English, Technology

Hebrew Manuscripts Galore

And now for some more good digitization news from Israel.
Yisrael Dubitsky of the National Library of Israel announces:

We are delighted to announce that The National Library of Israel’s online catalogue now includes more than 2000 linked records to freely available digitized Hebrew manuscripts online (post-dating the Dead Sea Scrolls) from institutions around the world. These represent many more Judaica records than are currently available through either the Digital Scriptorium,  the Catalogue of Digitized Medieval Manuscripts  or similar digitized manuscript aggregators.

The link for the National Library of Israel catalog is http://jnul.huji.ac.il/heb/aleph500.
Find your MS under כתבי יד or Manuscripts, and if there is a digital image, you will find a link – if they have it!

English, Readings, Recent Publications

New Iranica Antiqua and a Hebrew Inscription on Ahura Mazda’s Tunic

For Talmudists interested in the Bavli’s Sasanian context, a new edition of Iranica Antiqua is always a reason to celebrate. Volume 46 (2011) has just been published, and it does not disappoint. It contains a slew of interesting articles on Sasanian Iran, including:

Maciej Grabowski, “Ardašīr’s Struggle against the Parthians: Towards a Reinterpretation of the Fīrūzābād I Relief”

The proposed reinterpretation of the Fīrūzābād I relief is based on the assumption that we deal with a particular iconographic synopsis of the events that occurred during Ardašīr’s war against the Arsacids (c. 220-228). The concept of iconographic summary of several historical events may be traced back to the Achaemenid period (Bīsotūn relief), and may also be observed in the triumph reliefs of Šāpur I. It is thus suggested that each of the three equestrian combat scenes depicted on the Fīrūzābād I relief recalls one of three major stages of Ardašīr’s struggle against the Parthians. Information from textual sources combined with iconographic observations permit to develop a hypothesis concerning the identity of some of the depicted personages, and thus to reveal proper historical context of each scene. New terminus post quem for the Fīrūzābād I relief is also proposed, this being the year 228 which most probably marks the end of the last phase of the war.

Brucno Overlaet, “Ardashir II or Shapur III? Reflections on the Identity of a King in the Smaller Grotto at Taq-i Bustan,”

Two Sasanian kings are depicted on the back wall of the smaller grotto at Taq-i Bustan near Kermanshah (Iran). They are identified by inscriptions as Shapur II (309-379 A.D.) and his son Shapur III (383-388 A.D.). However, the details of the crowns and the design of the relief oppose this idea. It makes it likely that the figure identified as Shapur III is in fact Ardashir II (379-383 A.D.), the immediate successor and (half)brother of Shapur II. It is suggested that the identifying texts were added when Shapur III came to power.

Jamsheed K. Choksy, “Friends and Friendships in Iranian Society: Human and Immortal”

Constructs, permutations, functions, and bases of friends and friendships in society and sociopolitical hierarchies are analyzed within the context of religiosity in Iran and Iranian regions of Central Asia.

Michael B. Charles, “The Sassanian ‘Immortals”

The Sassanian Persians are generally regarded as having maintained an elite cavalry unit called the ‘Immortals’, the formation of which was inspired by Achaemenian practice, thereby demonstrating continuity between the two dynasties, as per the general scholarly view. This article assembles all the pertinent evidential material from the Greco-Roman sources in order to present a comprehensive critique of this position. It emerges that references to Sassanian Immortals in sources emanating from the Mediterranean world may owe more to classicizing fancy than to historical reality, and particularly a desire to approximate late-antique wars against Persia with those waged by the West against Achaemenian kings.

Bruno Overlaet, “Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hebrew Inscription on Ardashir I’s Rock Relief at Naqsh-i Rustam,”

The relief of Ardashir I at Naqsh-i Rustam is the first Sasanian investiture scene with the two protagonists on horseback. They are identified by a prominent trilingual inscription on the horses as Ardashir I and Ahura Mazda. A Hebrew inscription remained unobserved since the 19th century, however. It is chiselled on the folds of Ahura Mazda’s tunic.

The final article in particular caught my eye. Who might have written a Hebrew inscription hiding in on the folds of Ahura Mazda’s tunic at Naqsh i Rustam? Unfortunately, I was disappointed to find that the piece contains no readings of the Hebrew inscription in question. In fact, aside from a clear photograph on the final page, the article reads more like a notice than a work of actual scholarship.

I contacted Shaul Shaked Schwarzmann University Professor emeritus here at the Hebrew University, who was kind enought to relay the following, tentative remarks:

1. A faint inscription above the main one. I am indicating doubtful readings by parentheses, and editorial supplements by square brackets.

(בניה) שמואל הכהן


(חש?) רברבה חסן בן חסן בן (ס)הל באלחסן מזאר
אלשג סמן
מן חלון

The date 1303 is naturally Seleucid, i.e. 992 CE. The translation of inscription 2 is:

… (?) … Hasan son of Hasan son of Sahl Bu-l-Hasan, visit
of the year
1303. Good
From Hulwan.

The beginning of the inscription is hard to make out, and I doubt whether רברבה is the correct reading. An alternative reading of the beginning of this inscription could be:

הזר ברכה (Persian-Hebrew:) A thousand blessings.

The trouble is that the last one letter looks distinctly like bet.

The two inscriptions could have been engraved at the same time, probably by two different hands. These are obviously inscriptions of the type of “Jimmy was here”. With luck we may be able to identify one of these two persons. The date is perfectly compatible with the Islamic-period names and, I believe, with the shape of the script.

English, Recent Publications, Reviews

Gafni Continues the Debate

A further chapter in the Gafni-Goodblatt debate, and for that matter in the ongoing “Stam Wars,” has recently been published in the journal Jewish History.   In a detailed and important review of Jeffrey Rubenstein’s trilogy- Talmudic Stories, The Culture of the Babylonian Talmud, and Stories of the Babylonian Talmud, Isaiah Gafni comes out fighting.  Gafni acknowledges that scholars like Rubenstein and his predecessors have changed the rules of writing the history of the “Talmudic era” irrevocably, but that does not mean he will accept Rubenstein’s approach whole-cloth, or go along entirely with the latter’s proposed ceasefire for the Gafni-Goodblatt debate.

Anyone who cares about the direction of research into the Talmud’s anonymous layer should read the review itself, so I will not summarize it here.  I will say that Gafni’s main argument is that while he is willing to cede that reworked, originally Palestinian rabbinic stories in the Bavli often reflect Babylonian concerns, he is not prepared to admit that these concerns are always late, or “stammaitic.” In this he takes up an argument put forth by Yaakov Elman in a review of Rubenstein’s The Culture of the Babylonian Talmud, published in 2006 in the Journal of Religion.  Gafni offers numerous examples, expands the claim, and adds further arguments as well.

Last May, Prof. Gafni spoke at a conference organized by Uri Gabbay and me (and hosted by Scholion at the Hebrew University of JerusalemEncounters by the Rivers of Babylon: Scholarly Conversations between Jews, Iranians and Babylonians.  There he added ever more examples to rebut Rubenstein, some of them quite compelling.  Gafni’s article from the conference will hopefully appear in the proceedings of the conference, which hopefully will be published soon.

Around the Web, English, Guest Posts, Technology

Some Less-Well-Known-but-Useful Electronic Resources- Guest Post by Richard Hidary

iPad Screenshot 2

Screenshot of the Accordance app for iPad.

This guest post is by Talmudblog friend Richard Hidary, who runs the extremely helpful website rabbinics.org.

1. ובלכתך בדרך is a free iPad and iPhone app with lots of rabbinic and halakhic works and much more, just search for “onyourway” in the app store.

2. Accordance is not only a fantastic Bible program, and probably the best Dead Sea Scrolls program, but also has some useful rabbinic texts. It runs on Mac and now has a fantastic iPhone and iPad app. It runs suitably on a PC with a Mac emulator. It includes all the scrolls in Hebrew and English and all of the Biblical scrolls in order of Tanakh or in manuscript order (you can pull up the MT and Dead Sea Bible side by side and scroll them together). Modules are also available for the Mishnah according to printed editions, Neusner’s translation of Mishnah, and Kaufman ms. with all punctuation. The best feature is that all these texts are grammatically tagged – useful for easy grammatical analysis and sophisticated searching.

3. Neusner’s translation of the Yerushalmi is available on CD-ROM. It is available at SBL for a discounted price. You can copy it to your hard drive – it’s just a pdf and is very easy to use.

4. Mikraot Gedolot Haketer, which has published only a few books, has made available all of Tanakh and all of the included commentaries on CD-ROM. The software is only for sale at their office in Bar-Ilan and they only accept cash and do not ship. However, if you can get there or send someone, this fine collection of texts is well worth the 490NIS.

5. Jastrow’s dictionary is available on HebrewBooks but also in an easy to use interactive format here. The dictionary is also available as an add in on the iPad app iTalmud where you can touch any word of the Bavli and jump instantly to the dictionary. Unfortunately, the program doesn’t know the root of the word and so usually takes you to the wrong place.

6. Saul Lieberman’s works are available here: Tosefta Kifshuta/Tosefet Rishonim/ Al HaYerushalmi

8. The Steinsaltz Talmud of the daf yomi is posted daily here. You can also go back a few hundred days to get previous dapim from Yevamot and on. There did once exist a CD-ROM of the entire Steinsaltz Talmud but I haven’t been able to locate a copy in any library or in any store (this site advertizes it but doesn’t sell it – I already checked). Does anybody know more about this?

10. On rabbinics.org one can find my Version Editor macro for lining up manuscripts, perfect to use in conjunction with the new http://www.lieberman-institute.com/. The Macro is free, but please share your charts so that we can together create a database of texts for use of the general community.

Also on the rabbinics.org site, I have begun to post Hebrew dissertations. Many people at Israeli Universities have fantastic research hidden in master’s and PhD theses that never get published. If you fit into that category, or know someone who does, and would like to make your work available, please send a pdf to me at rhidary [at] yu.edu.

Rabbi Dr. Richard Hidary is an assistant professor of Judaic Studies at Yeshiva University, Stern College for Women and an assistant Rabbi at Sephardic Synagogue in Brooklyn.

English, Postscripts

Postscript – Rabbi Raphael Halperin

This past Saturday, a most eccentric, traditional Talmudist named Rabbi Raphael Halperin passed away at the age of 87.  In modern Israel, he is probably most recognized as the head of a major chain of optical stores whose (literally) ear-piercing, glass-shattering ads can be heard, approximately, every 2.5 minutes on Israeli radio.  Halperin was not an academic Talmudist, nor was he an important Talmudist, but he sure was a splendidly strange and colorful-bird of a Talmudist. I remember the shock, horror, and admiration when I discovered his multi-volume encyclopedia of rabbis “from creation (literally!) until our day,” “Atlas Etz Hayim.”  In some of the books were pictures of Halpern as a young body builder, or as a champion wrestler, while on other pages he appeared in a dashing suit and fedora behind the Hazon Ish. I also remember feeling that he stole my thunder, as I wanted to one day produce a comprehensive book of that sort for classical rabbinic sages. Little did I know then that Halpern was himself reinventing the wheel.  The Jerusalem Post has a richly detailed and colorful obit.

As strange as his personal odyssey may seem, particularly for someone who became a kind of symbol for a type of harediism, Halperin’s biography actually hearkens back to a day when the ultra-orthodox world in Israel was, to put it one way, far less black and white.

He should rest in peace.

Update: Eddy Portnoy has this brief portrait over at Tablet.

Conferences, English, Guest Posts

SBL Conference, Day 2 Part 2- Guest Post by Ari Lamm

This is the last post in a three part series of guest posts by Ari Lamm. For prior installments see the Guest Contributors page.

During my back-and-forth with Paul Heger I had to make the trek from the back of the room, near the outlets sustaining my laptop, to the front where I could be better heard by my interlocutor. On my way back to my seat I passed Dr. Shani Tzoref (Israel Antiquities Authority), on account of whose upcoming presentation I had attended this section (“Nonbiblical Dead Sea Scrolls: Themes and Perspectives Consultation”) in the first place. Dr. Tzoref’s paper was absolutely fascinating, and I more than suspect that the following summary will not do it justice. In lieu of a proper report, in fact, I will simply point to what I considered to be the paper’s highlights.

Dr. Tzoref began by referring to Daniel Schwartz’s famous heuristic regarding early Jewish law, classifying the Qumranic approach as “realist” and the rabbinic approach as “nominalist.” Adding a further wrinkle to this distinction, Tzoref categorized the Josephan approach as “subjectivist.” In distinguishing between the three, Tzoref provided a helpful analogy to baseball umpiring (for those foreigners not familiar with the intricacies of America’s beloved national pastime, I’m sure the analogy works equally well for whatever heathen contest you happen to fancy…): a realist umpire says, “I call it like it is”; a subjectivist umpire says, “I call it like I see ‘em”; a nominalist umpire says, “They ain’t balls and strikes ‘till I say they are!”

A realist umpire says, “I call it like it is”; a subjectivist umpire says, “I call it like I see ‘em”; a nominalist umpire says, “They ain’t balls and strikes ‘till I say they are!”

Tzoref focused specifically on marriage at Qumran as a focal point for fine-tuning our conception of ancient Jewish perspectives on the operating structures of Biblical rules in a broader sense. According to Eyal Regev, Tzoref explained, CD’s view of marriage is highly idealized – and I would note, in addition, that Schwartz himself attempted to articulate the Qumran community’s “realist” construction of marriage, based on the principle of “yesod ha-beriah” – and is in fact diametrically opposed to the idea of celibate Essenes that we encounter in Josephus’ portrayal of the group. However, Joan Taylor’s recent re-reading of War 2 – containing Josephus’ seemingly contradictory reports of the Essenes as, on the one hand, disdainful of marriage (War 2.119), and, on the other, as valuing marriage and developing special rules to ensure its sanctity (War 2.160) – yields the conclusion that Josephus has two kinds of Essenes in mind all along. He certainly knows that not all do away with marriage, but he also knows of the popular conception (found in Philo as well) that the Essenes did away with marriage entirely. He thus employed this popular (but mistaken) view to make a general point about lust, faithfulness, and the basic unreliability of women in the sexual realm. (Tzoref did not cite Taylor’s essay – or if she did, I missed it – but I recall her making this point as early as 2007, in an article in Studia Philonica Annual; I’d appreciate anyone correcting the reference).

This fascinating reading is complicated somewhat by 4Q271, in which we read the instruction that a cadre of experienced, trustworthy women should examine a woman prior to marriage (rather than in the event of an accusation, as per Deuteronomy) to verify her virginity. Even given Taylor’s distinction between the various potential goals of Josephus’ presentation of the Essene view of women and marriage, we are still left to reconcile Josephus’ invocation of the Essene community as a model for his point about the untrustworthiness of women with 4Q271’s explicit reliance on female evaluations of an urgent matter of sexual purity.

In due course, Tzoref argued that while Qumran and Josephus are consistent in maintaining a general mistrust of women – manifested, in this instance, in a fear that a woman will sleep with someone else before marriage – this mistrust rises merely to the level of presumption. As such, it may be rebutted where and when appropriate. Indeed, in this case the Mevaqer selects specific women whom he knows to be trustworthy, and relies upon them for the inspection.

Tzoref’s resolution of this problem pointed eventually to a more general point about Josephus’ “subjectivist” perspective. Indeed, Josephus’ general mistrust of women is reflected in his subjectivist explication of the core issue at stake in this case, namely, marriage to a virgin. For Josephus, this is simply a good policy, as he writes, “men should be wise in the affairs of wedlock; and that it was profitable both to cities and families that children should be known to be genuine” (Ant. 3.276).

Over the course of the rest of her presentation, Tzoref identified a variety of realist-subjectivist-nominalist differences in perspective between Qumran, Josephus and the rabbis. She pointed specifically to priest-captive marriage, and the various rationales for the prohibition of mixed kinds.

In the discussion period I pointed to Jeffrey Rubenstein’s substantial critique of Schwartz’s position, wherein he notes several instances in which the bifurcation between Qumran realism and rabbinic nominalism does not withstand scrutiny. I conceded, however, that Rubenstein himself admits that Schwartz’s case is strongest with regard to marriage (although not uncle-niece marriage, where Rubenstein quite convincingly rebuts Schwartz’s claim).

As the section participants began to file out of the room with the conclusion of Tzoref’s presentation, a fire alarm began to sound. As King’s College staff began unceremoniously dumping various and sundry distinguished historians on the sidewalk in the back of the building, I somehow found myself conversing with Bernard Jackson (Liverpool Hope University). We just had time to set a date for tea (we were in England, after all) before I set out on an immensely enjoyable walk to Westminster station with a former teacher of mine (during which we discussed the relative merits and faults of the present British monarchy).

Upon my return to the conference building, I set out for the “Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Law Section.” Yuval Sinai (Netanya Academic College School of Law) led off the section with a survey of ancient and medieval Jewish sources dealing with collective punishment. Sinai noted the tendency of some Israeli Supreme Court justices (especially Mishael Heshin) to invoke “the law of Moses, and…what is written in the Bible” in support of rejecting wholesale the legitimacy of the strategy of collective punishment. Sinai argued that Heshin has failed in this regard to take stock of the breadth and depth of Jewish tradition. Noting both counterexamples, and Jewish authorities from the medieval period onwards who have attempted to reconcile this data, Sinai hypothesized that, in the main, Jewish tradition has seen the prohibition on collective punishment as an ideal law, but one that either cannot be, or is not, always put into practice.

Commending Sinai on an extensive and erudite presentation, Bernard Jackson suggested that we delineate two separate issues addressed by Sinai: the internal tension within Biblical sources, and the use to which these (and other) sources have been put within the modern State of Israel. Jackson guessed that Heshin is not concerned with halakhahper se, but with establishing a general “moreshet Yisrael” (“Jewish tradition”) approach to (re)constructing Jewish values – what Jackson called the “Ahad Ha’am approach” after the great Hebrew essayist and founder of cultural Zionism. While expressing general agreement, Sinai cautioned that in endeavoring to build a tradition from scratch, one runs the risk of cherry-picking sources to fit an agenda.

After taking a break for tea (in my case, Diet Coke) with Drs. Bernard Jackson and Yuval Sinai, I returned for one more presentation in this section – by Andreas Kunz-Lubcke (Univeristy of Leipzig) on legal resonances within the Rape of Tamar narrative – before hurrying off to the Hellenistic Judaism Section just in time for Vincent Skemp’s (St. Catherine University) presentation entitled, “The Alleged Prohibtion on Pronouncing the Tetragrammaton, an Assessment of the Evidence in Second Temple Judaism.”

Skemp set out as his task to explore the available evidence concerning whether the Tetragrammaton could or should be pronounced, and by whom. Complicating this question is the matter of determining its spelling in antiquity. Indeed, sometimes it is spelled as a trigrammaton (as at Elephantine and in some of the Dead Sea Scrolls) or bigrammaton. Related to this issue is the question of how many letters or sounds composing the Divine Name constituted an utterance. With regard to its actual deployment in ancient sources, we find that it is at times written in paleo-Hebrew – even, on occasion, in Greek texts. Sometimes ancient sources record the Name in Assyrian text; sometimes it is written with different ink; sometimes with dots to mark it out; in one case it is written with an extrayod at the end. In any event, while rabbinic literature ends up prohibiting pronouncing the Name, some scholars argue that this represents a minority opinion and that the popular practice to pronounce the Name was dominant. In fact, there are some late rabbinic texts that seek historical explanations for the ban (see e.g. bR.H. 18b).

After surveying a variety of Biblical and post-Biblical (including rabbinic) sources that touch on the matter, Skemp concluded with an interesting note on contemporary scholarly practice. He specifically mentioned Emanuel Tov’s policy of refraining from writing the full Tetragrammaton, as well as Louis Feldman’s practice to omit the “O” of the word “God.”

During Skemp’s lecture I experienced a nagging feeling in the back of my head that a reference was missing from the presentation. By the time the discussion period arrived I finally recalled the source I was searching for: Ruth 2:4. As a sophomore in Yeshiva University I remember Professor Moshe Bernstein marveling at the stark employment of the Tetragrammaton in this verse; for some reason this observation always stuck with me, and I managed to put it to good use in the discussion period following Skemp’s lecture. I pointed out that Ruth 2:4 (which actually serves as the basis for mBer 9:5, a source Skemp cited) is actually an example of non-elites employing the Tetragrammaton as part of an everyday, non-Temple-related, greeting formula.

Ari Lamm is concluding a year as a Fulbright scholar based at University College, London and the School of Oriental and African Studies. 

Around the Web, English

Around the Web – August 19, 2011

El Shaddai Game Cover Art.pngA few months ago, Shai and I had the pleasure of hearing Prof. Daniel Boyarin give a talk at Hebrew University’s Havruta beit midrash entitled “Metatron in the Bavli and in Enoch 3”, based on work he has published in such articles as “The Parables of Enoch and the Foundation of the Rabbinic Sect: A Hypothesis“. Little did we know that while we were sitting in Jerusalem readings texts on Enoch computer programmers out in England were busy putting the final touches on the game El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, for PS3 and Xbox 360. Jim Davila of PaleoJudaica has been keeping the blogosphere up-to-date on the game’s much anticipated release. According to the game’s website, players of El Shaddai star as Enoch:

a young man chosen by God for his strong, pure heart. He is human, but has been called to the heavens by the will of God to serve as a scribe on the Council of Elder. He has descended to earth as an arbiter to pursue the Grigori, a group of fallen angels, and prevent the execution of God’s plan to flood the earth.

The game is openly based on the Deuterocanonical book of Enoch and has received praise for its “sophisticated and visually arresting aesthetics and remarkably deep and nuanced, yet easy to grasp, combat system”.

Over at the Jewish Press, Steven Plaut has an article which attempts to respond to Christian anti-Semiticism directed at the Talmud (Hat-tip to the Adderabbi).  In order to prepare for the weekly “around the web” here at the Talmud Blog, we have a feed going for every time “Talmud” (and other related words) show up on the internet.  I would guess that almost half are related to anti-Semitic websites. A frightening thought. There are great resources out there for people looking to counter these claims (especially “The Talmud in Anti-Semitic Polemics” at ADL).  Many of the anti-Semitic statements made about the Talmud and Christianity are, needless to say, spurious. But there are some passages that do indeed say some pretty nasty things about you know who. Plaut is certainly correct that scholars in previous generation had many false positives, but this does not mean that Jesus is never mentioned in the Talmud.  Plaut is unfortunately ignorant of Talmudic manuscripts – which is grievous regarding an issue with a long history of censorship.  In the information age, any anti-Semite can easily find what he is looking for. For a great, recent work that avoids these kind of apologetics, we have of course Peter Schaefer’s Jesus in the Talmud. The work itself is quite controversial for a number of reasons, but at least it does not shy away from confronting the issues head-on – and with expertise.

Finally, Menachem Mendel announces that Joseph Cedar’s award-winning film Footnote will be screened (for all you poor unfortunate souls who have not seen it yet) at the NY Film festival in early October. Stay tuned for a review by Shai Secunda and Elli Fischer at the Jewish Review of Books.

Dissertations, English, Recent Publications

New Dissertations in the Field

Each year, numerous dissertations are defended on various aspects relating to rabbinic literature. And each year, the variety of angles and approaches to this literature only increases. The most recent crop nicely reflects the participation of women in the study of rabbinic literature, which though certainly higher than decades prior, still seems to lag behind the rest of the human sciences.  There are other things to note. More and more theses are grappling seriously with theory.  Editions of rabbinic texts continue to be produced, though perhaps not at the level that they should be.  New areas of research, like Talmudo-Iranica, are well represented in this list.  And gender remains a focus. Below is a list of recent dissertations (from 2011 and some from 2010) with abstracts, where available. Readers aware of other dissertations of interest to this blog should contact us. 

NOTE: The list will be updated over the next few days.

Yonatan Adler, “Archaeological Evidence for the Observance of Ritual Purity in Erez-Israel from the Hasmonean Period until the End of the Talmudic Era (164 BCE – 400 CE),” (PhD Dissertation, Bar Ilan University, 2011).

The ancient literary sources indicate that the laws of ritual purity played a crucial role in the halakhic discourse of the late Second Temple period. Intensive discussion of this issue is found in the books of the Apocrypha, in the works of Philo and Josephus Flavius, in the documents from the Judean desert, in the books of the New Testament and in the early strata of the Tannaitic literature. The laws of purity continued to remain in the center of halakhic debates even after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 C.E., at least within the circles of the sages from whom we have inherited the early rabbinic literature.

These literary sources present us with a number of fundamental questions: To what extent were the laws of ritual purity observed amongst the greater Jewish population of Ereẓ-Israel? What place did these laws occupy in the daily lives of those who observed them? Were there differences in the level of observance of these laws between various segments within contemporary Jewish society? Were there regional differences with regard to the observance of these laws? What kind of developments and changes occurred over time in the field of ritual purity observance? These research questions, which are of utmost importance in any attempt to understand the religious and social histories of Jewish society in Ereẓ-Israel during the late Second Temple era and during the period of the Mishnah and Talmud, are the focus of the present study.

There are three major types of archaeological finds that reflect on the scope and the nature of ritual purity observance during the historical periods under discussion. The first is stepped water installations, which should be identified as the “miqwa’ot” mentioned in early rabbinic sources, ritual baths that were used for ablutions. Another type of archaeological find that evidences the observance of purity laws is chalk-stone vessels, used especially by those who kept the purity laws due to the insusceptibility of these vessels to ritual impurity. Important additional data may be culled from a study of the distribution of imported pottery as these vessels were considered inherently impure, and as such we may learn about the observance of purity law by examining the extent to which these vessels were either used or avoided.

Tali Artman-Partock, “Dialogue and Dialogism in Rabbinic Literature: Parrhesia in Theory and in Practice in Rabbinic Literature and in Contemporary Christian literature,” (PhD dissertation, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2010).

Mira Balberg, “Recomposed Corporealities: Purity, Body, and Self in the Mishnah” (PhD dissertation, Stanford University, 2011).

The purpose of this dissertation is to trace and analyze the ways in which the rabbis who created the Mishnah, a Palestinian rabbinic legal codex whose final compilation is dated to the first half of the third century C.E., developed a unique notion of a bodily self in their remaking of the biblical laws of purity and impurity. By examining some of the fundamental innovations that the rabbis introduced to the system of purity and impurity that they had inherited from their predecessors, I show that questions of subjectivity and consciousness profoundly shape the concepts of purity and impurity as those are developed in the Mishnah, ultimately presenting the self as a new focal point in the discourse of ritual impurity. In particular, I emphasize the ways in which the human body, which is the main and most critical site in which the drama of purity and impurity takes place, is negotiated in the Mishnah as both subject and object, both as identical to the self and as disparate from it. Through my analysis of various themes in the mishnaic discourse of purity and impurity, I demonstrate that the rabbis constructed the daily engagement with impurity and the ongoing pursuit of ritual purity as closely reflective of one’s relations with one’s self, with one’s human and non-human environment, and with one’s body.

The rabbis of the Mishnah radically expanded the realm and repercussions of impurity, thus shaping the most mundane daily interactions, encounters, and activities that constitute one’s physical presence the world as situations in which one is constantly confronted with the possibility of contracting impurity. In the Mishnah, being in a body means being vulnerable to impurity, in such way that the management of impurity and the incessant awareness of it are defining aspects of the self’s relations with his material surroundings and with his own body. The mishnaic subject, however, does more than simply respond to the world of impurity and attempt to manage his precarious state in it; he is also the one who is shaping this world through his consciousness and deliberation. The rabbis introduce a surprising conceptual innovation, according to which only objects – and persons – that harbor significance have any consequences in terms of impurity. In other words, only things that matter to someone, and in which one has presumably invested some sort of subjective thought, intention, or deliberation, can affect one in terms of impurity.

The notion that the mishnaic self is capable both of being pure and of being impure is what inscribes this self’s activities and encounters in a world pervaded with impurity with a constant quest for the attainment of purity. The quest for purity is manifested in a series of practices, most notably practices of self-examination and self-reflection, and in an unrelenting awareness of the possibility of impurity and of the commitment to maintain a state of purity, in such way that the attainment of a status of purity profoundly depends on one’s relations with oneself. Only one who is capable of mastering himself and being held accountable to oneself, and one who is deeply dedicated to purity and willfully nurtures this dedication, can attain a status of purity. The pursuit of purity is thus constructed in the Mishnah as a process in which the self both exhibits the desired character traits of self-knowledge and self-control and cultivates these qualities. Thereby, the very effort to be pure acquires cultural value in and of itself.

The self, that is, the human subject who is capable of reflection on himself and on his surroundings, is thus in many ways the ultimate point of reference of the discourse of purity and impurity in the Mishnah. Impurity is constructed as shaped by subjective processes, whereas purity is constructed as attained through the development of one’s religious commitments and mental capacities. All this by no means does away with the physical-like and even mechanical way in which the rabbis understand the workings of impurity; however, this does allow the system of purity and impurity to acquire a new and central dimension in the rabbinic discourse, a dimension which, I propose, made this system more meaningful and more relevant in a world in which it was likely to become more and more obsolete.

Meir Ben-Shahar, “Biblical and Post-Biblical History in Rabbinic Literature: Between the First and Second Destruction,” (PhD dissertation, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2010).

Itamar Brenner, “A Hermeneutic Study of the Interpretive Aspect in the Babylonian Talmud (PhD dissertation, Bar Ilan University, 2010).

Binyamin Elbaum, “Midrash Abba Gurion on Esther: The Version and its Redactions,” (PhD dissertation, Bar Ilan University, 2011).

Shmuel Faust, “Criticism in Sage Stories from the Babylonian Talmud,” (PhD dissertation, Bar Ilan University, 2010).

David Flatto, “Between Royal Absolutism and and Independent Judiciary: The Evolution of Separation of Powers in Biblical, Second Temple and Rabbinic Texts,” (PhD dissertation, Harvard University, 2010).

Even as Jewish political sovereignty waned during Late Antiquity, Judaism experienced a profound flourishing in the legal sphere. Confronting a changing political landscape, while encountering distinctive Greco-Roman power structures, Jewish thinkers and exegetes responded by developing bold and novel juristic conceptions. While much scholarship has examined the loss of Jewish power, this study shifts the focus to a crucial question which has been largely ignored: how did Jews think about power and authority in the absence of power, and how did this inform the nature of the societies they constructed in the absence of power? My essential answer is that they drew on their rich legal tradition to focus on law and legal authority as a unique political alternative to traditional rule. This thesis offers a wide-ranging exploration of this crucial dimension of the Jewish legalimagination in its formative stages.

In particular, this study examines representations of legal authority in seminal Jewish texts from the Second Temple and rabbinic periods. Given the primacy of law within Judaism, Jewish sages, thinkers, interpreters, transmitters and jurists from this era grappled with the ideal nature of the administration of justice and produced an impressive array of juristic schemes. Nevertheless, certain essential overriding themes pervade this diverse body of material.

Whereas ancient jurisprudence presumes that law emanates from the seat of power–with an absolutist king or emperor commanding authority in all realms, including the legal domain–a distinctive strand within Jewish jurisprudence advances a different paradigm. Although Ancient Near Eastern and much biblical literature project the king as the supreme judge, Deuteronomy 17 (the primary normative text about kingship and legal authority) dramatically revises this approach by establishing independent judicial officials operating beyond the reach of the king. This seminal, if anomalous, text assumes heightened significance in post-biblical literature.

Elaborating on Deuteronomy 17, post-biblical commentators present a variety of models of judicial administration. Philo attempts to harmonize Deuteronomy with the dominant biblical attitude toward kingship by restoring the monarch’s judicial role. Various Qumran texts seek to circumscribe the sovereign, and largely locate justice outside of the royal domain in priestly quorums. Moreover, certain writings build upon the Deuteronomic foundation in striking ways. A leading voice within tannaitic literature extends and institutionalizes the role of the judiciary and seeks to purge the legal edifice from additional influences of power (beyond royal intervention). At the same time, tannaitic writings elevate the distinct political responsibilities of a sovereign. A very different voice in early Jewish jurisprudence, especially manifest in Josephus’s writings, aims to eliminate political authority altogether and reconstitute the ideal polity upon the foundation of the rule of law. Abandoning the regnant notion of imperial law, such writings advance robust visions of law’s empire.

Proclaiming the supremacy of law and widening its scope, post-biblical writers insist that a legal system must operate independently of powerful political rulers. Without a land, sovereign authority, or coercive powers, and with restricted legal jurisdiction, leading Late Antique Jewish writers promote legal constructs which diverge from the surrounding cultures, and in certain remarkable ways prefigure–or even eclipse–ideas that only enter into Western political and legal tradition centuries later. This dissertation demonstrates that Jewish legalism is not an inevitable, or even a reluctant response to disempowerment, but rather a deeply-rooted ideology revolving around the centrality of law and its profound potential to structure a society and a polity.

Yair Furstenberg, “Eating in a State of Purity during the Tannaitic Period: Tractate Teharot  and its Historical and Cultural Contexts,” (PhD dissertation, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2010).

No other religious phenomenon shaped the daily conduct of many during the latter part of the Second Temple period such as eating in the state of purity. Purity, as a way of life, was shared by most groups and, at the same time, marked the discursive dividing lines between parties and sects. In Rabbinic circles, these purity regulations continued also after the Temple destruction. However, fundamental  changes took place during next two centuries. Whereas in early generations “purity burst”, as time went on the practice of eating in purity decreased until it practically disappeared during the third century. Indeed, eating in the state of purity played a central role in fashioning contemporary world view, including notions of contamination and danger within the private sphere and social status and structure in the public domain. Therefore, examining the factors which shaped and reshaped purity practices during the Talmudic period is of utmost importance for pursuing a clearer view of the rabbinic religious and cultural world and the transformations it went through. Much scholarly progress was made in the last years in the field of purity in antiquity. This was enhanced by the publication of Qumran texts, the reinterpretation of early Christian sources, and new archaeological finds. Also anthropological theories devoted to social aspects of purity regulations enriched the historical endeavor. However, the largest source which systematically surveys all levels of purity laws and includes most of our knowledge of contemporary purity customs has not received the proper scholarly treatment, this is the tannaitic corpus.

This dissertation examines central aspects involved in the reshaping of the field of purities during the tannaitic period, as they are reflected in Tractate Teharot of the Mishna, devoted to food purity. This and other texts offer a novel view of the subject, which stand in contrast to biblical and Second Temple concepts of impurity and contamination. Through careful examination of this literature we can track a trajectory of purity in the rabbinic circles.  The systematic study of the tractate includes four levels of examination, corresponding to the four parts of the dissertation. (I)  The textual framework: How the varying methods of subject arrangement reflect the ways the topic of purity was learned and its sitz im leben (II) Purity management in an impure environment: What are the differences between the various devices for managing purity in  the shadow of impurity which are found in Second Temple and tannaitic sources, and how they uncover different perceptions of impurity and its threat.  (III) Purity laws as social markers: In Second Temple period purity laws were clearly designed to  differentiate social groups and create a clear hierarchy:  haver and  am-ha’aretz, priest and layman. Thus we ask, how did purity function as a social marker as the extent of the phenomenon decreased. (IV) Conceptual development: How the ongoing development of food purity laws and the creation of the ‘grades of impurity’ system by the Tannaim contributed to the evolution of a new concept of impurity and contagion.

Thus we encounter a living process, in which conceptual structures and social relations intertwine and transform drastically, imprinting their influence on the emerging sources.

Tamar Jacobowitz, “Leviticus Rabbah and the Spiritualization of the Laws of Impurity,” (PhD dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 2010).

This dissertation is a literary analysis of three sections in Leviticus Rabbah (LR), an aggadic compendium of midrash on the book of Leviticus, compiled in the Amoraic period. The study demonstrates that the rabbinic authors of LR transformed the levitical laws of purity into a set of exegetically generated reflections on God, the people Israel, and ethical relations. In the first chapter, I explore how LR parashah 14 injects theology into Leviticus 12’s purification ritual for a woman who has given birth. I consider the ways in which the rabbis’ theologizing discourse intersects with a discourse about gender, amplifying God’s role in childbirth at the expense of the mother. In the second chapter on LR parashah 16, I show that the rabbinic composers bring a concern for proper speech and ethical behavior to their reading of Leviticus 13-14’s ritual for the metsora (leper). In this parashah, the rabbis deepen and extend a tenuous biblical link between tsara’at (leprosy) and lashon hara (evil speech), substituting the ritual trappings of the notorious condition with a concern for building an ethical community. In the final chapter on LR 17, I study a related levitical topic, that of house diseases, and argue that the rabbis utilize the Leviticus verses to affirm the ongoing election of Israel from among the nations. Taken together, these three LR parshiyot suggest that the LR composers were engaged in an elaborate project of allegorization. Without undermining the Leviticus verses or contravening their legal import, the LR rabbis launched a way to read levitical purity so that it yielded contemporary meaning.

David Chaim Kalir, “An Edition and Comprehensive Commentary on Chapter II of Tractate Rosh-Hashana in the Babylonian Talmud,” (Hebrew; PhD dissertation, Bar Ilan University, 2011).

Jonathan Kaplan, “A Divine Love Song the Emergence of the Theo-erotic Interpretation of the Song of Songs in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity,” (PhD dissertation, Harvard University, 2010).

Jewish and Christian communities have classically understood the Song of Songs as a statement of divine love for God’s chosen people: Israel or the church, respectively. I adopt the term “theo-erotic” (in contrast to the more commonly used term “allegorical”) to describe this interpretive mode and then chart the hermeneutical and rhetorical shape of Jewish and Christian interpretations of the Song in the first centuries of the common era. The Song portrays an ideal world in which the lovers can be understood as archetypes with which other lovers can be identified, thus enabling theo-erotic interpretation. I argue that the Song’s transmission and translation in the Septuagint, the Qumran manuscripts, references to the Song’s use in Josephus’s Against Apion , 4 Ezra , Mishnah, and Tosefta, and purported allusions to the Song in numerous works from the Second Temple period provide limited evidence for the theo-erotic interpretation of the Song. The first verifiable allusions to and echoes of the Song appear in 4 Ezra and Revelation. I argue that these texts make use of a theo-erotic reading of the Song (as part of a complex of allusions) that recasts the Song into eschatological time and apocalyptic space in describing the community’s ideal and affective relationship with God. Rabbinic texts that record traditions from the Tannaitic Period (ca. 70-200 C.E.) interpret the utterances of the Song typologically as prefigurations of ideals in Israel’s relationship with God. The twenty-five passages that contain interpretations of the Song in Mekilta de-Rabbi Yishmael exemplify this mode of interpretation. In Mekilta the sages historicize and connect many of the Song’s verses with the period of Israel’s exodus from Egypt and the divine revelation at Sinai, understood in ideal terms as the period of Israel’s betrothal to God.

In this reading, Israel adopts the woman’s praises for her lover and reciprocates God’s fidelity through acts of devotion, expressed in characteristically rabbinic ways as the mitzvot , or divine commandments.

Baruch Kehat, “‘The Burden of Proof Lies with the Claimant'” in Rabbinic Literature,” (PhD dissertation, Bar Ilan University, 2010).

Yishai Kiel, “Selected Topics in Laws of Ritual Defilement: Between the Babylonian Talmud and Pahlavi Literature” (English; PhD dissertation, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2011).

One of the most promising and intriguing areas in the emerging interdisciplinary interest in Sasanian literature concerns the contextualized study of the Babylonian Talmud and Zoroastrian literature in Middle Persian. As it stands, Pahlavi literature has proven to be an indispensible source for the study of the Babylonian Talmud, and the Babylonian Talmud in turn has proven to be no less of an illuminating and insightful tool for the study of Pahlavi literature.

In this study I hope to have contributed to the scholarly efforts invested in the exploration and elucidation of Irano-Talmudic connections. On the first level, situated in the broader field of comparative culture, this study attempts to reveal the similarities and differences between the rabbinic and Zoroastrian legal systems. On the second level, situated in the realm of developmental intellectual history, the study engages in a more specific attempt to unearth interreligious connections that may have taken place in the Sasanian period – whether stemming from a more direct discourse or from coexistence in the same cultural milieu.

The study focuses on several legal topics relating to ritual defilement, which reveal intriguing examples of similarity and affinity. Not only the contents of rabbinic and Zoroastrian ritual instructions are addressed, but also the analytical and methodological tools, and the philosophical, legal and anthropological theoretical constructs that are displayed in the detailed discussions of the Babylonian Talmud and Pahlavi literature.

The introductory chapter includes a detailed survey of previous scholarship pertaining to Irano-Talmudic research and the study of ritual purity in rabbinic and Zoroastrian cultures. A detailed account is given regarding the philological tools that are utilized throughout the study, concerning the study of the Babylonian Talmud on the one hand and Pahlavi literature on the other. This chapter also includes a discussion of the comparative methodology that underlies the philological work that is carried out throughout the study.

Chapter one includes a critical edition and comprehensive commentary on Pahlavi Vīdēvdād 3.14. The chapter explores the relations between ritual impurity, religious liability and punitive consequences in Zoroastrian law; the role of knowledge and intention in establishing religious liability; the question of constraint while performing a religious transgression; the categories of carrying, shaking and touching dead matter; doubts that arose with regard to ritual defilement; and the question of aggregation and separation of consecutive sins. Chapter two is devoted to several rabbinic parallels relating to Zoroastrian material addressed in chapter one. The chapter explores the legal categories of carrying, shaking and touching impurity; shared responsibility in the case of transgressions that were performed by two persons; the role of cognition of sin and punishment in establishing legal liability; and doubts that arose with regard to impurity and sin.

Chapter three is devoted to the defilement of implements in Zoroastrian and rabbinic law from a comparative perspective. The chapter focuses on the legal classification of various materials in terms of their susceptibility to ritual impurity, and particularly the classification of glassware and bone implements. The chapter also considers the role of preparedness of articles for use in determining their level of susceptibility to ritual impurity. Chapter four, also devoted to the defilement of implements, focuses on the issue of internal and external contamination of vessels as discussed in rabbinic and Zoroastrian law. The unique legal position which distinguishes the defilement of the exterior from that of the interior is rigorously analyzed and contextualized within a broader discursive framework.

Chapter five is devoted to the matter of legal connectedness and the spread of impurity in Pahlavi literature. The chapter discusses the connectedness of articles and substances to the ground; the inner connectedness of various materials; a legal distinction between solid and powdery substances; and the connectedness of different parts of agricultural produce. Chapter six provides the rabbinic counterpart on the matters of legal connectedness and the spread of ritual defilement and engages in a systematic comparison of rabbinic and Zoroastrian texts pertaining to this matter.

Jenny R. Labendz, “Socratic Torah: Non-Jews in Rabbinic Intellectual Culture,” (PhD dissertation, The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, May 2011).

Yifat Monnickendam: “Halakhic Issues in the Writings of the Syriac Church Fathers Ephrem and Aphrahat” (PhD dissertation, Bar Ilan University, 2011)

Michael Pitkowsky, “‘Mipenei Darkhei Shalom’ (Because of the Paths of Peace) and Related Terms: A Case Study of How Early Concepts and Terminology Developed From Tannaitic to Talmudic Literature,” (PhD dissertation, The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 2011).

There are numerous sources within Tannaitic literature and the Talmuds that describe situations in which rabbis justified legal rules on the basis of their concern about the effect that laws might have on relations between different groups-between Jews and other Jews, and between Jews and Gentiles. The majority of the time that there was such a concern, the rabbis used one of three terms: mipenei darkhei shalom (“Because of the paths of peace”), meshumeivah (“Because of enmity”), or hillul ha-shem (“The desecration of God’s name”). By using these terms, they were acknowledging the role of extra-textual considerations in the legal decision making process.

This dissertation examines the sources within Tannaitic and Talmudic literature in which one of these terms was used. These sources have been examined by previous scholars, but most of their analyses focused on a small number of the sources, or did not subject them to the proper philological and textual analysis that is required before one makes any conclusions about rabbinic texts or terminology. I examined these texts within their textual, legal, political, and social context, before attempting to make any conclusions about their role in Tannaitic or Talmudic discourse.

It is impossible to generalize about the ways in which these terms were used. They are found in different rabbinic corpora, quoted by different authorities, and used in different ways. Sometimes they were used to justify a new law, while in other instances they were used as a justification for either overturning or modifying an existing prohibition. The common thread throughout all of these sources was the expressed desire to place a high value on the relationships that existed between different groups of people and the potentially negative effect that Jewish law and practice might have on these relationships.

Michael Rosenberg, “‘I am Impure’/’I am Forbidden:’ Purity and Prohibition as Distinct Formal Categories in the Laws of Niddah” (PhD dissertation, The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 2011).

This dissertation uses the menstrual laws (laws of “niddah”) in the Bible and Rabbinic literature as a lens for thinking about the relationship between the legal categories of impurity and prohibition. The menstrual laws, it is argued, are a particularly
beneficial topic of inquiry because of their appearance both in the first half of Leviticus (Lev 12 and 15), in the context of concerns of ritual impurity, and in the second half of Leviticus (Lev 18:19 and 20:18), in the context of the Holiness Code legislation, in which the legal rhetoric is one of prohibition rather than impurity.

It is argued that a careful analysis of both the content of Rabbinic rulings regarding the laws of niddah as well as the language used to express these rulings reveals a change over time in Rabbinic thinking. Whereas Tannaitic and early Amoraic Rabbis rarely if ever express awareness of a hard-and-fast formal distinction between categories of impurity-law and of law-framed-as-prohibition, later Babylonian Amoraic Rabbis as well as anonymous editors make use, explicitly and implicitly, of these formal categories. At the same time, however, the content of Rabbinic rulings is not necessarily constrained by awareness or lack of awareness of such a clear conceptual distinction.

Chapter One considers the situation in the Pentateuch and argues that the Bible has two different models of the relationship between impurity-law and prohibition-based-law vis-à-vis niddah. Lev 15 and Lev 20:18, when read together, treat impurity and prohibition as separate categories of law; that is to say, Lev 15 makes no mention of prohibition and Lev 20:18 makes no mention of impurity. Lev 18:19, however, conflates the two categories, defining a prohibition using purity-terminology. These two different approaches are both found in Rabbinic literature about niddah. In Chapter Two, we treat Rabbinic rulings about immersion and show that while Tannaitic and early Amoraic Rabbis express no explicit awareness of a clear divide between impurity and prohibition-related consequences of immersion, late Babylonia editing of earlier sources reveals both an awareness of such a divide as well as anxiety about it. Chapter Three considers the topic of internal inspections performed to determine a woman‟s menstrual state. Here we see that although Tannaitic and early Amoraic Rabbis once again share a common discourse, insofar as they do not generally distinguish between impurity law and prohibition-based law, while late Amoraic Rabbis and anonymous editors use a discourse in which purity and prohibition are clearly demarcated as separate legal categories, the actual rulings of Tannaitic Rabbis in fact have more in common with the rulings of late Amoraic Rabbis and anonymous editors than with early Amoraic Rabbis. Finally,
Chapter Four considers the topic of hymenal blood and argues that we have here a case of precisely those Rabbis most aware of conceptual distinctions between impurity and transgression conflating the two in order to achieve particular legal ends.

Michal Bar-Asher Siegal, “Literary Analogies in Rabbinic and Christian Monastic Sources,” (PhD dissertation, Yale University, 2010).

My research examines literary parallels in Christian and Jewish sources, culminating in an in-depth analysis of previously un-studied parallels between Christian monastic texts, the Apophthegmata Patrum (“The Sayings of the Desert Fathers”) and Babylonian Talmudic traditions. My findings introduce a new type of interaction of Jews and Christians in Babylonia, and suggest, contrary to prior academic views, that this interaction was direct, interdependent, non-polemic and very much literary-based. These Monastic analogies shed a new light on the surprisingly inclusive nature of the Talmudic corpus.

Chapter one recapitulates recent academic findings relating to the setting in which the Talmud was composed and surveys previous literature regarding the Christian background of the Babylonian Talmud. It also suggests a new reading of a passage in BT Avoda Zara 4a, which seems to indicate an isolation of Babylonian rabbis from the Christian population of their time. This chapter concludes with a methodological discussion of the nature of research based on parallel texts. Chapter two introduces the monastic text chosen for this parallel study, the Apophthegmata . I survey the history of the formation and early transmission of the literary traditions collected in the Sayings and then illustrate the transmission routes that would have enabled its literary connection with the Babylonian Talmud. The importance of the monastic movement in the Persian Empire during the time and geographical location of the composition and redaction of the Babylonian Talmud, makes a connection between the two religious populations a great probability. Chapter three surveys a broad list of parallels between the texts of the two religious movements and identifies points of contact and difference. Chapters four and five focus on specific detailed examples that feature a rabbinic borrowing of monastic literary elements: the BT Rashbi traditions (Shabbat 33b) and the Elazar b. Dordya story (Avoda Zara 17a).

This dissertation has the potential to change the way we look at the research of both rabbinic and monastic texts: it changes our perception of the source materials used by the redactors of the Talmud, and teaches us about the circulation of monastic traditions in eastern Syriac circles.

Zvi Septimus, “The Poetic Superstructure of the Babylonian Talmud and the Reader It Fashions,” (PhD dissertation, University of California, Berkely, 2011).

This dissertation proposes a poetics and semiotics of the Bavli (Babylonian Talmud)—how the Bavli, through a complex network of linguistic signs, acts on its implied reader’s attempt to find meaning in the text.  In doing so, I advance a new understanding of how the Bavli was composed, namely as a book written by its own readers in the act of transmission.  In the latter half of the twentieth century, Bavli scholarship focused on the role of the Stam (the collective term for those people responsible for the anonymous voice of the Bavli) in the construction of individual Bavli passages (sugyot). Stam theory details how sugyot were crafted out of pre-existing sources and how the Stam works to control those sources in the service of a particular worldview.  This dissertation locates a different force at work in the construction of the Bavli as a single unified book, an authorship that is above and against the work of the Stam—a Superstam.

By examining the effect of the Bavli’s use of rare and ambiguous terminology, I expand the unit of inquiry from the individual Bavli passage (sugya) to the Bavli in its entirety.  I argue that, for the Bavli’s implied reader, meaning is not found in the work of the Stam.  While the Stam conveys meaning for a local reader, the global reader I explore does not artificially divide the Bavli into its constituent parts.   For this reader, the Superstam acts to subvert the controlling work of the Stam through the placement of key words throughout the book.  These words, when rare or ambiguous, direct the reader to other sugyot in which they appear.  These sugyot, when read simultaneously, work to convey, for the reader, an expression of ambivalence on the part of the Superstam toward those moments of Stammaitic certainty.  I conclude that Super-stammaitic activity itself is the result and product of readers who are trained how to read by the Bavli’s own expectations.  In this way, the Bavli is a text authored by its own readers who, in transmitting the text, become writers again and again.

Shana Strauch-Schick, “Intention in the Babylonian Talmud: An Intellectual History” (PhD dissertation, Yeshiva University, 2011).

This study examines the legal concept of kavvanah, or intention”, and attempts to establish the history of how it was conceptualized and applied by the Amoraim- the rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud (Bavli). Since the Bavli addresses both religious and civil law, it devotes much attention to the role of intention. However, the sources which discuss intention, both explicitly and implicitly, are scattered throughout the Bavli. Nevertheless, it is possible to construct an intellectual history of intention by considering the following: the views of the authors of relevant statements; the time in which they lived and their cultural environment; their affiliations and schools of thought. I attempt to sift through the varied material presented in the Bavli and construct an intellectual history based on each of the various sources which touch on the role and importance of intention. This work focuses primarily on the third and fourth generations of Amoraim who lived during the first half of the fourth century; a period during which it seems the Babylonian Amoraim evinced an increasing interest in the subject. The talmudic redactors who followed in the subsequent centuries continued along the lines laid out by the fourth- generation Amoraim. They addressed numerous issues pertaining to intentionality, applied existing principles to new cases, and formulated explicit principles, which perhaps lay implicit in the amoraic dicta.

Eliezer Treitl, “Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer: Text, Redaction and a Sample Synopsis,” (PhD dissertation, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2010).

Dov Weiss, “Confrontations with God in Late Rabbinic Literature” (PhD dissertation, The University of Chicago, 2011).

This dissertation provides the first full-scale literary and theological treatment of the motif of humans confronting God in rabbinic literature. The sages do not challenge God directly, but indirectly by placing moral critiques of God into the mouths of various biblical heroes. These exegetical dialogues provide a safe space for the rabbis to articulate their own ethical struggles with the divine as they present themselves not as originators of the confrontation but only as their transmitters. In this way, the sages are removed from the picture as they place sole responsibility for the protest onto a particular biblical character.

While this rabbinic topos surfaces in fifth-century C.E. rabbinic texts, it reaches its zenith within the late scriptural commentaries of Tanhuma-Yelammedenu (sixth and seventh century C.E. Byzantine Palestine). Their authors not only generate a plethora of new confrontations with God, but also intensify and radicalize older ones. The ubiquity and boldness of these encounters highlight Tanhuma’s literary proclivity to produce dramatic narratives of tension and suspense. Although scholars have already noted Tanhuma’s privileging of narrativity over homily, they have ignored the content-related implications of this “genre revolution.” This study begins to fill this scholarly lacuna by demonstrating how Tanhuma’s dramatic rewriting of the scriptural narrative provides an excellent locus to extract its distinctive ethical commitments and theological presuppositions.

Beyond tracing and detailing those moral values that drove Tanhuma authors to construct a critique of God, this thesis–more significantly–uncovers a radical Byzantine theology of human power and divine fallibility. Many Tanhuma passages depict God as revising His laws, justice system or cosmic governance only after being ethically challenged by a biblical hero. Indeed, these texts accentuate how rabbinic conceptions of God can be more accurately captured by rabbinic retellings of the scriptural narrative than by their theological maxims or normative formulations.

English, Recent Publications

Redaction and Reconstruction

Two  articles on redaction in the Tannaitic corpus that is not Mishnah were recently published. I thought that each exemplified an interesting facet of the reembracement of source criticism in recent years.

The first is Yoav Rosenthal’s article in Tarbiz 79, on an interesting phenomenon in the MSS of the Tosefta. Rosenthal’s work focuses on the “recent afterlife” of texts; something analogous to the search for “historical traditions about Jesus from the first 48 hours after resurrection”; although he contends that rabbinic works are in fact made of discreet sources, they are not always readily found. The only “rigourous” tools we have are the MSS, which rarely give away the secrets of actual redaction. They’re better at finding the first baby steps the text made when it was being transmitted.

In what might be his most influential work yet, Yoav Rosenthal brings to light some gems first discovered by Adiel Schremer. Rosenthal claims he has found footnotes in Tosefta, which become apparent when comparing the two extant MSS of this work. In some rare instances, a clump of halakhot will be found at the end of the chapter in one MS, and in the middle in another. Rosenthal shows that this clump of halakhot is a commentary on one halakha in the chapter of Tosefta that does not “move around” in the MS tradition, or an addendum to it.

This of course opens the door to the possibilities that (a) there are more such places, but they cannot be found in the MS tradition, and (b) that the Tosefta is made up of multiple layers, and that it was an open text for a certain amount of time.

This should be distinguished from true “redaction”, i.e. the creation of a new text out of sources already available to the redactor. This phenomenon was recently astutely detected in Tosefta Sanhedrin 7 by Ishay Rosen-Zvi, and deserves its own treatment.

A completely different take on the question of redaction is Steven Fraade’s “Anonymity and Redaction in Rabbinic Midrash”, published in the recently-noted Melekhet Mahshevet. In a conference conducted two years before Moulie Vidas suggested that the Stam was being anonymous on purpose, Fraade made the same observations regarding the anonymous material in the Mekhilta. Fraade notes that since Halivni and Friedman popularized the idea that the Bavli is made of different strata, very few scholars have attempted (in print, at any rate) to apply the same tools to other rabbinic texts.

Fraade suggests that it makes less of a difference whether or not the anonymous parts are earlier or later than the named ones, and that the bigger and more interesting task is to parse the effect this combination of multivocality and monovocality has on the reader. Do many names carry more or less weight than one text speaking with no names; and what is the effect of the combination?

In order to do this he read through a sizable chunk of Mekhilta nezikin, and presents the reader with a detailed discussion of parasha 4 in which he points out that the named statements in this midrash are “interlopers in a text that otherwise seems to glory in its anonymity”. He suggests that their names are presented in order to point out the partiality of the single opinions against the redacted text, brought into the debate to highlight the overarching anonymous pedagogical move that is Stam Mekhilta.

Fraade himself sees this article as the beginning of a project; as someone who is already laboring on several readings of parashot of midrash, his insight on the effect of the final redacted product on the early reader is an invaluable tool. I would, however, also focus on actual source criticism, which is easier to employ in Midrash, with all of its rules, terms and patterns, than in Mishnah, Tosefta or Talmudim.

In a way, this reading too is a study on the short-term afterlife of the text: what did the composer mean for the first audience to hear? What would the first – or third – teacher of this text transmit to his students? Are these questions better or are they in fact just a shying away from the old (“protestant”) questions of redaction and source criticism?