Recent Dissertations and Theses

Even in Israel, the new academic year is now in full swing. So this is a good time to look back at 2012-2013 dissertations and these that have been defended. Here at The Talmud Blog we’ll do our best to list the recently submitted ones that may be of interest to our readers. Please feel free to forward to us anything that we may have left out. We hope to update this post as we receive more material.

Tracy Ames, “Compositional Complexity in the Palestinian Talmud Aggadah, Tractate Berakhot,” The University of British Columbia, 2012.

The goal of this thesis is to contribute to the scholarship investigating the Aggadah in the Palestinian Talmud. This study confirms the presence of carefully constructed and deliberately redacted portions of the Palestinian Talmud within the first chapter of tractate Berakhot (Blessings). Contrary to claims that the Palestinian Talmud has a very thin redactional layer, this dissertation argues that earlier traditions were subjected to an active interventionist editorial process by the Amoraic composers/redactors. The results of this study are that creative composition and a high degree of literary sophistication can be ascertained within the Amoraic layers of the Palestinian Talmud in the portions of tractate Berakhot that I analyze.

The complexity of aggadot within the first chapter of tractate Berakhot is confirmed with the application of literary and genre based analysis which reveals that literary constructs widespread throughout the Greco-Roman world were adapted by the composers/redactors of the Palestinian Talmud. The Greco-Roman literary constructs that are employed in these narratives serve to thematize efforts by sages to establish rabbinic prayer practices—and establish their own leadership— in the aftermath of the vacuum left by the destruction of the Second Temple. Furthermore, contextual/historical analysis indicates that these aggadot reveal a nuanced and varied set of responses to the Roman Empire, demonstrating that these narratives were produced by a highly sophisticated compositional and editorial hand.

Redactional analysis highlights the extent to which reinterpretations of earlier Tannaitic and biblical material were utilized by composers/redactors to assert their theological and ideological views in a way similar to that which is usually ascribed to the Stammaitic editors of the Babylonian Talmud.

Sarah Benmoshe, “A Scholar’s Commentary Edition to Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot, Chapter Four,” (heb.) Bar-Ilan Univeristy, 2012.

Stephanie Bolz, “Rabbinic Discourse on Divination in the Babylonian Talmud,” University of Michigan, 2012.

Divination is a label given, both in the ancient and modem world, to a group of human-made interpretive techniques through which a client would expect to obtain hidden knowledge about past, present, or future events. This dissertation focuses on the rabbis’ discourse on the various manifestations of four different divinatory techniques which occur in the Babylonian Talmud (Bavli): oneiromancy (dream interpretation), bibliomancy (divination based on biblical verses), cledonomancy (divination based on chance utterances including the bat kol ) and necromancy (divination by means of the dead). Using literary analysis and source criticism, I argue that the Babylonian rabbis legislate divination based on biblical precedent and that they employ similar exegetical techniques in both Midrash, the exegesis of biblical verses, and those methods of divination which they permit. The depiction of divinatory techniques, however, does not cohere with this legislation. Whether or not the practice is permitted or prohibited, they tend to positively (or at least neutrally) depict these forms of divination when they are performed by a rabbi who is not functioning as a professional diviner. The Babylonian rabbis, however, tend to negatively depict these forms of divination when they are either performed by a professional diviner or by a non-rabbi. Thus, the way that these various forms of divination are depicted, regardless of whether or not they are permitted or prohibited, serves to define one as an insider or an outsider vis-à-vis the Babylonian rabbis. By doing so, the rabbis delegitimize non-rabbinic diviners, while transforming other methods of divination into a form of study analogous to the Oral Torah. By making their discourse on divination particularly rabbinic, divination functioned as a means through which the rabbis legitimated and bounded off their knowledge and authority from the surrounding culture of Sasanian Babylonia.

Joshua Cahan, “Sources and Innovation: How the Rabbis’ Relationship to Received Teachings Shaped Their Legal Thinking,” The Jewish Theological Seminary, 2012.

This dissertation describes several important differences in how the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmudim use and discuss baraitot, sources attributed to Tannaim but not included in the Mishna, and argues that these differences reflect a crucial shift in how Amoraim in the two centers understood the authority and value of such sources. It examines those places in tractates Megilla and Rosh Hashana where each Talmud quotes a baraita that is significantly longer than average, and where they abridge or excerpt longer tannaitic sources, looking for distinctive patterns in how they handle such texts. Previous scholarship has focused on comparing details of the wording of talmudic baraitot with parallels in other collections, but has paid little attention to larger patterns in the usage of these sources.

This sub-category of texts reveals a major difference in how the editors of the two Talmudim utilized tannaitic traditions. The Palestinian Talmud rarely quotes long baraitot in full. Such sources may be paraphrased in brief or abbreviated, with details like names, prooftexts, and dissenting views removed. Relevant segments of longer sources are often excerpted, omitting any material not relevant to the immediate context. The Babylonian Talmud, by contrast, is far more likely to quote such sources in their original language; to present sources in full, with all of the detail found in extant, independently preserved tannaitic collections; and to include more of a source than the context demands.

Overall, the PT makes a clear distinction between authoritative teachings, those included in the Mishna, and others, and baraitot tend to be treated as raw material for use in analyzing Mishnayot rather than as weighty traditions in themselves. The BT, by contrast, often subjects baraitot to the kind of detailed analysis normally associated with Mishnayot and other sacred or canonized texts, and generally grants them authority in their own right similar to that of the Mishna. In both the ways that it quotes tannaitic sources and the ways that it discusses them, the BT shows more concern than the PT to study baraitot in themselves and not solely in the context of other interests and concerns. The BT also seems to reflect a concern to collect and preserve source material for its own sake—gathering and organizing sources drove some editorial work in the BT independently of the effort to explore new questions.

My claim is that the use of extended baraitot in the BT in these tractates represents a whole aspect of the redaction of the BT that is absent from the PT. The BT editors are guided by concerns about preserving and organizing traditions and by ways of both valuing and explicating tannaitic sources that distinguish them from their Palestinian counterparts and that significantly affect the nature of the Talmud that they ultimately produced. This study thus further develops a line of inquiry which seeks to better appreciate the extent to which the Babylonian Talmud is the product of a set of ideas about the nature of texts and of text study as much as it was shaped by specific views about law and theology.

Joshua Even Eisen, “Stammaitic Activity versus Stammaitic Chronology: Anonymity’s Impact on the Legal Narrative of the Babylonian Talmud,” Columbia University, 2013.

This dissertation explores the nature of the contribution of the Stammaim to the narrative of the Babylonian Talmud (BT). The primary suggestion is to view the Stammaim as the authors, narrators, and editors who contributed the anonymous Stammaitic activity to the text. The goal is not to dismiss the possibility of a Stammaitic period, or a period of heightened Stammaitic activity. Rather, it is to broaden the scope of possible chronological provenances for Stammaitic activity. Once broadened, it becomes necessary to view the notion of ‘Stammaitic’ as one defining a literary style regardless of whether it might also refer to a chronological period. The idea of the style comes first. After a Stammaitic style emerges, and once there is a period of time where the deployment of such a style becomes heightened, then – and only then – is it possible to define a period based upon the style. Nevertheless, the style is hardly confined to any period either before or after the Stammaitic period as it is currently understood. Once I have addressed the issue of a Stammaitic style that cuts across the periods, I posit that anonymity fuels the engines of three other features that are worth considering when reading a BT text: canonicity, multiplicity, and pluralism. In considering anonymity, one must analyze the impact of anonymous elements on the narrative as a whole, and specifically what the anonymity does to or for the text. When assessing what makes this or that text canonical, degrees of canonicity emerge for the different elements of a BT text. Understanding the impact of anonymity (and attribution) assists in assessing those degrees – whether based upon manuscripts or the internal workings of the text – and how degrees of canonicity are more easily manipulated by an anonymous voice. One interesting possibility also emerges that allows for anonymous actors to infuse canonicity into a tradition by manipulating attribution.

Regarding multiplicity, I argue that the authors and editors of the BT pursued a general agenda of including a greater rather than fewer number of attributed sages. While any one sage of great importance can infuse authority (and canonicity) into a tradition and the words associated with it, the inclusion of a broad range of sages from different places increases the potential ‘market’ for the text as a whole. In discussing pluralism, I deal with the manner in which the laws and customs are laid out in the BT as well as the substance of the laws and customs themselves. They are presented in such a way that the legal system that is the BT can easily operate within dominant, primary legal systems where the BT is clearly subordinate. I also suggest the possibility that the BT was crafted to be subordinate. There are many ways to read a text. In the case of the BT, I argue that an analysis of the text is well served by consideration of anonymity and the other three features. I approach the issue of the four features, as well as the matter of Stammaitic style versus Stammaitic chronology, theoretically in the first five chapters, after which I dedicate chapters to raw analyses of different types of texts and groups of texts as they help elucidate the earlier theoretical discussion.

Scott Hoffman, “The Evolution of the Concept of Repentance in Biblical, Second Temple and Rabbinic Sources,” New York University, 2012.

The present work seeks to explore the concept of teshuva, or repentance, in the rabbinic literature, with special attention to both the concept’s evolution within the rabbinic period and its relationship to Biblical and Second Temple precedents. None of the three “classic” works on this subject: Solomon Schechter’s Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (New York: Macmillan Company, 1909), G.F. Moore’s Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1927) and E.E. Urbach’s The Sages: Their Beliefs and Opinions (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1968) address themselves in a thorough way to these concerns.

Three aspects of the rabbinic concept of repentance have clear roots in Scripture. The first is the asham sacrifice, or “guilt offering”, mentioned in Leviticus 5. In contrast to all other sacrifices, the asham atoned for deliberate, rather than accidental, sin, provided one expressed a sense of “guilt.” The second is the ritual of Yom Kippur, an annual cleansing of the altar from accumulated impurity. The rabbinic understanding reflects a subtle transformation from removal of impurity to removal of sin. The final pillar is found in the book of Jonah, which posits that one who repents may escape punishment, rather than merely mitigating its effects after the fact.

Second Temple sources share a number of common methods with those of the rabbis, such as a tendency toward creative “re-reading” of Scripture. There is one key difference, however. Sectarian groups viewed the penitential process as requiring a “conversion” away from the larger collective. For the rabbis, who regarded themselves as the religious mainstream, repentance is not typically associated with the process of conversion.

The rabbinic sources themselves broaden the concept of teshuva in three ways. First, they include interpersonal relationships and their associated feelings in the process. Second, a hierarchy of repentance was created, with the penitential efficacy magnified by such means as Yom Kippur or the day of death. Third, the rabbis constructed in detail the necessary steps in the process of repentance.

Finally, a number of rabbinic aggadot are presented which explore the theoretical range of repentance, broadening its scope but also delineating its limitations.

Boaz Hutterer, “The ‘Courtyard Eruv’ in the Urban Space, its Development from the Times of the Mishnah and the Talmud to the Twentieth Century,” (heb.) Bar-Ilan University, 2013.

Sarit Kattan Gribetz, “Conceptions of Time and Rhythms of Daily Life in Rabbinic Literature, 200-600 CE,” Princeton University, 2013.

This dissertation centers on the ways in which rabbinic texts from the first five centuries C.E. constructed daily and monthly rhythms of time and examines the intersections of those times at the outer boundaries of the rabbinic community as well as among those inhabiting various roles within the community.

Part I explores the synchronization and differentiation of rabbinic and Roman time, and focuses in particular on the incorporation of the Roman calendar into rabbinic texts and on the integration of the Jewish seven-day week into the Roman calendar.  Ironically, by trying so deliberately to separate from observing the Roman calendar and formulating laws intended to limit interactions between Romans and Jews on certain calendar days, the rabbis effectively integrated the rhythms of the Roman calendar into their own daily lives.  Rabbinic sources, however, also present the origin and history of these Roman festivals as Jewish or biblical at their core, thus filling the Roman calendar with days that had Jewish stories – and indeed a long Jewish past – attached to them.  Romans, too, adopted aspects of the Jewish calendar, especially the seven-day week and a day of rest, despite Roman arguments that resting every seventh day epitomized idleness and was an ill use of one’s time.

Part II confronts the question of gender in rabbinic time and the emergence of a gendered temporality in rabbinic law through the development of distinct rituals for men and women.  In a shift from the way in which commandments had previously been conceptualized, rabbinic texts construct the category of “positive time-bound commandments,” from which rabbinic law excludes women.  There is, however, an entire set of time-related laws – the cycles of purity and impurity related to menstruation – that applied only to women and structured their time around different rituals. Women’s bodies were also invoked rhetorically to articulate ideas about time through the use of metaphors of pregnancy, labor, birth and menstruation. Even as the rabbis—all men—define women out of what they consider to be time-boundedness, through both rituals and rhetoric women are effectively no less, though surely differently, time-bound than their male counterparts.

Lynn Kaye, “Law and Temporality in Bavli Mo’ed,” New York University, 2012.

This dissertation examines different forms of time as they appear in the legal and narrative passages of the Babylonian Talmud, focusing mainly on later passages from the third to the sixth centuries. Its method is historical as well as phenomenological. Through critical analysis of Talmudic texts I uncover concepts of time that are present but not articulated directly. This is achieved by extrapolating rabbinic attitudes to temporality through an examination of relevant legal principles and debates as well as of temporal themes in narratives. The project encompasses both legal discussions and stories in the Babylonian Talmud, since the two genres taken together provide a superior appreciation of rabbinic conceptions of time.

The dissertation’s argument is threefold. First, the notion that the rabbis conceive of time only in so far as it is connected with observable processes but not as an abstract category must be modified. Temporality is a complex issue addressed by the rabbis, albeit indirectly, especially in the later layers of the Babylonian Talmud. Second, the rabbis do not have a single conception of time, but multiple conceptions. They draw on different conceptions in different contexts, a flexibility that allows for the smooth application of law to “hard cases.” Finally, the flexible and manifold conception of time provides an avenue for the rabbis to overcome issues such as indeterminacy of legal facts, and a means through which to further their didactic aims in aggadot.

The dissertation is organized thematically, grouping together legal principles and narratives that address similar temporal themes. The primary topics of the four main chapters are: (1) estimation of time of day and human accuracy, (2) simultaneity, (3) fixedness and the sanctification of times and (4) retroactivity.

Lennart Lehmhaus, “‘Derekh Eretz im Torah’ – Seder Eliyahu Zuta as Universal, Religious Ethics for Rabbinic and Non-Rabbinic Jews,” Martin Luther University, 2012/13.

Seder Eliyahu Zuta (SEZ), as well as its fellow-text called Seder Eliyahu Rabba (SER), is a fascinating work, most likely datable in Late Antiquity or early medieval times (ca. 8th – 10th centuries). The text displays a unique, though hybrid, character between moral guidebook, absorbing narrative and learned exposition.

For the first time, this dissertation provides an annotated and typographically structured German translation alongside with the Hebrew text of SEZ, based on Meir Friedmann`s edition (Vienna, 1902). The bi-lingual presentation is augmented with exhaustive annotations regarding similar traditions (SER/ Pseudo-SEZ), textual variants from all available manuscripts as well as many Talmudic and Midrashic parallels and explanations of language and context(s).

The second part of the project aimed at a thorough examination of literary-discursive, theological-ethical and socio-cultural dimensions of SEZ. Such a study has been nearly missing from scholarly discussion until now which focussed solely on historically reliable facts to pinpoint an exact date and place of origin. In contrast to these attempts the dissertation employs a multi-layered approach combining theories and methods from historical, cultural and literary-discursive studies with fundamental philological questions.

Instead of following a common view of later Midrashim as stagnating and purely narrative, this study explores SEZ`s multifarious and skilful combination of literary genres, strategies (keywords/ clustering) and discursive structures. These make the text function for different audiences on different levels of comprehension. Of special importance are adoption, adaptation and innovative transformation of `classical´ rabbinic genres, of exegetical-hermeneutical techniques and language for the text’s own purposes. With intertextual sophistication the text employs quotes and references to various rabbinic traditions as literary tools in order to anchor its own discourse in the authority of the Written and Oral Torah.

The most characteristic feature of SEZ and its discursive backbone are first-person narratives about dialogic encounters with various non-rabbinic others. These passages convey essential ideas (basic knowledge of Scripture, the most important prayers and benedictions as well as moral behaviour and piety) that form a core Jewish identity, rabbinically biased though. This provided an appealing and accessible alternative for Jews from different educational and social backgrounds. Furthermore, in a self-reflexive sense it attests to a growing interest in and interaction with broader society and a new (self)understanding of the role of the sages.

Based on these findings the thematic analysis demonstrates how SEZ conveys its theological-ethical discourse in a dense and incisive way that has probably no rival in rabbinic literature. The main idea of God`s benevolence and indulgence towards man, especially Israel, is presented as a perfect role model for righteous conduct and ethical self-responsibility (Derekh Eretz). Endless divine mercy as a central theme is intertwined with a complex discourse on the suffering of the righteous (tzadiq), the ideal of poverty and humbleness, together with the ethical practice of charity (tzedaqah)., solidarity and good deeds. These ideas have close parallels in Jewish ethical texts (Avot/ ARN/ DER/ DEZ) as well as in Syriac-Christian and Muslims traditions.

This dissertation has the potential to raise the awareness for subtle strategies of literary transmission, adaptation, and innovation in Seder Eliyahu and other so called “later midrashim” (PRE, PesR, KohR/ Tanhuma) – broader semantic-lexical interest, construction of an author/narrator-character, and a monographic structure with exposition and conclusion made them precursors of later developments in Geonic and medieval Jewish literature. This insight will facilitate to grasp their transformative function as a link between late antique and early medieval times.

Moreover, these literary and thematical changes may shed light on the historical context of SEZ. The radical socio-cultural, economic and religious transformations in the early Muslim and Geonic period, together with a greater inner-Jewish diversity, challenged and called for transformations in form and content. It seems that the text is engaged in a kind of mediation between several Jewish discourses or ideologies (Masoretic/ Talmudic-Geonic/ Proto-Karaite) of its time and various other cultural-religious influences (Arabic/ Muslim/ Syriac-Christian etc.).

The dissertation helps to allocate Seder Eliyahu within the discursive history of (rabbinic) Judaism and its socio-historical setting. In addition, the study outlines the potential role of this particular text as a rather marginal voice that probably aimed at the heart of a broader, shared discursive space in its cultural context.

Aryeh Leibowitz, “‘Tosfot Tukh’ on the Talmud: A Critical analysis of R. Eliezer of Tukh’s Redaction of ‘Tosfot’ and his Marginalia,” Yeshiva University, 2012.

R. Eliezer of Tukh’s Tosafot Tukh on the Babylonian Talmud have served as the primary representative of the prolific Tosafist tradition of talmudic interpretation for almost three-quarters of a millennium. This dissertation analyzes the nature of R. Eliezer’s Tosafot redaction and his accompanying marginal notes (Gilyonot ), and puts forward a new perspective on their position in the greater Tosafist culture of northern France and Germany.

The dissertation opens with an introduction to the Tosafist enterprise. tracing the emergence and development of the Tosafist method in general, and the academy of R. Isaac (Ri) of Dampierre in specific. It was the Tosafot commentaries that emerged from Ri’s academy that laid the foundation for R. Eliezer’s work.

Chapter One focuses on R. Eliezer’s intellectual milieu and addresses the important question of R. Eliezer’s own talmudic culture. R. Eliezer was indisputably a German Tosafist, who likely operated in the central and eastern regions of Germany.

The next three chapters of this dissertation provide critical analysis of R. Eliezer’s redaction. R. Eliezer’s redaction drew heavily from the highly developed commentaries of Ri’s most prolific students. Chapter Two addresses R. Eliezer’s sources and identifies the specific commentaries utilized by R. Eliezer in his redaction. Chapter Three delineates R. Eliezer’s editing methods and demonstrates that R. Eliezer’s work was generally limited to editing. That is, he rarely introduced new content, as he primarily Focused his efforts on abridging and condensing earlier commentaries.

Based on the analyses of the previous two chapters, Chapter Three outlines the salient characteristics of R. Eliezer’s redaction, noting the various types of passages appearing in the redaction. This chapter also argues that R. Eliezer’s redaction, in its authentic form, primarily contained French Tosafist material as it was transmitted by the students of Ri. Accordingly, the chapter maintains that R. Eliezer refrained from including material from his own German teachers and contemporaries, and even refrained from including his own original insights. Through comparisons of multiple manuscripts of R. Eliezer’s redaction, this chapter shows that the instances of R. Eliezer’s own teachings and those of his German contemporaries appearing in printed editions of R. Eliezer’s redaction are not authentic, and are in fact erroneous additions attributable to various scribal errors.

The next three chapters of the dissertation provide critical analyses of R. Eliezer’s marginal notes (Gilyonot ) that he appended to his Tosafot redaction. Chapter Five discusses the relatively poor fate of the Gilyonot and identifies their remnants in unpublished manuscripts, printed rabbinic works, and even isolates a number of Gilyonot that were included in printed editions of the Talmud. Chapter Six discusses the major sources utilized by R. Eliezer in the Gilyonot, primarily his own original contributions and material that he learned from his teachers and contemporaries. Chapter Seven explores the nature of R. Eliezer’s comments in the Gilyonot, and shows that the Gilyonot followed classic Tosafist dialectical methods. In the Gilyonot, R. Eliezer commented on the early Tosafist teachings recorded in the main text of the redaction and also addressed material found in the Talmud itself.

Chapter Eight contends that R. Eliezer’s redaction was a unique record of the French Tosafist tradition as it was transmitted in R. Eliezer’s Germanic Talmudic culture. This contention is utilized to account for the many differences between R. Eliezer’s redaction and other records of the French tradition. Additionally this perspective explains the phenomenon that R. Eliezer’s redaction was particularly popular in certain German regions, whereas other redactions of the Tosafist tradition were popular in other regions.

Following the previous chapter’s description of R. Eliezer’s redaction as a unique redaction of the French tradition as it was transmitted in R. Eliezer’s German talmudic culture. Chapter Nine considers the differing roles played by R. Eliezer’s redaction and his Gilyonot. Whereas R. Eliezer’s redaction recorded the French tradition, the Gilyonot were utilized by R. Eliezer as a venue for augmenting the redaction with his own teachings and those of his German contemporaries. R. Eliezer flourished in Germany in the mid to late thirteenth century, which roughly coincides with the demise of the French Tosafist tradition. Therefore, this chapter also considers R. Eliezer’s role in continuing the dialectic tradition of the vanishing French academies.

The tenth and final chapter assesses the fate of R. Eliezer’s redaction and Gilyonot. After outlining the various methods of identifying Tosafist texts attributable to R. Eliezer, the chapter provides an analysis of the standard printed Tosafot on twelve tractates that are ascribable to R. Eliezer. The presentation found in this chapter draws heavily from the work of E. E. Urbach, but also contains significant additions to his scholarship. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)

Rachel Zohn Mincer, “Liturgical Minhagim Books: The Increasing Reliance on Written Texts in Late Medieval Ashkenaz,” The Jewish Theological Seminary, 2013.

The Hildik, Klausner and Tyrnau liturgical minhagim books, produced in the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, demonstrate that medieval Ashkenaz was moving toward a greater reliance on written texts. During this period, there was a proliferation of ritual guides, including works that were accessible to educated people who were not rabbinic scholars. Thus, a growing, albeit still small, segment of Ashkenazic society was using written works, rather than oral traditions, as sources of practical guidance. Liturgical minhagim books, handbooks that focus on liturgical practice, are particularly user-friendly due to their brevity and practical orientation. This genre was an outgrowth of the first known Ashkenazic written liturgical guides, late eleventh and twelfth-century scholarly mahzorim , particularly Mahzor Vitry .

A comparison of three interrelated minhagim books produced during a two-century span demonstrates the effects of this greater abundance of practical guides. The authority of the written word increased and ritual practice became somewhat more standardized. Although, like the greater availability of accessible genres, these developments are generally attributed to the advent of print, they began to emerge in the late medieval period.

The proliferation of written sources of ritual guidance in medieval Ashkenaz paralleled the growing reliance on written documents in medieval Western Europe as a whole. Improvements in manuscript technology, including the use of paper, lowered book production costs. In Christian Europe, as in Ashkenaz, new more popular genres were composed.

The production of liturgical minhagim books is also related to the communal upheavals in late medieval German Jewish society. Minhagim books, sources of regional custom, provided guidance when enormous settlement growth in the thirteenth and early fourteenth century, followed by expulsions in the post-Black Plague period, disrupted the transmission of local customs.

Klausner’s minhagim , a composite work, exemplifies the medieval practice of adapting older works to changing norms while maintaining a semblance of continuity with the past. The particular fluidity of Ashkenazic texts was related to the view of halakhic tradition as open-ended and the emphasis on communal custom. Thus, although the inscription of customs led to a degree of standardization, some of the flexibility of the oral past was retained.

Moshe Pinchuk, “Tractate Megillah in the Palestinian Talmud Chapter IV: Edition with Comprehensive Commentary,” (heb.), Bar-Ilan University, 2012.

Avram Weiss, “A Critical Edition with Commentary to BT Rosh Hashana Chapter III,” (heb.), Bar-Ilan Univeristy, 2012.

Shawn Yanklowitz, “Furthering Argument Skills and Epistemic Development in Talmudic Learning for Seniors in High School,” Columbia University Teachers’ College, 2013.

Argument skills can be used to enhance learning when reasoning is treated as a process of argumentation (Kuhn, 1992, 1993), fundamentally dialogical (Bakhtin, 1981, 1986; Wertsch, 1991), and metacognitive (Hofer & Pintrich, 1997). Important differences in approach have emerged regarding how to best cultivate the skills of argument. In this study, I explored the implementation of an argument skill curriculum to an Orthodox Jewish High School with students (seniors) enrolled in an honors-level Talmud class. The objective of the study was to learn how argument skills and epistemological development can be furthered in a Talmudic learning environment.

The intervention took place over the span of half a year at a Talmudic high school in Southern California. A class of high school seniors participated in a curriculum that involves text study, argument, and debate in a more nuanced and dynamic fashion than other Talmudic learning environments. The teacher assists students who are struggling to understand the Hebrew or the content of the text, but mostly the teacher plays a facilitative rather than didactic role. Students are empowered by questioning and debate and the opportunity to constantly engage with peers rather than listen passively.

Assessments following the intervention supported the impression of a positive impact of integrating an argument skills curriculum into Talmudic studies. Participants showed gains both in their argument skills and in the development of epistemological understanding.

Argument over Talmudic texts is already the foundation of traditional learning in schools like the one in which the study took place. The present work suggests that it can be enhanced through a more intentional and focused argument skills curriculum. A move from a more frontal and authoritarian model of learning to a more democratic style of learning may better prepare students to engage in thoughtful arguments outside the classroom as autonomous responsible citizens. Such a curriculum can serve as a significant enhancement to religious text study education.

MA Theses

Oren Ableman, “Of Emperors and Beasts: Resistance to Rome in the Jewish Apocalyptic Texts of the Late First Century CE,” Hebrew University, 2012.

Harel Ben-Ami, “Mahu ha’hodesh ha’ivri?” Hebrew University, 2012.

Yael Brander-Wygoda, “Hotsa’ah mi’rishut li’rishut: iyyun bi’sugyat nidui, bavli moed qatan 14b-17b,” Hebrew University, 2012.

Shlomi Efrati, “The Text of Rashi’s Commentary to the 2nd Chapter of Tractate Baba Qama,” (heb.) Hebrew University, 2013.

The Talmud commentaries of Rashi (Rabbi Solomon b. Isaac) are among the most important and influential works of medieval Judaism; shortly after their first appearance they became an essential and inseparable companion for the study and understanding of the Babylonian Talmud. Many studies are dedicated to Rashi’s person and literary work, but only a relatively small number of these deal with the textual issues of his Talmud commentaries. The commentary on tractate Baba Qamma is no exception, though its complex and intriguing textual character was noted more than thirty years ago by the late Jonah Fraenkel. The relatively large number of textual witnesses of this composition (7 complete manuscripts and about 20 fragments) exhibit a variety of textual variations, from changes in wording and style, through insertions of explanatory glosses, to thorough emendations and replacements of complete paragraphs. These phenomena attest a quite intensive revision(s) of the commentary.

In this work I wish to reexamine the text of a significant portion of the commentary to Baba Qamma. By collating and analyzing the textual witnesses of the second chapter of the commentary, I hope to clarify its textual character and its implications for our understanding of the development of Rashi’s Talmud commentaries. First, I attempt to determine the relationship between the textual witnesses, to divide them into groups and characterize the different versions. Next, I will discuss specific passages in detail, in which the differences between the textual witnesses lead to completely different versions. I hope to show that in each passage only one version can claim to be primary, while the other, secondary version(s) will be shown to be later revision(s), most probably not by Rashi himself. At the conclusion of this work I will consider the implications of my findings on the question of Rashi’s “recensions” (מהדורות), as well as reexamine the use of the term “recension” (מהדורה) by medieval authorities in relation to Rashi.

Yosef Gan-El (Albaz), “‘Bein shamayim u’vein ha’aretz': diyyun b’dmuto shel avshalom- bein ha’miqra li’hazal,” Hebrew University, 2012.

Shlomit Greenfield-Gilat, “Basar l’ma’an basar aher u’bi’emtsauto: ha’em ha’poelet l’ma’an goral b’nah bi’shloshah sippurim min hatalmud habavli- qriyah sifrutit-feministit,” Hebrew University, 2012.

Hanan Mazeh, “‘Eiruv dvarim': parshanut dibbur vi’dialog bi’drashot hazal- miafyaneha u’mataroteha,” Hebrew University, 2013.

Elisha Strengold, “Hitpatchut mitzvot ha’ma’aser m’hamiqra ad la’talmud,” Hebrew University, 2012.

Noa Walden, “‘And There Is One Who Acquires His World in One Hour’ Deliberation of Three Weeping Stories of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi in Tractate Avoda Zarah,” (heb.) Ben-Gurion University, 2012.

About five hundred occasions of weeping can be found in rabbinic literature. The weeping figures, and the causes for weeping, are wide and varied. The stories describe personal weeping, such as a mother weeping for the death of her children, but also collective weeping over the devastation of the Temple and of Jerusalem. Among the weeping are men, women and children, and there are stories about the weeping of God and His angels. This study focuses on an array of three stories that appear in Bavli, Tractate Avoda Zarah, 10b, 17a, 18a, in which the weeping figure is Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi. What would be the correct way to approach a discussion of weeping, when it comes to the character of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi? What are its essence and its nature? Is it private weeping? Institutional weeping? Religious weeping? Political? Is it possible to examine one category without examining the others?

The stories of rabbi’s weeping invite a unique discussion, seeing as at their heart stands a character who embodies the religious and political institutions at the utmost height of their powers. The stories offer an opportunity to examine emotional moments, in which, I will argue, Rabbi is exposed – as both private individual and a representative of the institution – as being full of uncertainty and questions, and this is what makes these stories uniquely interesting.

At the heart of this thesis are three stories and three unusual characters whom Rabbi confronts, and following whose death he weeps – Ketiah Bar Shalom, a Roman minister who defends the Jews of the Roman Empire from the Emperor who wishes to destroy them; Elazar Ben Durdia, a sinner known for “not leav[ing] out any harlot in the world without coming to her”; Rabbi Chanina Ben Teradyon, a Talmid Hacham and martyr. The three stories share a literary pattern and all end with the formula: “Rabbi wept and said: there is one who acquires his world in one hour, and there is another who acquires his world after many years”. The proverbial part of this closing statement distinguishes two groups of individuals worthy of the life of the world-to-come: those who prove themselves worthy in a swift and accelerated process, versus others, who toil a lifetime for this privilege. I shall argue that Rabbi identifies himself as belonging to the second category, while the characters he faces belong to the first, which he simultaneously criticizes and longs for. All three characters represent extreme models and rapid, dramatic progressions, following which they are awarded with the life of the world- to- come. Ketiah Bar Shalom chooses to convert and join the Jewish people in a dramatic and violent move; he represents the seduction of devoting one’s self completely and totally to one’s heart’s desires. Elazar Ben Durdia is haunted by his earthly passions, and his morality and ability to repent are doubted all the way through to the end of the story. Rabbi Chanina Ben Teradyon is a Talmid Hacham and a martyr; he represents a model of subversive leadership that rebels against the Empire.

Discussion of the weeping stories represents the encounter between the powerful and charismatic character of Rabbi, and the three characters who represent otherness. I interpret Rabbi’s weeping as an expression of his anger and frustration over having to accept “those who acquire their world in an hour” as equals, and beyond – as worthy of respect and outstanding privilege. The fact that this is not an isolated incident, but rather a series of occurrences, presents Rabbi’s character as one who faces repeated contradictions, moments in which the system that he is part of operates in ways that that he finds unacceptable, which shakes his world view and throws the supposedly-absolute nature of his faith into question. This faith is usually described as solid, steady and crack-free.

The power of the weeping stories lies in their delicate examination of the cracks. They touch the story-telling landscapes in which a powerful and dominant character encounters questioning and disagreement and responds by weeping. The stories relate to issues at the heart of Jewish culture – penitence and reward – yet they offer no clear-cut answers, but rather allow the doubts and uncertainties to echo. And so the discussion builds in a space that is disharmonious and incomplete, and yet is not broken; and from it arise the poetics of cracks. The Talmud chooses not to widen the cracks, nor does it attempt to fill them. It walks beside them.

Ahinoam Yaakovs, “Ha’el ha’bocheh: tiurei bechi ha’el vi’aveilo bi’midrashei hazal,” Hebrew Unversity, 2012.

About these ads

3 responses to “Recent Dissertations and Theses

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s