Gafni Continues the Debate

A further chapter in the Gafni-Goodblatt debate, and for that matter in the ongoing “Stam Wars,” has recently been published in the journal Jewish History.   In a detailed and important review of Jeffrey Rubenstein’s trilogy- Talmudic Stories, The Culture of the Babylonian Talmud, and Stories of the Babylonian Talmud, Isaiah Gafni comes out fighting.  Gafni acknowledges that scholars like Rubenstein and his predecessors have changed the rules of writing the history of the “Talmudic era” irrevocably, but that does not mean he will accept Rubenstein’s approach whole-cloth, or go along entirely with the latter’s proposed ceasefire for the Gafni-Goodblatt debate.

Anyone who cares about the direction of research into the Talmud’s anonymous layer should read the review itself, so I will not summarize it here.  I will say that Gafni’s main argument is that while he is willing to cede that reworked, originally Palestinian rabbinic stories in the Bavli often reflect Babylonian concerns, he is not prepared to admit that these concerns are always late, or “stammaitic.” In this he takes up an argument put forth by Yaakov Elman in a review of Rubenstein’s The Culture of the Babylonian Talmud, published in 2006 in the Journal of Religion.  Gafni offers numerous examples, expands the claim, and adds further arguments as well.

Last May, Prof. Gafni spoke at a conference organized by Uri Gabbay and me (and hosted by Scholion at the Hebrew University of JerusalemEncounters by the Rivers of Babylon: Scholarly Conversations between Jews, Iranians and Babylonians.  There he added ever more examples to rebut Rubenstein, some of them quite compelling.  Gafni’s article from the conference will hopefully appear in the proceedings of the conference, which hopefully will be published soon.

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5 responses to “Gafni Continues the Debate

  1. Hi, I am enjoying the new blog! Is there anyway I can get copies of the reviews of Elman and Gafni? I am not an “academic” and I can’t log in directly to Jstor. I could shlep to UCLA and get it there, but that’s difficult. Any suggestions?

  2. These debates make me uncomfortable. Why not argue case by case, sugya by sugya? It seems that blanket statements that are good in one place end up being not so good for others.
    I’d also like to say that i’m finding more and more examples of texts that have a stam that is not late (i.e. Mekhilta, Yerushalmi, Mishnah[!]), places in the Bavli where entire sugyot are cited in someone’s name (see e.g. Hullin 58a), stories missing from the Bavli in some MSS that are found in the Yerushalmi, and other quirks that are a problem if you try to generalize based on a limited data set.

  3. I think that they are arguing case-by-case. These debates make me uncomfortable as well, because I lack the bekius of these hachamim to properly keep track of all of these cases. In any case, it is clear that there are real Palestinian sources in the Bavli as well as fake ones. The upshot of all of this discussion is that the Babylonian academy took shape between the amoraic and geonic periods. The only arguments that remain are over where to shift the goalposts.

    Shai, has anyone compared this with formal Zoroastian academies? Were there any?

    • Yaakov Elman has considered it in a few places, including an article due to be out in the next Irano-Judaica volume (VII), if I am not mistaken. He has noticed that the Middle Persian writings themselves describe study-circles.
      We know very very little about what formal Zoroastrian learning actually looked like, but I find it interesting that in a later description in Syriac literature (6th century) there seem to be a lot more people at these institutions, though they are still following a master around, reciting.

  4. Thanks Shai. Without getting into the “influence” issue, I think its safe to say that there is some formal education going on in the Bavli East with the Yerushalmi West still lagging behind. It’s fitting that Yaakov Elman would deal with this.

    I suspect that the roots of this East/West distinction regarding formal learning are ancient and already reflected in the “Eastern” wisdom literature, even if there were not yet academies or large-scale group learning.

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