Kosman’s essays in one of the most prestigious fora of Israeli culture, Haaretz’s Tarbut we-Sifrut). In that sense, the panelists list itself epitomizes a problematic aspect of the issue it addresses.

Notice how Dr. Ruhama Weiss begins her remarks. After being introduced as someone who will describe Talmud study in non-religious institutions that do not feel bound by halakha, she rejects the distinction between “secular” and “religious” for her discussion.

And then, finally, listen to Dr. Yair Eldan who says precisely what was raised in the comments.  We still essentially have no true Hiloni Talmud renaissance. And on the other hand, the religious community is largely incapable of fully appreciating talmudic discourse in its great variety.

English, Technology

Getting the Most out of the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts Catalog

Arguably the most important room in Jerusalem

This is the first of what I hope will be an ongoing series on how to use the various internet databases listed in our “Toolbox” section. Dr. Ezra Chwat of the IMHM helped me put together the instructions listed below.

Arguably the most important room in Jerusalem, the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts (IMHM) at the National Library of Israel only recently received the attention it deserves when it was featured prominently in Yossi Cedar’s film Footnote. Scenes of Professor Shkolink the father working studiously in the room’s dark lighting were more than enough to raise the excitement of philologists who for the first time truly experienced Lacan’s “mirror stage” through film. Yet so much of the information amassed by the Institute’s staff is accessible without having to deal with the odd lighting and clunky microfilm viewers. The catalog of manuscripts on its own holds a wealth of information, from the bibliographical to the codicological. The list allows you to find almost all of the textual witnesses available for the work you may be studying. For example, to find various manuscripts of Bavli Shabbat, all one has to do is click on “כותר המתחיל ב…”, and type in “תלמוד בבלי סדר מועד (שבת)”, and the catalogue immediately lists all of the complete and partial manuscripts of the tractate:

Even more importantly, the list already includes manuscripts reconstructed from various genizah fragments, with information about each part of the textual witness:

Through the advanced search (“חיפוש מתקדם”) one can even search directly for reconstructed genizah manuscripts. Within “מלים” type “מאותו כי”(make sure you don’t put a quotation mark and write כ”י), and then in the second field select “נושא כתב היד” and enter the tractate or other work that you’re trying to find genizah manuscripts for:

Clicking on the number that appears following the words “סך-הכול” will bring you to a list that also includes reconstructed manuscripts of commentators on the tractate you searched for:

Of course, the catalog is just a catalog, and except for textual witnesses available online (which will be hyperlinked from the results), one must get to a library with a microfilmed manuscript collection in order to make full use of the information obtained.