Why is this night different from all the other nights? Well, it really isn’t. What makes it different are the words. On all nights, we just eat, and don’t talk, and on this night, we ask questions about eating. On all nights, we mumble blessings before and after our food – quickly – and on this night we embellish our food with explanations and narratives. It’s not that the food is symbolic but rather that we take care and time to point out that the food has a story. Any food would have sufficed - “for on all nights we eat mac and cheese, but this night we eat caviar and steak,” – a would-be son could have asked, and might have been right. Continue reading
The section of the Babylonian Esther Midrash quoted by Shai in his post has a parallel in Vayikrah Rabbah and in the Pesikta de-Rav Kahana (Vayikrah Rabbah 28:6 [664-666]):
על ואזא קאמינא ומזג בלנאיא ואסחייה… אזל המן בעי ספרא ולא משכח. על לביתיה אייתא זוגא מביתיה וספריה. מן דספר ליה שארי מתאנח. אמ’ ליה- מה לך מתאנח? אמ’ ליה- לא ווי ליה לההוא גברא מאן עביד קומוס בדין מאן עביד קומוס קלאטור עביד בלנא וספר! אמ’ ליה- לא אנא חכים ליה לאבוך מכפר קרינוס דהוא ספר ובלניי והוא עביד סטוכטון והדין זוגא דיליה?
In a piece just published at Tablet Magazine, I briefly discuss the Purim Triumph panel at the famous synagogue in Dura Europos. The art at the Dura synagogue is significant for many reasons, one of which is the way it echoes extra-biblical Jewish traditions - aka midrash. There seems to be a bit of this in the Purim fresco: In the left side of the panel, Haman is dressed something like an Iranian stable-boy leading a royally garbed Mordecai on a white horse. It is possible that Haman’s attire points to the lowly position of stable-boys in Iranian life and particularly in epic literature. Continue reading
One of the foundational concepts to emerge from twentieth century linguistics is that meaning is produced through difference. Ferdinand de Saussure’s now banal idea that there is no inherent connection between a particular linguistic sign and the object it refers to was path-breaking at its time. It has echoed across countless intellectual and cultural endeavors which emphasize how the relationship between signifiers and their signified is essentially constructed and maintained only relationally. Continue reading
“The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers; he’s one who asks the right questions.” -Claude Lévi-Strauss, Le Cru et le cuit (The Raw and the Cooked), 1964
I spend a lot of time asking questions, and a lot of time learning and teaching Talmud. These pastimes are deeply related; the process of uncovering and addressing qushyot u’ba’ayot constitutes the meat and potatoes (or tofu and quinoa, for some of our readers here) of the Talmudic enterprise. The Bavli is a text explicitly animated by query, and we know the joy of the Talmudist who discovers that she or he has “asked like a lamdan,” who has raised the question of Abbaye, the Stamma d’Talmuda, Tosafot, or R. Akiva Eiger. To be a good learner, and certainly a good learner of Talmud, therefore, includes being able to ask good questions. Continue reading
As our readers may have noticed, we’ve recently adapted the blog to WordPress’ new “Twenty Fourteen Theme.” Besides exemplifying WordPress’ sleek sense of style, the theme caught our eye in that it structures the homepage almost like a daf of Talmud, with the main text in the center and related texts surrounding it towards the margin.
In celebration of The Talmud Blog’s redesign, I have been invited to offer some observations on the layout of the Talmud inspired by my background as a practitioner and scholar of the visual arts. This is a double honor for me as this is also my inaugural post. Thank you for the invitation.