English, Reviews

Weiss and Stav’s “The Return of the Missing Father”

Haim Weiss and Shira Stav, The Return of the Missing Father: A New Reading of a Chain of Stories from the Babylonian Talmud (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 2018) – Review by Mira Balberg

“Talmudic stories are amazing!” I promised a class of fifteen college freshman who, two years ago, took a seminar with me on the cultural history of marriage. By this point in the course we had already read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji, Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll House, and other world-class masterpieces: I was finally about to introduce them to my little corner of the world and read with them stories about marriage from the Babylonian Talmud. It was only natural to pick the seven stories in Kettubot 62b-63a, which all relate to the tension between marriage and family life on the one hand, and the study of Torah (which usually involves long absences from home) on the other hand. But the group of students – all brilliant and highly enthusiastic students hand-picked for an honors program in the Humanities – were not impressed. The discussion, which has normally been lively and exciting, was languid and the students’ comments were predictable and trite. When I pressed, one courageous student said: “I don’t really know what there is to say about these stories. They are so… short.” And another said: “I just feel like I got it after the first story. It’s good to study Torah but don’t neglect your wife. That the message, right?” Continue reading


Prof. Yaakov Elman Z”L, 1943-2018

I just received the terrible news that Professor Yaakov Elman has passed away. The following funeral details have been sent by Professor Shalom Carmy: Monday, July 30th, 12:30pm at Kehilla Chapels, 60 Brighton 11th Street Brooklyn (click here for directions). Continue reading

English, Guest Posts, Reviews

David Shyovitz’s “A Remembrance of His Wonders”

David Shyovitz, A Remembrance of His Wonders: Nature and the Supernatural in Medieval Ashkenaz, reviewed by Miri Fenton


After reading David Shyovitz’s excellent article on werewolves, and attending his lecture at the World Congress of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem this summer, I was very excited to read his first book. In A Remembrance of His Wonders: Nature and the Supernatural in Medieval Ashkenaz, published earlier this year by the University of Pennsylvania Press, Shyovitz combines creative philosophical thinking and close textual reading to write a new and engaging intellectual history of medieval Ashkenaz.

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English, Guest Posts, Methodology

It Functions, and that’s (almost) All: Another Look at “Tagging the Talmud”


Itay Marienberg-Milikowsky is currently a visiting scholar at the Interdisciplinary Center for Narratology, Universität Hamburg, where he conducts his post-doc research entitled “The Rise of  Narrativity in Talmudic Literature: Computational Perspectives.” This is our third post in an ongoing series on Digital Humanities and Rabbinic Literature.

In Alfred Döblin’s famous novel Berlin, Alexanderplatz, a certain Franz Biberkopf rejoins the modern city after a prolonged incarceration, where he is astonished by the relentless, alienating pace of change. In time, Biberkopf gradually becomes entrapped in a net of forces stronger than himself, and his bewilderment is reflected in the splitting of his voice – or, maybe, the narrator’s voice – into two (if not more) contradictory points of view. Thus, the telegraph is described in one sentence as “astonishing, clever, tricky,” while in a subsequent sentence, we read: “It’s hard to get enthusiastic about all this; it functions, and that’s all” (p. 76). Continue reading

English, Guest Posts

Natural Language Processing of Rabbinic Texts: Contexts, Challenges, Opportunities

The Talmud Blog is happy to continue our series on the interface of Digital Humanities and the study of Rabbinic Literature with a post by Marton Ribary of University of Manchester.

I read Michael Satlow’s enthusiastic report on the Classical Philology Goes Digital Workshop with great pleasure. I am delighted to see how the study of Rabbinic literature moves towards the use of digital tools and especially Natural Language Processing (NLP) methods. Below I shall sketch the background of NLP methods applied to Rabbinic literature and what we can learn from projects concentrating on other classical linguistic data, notably Latin. I shall briefly discuss the enormous obstacles Rabbinic literature poses even compared to Latin, which means that our expectations to achieve meaningful results in standard 3-5 year research projects should be very moderate. Nevertheless, I shall argue that we should dream big and aim for courageous projects accompanied by an outward-looking strategy in order to attract big corporate money. Continue reading

English, Guest Posts

Digital Humanities and Rabbinic Literature

The Talmud Blog is happy to be hosting a series on the interface of Digital Humanities and the study of Rabbinic Literature. Our first post comes from Prof. Michael Satlow, of Brown University. 

The other week I attended a workshop called Classical Philology Goes Digital Workshop in Potsdam, Germany. The major goal of the workshop, which was also tied to the Humboldt Chair of Digital Humanities, was to further the work of creating and analyzing open texts of the “classics”, broadly construed. We have been thinking about adding natural language processing (including morphological and syntactic tagging – or, as I learned at the workshop, more accurately “annotation”) to the Inscriptions of Israel/Palestine project. While we learned much and are better positioned to add this functionality, I was most struck by how far the world of “digital classical philology,” focused mainly on texts, has progressed, and it got me thinking about the state of our own field. Continue reading

English, Postscripts

Forked Lightning

On Shabbat Shuva 5777, the incomparable scholar of Judaism, Jacob Neusner, returned to his Maker. From his histories, to his comprehensive translations and studies of rabbinic texts, his biographies, his thematic studies, his theologies and taxonomies, introductions and invitations, personal ruminations and reflections, interfaith writings, methodological and theoretical treatments, and, of course, his vigorous polemics, Neusner’s output was simply astounding. Continue reading

Talk of the Town

“We Read Thus”: On Hachi Garsinan and Learning Talmud in the 21st century


A screenshot from Hachi Garsinan 2.0: a synopsis of b. Bab. Kam. 89a (left) and a genizah fragment from Oxford, Heb.c.21/31-36, with a marginal note in Judaeao-Arabic

Since its creation, the text of the Talmud has been the object of critical inquiry. Amoraim inquired after the exact wording of Tannaitic texts, Geonim struggled to establish the correct version of the Oral Talmud, as did the Rishonim with their written copies. The advent of philology, from the renaissance on, prompted the collection and collation of manuscript copies of the Talmud as well as scholarly emendations and corrections. The Vilna Shas is the product of many centuries of scholarly work, pious and less-so, presented to the discerning student in what was the best technology available. Continue reading

Ruminations, עברית

מחשבות לרגל יום הולדתו ה727 של כתב יד ליידן

השבוע לפני שבע מאות עשרים ושבע שנה, בכ”ה באדר א’ שנת ה’ אלפים מ”ט (1289), השלים ר’ יחיאל ברבי יקותיאל ברבי בנימין הרופא את העתקת כתב היד המפואר של הירושלמי, המכונה כיום “כתב יד ליידן”. דומה שאין עוד כתב יד של חיבור מן הספרות הרבנית שמשך אליו תשומת לב מחקרית כמו כתב יד ליידן. העובדה שזהו כתב היד היחיד שבידינו המכסה את הירושלמי כולו מראשו ועד סופו, חברה לצירוף המקרים ההיסטורי יוצא הדופן שגילגל אותו אל בית הדפוס של בומברג בונציה, שם הוגה על פי “תלת טפוסין אחרנין” – שלושה כתבי יד אחרים – ועל פי נוסחו המוגה והמורכב הודפס הירושלמי לראשונה בשנת רפ”ג, 1523. מכיוון שהירושלמי כולו לא הגיע אלינו בדרך אחרת הפכה היסטוריה פתלתלה זו לחזותו היחידה של הירושלמי כפי שהוא עומד לפנינו היום. יחודיותו ויחידיותו של כתב יד ליידן נחגגו על ידי חוקרי התלמוד במאה השנים האחרונות, והאחרון והחשוב שבהם הוא פרופ’ יעקב זוסמן.

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