Category Archives: Reviews

The presidential seder. Not everyone has moved to the living room yet.

Between Furniture in the Mishnah and the Mishnah on Furniture: On Kirshenbaum, ‘Furniture of the Home in the Mishnah’- Guest Post by Yair Furstenberg

Karen Kirshenbaum, Furniture of the Home in the Mishnah (Hebrew; Bar Ilan University Press, 2013).

It has recently become quite common to find families moving their Pesach Seder from the dining room table to the living room couches. At least in part this step is motivated by a keen interest in conducting what seems to be a more authentic Seder, as shaped by the rabbis two millennia ago along the lines of the Greco Roman symposium. Consequently, the stiff seating arrangement around the alter-like table is replaced by a more liberated recline at small personal ones. Continue reading

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Outside Aphrodite’s Bathhouse: On Rachel Neis’ ‘The Sense of Sight in Rabbinic Culture’- Guest Post by Zachary Braiterman

Rachel Neis, The Sense of Sight in Rabbinic Culture: Jewish Ways of Seeing in Late Antiquity, Cambridge University Press, 2013

NeisAs a devoted reader, I was flattered by Yitz and Shai’s invitation to review for The Talmud Blog the new book by Rachel Neis, arguably the first full length study ever on “rabbinic aesthetics” or “rabbinic visual culture.” As a scholar trained in modern Jewish thought and philosophy, I have explored in my own work the intersection of art, philosophical aesthetics, and Jewish culture.  It’s on that basis that I was asked to read Rachel Neis’ book. Why not?

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A Review of Eyal Ben-Eliyahu’s “Between Borders”- Guest Post by Hanan Mazeh

Eyal Ben-Eliyahu, Between Borders: The Boundaries of Eretz-Israel in the Consciousness of the Jewish People in the time of the Second Temple and in the Mishnah and Talmud Period, Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi Press, 2012, 348 pp. $27.

Eyal Ben-Eliyahu‘s Between Borders is the kind of book which deals with such fundamental questions that it makes you wonder how it is that they had not been seriously addressed before.  Based on his 2007 Hebrew University dissertation, the book aims to examine the territorial borders of the land of Israel as reflected in a wide array of Palestinian texts – from biblical books through the Amoraic era – and tries to formulate the different concepts of “Eretz Israel” that these borders represent.

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A Review of Weiss Halivni, The Formation of the Babylonian Talmud- Guest Post by Zvi Septimus

halivni picDavid Weiss Halivni, TheFormation of the Babylonian Talmud (trans. and ed. Jeffrey L. Rubenstein; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). 312 (+35) pages

David Weiss Halivni began work on his Talmud commentary, Sources and Traditions, in 1968 with the publication of a volume on Seder Nashim. In the forty-five years since, Halivni has published an additional seven volumes, covering Seder Moed and Seder Nezikin. Continue reading

Fair and Fowl: A Review of ‘Tractates Tamid, Middot and Qinnim’ by Dalia Marx – Guest Post by Ilana Kurshan

marx reviewDalia Marx, Tractates Tamid, Middot and Qinnim. A Feminist Commentary on the Babylonian Talmud, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013,  XII + 258 pages. €89.

A few weeks ago I was learning daf yomi while nursing my daughter when I came upon the following Talmudic passage, which begins with a quote from the Song of Songs: “‘Our little sister has no breasts.’ Rabbi Yohanan said: This refers to Eilam, who merited to learn but not to teach” (Pesachim 87a).” My infant daughter was lying bare-skinned on my breast, and I looked down at her as I puzzled over this passage. Why is having no breasts analogous to learning but not teaching? 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

Daf Yomi 4 Kids: A Simulacrum of a Simulacrum of Talmud Study- Guest Post by Yoel Finkelman

dafyomikids1Recently, my seven-year old son was invited to his friend’s house on a Shabbat afternoon for a siyum. I asked this child’s father what the siyum was on. “Oh,” he responded, “He finished Berakhot in daf yomi.” My jaw dropped. He’s a bright kid and all, but I hadn’t realized what kind of a rare talmudic genius my son was playing soccer with.  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

Review of Elizabeth Shanks Alexander, ‘Gender and Timebound Commandments in Judaism’- Guest Post by Raphael Magarik

ShanksImplicit in the title of Elizabeth Shanks Alexander’s new book, Gender and Timebound Commandments in Judaism, is the question: What does gender have to do with “time-bound, positive commandments”? What motivates rabbinic texts to rule that women are exempt from those mitzvot? And as the phrase “in Judaism” implies, this question arrives entangled in important arguments over how Jewish women ought to practice today. Continue reading

Rabbinic Spiritual Capital: A Review of ‘Judaea-Palaestina, Babylon and Rome: Jews in Antiquity’

Oppenheimer volumeBenjamin Isaac and Yuval Shahar (eds.), Judaea-Palaestina, Babylon and Rome: Jews in Antiquity (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012).

This volume is a collection of seventeen articles presented at a 2009 conference held at Tel Aviv University in honor of Aharon Oppenheimer on the occasion of his retirement. Oppenheimer is known to scholars of ancient Judaism and Christianity thanks to his work on a vast range of topics, many of which are represented by the articles in this book. Continue reading