All posts by amitgvaryahu

This blog is dedicated for up-to-date reviews of books, papers, and other publications in the field of Jewish studies.

Blessing Beaujolais (A special Haggadah Supplement from the Talmud Blog)

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

A Collector’s Item: Shamma Friedman’s Le-Toratam Shel Tannaim

friedman20tannaitic0011[1]Shamma Friedman, Studies in Tannaitic Literature: Methodology, Terminology and Content. Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 2013. Hebrew. XVII+534 pp. NIS 111.

Shamma Friedman is a didactic master. His aptitude for explaining and teaching complex matters in simple and concise language is impressive -and useful. His articles were the first ones I read in Talmudics and they were accessible enough for me to say, “I could probably do that.” (I have since learned that I probably cannot, at least not with Friedman’s panache). It is thus no surprise that many of his models have become the new standard in the field and were adopted (sometimes overzealously) by both his students and his wider readership. Continue reading

Seek and Ye Shall Find: On Federico Dal Bo’s Feminist Commentary on Karetot

Federico Dal Bo, Massekhet Keritot. A Feminist Commentary on the Babylonian Talmud V/7. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013. IX+487 pp. €129

Massekhet KeritotFederico Dal Bo is a very talented individual. This is the impression the reader gets not only from his unassuming biography on page II (two PhDs in unrelated disciplines awarded four years apart!), but also from even a cursory perusal of his new commentary on one of the most neglected corners of the Babylonian Talmud, tractate Karetot. It takes talent, and courage, to undertake a project as audacious and comprehensive as the title promises. Continue reading

A Kalirian Wedding Rahit (Oxford Heb c. 20.46; Cowley 2736)

For Yitz and Daphi, on their wedding day, בהטפת עסיס כעגור וסיס

This Kalirian rahit, a tentative translation of which is offered here, follows the piyyut which our very own Yitz Landes and Daphi Ezrachi chose to quote on their wedding invitation. The entire Kalirian cycle is based on the haftarah reading for the Shabbat before a wedding, Isaiah 61:9-62:9. As can be seen in Daniel Stökel Ben-Ezra’s new THALES project (registration required), this haftarah is read in the Italian rite to this day (See also Encyclopaedia Talmudica s.v. הפטרה, and Shulamit Elizur, “‘al piyyutei hatanim ve-haftarat hatanim,” Massekhet 1 (2002): 64-75, also found here). Following the verse in Isaiah (62:5), it presents pairs of biblical bridegrooms and brides. Some of the verbs used to bless the bride and bridegroom are also taken from the haftarah, Isaiah 61:10, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of justice, as a bridegroom putteth on a priestly diadem, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.” The many plant metaphors may resonate with Isaiah 61:11. Letter ז echoes the first verse of the haftarah, Isa 61:9.

The brides are often praised for their children. Some notable exceptions are:

  1. Zipporah is mentioned as “wise and intelligent in all knowledge.”
  2. Elisheva, the sister of Nahson, who married Aaron is portrayed as wearing “the cloak of justice.”
  3. Hannah, who is styled “the Prayer at Shiloh,” wears “justice and fame.”
  4. Esther, of course, has “fame, grace, favor and mercy.”

Hannah is paired with her husband, Elkana; Samuel, who had no wife, is not mentioned. Other interesting pairs (from a total of 11) are: Judah and Tamar (letters ז, ח), Joseph and Potiphar’s daughter (ט, י), David and Bathsheba (ק, ר) and Mordechai and Esther (ש, ת), most likely in keeping with the tradition that Mordecai was Esther’s lover, not uncle (b. Meg. 13a). Epithets are used sparingly – the payytan mentions some heroes by name: Potiphar’s daughter, Amram, Yocheved, Aaron, Zipporah, David and Moses (who is mentioned only through the wish that the bridegroom be diligent in studying Torah).

The text, with some minor corrections, is taken from Maagarim. A short commentary can be found in Ezra Fleischer, Shirat ha-qodesh ha-ivrit bi-yeme ha-benayyim, Jerusalem 1975, 161. I tried to mimic the prosody of the piyyut in the translation, with some success.

ובכן “ומשוש חתן על כלה”.

And so, “and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride”

אדרת מעטה הוד והדר כאיתן יאופד חתן.,

בנים ובנות בילדות ובזוקן כעדנה תחבק כלה.,

גיל ומשוש כיצא לשוח בשדה יעוטר חתן.,

דרך ישר וטוב כניתרוצצה בבנים תונהג כלה.

A mantle, a robe of glory and splendor, as the Strong one, will be girded on the Bridegroom

Boys and Girls, in youth and age, as the Young one, shall be embraced by the Bride

Cheerfulness and mirth, as the one who Went out to Meditate in the Field, will adorn the Bridgroom

Down the road of the one who is Straight and Good, as the one who Was Struggled in by Children, shall go the Bride

הון ועושר ומקנה כאיש תם ינתן לחתן

וכרחל ולאה אשר בנו ביית תבורך כלה

זרע ברכה ומלוכה כגור אריה יגזיע חתן

חניטים תאומים כפרץ וזרח ייחם כלה.

Endowments and Riches and Acquisitions, like the Plain Man, will be given to the Bridegroom

For as Rachel and Leah who built a Home will be blessed the Bride

Generation of blessing and kingdom like the Lion Cub will be sprouted by the Bridegroom

Identical offshoots as Peretz and Zerah will be sired by the Bride

טוב חן וחסד ורחמים כפורת ינתן לחתן.,

ילדי אהבה וחיבה כבת פוטיפרע תוחנן כלה.,

כבוד ויקר ומלכות וחוסן כעמרם תן לחתן.,

לולבי נבואה וסיגני כהונה כיוכבד תעמיד כלה.

Jolly-goodness, grace, and favor and mercy, like the Fruitful Bough, will be given to the Bridegroom

Kids of love and affection, like the Daughter of Potiphar’s, will grace the Bride

Honor and laud, kingdom and strength like Amram, give the Bridegroom

Lulavim of prophecy and princes of priesthood, as Yocheved, will be brought up by the Bride

משתעשע יום ולילה בתורת משה יהי חתן.,

נבונה וחכמה בכל מדע כציפורה תהא כלה.,

שרים עובדים ביראה כאהרן הכהן יצא מחתן.,

עדיים מעטה צדקה כאחות נחשון תילבש כלה.

May merry be made in the Torah of Moses day and night by the Bridegroom

Nimble-witted and wise in all knowledge as Zipporah shall be the Bride

Officers, who serve in awe, as Aaron the Priest, will come from the Bridegroom

Ornaments, the robe of justice, as the sister of Nahshon, will be worn by the Bride

פקוד וחון ברחמיך כאיש הרמתים בחדותו חתן.,

צדקה ותהילה תעט כמיתפללת בשילה תעדה כלה.,

קצינים עושה משפט וצדקה כדוד יעמיד חתן.,

רצוים ומרצים אהובים וידידים כבת-שבע תחניט כלה.

Put favor and visit in your mercy, as you did the man from Ramatayyim, the Bridegroom

Righteousness and Glory like the Prayer at Shiloh shall cover the Bride

Sergeants, who produce justice and charity, shall be brought up like David by the Bridegroom

Treasured and gladdening, loved and friendly, shall be ripened as Bat Sheva by the Bride

שם ויד ועטרת כאיש ימיני יתעטר חתן.,

תהילה וחן וחסד ורחמים כהדסה ינתן לכלה

Unending Fame, and a place, and a diadem as the Man of Jemin shall be put on by  the Bridegroom

Valor and grace, favour and mercy, shall be given, as Hadassah, to the Bride

A Quotation of Yerushalmi in a Judaeo-Arabic Manuscript

Few textual witnesses of the Palestinian Talmud exist. There is only one complete manuscript (MS Leiden Scaliger 3), and then another exemplar which includes order Zeraim (and tractate Sotah; MS Vatican Heb. 133), plus an assortment of fragments (now collated and described in Sussman, Otzar Kitvei Yad Talmudiyyim [Review Pending]). Quotations of Yerushalmi in medieval literature  are thus helpful in determining the original text of the Yerushalmi and in pointing out where early readers of the text thought an emendation or a paraphrase were in order. Most medieval quotations tend to be lifted verbatim from earlier quotations, mostly the commentary of R. Hananel and the code of R. Isaac Alfasi, and so any quotation not taken from these sources is especially valuable, as are quotations from Eastern works. The earlier, of course, the better.

Looking for midrashic material in a manuscript of Judaeo-Arabic sermons on the Torah, MS JTS 1803, I found a quotation of Yerushalmi, that I offer here for the first time (PDF). The manuscript (dated by the IMHM to the “12th-13th century”) is fragmented, and was obviously part of a larger compendium of sermons, similar to the Sheiltot, but in Arabic rather than Aramaic. Each sermon begins with a quotation from the Babylonian Talmud, and one, on Parshat Vayakhel, begins with a quotation from the Yerushalmi, clearly marked “Yerushalmi,” in large letters. Most of the material is not found in the medieval quotations I know of (which I found by using Moshe Pinchuk’s wonderful Yerushalmi Database), and there are no known genizah fragments of this sugiya. This quotation is 376 words long, and includes both Mishnah Shabbat 7:2 and some of the Yerushalmi ad loc (Ed. Jerusalem, p. 404, ll. 25-50).

The Mishnah in the quotation displays a “mixed” text type.  That the text type of the Mishnah here is not purely Palestinian shows that it was not originally part of a Yerushalmi manuscript, but was supplied later – either by the person who compiled the homilies in MS New York or by the copyist of the Yerushalmi MS used by the compiler. A similar phenomenon is apparent in MS Leiden itself, whose Mishnah may have been copied from MS Parma, as demonstrated by I. Z. Feintuch in 1976.

Like all other known Yerushalmi texts, the quotation offers essentially the same text found in MS Leiden as well as all the medieval authors who quote this text. Its value is in supplying corrections for the text found in MS Leiden, pointing out slight dialectical differences, and corroborating several readings added to MS Leiden by later readers. It also displays two corrupt readings which reflect a lack of knowledge with the Yerushalmi’s terminology and dialect. For example, where MS Leiden (p. 404, l. 25) explains that R. Ashian reported “the eyes of R. Aha went through the entire Torah and did not find that this thing was written” (אשגרת עיינה דר’ אחא בכל אוריתא ולא אשכח כת’ דא מילתא), the quotation reads that R. Ashian claims to have “closed the eyes of R. Aha every night” (אסגרת עיניה דר’ אחא בכל אורתא) and that he did not find this thing written. This reading makes little grammatical sense, and there is little apparent connection between the first and last clauses of the sentence. But the form אשגר עיניה was unfamiliar to a copyist, who emended it to something he understood (on this sentence, see Lieberman, Hayerushalmi Ki-fshuto, p. 128; Sokoloff, Dictionary of Jewish Palestinian Aramaic, p. 538a; Assis, Otzar Leshonot Yerushalmiyim, p. 170).

An interesting feature of the Yerushalmi text in the quotation is its agreement with emendations to MS Leiden. These agreements show us that at least some emendations to tractate Shabbat were based on other Manuscripts of Yerushalmi which we no longer have, and not on scholarly conjectures. This situation is similar to that of Order Zeraim which was emended according to MS Vatican 133, as demonstrated by E. Z. Melammed in 1981, and in accordance with the claims of the printers in the colophon to ed. Vienna.

For those interested, a longer form of this blog post is in the works.


In his book on Minhag in early Ashkenaz, I. M. Ta-Shema hid this in a footnote; I thought it would be of interest to the community.

It seems to me that the source of the [Ashkenazi] custom to separate the [marriage] cermony [and hold the betrothal ceremony on Friday, and the huppah on Saturday morning] is the early custom, which was apparently defunct by the 11th century, to sign the ketubah only after the marriage was consummated (בעילת מצווה). And see the words of the Italian payytan Amitai b. Shefatiah, in the 9th century:

ומה נאה לחתן ביום חתונתו

להראות טהרת בתולי אשתו

בראש תלוי לחתום בכתובתו

ולעשות שלימה שמחתו

עד יום צאת טבילה

And how fitting for a bridegroom on the day of his wedding

to show the very purity of his wife’s virginity

with his head held high (?) to sign his ketubah

and to make his happiness whole [i.e. to have sex with his wife]

until the day the immersion is due

(I. David, The Poems of Amitai, Jerusalem 1975, p. 23, ll. 227-229; my hasty translation)

And from this we learn two things:

(1) the ketubah was attested and became valid only after consummation; (2) at this time the ketubah was signed in public and was accompanied by a celebration, and was one of the high points of the marriage ceremonies [...] At the same time the blessing “who planted a nut” was said, see Halakhot Gedolot, ed. Hildesheimer, part II, Jerusalem 1980, p. 226.

I. M. Ta-Shema, Minhag Ashkenaz ha-Kadmon, p. 43 n. 50.

Edited 12 September @ 15:09; “mitzvah penetration” was changed to “consummation,” due to popular demand.

Postscript: Jonah Frankel, 1928-2012

The world of Jewish Studies and the Talmud Blog mourn the passing of Prof. Jonah Frankel, teacher, pioneer, scholar and Israel prize laureate. Frankel was born in Munich in 1928 and arrived in Palestine when the Nazis came to power. His doctoral dissertation, the first and actually only scholarly treatment of Rashi’s commentary on the Babylonian Talmud to date, remains the standard work of reference on this ubiquitous commentary. It was quoted extensively, thirty years later, by Prof. Israel Ta-Shma in his Sifrut ha-parshanit la-talmud. Frankel also collaborated with his father-in-law, Daniel Goldschmidt, on his editions of Jewish liturgical texts, and was working on an edition of the Ashkenazi Siddur for weekdays. He kept working on the latter project until very close to his death (I regret that I turned down the opportunity to work as his mouse-manipulator when he could not longer get it to do what he wanted); I understand the project is in good hands.

His greatest and lasting contribution to scholarship, however, was his introduction of methods taken from the study of literature to reading rabbinic stories. In many articles and then later, in books, Frankel applied the methods of New Criticism to stories that were supposed to be “history” or at best “folklore”. He insisted that they were nothing but “high literature” and that they deserved the best tools the discipline could give them. As such, he is the intellectual grandfather of almost every innovation in rabbinics since. Although New Criticism fell out of fashion and other methods took over, Frankel got his wish: rabbinic literature is recognized as “literature,” studied in university departments of Hebrew literature, and by literary scholars who do not specialize in Jewish Studies. ‘The Oven of Akhnai’, Rabbi Johanan and Resh Laqish, and Honi the Roofer (not circle-drawer) are household names not merely in academic circles, but also in almost every synagogue, study circle, adult education curriculum and beit midrash. Frankel’s work endures, and so his lips truly are speaking in the grave at this very moment. We hope to be able to host a “yeshivah on his grave,” here at the Talmud blog, in the future.

(The funeral was today, on Har Hamenuhot, in Jerusalem, at 4:30 PM).

Potty Mouth

Looking for material for my MA thesis, “Injuries and Battery in Tannaitic Law” – and thus avoiding working on the actual thesis – I came across this entertaining snippet from the recently published S. Emanuel, Teshuvot Maharam meRothenburg vaHaveirav, §308 (pp. 641-642, author unknown):

One who calls his peer a mamzer, should leave the synagogue, and fast Monday and Thursday and Monday, and receive lashes after every fast, and ask for forgiveness at the last one, and give 12 dinar to the Kahal, and walk on (perhaps: to) his (the plaintiff’s) mother’s grave in the presence of 10 (men) and say (at the grave): “everything I spoke against your honor (kevodekh) was a lie.” And (the insulted party) can waive his share and the Kahal can waive their share as well. And the same law applies to a woman, but she is not whipped but she should pay the plaintiff 5 dinar for each lash, and the same applies for every law. And this is the case if for instance she is a widow, but if she is married, and owns no property, then she should write (a promissory note) that if she is widowed or divorced – she will pay. But “A Whore’s son (הורן זון)” is not like “Mamzer.”

Emanuel quotes the Nimmukin of R. Menahem of Mirzburg, the laws of shaming (106b), in n. 4:

There is no law concerning calling a man a whore’s son, since all he said was: you are a son of a whore, and perhaps his mother was simply promiscuous, or perhaps she was not married, but he should not(?) degrate himself and prostrate himself on his mother’s grave.

Two interesting items here are (1) there is a grave and severe penalty for calling someone a Mamzer, although Talmudic jurisprudence rules quite unequivocally that shaming with words does not count as shaming, and (2) that the offence was apparently directed not at the person being shamed but at his mother.

This of course leads one to suspect that in fact this was a penalty for calling someone a “son of a whore” and not simply a Mamzer. A mamzer could have come from any number of forbidden unions, all odious but not all casting shame upon the mother – the child of a rape victim, for instance. But calling someone a “son of a whore” insults their very own mother directly, in which case redress of the injured party is called for.

My guess is “son of a whore” was just too common an insult to force anyone who uttered it to drag him/herself over to the graveyard and apologize to the dead mother. But it might also mean that in this cultural milieu, Hebrew insults were stronger and more real than German ones.

Karaite Mishnah (and other friends too)

Ofra Tirosh-Becker, Rabbinic Excerpts in Medieval Karaite Literature, 2 Vols. Jerusalem: Mossad Bialik, 2012, 1219 pp., NIS 111.

Everyone knows about the Karaites. They need little introduction: Ninth century Jews tired of geonic hegemony, going back to scripture to find law and independence. But there is very little beyond that which has trickled outside of the academic circles that busy themselves with the Karaite movement, despite its great importance to the study of rabbinic Judaism.

There is much Karaite material waiting to be read. Simply read.  The great age of Karaite scholarship – in Jerusalem and its environs in the tenth-eleventh centuries – produced a great mass of work, fascinating and useful not only for students of Karaism. However, most Karaite commentaries lack editions of any kind; the Karaite communities have little interest in their own literature, and not much of it was published, while even less is in print today.

“It is one of the ironies of fate […] that the Karaites, the great fighters against the oral Torah, allowed me, with the grace of God, to reconstruct a new segment of the literature of the oral law.” Thus Menahem Kahana in his introduction to Sifre Zutta Deuteronomy (Jerusalem: Magnes, 2003). Kahana discovered this midrash by mistake in a survey of Hebrew manuscripts in Russian libraries, during the first days of Soivet perestroika. Kahana identified fragments catalogued as “Midrash on Deuteronomy,” as belonging to the commentary on Deuteronomy by the Karaite Yeshuah b. Yehudah. But he also discovered a long-lost tannaitic midrash quoted in them as well: Sifre Zutta Deuteronomy, which he proceeded to publish, with an extensive commentary and study.

This is just one dark corner of the Karaite world that Kahana helped expose. But he was not alone in this enterprise. Ofra Tirosh-Becker, a linguist by training, has been working on one aspect of this Karaite material for many years. Her doctoral dissertation – under the same name – was approved in 2000.  In it, she discusses as many quotations of rabbinic works in Karaite literature as she could find.

Our book is an expansion of this dissertation, both in terms of the breadth of the corpus of quotations in vol. 2 and in terms of the “philological and linguistic discussions,” in vol. 1. Tirosh-Becker discusses such questions as the ways in which Karaite scholars treated rabbinic material, whether or not they forged it for their own purposes (usually not, but there is one fake barayta forged by Sahel b. Masliah, mentioned on p. 106-107), and what they called it when they quoted it (usually, “the first ones said”, qâl âlâwalûn). She also devotes an extensive chapter to the question of the script employed in Karaite works: Karaite writers used both Hebrew and Arabic scripts, and wrote both languages in both scripts. This is of importance to the linguist, as many rabbinic sources are transliterated into Arabic script, allowing for the reconstruction of the reading tradition of certain words (e.g.: the reading ribbi is attested, as in all other rabbinic sources – and not rabbi; the letter ג is transliterated as jim and as ghain, depending on its positon in the word: gevul but reghilim).

Additionally, the Karaites employed some Hebrew diacritics in their Arabic to signify phonemes that do no exist in Arabic, like Hebrew vowels, and the rafe sign over the Arabic bah. But this is of importance to the cultural historian, too: why did Rabbinites use only Hebrew script, and Karaites Arabic? Was it an economic divide, or an ideological one? Tirosh-Becker discusses some previous research cursorily, but essentially leaves the field for others to till. She makes that work easier, too: a description of all the manuscripts employed is appended to vol. 1 (chapter 14), and it allows for a survey of material where interesting discussions of rabbinic material might show up. More such discussions abound – the chapters on nikkud (10) and cantillation marks (9) are fascinating as well. Tirosh-Becker also identifies errors that testify both to the oral recitation of the texts, as well as some errors that clearly point to a written provenance of the same texts (I wonder if Karaites stopped copying from the rabbinic texts themselves at some point and started copying from each other; we do know that many rabbinic texts were owned by the Karaite synagogue in Cairo – but the fake barayta was copied over and over as well).

But the great treasure of the book is vol. 2. Spanning over 800 pages, this volume  includes all the quotations of rabbinic literature in Karaite works Tirosh-Becker was able to find.  She was careful to leave the script as she found it – no transliterations for you! – with or without all the diacritics. In a feat of typesetting (it seems the book was created entirely on MS Word), she was able to reproduce the Hebrew diacritics, Arabic diacritics, and scripts accurately and precisely. She also points out where the quotations diverge from the MS chosen by “Maagarim” to represent the work. This is another area where a Talmudist should intervene, and check the quotations to see if they match any one text-type of the Mishnah.

Tirosh-Becker also publishes a large number of quotations from the previously-lost Mekhilta of Rabbi Shimon b. Yohai. This is a real find, and the author promises an article soon with Menahem Kahana on their value (see pp. 112-115 for a discussion, and pp. 856-882 for the quotations). There is a disproportionately large amount of quotations from this Mekhilta in the corpus, pointing to its prominence in Babylonia (indeed, the Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael was sometimes called “the Palestinian Mekhilta”). Many of these quotations are from parts of the Mekhilta not attested in known Genizah fragments, and were reconstructed from the fourteenth century Yemenite Midrash Hagadol twice: by D. Z. Hoffmann, and by J. N. Epstein. The latter was more conservative in his reconstructions, but several quotations discovered by Tirosh-Becker actually support Hoffmann’s more extensive reconstructions. However, these quotations, as far as I could see, are not marked in any way as derived from the Mekhilta, and in some cases (see e.g. pp. 859, 860-862) I’m curious why the author thinks they are from this work and not simply from one of the Talmuds, which contain similar material.

There is also one quotation from the lost Mekhilta to Deuteronomy (1124), a handful of quotations from the Palestinian Talmud (Talmud llshâm), and a long quotation with the story of the Oven of Aknai – a rallying point for laughing Karaites everywhere (1172-1175). The rest of the rabbinic library is proportionately represented too: Mishnah, Sifra, Sifre (Num and Deut), Bavli, Midrash Agada and even some Tosefta.

The unimaginatively named Rabbinic Excerpts in Medieval Karaite Literature is now another resource scholars of rabbinics must consult on matters of text, readings and reception history of the rabbinic text. But it is also a repository of a culture negotiating its relationship with revered predecessors represented in this world by bitter enemies; a story of cultural appropriation and literary positioning. In that sense, Tirosh-Becker’s book is a collection of artifacts still waiting to be read.

And the Epstein Goes to…

(Scroll down for the most exciting Talmud news in 30 years!)

As is the custom, the friends and members of the Talmud department convened this Sunday to award prizes and remember the founder of the department – J.N. Epstein – and one of its master teachers, E.S. Rosenthal. The Epstein prize was awarded to Ms. Shikma Kaspi, who gave a paper on the increasingly scholastic nature of the debate on the penalty for unintentional murderer in rabbinic law. Kaspi claimed that if biblical law was interested in either apprehending an intentional murderer or hiding the unintentional one in a sacred precinct, rabbinic law – having no such sacred precincts – was increasingly interested in the details and particulars of the mistaken act. Kaspi pointed out that B. Mak 7b brings matters to an absurd conclusion, when – like a 9th grade physics teacher – it maps out the various positions and vectors of a meat-cleaver swung over a mishappen butcher’s shoulder. Kaspi took it to mean that the heat of the moment was no longer a concern for the sages. (Following Isaac Baer, she could have also pointed out that rabbinic though understood the cities of refuge to be not only a kind of protective custody, but a penalty in and of itself, following Greek law).

Dr. Ronni Goldstein of the Bible department was awarded the Rosenthal prize. Goldstein discussed several Rabbinic Hebrew words that are better explained by Akkadian. This continues an effort begun already by B.A. Levine, in his awe-inspiringly short doctoral dissertation, and Goldstein added several more words to this list. Most striking, in my opinion, is the Tannaitic reading of Lev. 24:16: “the man (=the blasphemer) shall be put to death; the entire assembly shall stone him with stones”. In Sifra this verse is read thus: “all the assembly shall be his enemies”. Now, on the face of it, this simply means that since the verse already says that the man shall be put to death, the second clause, that of stoning, is superfluous. Additionally, the requirement to stone the blasphemer has already been stated in 24:16. And so, to avoid  superfluity, the tannaim derive a moral lesson from the verse. Goldstein showed that in Akkadian both ragamu and bel debabu (I misplaced the handout, ANE specialists, please correct me in the comments) have legal connotations: the first is a law-suit or a complaint, and the second is a legal adversary. Tannaitic Hebrew contained both terms, and the Tannaim read רגום as meaning not “stoning” but “suing”. The homily means therefore: “the entire community shall be his legal adversaries”, pointing out that the blasphemer also, apparently, sinned against the entire community.

In the news department, Prof. Menahem Kahana used the occasion to announce that the catalog of all Mishnah, Tosefta, Yerushalmi and Bavli fragments is now in print, and even held up a copy of the title page to prove it. Similar announcements have been made in the past (see, e.g., Yaakov Sussman’s article in Teuda 1 (1980) and its continuation in Mehkerei Talmud 3 (2006)), but this time – as sources confirm – it is for real. The real question, however, is whether the database used to create the printed catalog will be released in the near future as well.