The newly founded center for Genizah Research at the University of Haifa will hold the second conference of the research group on “Aggadic Midrash in the Communities of the Genizah” on Wednesday and Thursday next week, 15-16/1/2014 . The conference will present the fruits of the group, as well as lectures by scholars who deal with the subject and adjacent topics such as the relationship between Piyyut and Midrash, the question of oral homilies and sermons, the representation of Midrash in Judeo Arabic materials, and more.The first day will also include an event marking the recent publication of Uri Ehrlich’s edition of the Amidah prayer according to Genizah fragments . On the second day there will be a special session on the use of new computational tools for classifying and analysing material from the Genizah from Qumran.
If you find yourself foraging for what to read on the final Saturday afternoon of daylight savings time, here are some exciting-looking articles that recently came out. Enjoy, and feel free to leave your comments below. Continue reading
It is our pleasure to announce an upcoming series of classes that we are presenting along with the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education in New York. On Wednesdays October 30th, November 6th, 13th and 20th Prof. David Brodsky of Brooklyn College’s Department of Judaic Studies will be teaching a class entitled “Rabbinic Literature and Its Dis-Contents: Situating the Genres of Talmud and Midrash in Their Civilizational Context:” Continue reading
With pretty much all of my BA requirements behind me, I’m happy to finally have time to do a little web-logging. This note is based on some studying I did with Shai two and a half years ago. I present it here both to share it with the Talmud Blog community and also in order to receive feedback. Continue reading
One of the many points of feedback that we’ve gotten during the World Congress of Jewish Studies, going on now in Jerusalem, is that it would be nice if we also posted some of what we posted on our Facebook page to the blog as well. In that spirit, here’s a list of some of the important Hebrew publications that came out over the past week or two. Continue reading
Over the past two years of blogging here at the new Talmud Blog, it has been more than a pleasure for us to meet interested readers from all over the world and various walks of life. While most of these “meetings” and discussions have only been held virtually, through our own events and other outlets we have also had the opportunity to meet in person. Next week, as scholars of Jewish Studies converge on Jerusalem for the 16th World Congress of Jewish Studies, we will be holding a Talmud Blog event catered to readers of the blog who may be in town as well as to a larger general audience:
“?מה יש לתלמוד להציע לתרבות הישראלית”
“What does the Talmud have to Offer Israeli Culture?”
Yair and Moulie’s conversation will based on Moulie’s current project, “The Beginning of Talmudic Culture,” and will include a discussion of Yerushalmi Hagigah 1:7.
The event, which will take place in Hebrew, is kindly being hosted by The Carousela- a cafe/restaurant in Rehavia- and will take place next Sunday, July 28th, at 7:30 pm. Please RSVP in the form below or through the Facebook event.
[All are also invited to Ophir's concert on the following Wednesday (the 31st)!]
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
With Shavuot behind us, no holidays on the horizon until September, and summer break in many other parts of the world, it’s high time for conference season here in the Holy Land. Here’s a list of what will be going over the next few weeks.
First off is The Fourteenth International Orion Symposium on “The Religious Worldviews Reflected in the Dead Sea Scrolls,” to take place on May 28-30 at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. From the conference website:
…This symposium will address aspects of the religious thought reflected in the texts of the Judean Desert in their wider religious context. Comparison with other ancient writings affords the opportunity to refine our understanding. Papers will carefully analyze specific texts and deal with broader themes and topics that shed new light on the worldviews, beliefs, and forms of religious experience reflected in the Scrolls…
The full program is available here. Those who won’t be able to make it can be comforted by the fact that Orion is usually pretty good about putting out conference volumes (see here for the most recent one).
At the same time, there will be a conference in memory of the scholar of aggada, Yona Frankel. The conference starts the evening of May 28th at the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem, and continues the following day at Ben Gurion university in Beer Sheva.
The following week, on June 2-4, Tel Aviv University’s Center for Religious and Interreligious Studies will be having a joint conference with The Cambridge University Project for Religion in the Humanities entitled “‘With God on Our Side’: Holy War and Sacred Struggle in Judaism, Christianity and Islam A Collaborative International Conference in Interreligious Studies” here’s the schedule. This is the first conference to come out of a new joint venture in interreligious studies of the two universities.
And on that same week there will be a conference in honor of the folklore-rabbinicist, Galit Hasan-Rokem in Jerusalem (June 5-6).
Later in June, on the 25-27, Hebrew University will be hosting a conference entitled “Patristic Studies in the Twenty-first Century: An International Conference to Mark the 50th Anniversary of AIEP/IAPS.” From the preliminary schedule, this looks like it will be kind of mega-conference with big international scholars participating and also a fascinating mix of typical academic research and also more reflective theology. Our very own Ophir will be speaking on “The Ritualization of Narration in Jewish and Christian Liturgical Poetry” on the second day.
And most importantly, stay tuned for information about a special Talmud blog event, also in Jerusalem, on June 27th.
Given this blog’s general preference for piyyutim of the Qaliri, it seems like the approaching holiday of Passover would be an appropriate time to discuss the work of his predecessor (and according to some traditions, his teacher) Yannai. Thanks to the placement of his piyyut “קרב יום” in the Ashkenazic Haggadah, Yannai is perhaps the classic payytan most heavily associated with the holiday of Passover. Interestingly, despite the fact that it is now sung on Passover, Yannai did not write that piyyut for the holiday. Rather, it is part of a larger composition that the payytan wrote for the Palestinian Torah reading that started at Exodus 12:29, “ויהי בחצי הלילה.”
However, Yannai did compose a whole slew of piyyutim for the holiday of Passover itself: Rabinovitz’s edition of Yannai’s piyyutim includes two works written for Shacharit of the first day of the holiday; an additional two poems for Musaf or Aravit, which riff off of the Song of Songs; and another work written for the Sabbath of Chol haMoed. Here, I’d like to share some notes on his “first” composition for the first day of Passover.
1) The reading for the first day of Passover in the Palestinian tradition was the section beginning with “שור או כשב,” Lev. 22:27. For Yannai, this meant that he had to connect some relatively esoteric sacrificial laws- e.g., the need to wait until the animal’s eighth day before bringing it as a sacrifice, and the prohibition against sacrificing a parent and its offspring on the same day- with a discussion of the holiday at hand. Yannai manages to do so by culling nicknames from these verses as he “songifies” parts of the Exodus narrative, specifically the section on the plague of the first-born. In Yannai’s idiom, the Israelites become the “שְׁוֹמְרֵי מִצְוַות שׁוֹר וְכֶשֶֹב וְעֵז כִּי יִוֶלֵד” (line 5) and the “תְּמֵידֵי מִלִּשְׁחוֹט מוֹלִיד וְנוֹלָד בְּיוֹם אֶחָד” (line 18).
Similarly, we read lines like the following (6): “זַעַם נָגוֹף שַׁתָּה לְעוֹבְדֵי לִבְהֵמָה // חֶמְלַת רָפוֹא שַׁתָּה בְּעוֹבְדֵי בִּבְהֵמָה”; those who worship animals- that is, the Egyptians- were killed, while those worship through animals were saved. A similar tactic is used by Yannai in his composition for the first day of Rosh haShanah, when the same Torah portion was read. There, Yannai hopes that just as God accepts animals after their eighth day, so too will he accept those who are circumcised on the eighth day (pg. 202, line 6): “כְּבַשְׁמִינִי וְהָלְאָה יֵירָצֶה // לַחֲתוּמֵי בְרִית הַיּוֹם תְּרַצֶּה.”
2) Stronger parallels can be found in Yannai’s aforementioned “ויהי בחצי הלילה.” At lines 5 and 15 of the Passover version of “שור או כשב”, Yannai builds off a midrash according to which the sons killed during the plague of the first-born son included also those who were not-yet-born:
…טָובְחָךְ כָּל בְּכוֹר הַנוֹלָד וְעָתִיד לְהִיוָּולֵד // יֵשַׁע לִבְנָךְ בְּכוֹרָךְ הִיוָּולֵד
פְּקֻודָּתּם בְּאַכְזְרִיוּת כֵּן עַשְֹתָּה // צֶאֱצָאֵי מֵעֱיהֶם לֹא חַסְתָּה…
Yannai’s language in “ויהי בחצי הלילה” is extremely similar (14): “פְּגָרִים מֵתִים לָמוֹ עָשִֹיתָ // צוּרַת כָּל בְּכוֹר גַּם בְּמֵעֵיהֶם לֹא חַסְת.” In a note, Rabinovitz references the earliest extant midrash that contains such a theme- the Tanhumic section of Exodus Rabbah, written at least a few hundred years after Yannai:
.ומהו שאמ’ “לנגוף”? מלמד שאף המעוברות שהיו ראויות לילד הפילו ומתו האמהות; והמשחית יצא וחבל כל מה שמצא ואין נגוף אלא עוברות, שנאמ’ ונגפו אשה הרה ויצאו ילדיה
The midrash connects the root “נג”פ” used in Exodus 12:23 with the use of the root in 21:22 in order to make the plague even harsher. Still, what we find in Yannai is a bit different. Unlike the midrash, Yannai doesn’t discuss the mothers of the first-born, nor does he get into the complicated question of “Who Brought the Plague of the Firstborn?“
3) As an exegete, Yannai looked for a way to rationalize the harshness of the tenth plague. Rabinovitz terms Yannai’s reasoning as “measure-for-measure,” according to which the Egyptian killing of the Israelite children justified the killing of the Egyptian offspring (14): “שַֹמוּ לְמוֹלִידִים תַּחַת אֲבָנִים // עוֹד לַיְאוֹר הִשְלִיכוּ וַולדֵי בָנִים.”
While this reasoning seems most natural, one would be hard-pressed to find it used by the rabbis. Louis Feldman, in an article comparing the rationale for the tenth plague offered by the rabbis and others, cites a rabbinic tradition from the fifth-century Pesiqta de-Rab Kahana according to which the first-born Egyptians killed some 600,000 of their own in response to Pharaoh’s refusal to release the Israelites and avert their deaths. This seems to be one of the few “justifications” for the deaths of the first-born found in the early rabbinic corpus, and it doesn’t really even seek to do that explicitly. Tellingly, the rabbinic traditions surrounding the tenth plague actually do more of the opposite, enlarging the number of those killed and creating an image of God as more powerful. Adding to those mentioned by the Torah, the rabbis include: first-born daughters, first-born children of second marriages and of illegitimate relationships (one is reminded of Abdu, the protagonist of an early Etgar Keret story…), the oldest of every family regardless of whether or not he or she was born first, the first-born children of non-Egyptians living in Egypt- even first-born children who were already dead.
Yannai’s “measure-for-measure” approach is found in other Jewish poems from Late Antiquity. Yahalom and Sokoloff‘s edition of Aramaic poetry includes an interesting poem told from the perspective of God in the first person as he speaks to Moses in the heavens (lines 7-11):
זרק אין הוא / בנהרה מיינוקייה
[חשבן אחשב עמיה / במה דחשב [..ייה
טירנוס אין הוא / על כל בנייה
יתיב משעבד להון / בטינה ובליבנה
כל בכוריו אתקטל / בפלגות לילייה
If he throws \ the children in the river
I will reckon with him \ like he reckoned with the [bo]ys
If he is tyranical \ with all of the boys
As he sits and enslaves them \ with bricks and mortar
All of his first-born I will kill \ in the middle of the night
The rabbis, Yannai, and the anonymous author of this Aramaic poem all view the tenth plague more as a punishment for the Egyptians than as a way of convincing Pharaoh to free the Israelites. Yet unlike the rabbis, the poets rationalize the punishment by showing how it was met out measure-for-measure. It is worth highlighting how the Aramaic poem goes as far as depicting God as not necessarily even wanting to punish the Egyptians in such a manner: God says that he will punish the Egyptians if (“אין”) Pharaoh throws the children in the river.
[Also in Aramaic, the Syriac church father Ephrem used an imagery that similarly rationalized the harshness of the punishment in his commentary to Exodus, ad loc: "ܕܐܬܡܠܝ ܢܗܪܐ ܒܘܟܪ̈ܝ ܥܒܪ̈ܝܬܐܼ܂ ܐܬܡܠܝܘ ܩܒܪܝ ܡܨܪ̈ܝܐ ܡܢ ܒܘܟܪ̈ܐ ܕܡܨܪ̈ܝܬܐ"- "Just as the river had been filled with the firstborn of the Hebrew women, Egyptian tombs were filled with the firstborn of the Egyptian women."]
4) Lastly, so as not to end on such a dismal note, here’s my favorite rendition of Yannai’s “קרב יום,” featuring the hassidic serenades of a somewhat distant side-curled relative of mine: