English, Recent Publications, Reviews

Right of Reply: Azzan Yadin-Israel Responds to Amit Gvaryahu’s review

My thanks to The Talmud Blog for inviting me to respond to Amit Gvaryahu’s review of Scripture and Tradition: Rabbi Akiva and the Triumph of Midrash. I find myself in the odd position of responding to a review that is generally positive and in certain passages very generous in its praise. Nonetheless, in what follows I will address some of the points Gvaryahu raises in his review, and, more importantly, those that he does not. (Due to space considerations, I have abbreviated some of the Sifra passages I cite).

In his introductory comments Gvaryahu praises me for engaging “refreshingly in textual scholarship” (his italics), so it is no surprise that most of his comments involve close readings of individual passages. Some of his comments merit, I think, response of one kind only: thank you. Gvaryahu is absolutely correct about the translation (read: my mistranslation) of halalim in §2.6, and he has also found a number of textual errata that I hope to have the opportunity to correct in a future revision. However, other of his comments leave me less convinced. Thus, I cite as §2.1 the opening gloss of a derashah:

“בוהק … טהור” מלמד שהבוהק טהור.

“a rash … is pure”—this teaches that a rash is pure.
Gvaryahu contends that we ought examine the entirety of the derashah, which “is parsing the verse, dividing it up into small units, each with its own meaning.” To this I would respond in two ways. First, the opening gloss should stand on its own merits, especially as it uses the term melammed to link the biblical terms to their conclusion, though it is not clear how the gloss does what it claims to do. As it stands, it extracts two words from the verse to create a brief phrase, then glosses with the identical phrase: read innocently, it is a tautology; read in light of the interpretive issues Gvaryahu raises (e.g., the ambiguous referent of the second הוא in the verse), it is a midrash that suppresses its own interpretive arguments, with the result a tautological gloss. Second, Gvaryahu’s elaboration of the full derashah merely rehearses the claims of the Sifra. Thus, Gvaryahu writes of “the two occurrences of הוא, which are read as limiting the purity of the rash to the rash itself and leprosy which protruded from it or which it might have touched”—all this from בהק הוא (“it is a rash”) and טהור הוא (“it is pure”). But why does the word הוא function in this manner; why does is limit these legal cases and not others, etc. This may be a cogent argument in Gvaryahu’s eyes, but I suspect we have simply grown accustomed to the Sifra’s (more accurately: the anonymous Sifra’s) hermeneutic caprice.Finally, I wonder what the force of Gvaryahu’s claim is. After all, §2.1 is followed by other examples:

  • 2.2 “Raven”—this refers to the raven. (Shemini pereq 5.4)
  • 2.3 “Large lizards”—these are the large lizards. (Shemini parashah 5.7)
  • 2.4 “… all living creatures that move in the water”—to introduce (lehaviʾ) the fish. (Shemini pereq 12.6)

The first two are literal restatements of the language of Scripture; the third a midrashic expansion that “introduces” the most self-evident conclusion—that “all living creatures that move in the water” includes fish. Setting §2.1 alongside these derashot lessens the burden placed on it (calling one derashah into question does not do invalidate the broader point), and also makes the “tautology” reading more compelling (it is one of several Sifra glosses that, literally or substantively, merely restate the language of the verse).

The same holds for Gvaryahu’s response to §2.6. While I, again, gratefully acknowledge his correction regarding halalim, the point of my analysis there is the odd structure of the Sifra’s reading of בני אהרן הכהנים: it first proposes a reading (yakhol) concerning בני אהרן as though הכהנים were not stated right there, and rejects it due to the presence of הכהנים; then proposes a reading concerning הכהנים but rejects it due to the presence of בני אהרן. Why raise a possibility excluded by הכהנים to begin with, when the word is modifying בני אהרן? And why repeat the procedure, artificially ignoring the presence of בני אהרן only to then draw the phrase back into the conversation as a foil to the proposed reading? Even if the Sifra is concerned with redundancy, why address it in such a convoluted manner?

But it is unlikely that the Sifra is concerned with redundancy at all, since §2.6 is not the only place this commentary “hides” one of the words in the verse only to “rediscover” it later (what I call a fort-da derashah):

  • 2.7 “… the anointed priest …”: “Anointed”—might this refer to the king? Scripture teaches, saying “priest.” (Hovah parashah 2.6)
  • 2.8 “And if anyone … hunts down an animal or a bird that may be eaten”: I know only regarding a bird that may be eaten, whence regarding an animal that may be eaten? Scripture teaches saying “an animal or a bird that may be eaten” (Ahare pereq 11.4)
  • 3.1 “The elders of the community …”: “The elders”—might this refer to elders of the marketplace? Scripture teaches, saying “the elders of the community.” (Hovah pereq 6.1)

Here too, the additional examples buttress the claim that §2.6 is a fort-da derashah, even as they lower stakes if any one derashah is excluded from this set.

There are other nits to be picked in the review (section D ignores the structural issues with Sifre Deuteronomy §357 and the cultural dependence of lectio dificilior as I argue in Chapter 7, and more), but my main concern is with what Gvaryahu does not touch on. As it stands, the review suggests that I am not convinced by certain Sifra arguments and so cast the work as engaged in ex post facto reconstructions. This omits, rather unfairly, the philological core of the book: the claim that there is a semantic incongruity in the hermeneutic terms of the Rabbi Ishmael midrashim and the named Rabbi Akiva sources, on the one hand, and the anonymous Sifra, on the other:

1. Perhaps the most dramatic shift is evident in the phrases ribbah ha-katuv and miʿet ha-katuv. In the Mekhilta to Exodus 12:45 we read: “Miʿet ha-katuv the time of eating [the paschal lamb] … But will you argue thus about the contribution offering concerning which ribbah ha-katuv the time of eating …?” (Pisha 15). If we bracket for a moment our familiarity with the dominant sense of these phrases in the Sifra, it is evident that the Mekhilta is contrasting the relatively narrow timeframe the Torah allots the consumption of the paschal offering and the relatively wide timeframe it allots the contribution offering. Here ribbah ha-katuv and miʿet ha-katuv, then, refer to the relative breadth and narrowness of biblical categories, respectively; they do not midrashically derive them. This sense is preserved in a number of Sifra derashot, as when we are told that “Scripture has multiplied copious commandments [ריבה הכתוב מצוות יתרות]” with regard to priests, but has not done so with regard to Israelites (§2.35, ʾEmor pereq 1.1-3). What this means is nothing more (and nothing less) than that the Torah contains many more commands concerning priests than non-priests—it is not a midrashic interpretation. In the anonymous Sifra more broadly, however, ribbah ha-katuv and miʿet ha-katuv indicate an interpretive move that introduces or excludes, respectively, legal elements not found in Scripture. That these formulas, the interpretive core of the anonymous Sifra, represent a subtle but profound revision of an established tannaitic usage, is very significant, but goes unnoted in the review. (Indeed, Gevryahu’s criticism that I do not recognize [in §4.18] that both Sifra Hovah 9.8 and Mishnah Shevuʿot 3.5 employ the phrase ribbui ha-katuv misses the point entirely: they do use the same phrase but it means something different.)

2. The yakhol and minayin derashot also undergo a dramatic shift. First, note that the proliferation of ribbui and miʾut in the now-standard sense (“to introduce,” “to exclude”) disrupts the hermeneutic system of the Sifra, since ribbui arguments are now pragmatically identical with minayin derashot, and miʿut arguments with yakhol derashot:

  • 3.9 “On the seventh day”: Might this mean (yakhol) either in the daytime or at night? Scripture teaches, saying “day”—not at night. (Metzoraʿ pereq 2.1)
  • 3.10 “On the first day”: In the day, not at night. (ʾEmor pereq 16.3)

The above derashot differ rhetorically—§3.9 is a yakhol … talmud lomar argument, while §3.10 a miʿut gloss—but are pragmatically identical: the word “day” precludes the broader reading that includes nighttime. Pragmatic redundancy is a strong indication that a “non-native” element has been introduced into the hermeneutic system.

More importantly, the yakhol and minayin derashot in the anonymous Sifra (broadly speaking—I note exceptions) differ from the Rabbi Ishmael midrashim and most named tannaitic derashot in that they conclude with the same verse that initiates the discussion. This is a deeply problematic issue: if verse X legitimately raises the possibility of interpretation P, how can the same verse then exclude P (“X” yakhol P … talmud lomar “X”)? Or, vice versa, if verse X excludes reading P, how can it be the verse that raises the possibility of that very reading? (Gvaryahu’s  suggestion that yakhol and minayin derashot establish the hermeneutic markedness of a term is incorrect: hermeneutic markedness precedes and legitimizes derashot; where it is employed, it is a condition of legitimate interpretation not a conclusion).

3. Mikan ʾamru: in the Rabbi Ishmael midrashim, the phrase generally refers to derashot whose conclusion is explicitly identified by the Mishnah as a derashah, or can plausibly be construed as one. In the Sifra, mikan ʾamru often claims midrashic basis for teachings that the Mishnah characterizes as non-midrashic (testimony, “they said,” etc.).

I cannot, of course, go into detail here. However, it is important to introduce these arguments because they are the philological core of Scripture and Tradition’s first section, and, moreover, because they speak directly to some of the issues Geveryahu raises in his review. To wit, my claim that the (anonymous) Sifra reworks extra-scriptural halakhot into a midrashic form is supported by a series of arguments regarding the interpretive techniques of this collection. It is not a sense of aporia that leads me to adopt this conclusion, but rather a positive, philological thesis concerning the workings of the Sifra. Like all critical scholarship, my thesis is subject to debate and criticism (“Let the conversation begin”), but for that to happen the review needs, at a minimum, to present the book’s thesis.

The same problem attends the review’s treatment of Scripture and Tradition’s concluding chapters. The argument, in brief, is that rabbinic scholarship has failed to offer a satisfactory account of the relationship between midrash and halakhot because it has consistently sought diachronic models, when a synchronic one is more appropriate to the sources. I cannot go into a detailed justification of this thesis, nor of its ramifications, but at least as far as my intent is concerned (Nota bene: everyone is a skeptic about authorial intent until it comes to their book…), it was not offer “somewhat of a postscript.”

It is evident that Amit Gvaryahu has read Scripture and Tradition with care and has offered me some important correctives and points of consideration. Any scholar worth his salt wants readers of this sort. My sense that some of the book’s core arguments were not properly represented in the review, does not diminish my gratitude to Amit for his engagement of my book, and to The Talmud Blog for affording me the opportunity to respond.

English, Reviews

E. Baumgarten, Practicing Piety in Medieval Ashkenaz – Reviewed by D. Shyovitz

Elisheva Baumgarten, Practicing Piety in Medieval Ashkenaz: Men, Women, and Everyday Religious Observance (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014) – Reviewed by David Shyovitz.

[To download the review as a pdf click here.]

Writing history on the basis of medieval halakhic sources is a notoriously tricky enterprise.  Not only are the relevant source materials inherently difficult—suffused with technical terminology, complex, often terse exposition, and assumed prior knowledge—it is extremely challenging to escape from the orbit of the sources themselves, and to draw firm conclusions as to how they reflect or intersect with the lived reality of historical actors.  Exegetical tracts (such as Talmudic commentaries and super-commentaries), for example, tend to confine their analysis to the particular texts under consideration—it is not easy to utilize the narrow explication of a particular phrase or argument in the Talmud as a means of recovering broader data about the particular historical moment in which it was generated.  Halakhic codes, as prescriptive texts, by definition tell us more about rabbinic ideals than they do about communal and individual practices.  And responsa, ostensibly the genre most transparently reflective of historical reality, have oftentimes undergone redactional and editorial processes so extensive that it is impossible to recover the historical “facts” that underlie the surviving documents.

For scholars of medieval Ashkenaz, efforts to present a descriptive, rather than prescriptive account of lived religious reality have been particularly fraught.  Long entrenched assumptions concerning the “talmudocentrism” or “halakhocentrism” of medieval Ashkenazic rabbinic culture has privileged elite legal sources, and obscured the non-elites who had no facility with—and perhaps no interest in—the dictates of halakhic texts.  As a result, medieval Ashkenazic contributions to “the history of halakhah” have often been limited to precisely that—the historical analysis of (abstract, elite) halakhah itself, rather than an attempt to write a broader history that utilizes halakhic texts without accepting their own claims to normativity and authoritativeness.

In her new book Practicing Piety in Medieval Ashkenaz: Men, Women, and Everyday Religious Observance, Elisheva Baumgarten seeks to escape from this interpretive morass, and models a new approach toward using halakhic texts for historical ends.  She mines halakhic sources composed in medieval Ashkenaz (between roughly 1096 and 1348) for the evidence they reveal concerning “pious practices”—the concrete actions and observances that were important and accessible to both rabbinic elites and the laity, men and women, members of the upper and lower classes.  By focusing on practice rather than theory, Baumgarten seeks to transcend the prescriptive nature of halakhic sources, and to bridge the gap between halakhic and other (narrative, moralistic, polemical) sources.  Rather than treat halakhah as an insular and independent construct, she seeks to reconstruct what halakhic texts reveal about the religious values and commitments of Jews who left no independent records of their lives and experiences.  What she recovers, in short, is a Jewish “lay piety,” akin to (and as we shall see, bound up in) the lay piety and popular devotion that has been the subject of much recent attention among scholars of medieval Christianity.

Practicing Piety is in many ways a path-breaking book: conceptually sophisticated, methodologically complex, the product of prodigious research and nuanced, creative readings of often familiar (and sometimes over-familiar) texts.  Its argument is for the most part extremely persuasive.  To be sure, all important books give rise to as many questions as they answer, and Baumgarten’s book is no exception—particularly because it intersects with varied overlapping fields: the history of halakhah, gender studies, Jewish-Christian relations, and others.  In what follows, I shall lay out some (by no means all) of Baumgarten’s major claims, raise some questions concerning her findings, and point to some avenues of future research that her stimulating book opens up.

Practicing Piety’s introductory chapter guides the reader through the multiple interpretive axes on which the study turns.  In order to reconstruct the piety of non-elites—the laity—and not merely the rabbinic scholars who produced the sources that have survived, Baumgarten reads those sources with an eye toward their gendered dynamics, and with comparative attention to the contemporary, predominantly Christian setting in which they were composed.  Her attention to gender serves not merely to highlight the heretofore obscured experiences of women (an approach modeled virtuosically in her earlier Mothers and Children).  Rather, by comparing the practices of men and women, Baumgarten seeks both to uncover the experiences of non-elites (since women can be said to reflect the sectors of society who were outside the rabbinic elite) as well as to locate moments of particular social conflict, since “conflicts regarding identity and institutional control are often imposed on and reflected by women” (2).  At the same time that she is attentive to the differences and overlaps between men and women, Baumgarten is constantly aware of the Christian setting within which Jews lived and practiced.  She harnesses the abundant recent scholarship on Christian “lay piety” as a means of both understanding currents within Jewish communities, as well as identifying the sources and resonances of changing Jewish practices within their socio-cultural context.  Finally, Baumgarten constantly toggles between the public and private spheres; her analysis reveals that ostensibly private acts of devotion and spirituality tended to manifest themselves publicly, and to play a role in constituting the shared ideals and identity of the community as a whole.

The main body of the book applies these overlapping lenses to six case studies.  Chapters One, Two, and Three focus on presence in the synagogue, fasting, and charity—all quotidian elements of Jewish life, and yet spheres of religious experience that underwent significant shifts over the course of the Middle Ages.  In Chapter One, Baumgarten focuses on the custom, first attested in the sifrut de-bei Rashi, of women absenting themselves from the synagogue while menstruating.  The sources that detail this practice have been subject to extensive historical analysis, mainly by scholars interested in the history of halakhah and minhag—in tracing the textual attestations of this practice, many scholars have assumed that the custom reflects new awareness of existing Palestinian texts like the Beraita de-Nidah.  Baumgarten finds such textual genealogies unconvincing, and argues that the original impetus for abstention from synagogue services came from pious women themselves.  But what began as an optional pious practice was soon normalized by rabbinic decisors, rendering it “a justification for the marginalization of women in the synagogue” (48).  Here, her comparative attention to both male and female piety bears fruit—as she shows, the newfound preoccupation with female menstrual impurity was not accompanied by concern with male impurity due to seminal emissions (keri); on the contrary, men generally attended synagogue regardless of their purity status.  Baumgarten seeks to anchor the custom in high medieval anxieties—among Jews and Christians alike—over impurity and access to sacred spaces.  Christian thinkers had debated the issue of menstruating women attending mass and taking communion since the early Middle Ages, and while the high Middle Ages saw more concern over (male) clerical purity than over menstrual purity, “the resonance between the discourses conducted by these two sets of religious leaders is significant” (41).   Indeed, Christians were deemphasizing menstrual purity at precisely the same moment that Jewish leaders were elevating nidah observance as a covenantal sign, “the defining symbol of the Jewish people and Jewish women’s covenant with God” (47).  Jews and Christians were likely aware of one another’s purity practices, an awareness that manifested itself in this “competitive piety.”

This doubly-comparative methodology, with attention to both gendered and interreligious relations, also informs the discussion of fasting in Chapter Two.  Just as the ostensibly private observance of nidah regulations had public, communal implications, so too fasting became an increasingly ubiquitous, and visible, element of the pious landscape in medieval Ashkenaz, where older fasts that had been minimized by the Geonim were revived, and where fasting became increasingly associated with penitence.  The rise of fasting paralleled the simultaneous growth of fasting in Christian lay piety, and had gendered implications as well—Jews and Christians alike subordinated pious practice to a “common gendered ideology,” which assumed that women’s role as caregivers, and even their biological workings, limited the options for pious expression available to them.  The fact that fasting occupied a prominent place in Christian penitence helps us to understand the development of Jewish penitential fasting—although both faiths anchored their practices in ancient texts and traditions, they harnessed those sources in the service of “complex structures of repentance whose theoretical and ritual overlap is too extensive to be coincidental” (101).

Chapter Three continues in the same vein, but utilizes a unique surviving source, the Nürnberg Memorbuch, in an attempt to delve more deeply into the particular social and economic settings in which pious practices were expressed.  The Memorbuch preserves the liturgy Ashkenazic Jews recited for donors pro anima—those who contributed to communal institutions on behalf of their souls—and lists the names of donors and amounts of their donations over the course of several centuries.  Baumgarten’s statistical analysis of this surviving data is a revelation—she tracks the amounts donated by men and women, the various currencies utilized by members of different socio-economic classes, the ends for which contributions were utilized, and the ways in which external events, from the inauguration of a new synagogue to the Rindfleisch and Black Death attacks on the community, impacted upon charitable norms and practices.  The upshot of this analysis is a growing, and increasingly universal desire “to commemorate each and every soul” (128)—regardless of gender and class.  The popularity of pro anima almsgiving drew on the late antique tradition of redemptive almsgiving (that Alyssa Gray and others have reconstructed), but was also spurred by Christian charitable norms.  Indeed, the very literary structure and communal function of the Memorbuch as a physical artifact represented a Jewish response to the martyrologies and necrologies in use among Christians: “another case in which Jewish culture appropriated elements from the Christian majority while tailoring them to harmonize with the Jewish frameworks of practice and belief” (115).

The juxtaposition of ostensibly familiar Jewish sources alongside elements of Christian lay piety is most productively utilized in Chapter Four, which deals with the question of women’s performance of positive time bound commandments (mitsvot aseh sheha-zman grama).  Ashkenazic decisors by and large allowed women to perform, and recite benedictions upon, commandments that were obligatory on men alone, such as hearing the shofar and shaking the arba minim.  When it came to tsitsit and tefillin, however, early allowances gave way to increasing restrictions over the course of the Middle Ages, as women were discouraged and then prohibited from wearing and making tsitsit and tefillin.  This is a familiar story to scholars of medieval Ashkenaz, and the sources that describe the process have been well trod.  But the originality of Baumgarten’s approach is her juxtaposition of this data alongside the sources indicating that men in the high Middle Ages by and large did not perform the commandments of tsitsit and tefillin.  Only as the Middle Ages progressed did a self-conscious campaign of top-down encouragement lead more and more men to adopt these practices.  The comparison of men’s and women’s experiences, then, reveals that the limitations on women’s pious expression were coterminous with the encouragement of men to perform previously neglected commandments.  The turning point in this process was the thirteenth century, a period in which we find critiques of women’s “arrogance” in a wide array of halakhic and moralistic sources.  The desire to limit women’s options for independent religious expression led to varied articulations of the core differences between men and women: men could keep their bodies clean (or “pure”) long enough to wear tefillin while women were incapable of bodily purity; women were akin to “deficient men,” since, like blind men, they were exempt from certain commandments; or, as Maharil categorically put it based on a Talmudic precedent, women are “a people unto themselves” (164).  The exaggeration of gender differences, and concomitant attempt to limit women’s options, mirrors precisely developments underway in thirteenth century Christendom, which saw the repression of the Beguines, the rise in accusations of female heresy, and so on.  “The sanctions and suspicions of the Christian hierarchy differed little from the rabbi’s concerns…the reactions led by these male authorities to women’s more active agency in religious life are remarkably similar” (170).  The inclusion of both men’s and women’s experiences, and the contextualization of Jewish concerns within their Christian surroundings, thus leads to a fresh take on a long-debated episode in the history of halakhah.

Chapter Five, which explores the ways in which piety would have been publicly visible in medieval urban settings, contains surveys of the hairstyles, garments, and fashions of Jew and Christians.  This chapter is, to my mind, the least compelling in the book.  Some of the sources contained here will be familiar to scholars of medieval Ashkenaz, but Baumgarten’s approach is less successful in recontextualizing the material than elsewhere in the book.  A number of her specific claims are original and provocative—e.g., the notion that Jewish tailoring practices would have subtly distinguished Jews’ garments from ostensibly identical Christian ones, an “internal code of sorts” (189) that made Jewish fashions simultaneously identical to and distinct from those of their neighbors.  But this argument is based on scanty (and chronologically late) evidence.  Moreover, much of her discussion in this chapter deals with prescriptive sources (e.g. halakhic discussions of the laws of shaatnez) which seem to reflect more the desires of rabbinic elites than the implemented practices of pious laypeople.

Chapter Six, however, fascinatingly extends Baumgarten’s approach from halakhic sources to narrative ones.  In a compelling analysis, she shows that “tales of pious pretenders”—rabbinic narratives in which ostensibly pious actions are discovered to be fraudulent and hypocritical—were retold and reinterpreted by medieval Ashkenazic authors in ways that accentuated female hypocrisy while eliminating that of men.  That is, the male “pious pretenders” in rabbinic literature were rehabilitated by storytellers at precisely the moment when ostensibly sincere female characters were deemed devious and duplicitous.  Again, this development tracks on to currents in contemporary elite Christian conceptions of lay piety—male religiosity was lionized as female piety was increasingly subject to surveillance and control, assumed to be fraudulent and self-interested rather than sincere and well-intentioned.

Chapter Seven concludes the book by drawing together the multiple threads of the argument—threads that Baumgarten elsewhere describes as making up “a bricolage” (87), or “a tapestry” (42).  Indeed, a tapestry is an apt analogy for the overall argument of the book.  In its large contours, the notion that Jewish piety ought to be approached via pious practices and with attention to the lay men and women who comprised the majorities within Jewish communities is compelling, and the overall picture that emerges is highly convincing.  But a close inspection of the reverse side of the tapestry, where the actual work of drawing linkages takes place, reveals a more complex and complicated picture—particularly when it comes to anchoring Jewish lay piety in its broader surrounding context.  To be sure, the scanty surviving documents from medieval Ashkenaz inevitably preclude clear and unidirectional conclusions regarding causality, and if the book leaves certain details regarding transmission and interreligious interaction unclear, it is nonetheless to the author’s credit that there are no simplistic overgeneralizations in the book, no attempts to quash the messy realities of daily life and religious beliefs into overly rigid categories or frameworks.

To begin with, the most pressing challenge to reconstructing the pious practices of the laity is one of sources.  Medieval Christian culture left behind myriad documents—written by, for, and about the laity—that historians have utilized in order to get beyond the normative and prescriptive image that emerges from top-down pronouncements.  The available Jewish source materials are far slimmer.  Thus, although Baumgarten “[takes] the vantage point of those who performed rituals rather than those who penned their descriptions and prescriptions” (216), it is those very descriptive and prescriptive texts that comprise the primary source base for her study.  Baumgarten is well aware of this methodological challenge, but never provides an explicit articulation of the method she utilizes to tease out real practices and values from the prescriptive sources in which they are reflected.  Occasionally, this leads to slippage between elite texts and the lay reality that they are assumed to describe—as when it is assumed that “increased adherence to these pious practices (tsitsit, tefillin, and shaatnez) coincided with greater attention to them in the writings of the rabbis who promoted heightened religious observance” (193).  When the sources that attest to the “increased adherence” are themselves “the writings of the rabbis,” how can we be certain that this coincidence of text and practice was not, on the contrary, a rabbinic conceit, an exclusively elite, literary development disconnected from the interests and actions of everyday Jews?

A similar complexity is manifested in Practicing Piety’s approach to Jewish-Christian relations.  Baumgarten’s illustrations of similarities between developments in Jewish and Christian piety are on the whole quite convincing—the “theoretical and ritual overlap” in the ideals, anxieties, and practices she charts are, as she puts it, “too extensive to be coincidental” (101).  But how to account for that overlap is not always clear, or at least consistent, throughout the book.  Her overall claim, as expressed in the context of Chapter Five, seems to be that “Jews wore distinctive clothing and they dressed like their neighbors” (275 n. 20): that is, that their similarities were, paradoxically, simultaneously constitutive of distinctiveness.  At times, such similarities between Jewish and Christian practices are taken to indicate a kind of bi-directional awareness and polemically inflected “competitive piety” (8 and passim)—as in the suggestion in Chapter One that Christian de-emphasis of menstrual impurity was dialectically related to Jewish privileging of nidah as the covenantal sign of Jewish fidelity.  Baumgarten recurrently gestures to Ivan Marcus’s theory of “inward acculturation,” and argues that Jews and Christians “harnessed shared rituals to express religious difference” (99).  Such commonalities in ideals and practices can thus be “simultaneously read as [appropriations] of Christian practice and as [polemics] against it” (112).  But at other points, Baumgarten limits herself to the more general observation that “the medieval Christian environment provides essential data for understanding the development of Jewish customs and ideas” (22)—that is to say, that the Christian atmosphere helps us understand Jewish developments, but was not necessarily the cause of them.  In this view, “awareness of Christian conduct is not synonymous with appropriation of its ideology or practices” (87, emphasis added), and Jewish and Christian pious practices might not have responded to one another so much as sprung from the same contextual environment, or “common ‘ritual instinct’” (44).  It would have been helpful to distinguish these two approaches from one another more carefully, especially since the polemical valences of the “appropriation” approach occasionally come across as strained.  To take just one example, in Chapter Three the similarities between the Jewish Memorbuch and Christian martyrologies and necrologies are understood to reflect not just “shared ritual instinct,” but conscious polemical appropriation.  The liturgical use of such necrologies during the Mass is thus juxtaposed with “the decision to remember the dead and their donations between the Torah and the Musaf services–with Musaf connoting sacrifice in the ancient Temple,” and read as polemically intended, as “an expression of the inward acculturation that typified medieval Jewish life” (112).  One could question whether “polemics” (micro-polemics?) of this sort were really intended or perceived as such, or whether the choice of placement of memorial rites simply obeyed the internal logic of the Jewish liturgy, in which the junction of Torah reading and Musaf was a moment when interruptions to the standard service were licit.

The ambiguity in terms of precisely how Jewish and Christian currents intersected with one another is mirrored in a certain vagueness concerning the precise factors that led to change over time.  Time and again, Baumgarten convincingly demonstrates that developments in Jewish piety—as practiced by lay Jews and as regulated by elite rabbis—mirrored developments in Christian Europe.  But a huge body of scholarship has sought to account for why Christian piety (and especially female piety) shifted and became increasingly regulated over the course of the High Middle Ages.  Much of that scholarship is referenced in Practicing Piety, but it is not wholly clear how those broader causal developments impacted upon the shifts in Jewish practice.  Put differently, did Jewish piety undergo changes over the course of the Middle Ages because Christian piety did, or were certain external factors impinging upon both religious communities, living as they did in the same cultural ambit?  And if the latter was the case, what were those external factors?  Baumgarten convincingly shows that change was afoot in the high Middle Ages, but the reader is not always certain as to why.

Baumgarten’s stimulating book thus spurs its readers to consider the extent to which Jewish piety adapted, competed with, or was indistinguishable from Christian piety—and further research by scholars of medieval Ashkenaz will no doubt engage with and extend the arguments that are so productively introduced here.  Indeed, Practicing Piety opens up numerous such avenues of future research.  To highlight just one, the very category of “lay piety,” as applied to the Jews of medieval Europe, demands that scholars revisit entrenched assumptions concerning rabbinic leadership and social structures within Jewish communities.  In medieval Christian culture, “the laity” could be contrasted with “the religious”—the priests, monks, and clerics who occupied (at least in theory) a defined and circumscribed position within society.  When, in the high Middle Ages, Beguines, tertiary Franciscans, “heretics,” and others challenged the boundaries between the religious and the laity, they were responding to real, deeply embedded socio-religious structures.  But is it safe to assume that the lines between Christian clerics and the laity tracked onto those separating the rabbis from other members of the community?  How could we determine whether the medieval Ashkenazic rabbinic elite comprised a socially and politically distinct “religious class,” with which a “laity” can be contrasted?  Practicing Piety models a way to combine moralistic and narrative sources with halakhic ones, and to use them to sharpen and deepen our notions of how social structures within Jewish communities impacted upon religious observance.

By productively, and provocatively, challenging the entrenched “top-down” model of medieval Jewish piety, Practicing Piety sheds new light upon the social, gendered, and interreligious dynamics of Ashkenazic religious practices.  Scholars of medieval halakhah, spirituality, and Jewish-Christian relations will find it to be an indispensable resource in their continued exploration of the complex, messy, and immensely fruitful religious culture of medieval Ashkenaz.

David Shyovitz is Assistant Professor of Medieval Jewish History at Northwestern University, and is presently a Yad Hanadiv Visiting Fellow in Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Dissertations, English

Dissertations and Thesis, 2014

With another December upon us and another calendar year almost through, as usual we have put together a list of recent dissertations with relevance for Talmud. It is always nice to see projects that we have followed over the years come to fruition, and even offer promise of further interesting research in years ahead. Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind, please do drop us a line and we will be happy to add dissertations and theses that we missed. And to all the recent graduates: we’ll tak’ a right gude-willie waught, for auld lang syne.


Mika Ahuvia, Israel Among the Angels—Angels and Authority in Late Antique Jewish Texts, Princeton University, 2014.

This dissertation examines how Jews conceptualized angels in rabbinic, liturgical, ritual, and early mystical sources from the fourth through the eighth century C.E. in Palestine and Babylonia. While some rabbinic traditions uphold the angels as messengers of God, others were more ambivalent toward them, discouraging attention to angels and privileging the close relationship between Israel and God instead. Chapter two centers on the liturgical works of the sixth century poet Yannai and his synthesis of diverse Jewish traditions about angels in his liturgical texts. This chapter contextualizes Yannai’s encouragement of his audience to think of themselves as praying with the angels, and examines how Yannai singles out certain authorities within the synagogue for comparison with the angels. Chapter three highlights the variety of ways in which Jews invoked angels and other authorities for assistance in so-called “magical” or ritual bowls, amulets, and manuals from Babylonia and Palestine. Ritual texts in particular show that named and unnamed angels were part of a spectrum of authority figures to which ancient Jews appealed in their times of need. Alongside angels, Jews turned to ritual practitioners, folk heroes, and rabbis for guidance and intercession with God. Chapter four investigates the early mystical treatise Hekhalot Rabbati, which captures the worldview of those Jews most preoccupied with angels. Jewish mystics strove to live in synchronicity with the angels, to achieve angelic status, and even to command the angels. As each chapter demonstrates, no systematic angelology predominated among Jews in late antiquity. Rather, different circles of Jews upheld different traditions about angels. Ancient Jewish texts on angels reveal a diverse and dynamic society, where many mediating figures bridged the gap between Israel and God and served a variety of functions for individuals and communities.

Ari Bergmann, “Halevy, Halivni and the Oral Formation of the Babylonian Talmud,” Columbia University, 2014.

This dissertation is dedicated to a detailed analysis and comparison of the theories on the process of the formation of the Babylonian Talmud by Yitzhak Isaac Halevy and David Weiss Halivni. These two scholars exhibited a similar mastery of the talmudic corpus and were able to combine the roles of historian and literary critic to provide a full construct of the formation of the Bavli with supporting internal evidence to support their claims. However, their historical construct and findings are diametrically opposed.

Yitzhak Isaac Halevy presented a comprehensive theory of the process of the formation of the Talmud in his magnum opus Dorot Harishonim. The scope of his work was unprecedented and his construct on the formation of the Talmud encompassed the entire process of the formation of the Bavli, from the Amoraim in the 4th century to the end of the saboraic era (which he argued closed in the end of the 6th century). Halevy was the ultimate guardian of tradition and argued that the process of the formation of the Bavli took place entirely within the amoraic academy by a highly structured and coordinated process and was sealed by an international rabbinical assembly. While Halevy was primarily a historian, David Weiss Halivni is primarily a talmudist and commentator on the Talmud itself. Halivni offers his bold construct of the history of the formation of the Bavli in the context of his commentary Meqorot Umesorot, which spans almost the entire Babylonian Talmud. Halivni explains the process of the formation of the Bavli as taking place well after amoraic times in a massive unstructured process of reconstruction. This dissertation will demonstrate that both of the theories of Halevy and Halivni are in need of careful analysis and revision. Halevy’s construct despite providing valuable scholarly insights is tainted by a strong ideological agenda. On the other hand, Halivni, as a literary critic, provides insightful literary analysis and his conclusions on the uniqueness of the stam have been firmly established in contemporary scholarship. However, when analyzing Halivni’s theory one must distinguish between his literary conclusions and his historical construct. The later is a constantly evolving theory, and it has presented numerous problems as it has developed over time, mainly in the introductions to Meqorot Umesorot.

The body of this dissertation consists of three chapters, each focusing on a different model for the formation of the Bavli. Chapter One focuses on Halevy, beginning with his biography and continuing with an in-depth analysis of the scope and purpose of his Dorot Harishonim and the ideological import of his research. The second chapter addresses the theory of Halivni on the formation of the Bavli. After a biographical sketch of Halivni’s life, I review the scope and purpose of Meqorot Umesorot with a special emphasis on his scholarship ki’peshuto, followed by a detailed analysis of his model and the evidence he offers in support of it. The third chapter proposes an alternative model for the formation of the Talmud which combines aspects of Halevy’s and Halivni’s theories. I propose a model that includes a fixed oral text, accompanied by an oral fluid commentary. This dual form of transmission accounts for the diverse structure and style of the apodictic material and the dialectical interpretative argumentation of the stam. The fixed apodictic text, the proto-Talmud follows the basic contour of Halevy’s model, while the understanding of the stam follows many aspects of Halivni’s description of the reconstruction of the dialectical argumentation by the Stammaim. By applying form criticism to determine the Sitz im Leben of talmudic transmission and teaching, combined with recent scholarship on the various forms of oral transmission, I propose a framework which allows for a developmental model which integrates the perceptive historical insights of Halevy with Halivni’s literary findings.

Amy Birkan, “The Limited Scope of Victimhood in Rabbinic Law: ‘The Plaintiff Must Distance Himself from Harm,”  The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2014.

A fundamental precept in Rabbinic law is that greater responsibility falls on the plaintiff to avert her harm than on the defendant not to cause it. This work is comprised of six chapters each of which presents a different facet of plaintiff-responsibility. The first chapter, dealing with Tort,
exposes the substantive responsibility legislation places on the plaintiff to be vigilant in the public sector in order to avoid obstacles created by the tortfeasor. The second chapter analyzes the Rabbinic approach to psycho-emotional harm, which centers on the notion that the דעת בר is the exclusive master of her mind and is therefore singularly responsible for any damage generated therein. The third chapter looks at the scope of the responsibility placed on the plaintiff to be self-determining by examining rulings in cases of enticement. Here legislation is required to choose whether or not an agent is accountable for breaking law when she does so as a result of the defendant’s influence. The forms of enticement dealt with include bribery, authoritative coercion, and seduction. The fourth chapter looks at the same concept, an agent’s responsibility to be self-determining, but through the category Acts Done under Provocation. The rulings for these cases are used to demonstrate the extent to which legislation requires the plaintiff to select a response to the defendant’s inciting act. It also examines whether or not legislation ever considers provocation a valid excuse for a harmful reaction it triggers. The rulings for this class of cases have strong implications on legislation’s notion of involuntary acts. The fifth chapter examines plaintiff-responsibility in the context of capital crime. It is shown that the factor of whether or not the plaintiff could have evaded lethal conditions created by the defendant is critical for determining the latter’s culpability. The material also presents the Bavli’s extension of the doctrine that foremost responsibility falls on the plaintiff to save her life to a legal imperative for the plaintiff to heal herself following the defendant’s attack. The sixth chapter looks at a policy created in the Bavli in the branch of נזקי the plaintiff must distance himself from’) על הניזק להרחיק את עצמו מן הנזק termed שכנים harm’). In place of requiring the tortfeasor to desist from common activities on her land that generate harm to the plaintiff’s property, the Bavli requires the plaintiff at all times to take measures to avoid the harm. The broad picture that emerges through the legalities addressed
in this work is that Rabbinic legislation accentuates the plaintiff’s responsibility to actively ensure her wellbeing through vigilance and self-determination.

Aaron Glaim, “Reciprocity, Sacrifice and Salvation in Judean Religion at the Turn of the Era,” Brown University, 2014.

Joshua Gutoff, “Talmud Study and the Development of the Moral Imagination: A Theoretical Framework,” The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 2013.

This dissertation in Talmud pedagogy presents an approach designed to help nurture the moral imagination of students. Influenced by the work of literary scholars such as Wayne C. Booth and Martha Nussbaum, and Talmudists including David Kraemer, Daniel Boyarin, and Marjorie Lehman, this work is based on the hypothesis that particular reading strategies can help develop both empathy and a creative ethical vision, and that the nature of Talmud makes it particularly useful for such an approach.

Following Bakhtin, three levels of Talmudic discourse are identified: one concerned with a teaching addressed to an audience; one in which two or more characters interact directly; and one in which the redactor brings various texts and voices into conversation with each other. These levels are mapped against the kinds of moral concerns each presents, and then examined individually.

I first address how students might read normative statements of law, ethics, or theology in such a way that the reading itself contributes to their moral development, independent of the wisdom or utility of the specific teachings. I identify the different imaginative skills demanded by such a reading and their moral significance, and illustrate ways in which teachers who are focusing on the propositional content of the Talmud can make the achievement of their curricular goals an opportunity for practicing those skills.

Turning to interactions between characters or voices, I discuss how, by attending to the nuances of the language and behavior between the characters, students can arrive at ethically compelling readings of passages without committing to either the reality of the events described or the righteousness of any of the characters.

Lastly, I look at teaching that highlights the activity of the Stam , the anonymous redactor of the Talmud. I demonstrate that the student’s awareness of the Stam ‘s creative work can lead to an understanding of theStam as an independent moral agent, and then to an exploration of meaning and import of his choices.

In the concluding chapter I discuss some the implications of this dissertation, both for education, and for the role Talmud plays in broader Jewish culture, and close by reflecting on the relationship between the imagination and play in regard to religion and religious texts.

Margaret Jacobi, “Literary Construction in the Babylonian Talmud: A Case Study from Perek Helek,” University of Birmingham, 2014.

Perek Helek, the last chapter of Tractate Sanhedrin in the Babylonian Talmud (BT), is unusual in consisting almost entirely of aggadah (non-legal material). The present study is a source and literary analysis of six units (sugyot) from the chapter, which are almost continuous over ten pages of Talmud.

The sugyot relate to specific groups and individuals who, according to the Mishnah, are denied a place in the World to Come. They cover subjects in the books of Genesis, Numbers and Samuel.

Comparisons with the Tosefta, Palestinian Talmud and midrashim suggest that the BT is less concerned with the World to Come than Palestinian sources are. Rather, it focuses on the wrong-doing of the groups and individuals and issues of justice and authority. The BT also includes vivid stories which appear to be Babylonian in origin and are often self-mocking.

My findings also suggest that the sugyot based on passages in a given biblical book (Genesis or Numbers) have more elements in common than sugyot based on the same mishnah but derived from a different biblical book. In conclusion I discuss the possible implications of my findings for the more general question of how the chapter was edited.

Ayelet Libson, “Radical Subjectivity: Law and Self-Knowledge in the Babylonian Talmud,” New York University, 2014.

This dissertation examines the emergence of self-knowledge as a determining legal consideration among the rabbis of late antiquity, from the second to the seventh centuries C.E. Based on close readings of rabbinic texts from Palestine and Babylonia, the dissertation analyzes the central legal role accorded to individuals’ knowledge of their bodies and mental states in areas of law such as menstrual purity laws, family law and the laws of the Sabbath.

Legal systems generally aim to structure their statutes in a form as objective as possible, in an attempt to transcend the personal viewpoints of the parties involved. One way in which law treats people objectively is by regulating behavior; it does not seek to coerce feelings or attitudes, and it does not investigate feelings or attitudes unless wrongful behavior has been previously established. While the rule of law is usually upheld by focusing on external, objective standards, I highlight a unique phenomenon which develops in the Babylonian Talmud, in which legal decision making is based on personal knowledge, experience and intuition–which are by definition subjective. Although rabbinic culture is highly legalistic, I demonstrate that the later rabbis were themselves concerned with the reaches of their own legal authority, and therefore carved out an unexpected space for the experience of individuals, not only as an extra-legal factor, but as constituting law itself. I argue that the ancient rabbis came to recognize that certain kinds of knowledge–especially knowledge of the body–could only be mediated through an individual’s own experience, thereby allowing for an unprecedented degree of personal autonomy.

Scholars have demonstrated that the period of late antiquity saw the emergence of a sophisticated conception of the inner self. I locate talmudic discourse within this culture, and demonstrate how the rabbis incorporated the innovative notions of selfhood and an inner world specifically into the legal realm. The dissertation combines philological-historical investigation with the tools of legal and philosophical analysis to produce a study which contributes to a better understanding of talmudic law and ethics. The fruits of this inquiry will be of interest not only to scholars of ancient law, but also to those considering questions of jurisprudence, gender, and the nature of the self.

John Mandsager, “To Stake a Claim: The Making of Rabbinic Agricultural Spaces in the Roman Countryside,” Stanford University, 2014.

This dissertation argues that the prescriptions for Jewish practice and the boundaries of Jewish space in the Late Antique countryside may be considered a call by the rabbis for the transformation of a landscape filled with many different neighbors, from non-rabbinic Jews to Roman conquerors. The rabbinic sources set forth the vision for an idealized Jewish landscape filled with rabbinic Jews who manage their estates in accordance with God’s will. In modern scholarship, agricultural rituals and spaces in the Mishnah and the Tosefta are often set aside in favor of consideration of urban life and society. By interrogating the importance of these spaces and their rituals, this dissertation shows that the authors of Jewish literature adopt Roman ideals of rural life but subvert those ideals to impose a specifically Jewish vernacular upon the landscape. The commitment to Biblical laws of agriculture, even in light of profound changes to the landscape wrought by Roman imperial domination, serves to challenge that domination through the assertion of distinctly Jewish agricultural spaces. In this dissertation, the halakhic reasoning and argumentation found in early rabbinic literature is analyzed through textual, literary, and spatial analysis to reveal the cultural and spatial ideals of the creators of these texts. These legal texts describe a world filled with outsiders, from Roman conquerors to Jews with different interpretations of scripture and practice: the laws of Jewish farming serve to differentiate normative Jewish practice and social structures from those others. It is the spatial aspect of agricultural life, from its fences to its regimented rows of crops that serve to physically and visually mark a Jewish space as distinct. This dissertation offers tools for spatial analysis of legal texts in rabbinic Judaism specifically and imperial spaces more broadly.

Elana Stein-Hein, “Rabbinic Legal Loopholes: Formalism, Equity and Subjectivity,Columbia University, 2014.

Rabbinic law is particularly well known for its use of legal dodges and technical circumventions. This dissertation focuses on three main questions about such loopholes: 1) Why is rabbinic law so replete with them? 2) Are they always permitted, and if not, what are the parameters of their use? 3) What does the use of legal loopholes reveal about rabbinic views of the relationship between intention and action? We attempt to answer these questions by analyzing a particular subset of rabbinic legal loopholes known as ha‘arama (cunning). Tracing the history and use of ha‘arama from tannaitic to amoraic sources, this work places rabbinic legal loopholes in context of Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern worldviews, Greco-Roman perspectives, and later contemporaneous Zoroastrian approaches. Working with both tannaitic and amoraic materials, with Palestinian and Babylonian sources, we observe a progression within rabbinic thinking on this front: from rigid legal formalism to a concern for the inner spirit of the law, and from emphasis on the inner spirit of the law to an interest in the inner spirit of the individual legal agent.

Mira Wasserman, “The Humanity of the Talmud: Reading for Ethics in Bavli Avoda Zara,” University of California, Berkeley, 2014.

In this dissertation, I argue that there is an ethical dimension to the Babylonian Talmud, and that literary analysis is the approach best suited to uncover it. Paying special attention to the discursive forms of the Talmud, I show how juxtapositions of narrative and legal dialectics cooperate in generating the Talmud’s distinctive ethics, which I characterize as an attentiveness to the “exceptional particulars” of life.

To demonstrate the features and rewards of a literary approach, I offer a sustained reading of a single tractate from the Babylonian Talmud, ‘Avoda Zara (AZ). AZ and other talmudic discussions about non-Jews offer a rich resource for considerations of ethics because they are centrally concerned with constituting social relationships and with examining aspects of human experience that exceed the domain of Jewish law. AZ investigates what distinguishes Jews from non-Jews, what Jews and non-Jews share in common, and what it means to be a human being.

I read AZ as a cohesive literary work unified by the overarching project of examining the place of humanity in the cosmos. The talmudic materials are organized as a journey down the cosmic chain of being, from the supernal realm of souls and spirit, to the material world of embodied, animal existence, to the inanimate domain of physical objects. In tracing this descent, I discover in AZ the outlines of a rabbinic anthropology that affirms the common humanity of Jews and non-Jews, and highlights the role of Jewish law in constituting Jewish difference.

As I make my way through AZ, I bring the talmudic text into dialogue with critical insights and issues from philosophy and literary theory. Pointing to ways that the editors of AZ engage the philosophic currents of their time, I challenge the prevailing characterization of the Bavli editors as inwardly focused. Even more important, I explore how AZ engages the critical questions of our time–questions of identity and alterity, of universalism and particularism, of justice and community.


יהושפט הראל, ‘סוגיות ארץ ישראליות לסדר קדשים’, האוניברסיטה העברית בירושלים, תשע”ד.
אסתר פישר. זה יצרו מבחוץ וזו יצרה בפנים – היבטים מגדריים של המיניות בספרות חז”ל, אונ’ בר אילן, 2014
עבודה זו עוסקת בשיח של חז”ל על מיניות נשים מתוך השוואתה לשיח המקביל על מיניות גברים. העבודה בוחנת את מאפייני המיניות הנשית העולים מתוך ספרות חז”ל: מהן הנחות היסוד העומדות בבסיס מאפיינים אלו; באילו אופנים דומה המיניות הנשית למיניות הגברית ובאילו אופנים היא שונה ממנה; מה היחס בין המקורות האגדיים למקורות ההלכתיים העוסקים בהיבטים המגדריים של המין והמיניות בספרות חז”ל. הנחת המוצא של העבודה היא שספרות חז”ל היא ספרות פטריארכלית; היא נכתבה על ידי גברים עבור קהל קוראים גברי, ולכן עוסקת לרוב בגברים. משום כך ההבניה המגדרית הרווחת אצל חז”ל רואה בגבר סובייקט בעל צרכים, רצונות ותשוקות, ואילו באישה היא רואה אובייקט שייעודו למלא את צרכי הסובייקט ואת תשוקותיו. עם זאת לטענתי מאפיין זה אינו מוחלט בתרבויות פטריארכליות בכלל ובתרבות חז”ל בפרט. כיוון שספרות חז”ל היא רב-רובדית ופוליפונית, היא טומנת בחובה יותר מאשר צורה אחת להבניה מגדרית. מתוך הבנת הפוטנציאל הטמון בריבוי הקולות בספרות חז”ל, המחקר הנוכחי בוחן את ההבניות המגדריות של המיניות בספרות זו. המחקר מתמקד בטקסטים המרכזיים והקנוניים של תקופת חז”ל, דהיינו החיבורים שנוצרו ונערכו בין המאה הראשונה לספירה למאה השביעית לספירה בארץ-ישראל ובבבל. ההנחה היא שהדיונים המתועדים בספרות זו היו בעלי תפקיד כפול בעולמם של חז”ל: הם ביטאו את הקודים התרבותיים על אודות מגדר שרווחו בתקופתם, אך בה בעת גם לימדו גברים ונשים מי הם, מה טיבם וכיצד עליהם לנהוג; הם שיקפו תפיסות על אודות המציאות אך גם יצרו מציאות. עבודה זו מפגישה בין שני תחומי מחקר: האחד הוא מחקר ספרות חז”ל והשני – ביקורת מגדר, אשר אחד מענפיה המרכזיים הוא חקר הגוף והמיניות. המפגש בין תחומים אלה הוביל בשנים האחרונות לפיתוח מחקר מגדרי בספרות חז”ל, שבו נטועה עבודה זו.



Yehudah Huberman, “‘Because of the Sight of the Eye’: An Historical Philological Inquiry of the Term and Halakhic Category,” Bar-Ilan University, 2013.


יש”י גזונדהייט, “מאבקי סמכות בין חכמים בבבל במאה הרביעית והשתקפותם בשתי תבניות דיאלוג ייחודיות”, אוניברסטית בן גוריון בנגב, 2014.
רון נחמיה לסרי, “‘מי שאחזו בולמוס’: קריאה ספרותית ותרבותית בתופעת הבולמוס בספרות החכמים”, אוניברסטית בן גוריון בנגב, 2014.
דוד סבתו, “מצוות בני נוח בספרות התנאית”, האוניברסיטה העברית, תשע”ד.
איתן פינסקי, “הגרמטיקליזציה של הפועל הוה בצירוף הוה+בינוני בארמית של התלמוד הבבלי”, האוניברסיטה העברית, 2013.
ידידה קורן, “הערלה והערלים בספרות היהודית העתיקה ויצירת היהודי הערל”, אוניברסיטת תל-אביב, תשע”ד.
Guest Posts, Reviews, עברית

קולו של הבבלי: בכבלי מסורת ותמורה- איתי מרינברג-מיליקובסקי

“קולו של הבבלי: בכבלי מסורת ותמורה” – על ספרו של מולי וידס – איתי מרינברג-מיליקובסקי

Moulie Vidas, Tradition and the Formation of the Talmud, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2014.

מהו ה’בבלי’? שאלה כללית ואמורפית זו, משונה ככל שהיא עשויה אולי להיראות, ניצבת בשנים האחרונות כשאלת-יסוד עקרונית במפעלם של כמה חוקרים. הללו מבקשים לפרוץ בעבודתם את גבולותיו הצרים של בירור קונקרטי, גדוּר-היטב – ויהא זה בירור ספרותי, היסטורי, תרבותי, וכל כיוצא בו – על מנת להתחקות באמצעותו אחר מה שמוצג לעתים ברמז, אם לא במפורש, כ’מפתח’ וכ’סוד’ של הטקסט המכונן. ספרו היפה של מולי וידאס מצטרף למגמה האמורה ותורם לה תרומה חשובה. ‘שאלת הבבלי’ אמנם אינה מוצגת בו במישרין, אולם פרקי הספר מצטרפים יחד לחיפוש מרתק אחר איזו ליבה או מהות פנימית שלו. וידאס אינו מבקש אותה במרחבים רחוקים, בפינה נידחת של מושא המחקר, או בפסקה שולית שרק בגלל חולשתנו לא עמדנו עליה עדיין כראוי, אלא בתופעות מרכזיות, מוכרות היטב לכל המצוי בבבלי. הודות לכך, זווית המבט הרעננה והמסקרנת המוצעת על ידו ניתנת לשימוש חוזר ולבדיקה מתמשכת בידי לומדים וחוקרים.

שני חלקי הספר מטפלים בנושאים ידועים למדי. הראשון, צורני או ‘ספרותי’ במהותו, מוקדש לבעיית היחסים בין רבדיה השונים של הסוגיה התלמודית (פרקים 1-3); השני, תמאטי ו’אידיאולוגי’ במובהק, כרוך בנטיית הבבלי אל החידוש היצירתי (פרקים 4-6). את שניהם מחברת בהצלחה (ואולי, ליתר דיוק, הצלחה יחסית) שאלת הזיקה אל המסורת: עריכת הבבלי במבנה רב-שכבתי מורכב משקפת, לדעת וידאס, עמדה מסוימת באשר לטיבן של מסורות קדומות – והיא היא שמשתקפת גם בהעדפת ‘עוקר ההרים’ על ה’סיני’. תבנית הספר מניחה רמת הלימה גבוהה בין צורה ותוכן, ולכך אשוב בהמשך; בשני המקרים, מכל מקום, מילת המפתח היא ‘אי-המשכיות’ (discontinuity): הבבלי, וּוידאס בעקבותיו, מַבנה, מסמן, מדגיש ואף חוגג את הפער בין מקור לדיון בו, בין ידע לניתוחו, בין ‘מסורת’ ל’מוסרים’; הוא עושה זאת בהצהרות גלויות, הנדונות בחלקו השני של הספר, ובדרכים שקטות יותר, הנדונות בחלקו הראשון.

לא יפלא, אפוא, כי החיבור שלפנינו מנכיח בדרכים שונות את דמות עורכיו של הבבלי, שאת קולם – ‘קולו’ של הבבלי, מכנה אותו המחבר לפעמים– אפשר לאתר בקלות, אם רק מאזינים כראוי:

If we think of the Talmud’s creators mostly as introducing unconscious modifications, as hiding themselves behind their traditions and retrojecting their own words and ideas into them, as adapting tradition to new context and ‘improve’ it, it is because we have focused on these specific activities and not others. The Bavli’s creators themselves are not hiding: they are there in almost every sugya, structuring the discussion and leading the reader (or listener) through the sources, expressing their voice in the anonymous discussion that organizes most of the Talmud. While their choice of anonymity in itself might be seen as an act of deference toward their predecessors, their literary practice betrays a different set of priorities. (p.11)

בהעמידו בסיס קונספטואלי לפרקים הפרשניים שיבואו אחריו, סוקר המבוא לספר גישות מרכזיות בשאלת היחסים בין ‘קולו’ של הבבלי עצמו לקולות המצוטטים בו. גישות אלה נכרכות בידי וידאס בתמורות שחלו בעת החדשה בהמשגת ה’מסורת’, כמו גם בהתפתחויות בחקר התרבויות האוראליות, ובהטמעת השיח על אודות פרקטיקות של ‘מְחבּרוּת’ (authorship. * מונח עברי אלגנטי יותר יתקבל בברכה) – הן כאשר תמורות אלה מוזכרות בכתבי מקצת מן החוקרים ומשמשות להם השראה גלויה, והן, מודה וידאס, כאשר הן בבחינת ‘נוכח-נפקד’ בעבודתם של חוקרים אחרים.

moulie book

הפרק הראשון דן בסוגיית הפתיחה של מסכת בבא קמא, ומראה כיצד הבבלי אמנם מכשיר את הקרקע לשילוב עמדת אחד האמוראים (במקרה זה, רב פפא) במסגרת הדיון הסתמאי, אך בה בעת מבליט את חוסר ההלימה בין דבריו ובין העמדה המובלעת של הדיון המקדים. כך למשל מזהה וידאס בקריאתו הרגישה מתח בין עיצוב עמדת הסוגיה בגוף ראשון רבים, לעיצוב עמדת האמורא נקוב-השם בגוף שני יחיד; מתח הנתפס על ידו כביטוי סימפטומטי להתמודדות עם מסורת העבר, המוצגת ברגיל כ’אחרת’ (ולפיכך כתלויית-הקשר), בניגוד להווה ‘שלנו’ (קרי, של עורכי הסוגיה), הנהנה מזכות-היתר של קביעת ההקשר, ובכך מפקיע את עצמו מקונטקסטואליזציה מצמצמת.

בפרק השני מנווט המחבר את דרכו בזהירות במחלוקת על אודות היחסים הכרונולוגיים בין החומר הסתמאי והחומר נקוב-השם, מחלוקת שהדיה ניכרים כמעט בכל דיון משמעותי בבבלי בעשורים האחרונים. וידאס מציע לראות את ההפרדה בין חומרים משני הסוגים – כלומר, את ריבוד (layerization) הטקסט התלמודי – כקונסטרוקט ספרותי של עורכי התלמוד ויוצריו; חומרים ארץ-ישראליים (במקרה הנדון בפרק זה, ובמקרים רבים אחרים) מאורגנים מחדש בסוגיה הבבלית בשכבות האופייניות לה, תוך הפרדת המסורת מהאנליזה, או כפי שהדברים מנוסחים לקראת סוף הפרק – תוך הפרדה בין שכבה מצוּטטת לשכבה מצטטת. הפער בין השכבות, לגבי דידו, אינו משקף פער היסטורי בהתהוותן, אלא מעשה עריכה מתוחכם המתמודד באמצעים סגנוניים עם הקונפליקט בין מסירה וחידוש:

The layered structure… combined a commitment to a faithful transmission of tradition and an independent and flexible engagement with that tradition. It allowed Babylonian scholar to contrast their own approaches with the teachings of the past, whether to showcase the scholarly virtuosity of an individual scholar or more generally to mark the distance between a classical past and their own age. The adoption of this structure was a move toward a more marked distinction between tradition and innovation. (p. 78)

במקום אחר בפרק מדגיש המחבר כי התלמוד עצמו – רוצה לומר, הטקסט הערוך, הסופי, ‘קולו של הבבלי’ שכבר הוזכר לעיל – הוא שמייחד מונחי ציטוט להבאת מימרות וברייתות, ומותיר את השכבה הסתמאית בלעדיה; התלמוד עצמו הוא שמעצב לעתים, אם גם לא תמיד, הבדלי שפה (עברית-ארמית) בין החלקים נקובי-השם לחלקים הסתמאיים. טיעונים אלה מודגמים בניתוח סוגיה ממסכת פסחים: וידאס מיטיב לשכנע כי במקרה זה הבבלי והירושלמי חולקים לא רק תשתית למדנית משותפת, אלא אף אבחנה פנימית בין אלמנטים נקובי-שם לאלמנטים סתמאיים, אלא שהבבלי מארגן אותם מחדש. ברוח זו, ובניגוד לרושם העולה לעתים ממחקרים המוקדשים לתופעות אלה, מטעים המחבר כי הבבלי אינו מוסיף מסגרת ספרותית לחומרים שחסרו אותה, כי אם מחליף מסגרת ספרותית אחת – באחרת. המסגרת החדשה מבוססת על אבחנה ההולכת ומתחדדת בין מסגרת סתמאית סיפורית-עיונית, המתווה את מהלך הסוגיה, לבין החומרים הנדונים על ידה, ויהא מקורם אשר יהא.הפרק השלישי דן בסדרה של סוגיות משלהי מסכת קידושין, ומראה כיצד אותו מרחק ביקורתי שנרקם בידי עורכי התלמוד בריבוד הסוגיות לשכבה מצוטטת ושכבה מצטטת, מושג לעיתים קרובות גם באמצעים אחרים, שאינם קשורים דווקא לפעולת הריבוד במובנה הצר. עדכון ועיבוד של מסורות ספציפיות, שינויים בפונקציות של אלמנטים בודדים במארג הסוגיה, ארגון מחודש של מבנים סיפוריים, פיתוח קומפוזיציות רטוריות מורכבות – כל אלה תורמים לא רק ל’התאמה’ של חומר ישן לסדר-יום חדש, אלא גם לעיצוב מבט ביקורתי על החומרים המיוצגים בסוגיה כ’ישנים’, או באופן רחב יותר כמורשת מן העבר.

הפרק הרביעי פותח את חלקו השני של הספר, ומציע בחינה מחודשת לתמה בבלית ידועה: אהדת החידוש כפרקטיקה למדנית ראשונה במעלה, המאפילה, בלשון המעטה, על פרקטיקות אחרות, כגון שימור והעברה של מסורות. תמה זו, שנדונה רבות במחקר, זוכה כאן לפנים חדשות, כמעט כפשוטו של ביטוי: אין היא עוד בבחינת עמדה ‘אקדמית’ תיאורטית של בעלי התלמוד ועורכיו, כי אם כלי לעיצובה של זהות עצמאית ייחודית, נבדלת מזהותם של ה’תנאים’, שתורתם מתמקדת במסירה בלבד. וידאס רואה בה עדות טקסטואלית למתח תרבותי בין קבוצות דתיות שונות בחברה היהודית בבבל, קבוצות המצטיירות על ידו במלוא ממשותן (ככל שהמקורות הספרותיים מאפשרים להעריך איזו ‘ממשות’). בהתייחסו למציאות הריאלית הוא משער, וראיותיו עִמו, שהגבול בין ‘מסרנים’ לחכמים לא היה בהכרח ברור כל כך; ממילא, תודעת הזרוּת המגדירה את היחסים ביניהם בפסקאות רבות מן הבבלי ראויה לדעתו להתפרש אף היא כקונסטרוקט ספרותי שתפקידו לגלם את המתח בין שתי הקבוצות, ובמישור סימבולי מופשט יותר – בין מסירה ואנליזה. כך מתווה הייצוג הספרותי (להבדיל מן ה’מציאות’) גבולות מובהקים בין ‘אנחנו’ (בעלי התלמוד, אנשי האנליזה), ל’הם’, כלומר, למי שמסומנים מעתה כ’אחרים’ (בעלי המשנה, ה’תנאים’ המשננים).

בהמשך לכך, הפרק החמישי עוסק בויכוח על הציטוט (או השינון), וממקם את דיוניו של הבבלי בעניין זה בתוך ההקשר הרחב יותר של העולם הסאסאני. מעתה, השוואת התנא המצטט למגוש הזורואסטרי – “דאמרי אינשי: רטין מגושא ולא ידע מאי אמר, תני תנא ולא ידע מאי אמר” (בבלי סוטה כב ע”א) – אינה מתקיימת בחלל הריק; סימוּן המצטט כ’זר’, תוך הפיכת ‘בעל התלמוד’ כנגדו לנציג אותנטי-יותר (כביכול) של התרבות היהודית, מזכירה לדעת המחבר נסיונות דומים להבניה עצמית של הקול ההגמוני הדובר בטקסטים נוצריים וזורואסטריים, דמיון הניכר מבעד להבדלים בפונקציה שממלא הזכרן-המצטט בכל אחת מתרבויות אלה.

האם לסיפור זה יש צד שני? כיצד עשויה להצטייר מערכת היחסים בין המסרנים ללמדנים, מזווית המבט של הראשונים? בהיעדר עדויות מפורשות, בגוף ראשון, לפרספקטיבה של המסרנים על אודות יחסיהם עם החכמים ‘בעלי התלמוד’, חלקו השני של הספר נחתם בנסיון מאלף לאתר קצה-חוט ל’סיפור המתנגד’ (counternarrative) שלהם. דמותם של ה’אחרים’ של הבבלי, התנאים ‘מבלי העולם’ (סוטה, שם), מגיעה אפוא לשיא ממשותה בפרק השישי, בו נבחנת ספרות ההיכלות, ובעיקר מסורת ‘שר התורה’ המשולבת בה, כצוהר אפשרי לעולמם הדתי. תוך הצבעה זהירה (ושמא זהירה מדי) על נקודות השקה אפשריות בין מסורת ‘שר התורה’ ודמותם של המסרנים המתוארים בתלמוד, משרטט וידאס קווים לדמותה של קבוצה דתית המעמידה אלטרנטיבה לתרבותם של חכמי בבל. אלטרנטיבה זו מצטיינת, בין היתר, בתפיסת מעשה הזכרון והציטוט כמעשה ליטורגי יותר מאשר אינטלקטואלי; הבנה, לגבי דידה, אינה בהכרח התכלית המרכזית של העיסוק הטקסטואלי, ואפשר אף שהיא סותרת תכליות נעלות ממנה. בתקופת הגאונים, רומז המחבר בפרק המסקנות שבסוף החיבור, משהו מן הלהט היצירתי של בעלי התלמוד הולך וקופא, בשעה שהתלות בתנאים-המסרנים הולכת וגוברת; בבל, כפי שהכרנוה, משתנה מן היסוד.

הקריאה בספר מעוררת מחשבה עד מאוד; הטקסט מתוּמרר כהלכה – כבבלי עצמו – וכל אחד מחלקיו זוכה לדברי הקדמה וסיכום מועילים, התורמים יחד להעמדת משנה סדורה ומגובשת (ואולי מוטב: ‘תלמוד סדור ומגובש’?…). את הדיון בו אבקש למקם בשלושה הקשרים שונים, הנתונים בחפיפה חלקית זה עם זה: המתודולוגי, הפואטי-רטורי, והאידיאלוגי.

ראשון – ההקשר המתודולוגי. נסיונו של המחבר לטפל בשאלות ה’גדולות’ הנוגעות לאופיו היסודי של הבבלי, ושל התרבות המשתקפת ממנו, מעלה בחריפות את בעיית מגבלותיה של הקריאה הצמודה (close reading). וידאס הוא ‘קורא צמוד’ מעולה – דוגמה טובה לכוחו הפרשני מצויה בניתוחו היפה לסוגיה מפרק ‘חלק’ בסנהדין (עמ’ 132-136) – אולם הקורא עשוי לתהות באיזו מידה הסוגיות המעטות-יחסית הנדונות בספר באופן מעמיק, יכולות להעיד על הבבלי כולו. הפתרון, לעניות דעתי, אינו טמון בוויתור על התמודדות עם אותן שאלות – מה גם שלוידאס תשובות מפרות עד מאוד – אלא בפיתוח מתודולוגיה הולמת לדיון בקורפוס רחב. ברוח זו, מעניין לחשוב על תרומתה האפשרית של ‘קריאה רחוקה’ (distant reading) מבית מדרשו של פרנקו מורטי, הן להתבוננות רפלקסיבית בכבלי הקריאה הצמודה/הקרובה, הן לבחינה שיטתית של התופעות הנבחנות בספר שלפנינו (בעיקר בחלקו הראשון). דוגמא פשוטה לכך יכולה לשמש אבחנתו של וידאס, שנזכרה לעיל, בין ייצוג דברי חכם נקוב-שם בגוף שני יחיד, לייצוג ‘קולו של הבבלי’ בגוף ראשון רבים: מדובר באבחנה לשונית-סגנונית מוגדרת הניתנת למדידה, לכימוּת ולמיפוי (באמצעים ‘אנושיים’ או ‘חישוביים’), בעזרתם ניתן יהיה להציע, בשלב ראשון, תשובות חלקיות לשאלות כגון: בכמה סוגיות היא מופיעה, ומכמה היא נעדרת? מתי הסוגיה נותנת לחכמים לדבר ‘יותר’, ומתי היא נוטלת את זכות הדיבור לעצמה? האם התופעה נפוצה יותר בסוגיות פתיחה של מסכתות ופרקים? האם יש מִתאם (קורלציה) בין הופעתה בסוגיות מסוימות, לנוכחותם של מונחי משא-ומתן קבועים-פחות-או-יותר באותן סוגיות? באיזו מידה היא משקפת הרחבה של תופעות דומות בספרות הארץ-ישראלית? ומשעה שתשובות לשאלות אלה יונחו בפנינו, יגיע זמנו של המבט הרפלקטיבי, כיאה ל’קריאה רחוקה’ טובה: מה משמעותה של התופעה? מדוע היא מתנהגת כך ולא אחרת? כיצד היא מאירה את דמותו של הקול האומר ‘אנחנו’ במרקם הטקסט התלמודי, במסגרת ה’מחזה’ הלמדני שסוגיות רבות מעמידות בפנינו? בקצרה, סקירתה לאורך ולרוחב הבבלי – הבבלי כולו – עשויה להוליד טיפולוגיה עשירה של סוגיות, מתוחה על פני ספקטרום לשוני-סגנוני נרחב, ונושאת מימד תרבותי-אידיאולוגי.

שני – ההקשר הפואטי-רטורי. וידאס מייחס לסוגיה התלמודית, בצדק, איכויות פואטיות ורטוריות מובהקות (אף על פי שמונחים אלה כמעט נעדרים מן השדה הסמנטי הרגיל בספרו). איכויות אלה, על פי רוב, מבטאות לדעתו את ‘קולו של הבבלי’ – המצטייר בין השיטין כקולו של עורך רב-עוצמה, העושה בחומריו כבתוך שלו. הנחות אלה גוררות אחריהן מערך טיעונים שלם: כך, וידאס מבכר באופן שיטתי הסברים המייחסים כוונה ומודעות ליוצרי הטקסטים (ראו לדוגמא עמ’ 143, וכמותו רבים), ומצמצם למינימום הסברים ‘טכניים’ או ‘פורמליסטיים’; כך, נקודות של מתח או של אי-התאמה מתפרשות על ידו תדיר כביטוי לכוונה חתרנית של העורכים (כפי שעולה למשל מסוף הפרק הראשון), ולא, למשל, כתוצאה מקרית של התרחבות השיח הלמדני, או של כוחות צורניים אחרים הפועלים על הסוגיה (דוגמא טובה לכך היא טיפולו במסורת על שם האל בבבלי קידושין עא ע”א, הנדונה בעמ’ 99-100). כל אלה הכרעות מטא-פרשניות סבירות, מוצדקות לגמרי במסגרת הפרדיגמה העיונית של וידאס, ואפשר גם שקשה להעניק לסוגיה משמעות בלעדיהן; אך לכל הפחות יש מקום להרהר במערכת היחסים ההדוקה הנרקמת באמצעותם, כמו גם באמצעות מבנה הספר כולו, בין צורה לתוכן – צמד הראוי בעיני למבט חשדני יותר, מסוייג במידה.

שלישי ואחרון – ההקשר האידיאולוגי. בהשראת הגותם של ולטר בנימין וג’ורג’יו אגמבן, טוען וידאס כי חשיפת מנגנונים המכוננים ‘אי-המשכיות’ בין מסורת למוסריה, מעניקה לעבר קיום עצמאי, ובמשתמע – מייחסת לו משקל רב יותר מזה שניתן לו בדגמים המדמים המשכיות הרמונית יותר בין עבר להווה. על רקע טענה זו, מעניין ואף מפתיע להשוות את תפקידם של בנימין ואגמבן בספרו של וידאס, עם התפקיד ההפוך השמור להם, להבנתי, במחקר העכשווי של הספרות העברית החדשה: בשדה זה הם מוזכרים לאחרונה שוב ושוב דווקא כמי שמאפשרים לחשוב על זיקותיה הרצופות של הספרות החדשה, החילונית-לכאורה, למקורות יניקתה הקדם-מודרניים הדתיים. הנה כי כן, בחקר הספרות הרבנית, תפיסה רציפה של המסורת – תפיסה מתבקשת למדי, כשלעצמה – מוצגת (בספר שלפנינו, ולא רק בו) כ’לא-ביקורתית-מספיק’, ולפיכך מומרת בנראטיב של שבר או סדק היסטורי-תרבותי; ובחקר הספרות החדשה, לעומת זאת, דווקא תודעת משבר היסטורי-תרבותי – תודעה מתבקשת למדי, כשלעצמה – היא שמוצגת כ’לא-ביקורתית-מספיק’, ולפיכך הולכת ומומרת בנראטיב מסורתי, הרמוני לפרקים. אני מקווה שדי באנלוגיה זו כדי לשלול – בשני השדות המחקריים – התנגדות לנראטיב אחד כאילו הוא ‘מדומיין’, והערצה לאחר כאילו הוא ‘ממשי’; נדרש כיוונוּן-תדרים עדין יותר.

אך נשוב אל העיקר: חוויית הקריאה בספרו של מולי וידאס מזכירה לעתים התבוננות בצידו הפנימי של בגד יפה. לא משום שהוא מגלה את התפרים הנסתרים המחברים את חלקיו השונים של הבגד יחד – הללו, הרי, גלויים וידועים זה מכבר לכל הרגיל בבגדים (ובהתאמה: לכל מי שרגיל בקריאה ביקורתית של הטקסט התלמודי) – אלא משום שתפרים אלה עצמם זוכים רק כך לבּוֹלטוּת אסתטית (ובהתאמה: אידיאולוגית); הם אינם רק אמצעי טכני המחבר יחד, בעדינות אלגנטית או ברישוּל גס, מרכיבים שונים, אלא מנגנון אמנותי המסמן ומבליט ומעצים את שונותם של המרכיבים המצויים משני עבריו. ומן המשל אל הנמשל: חידושיו המרשימים של וידאס אינם חושפים אלמנטים לא ידועים בטקסט התלמודי, אינם מצביעים על רובד נוסף שנותר עד כה בצֵל, אלא, בפשטות, מזמינים את הקורא לשנות את הפרספקטיבה; וזו החדשה, לטעמי, ראויה ומבטיחה ביותר.

איתי מרינברג-מיליקובסקי משלים בימים אלה את עבודת הדוקטור שלו במחלקה לספרות עברית, אוניברסיטת בן-גוריון בנגב, תחת הכותרת “למעלה מן העניין: יחסי הגומלין בין סיפור והקשרו בתלמוד הבבלי – סיפורים מרובי-הופעות כמקרה מבחן” (בהנחיית ד”ר חיים וייס ופרופ’ תמר אלכסנדר).

Announcements, English, Guest Posts

A Tantalizing Tale of Temura Fragments – Guest Post by Noah Bickart

As a Talmudist at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, I have long been accustomed to fantastical tales about the discovery of ancient manuscripts of the Babylonian Talmud. That famous picture of Schechter in the Geniza hangs everywhere in our halls. We are taught from the beginning not only to read Raphael Nathan Rabinovitch’s Dikdukei Soferim, but to imagine him on some Sunday morning in Rome, unlocking the Vatican Apostolic Library with his own set of keys, sitting down to transcribe Vatican 109 by candlelight. We hear of our own Haim Zalman Dimitrovsky, who supervised the doctorates of so many of our own teachers (Shamma Friedman, Mayer Rabinowitz, Joel Roth, and Burton L. Visotzky among countless others), roaming the monasteries of Italy, excato knife in hand, no binding safe from the search for more Seridei Bavli. And yet, we are accustomed to thinking that the time for these kinds of monumental discoveries, of even a few leaves of a Tractate stuffed into the binding of a 16th century print, has long past, and that only European libraries and monasteries might hold more finds. You can imagine my surprise when I found myself staring at an image in a Facebook message of what looked to my own eyes as an early European manuscript of the Bavli, apparently having formed the cover of a book of Church Music published in Prague in 1604, now housed in Fales Library at New York University.

A young scholar of musicology, Sam Zerin, who happens to be married to a former student of mine, Rachel Dudley Zerin, is pursuing a doctorate under Professor Stanley Boorman at NYU. Dr. Boorman, with his students, is now working on this collection, comprising about a dozen volumes, all of which are bound in Vellum manuscripts, mostly Latin music texts. Yet three volumes are bound in parchment from a single manuscript in a language Dr. Boorman didn’t read. Sam, his student, immediately recognized the script as Hebrew, and offered to ask his wife Rachel if she knew anyone at JTS who might be able to identify the text. Having been subjected to my (in)famous synopses in a class she took with me on Aggadah in Seder Nashim some years ago, Rachel had Sam send me some pictures of these bindings.

When I saw the first picture, it became clear that this might actually be a major discovery. The topic was Temura (הוא לה’ קריבה ואין תמורתו לה’ קריבה) and featured a dispute between Rava and Abaye, meaning that what I was looking at was either the Babylonian Talmud or some text which quoted or paraphrased it. Some brief searching in the Bar Ilan Responsa database led me to assume that this might be a section of Yalkut Shimoni‘s version of Temura 3b, which more closely matched this MS than did the printed texts of the Bavli, yet searching in the Lieberman database of Talmudic manuscripts revealed that indeed this was a manuscript of Temura. At this point I called Professor Neil Danzig and sent him the pictures. The questions were broad: might this text hold the key to resolving the dispute between Y.N. Epstein and E.S. Rosenthal on the relative age and provenance of the “Lishna Aharina” sections of Temura? How does this version of Temura compare to the fragments of this chapter found in the Geniza? Neither of us slept. I spent the night immersed in Temura.

When we spoke in the morning, we were both convinced that the covers from these three books were fashioned from a single manuscript of (or at least the first chapter of) Temura, written somewhere in Europe in the 12th or 13th century. Professor Danzing noted three features which pointed to an early date and “Proto-Ashkenazi” provenance for this text. First, the divine name is represented by three and not two letters “yod.” Second, the manuscript shows clear signs of striation. Third, the letters, “gimel” are elongated. We made an appointment to visit Dr. Boorman and these books at Fales Library.


A picture of one of the fragments.

The meeting between Drs. Boorman and Danzig was a beautiful example of everything that is right in the academy. Two scholars whose fields almost never overlap were brought together by a single artifact. Each scholar was able to explain in detail various but not overlapping aspects of this object, and each was able to convince the other of the worth of this object for his respective field. It was Professor Boorman who made the case to the conservator on duty that the bindings really needed to be opened, that the worth of this text to our field was worth potentially damaging his book.

Needless to say, I plan on transcribing this fragment in the coming months, comparing its readings to all the extant witnesses of the tractate as well as other variants recorded in the Shita Mequbetzet, and related works, with the aim of publishing an article on the fragment and its textual tradition. In the meantime, if any of the readers of the blog have any insights or thoughts about how to proceed, or know of any witnesses to Temura not listed in the Sussman catalog, I would love to hear about them.

Noah B. Bickart is an an adjunct instructor in Talmud & Rabbinics at JTS where he also serves as the Principal of the Rebecca and Israel Ivry Prozdor High School Program and is completing a PhD on scholastic terminology in the Babylonian Talmud and parallels to Syriac Christian literature.

English, Guest Posts, Recent Publications

On Paul Mandel’s ‘Was Rabbi Akiva a Martyr?’- Daniel Boyarin

Daniel Boyarin’s study of martryology in late antique Judaism and Christianity has been one of the most enduring legacies of his scholarship. A recently published study by Paul Mandel on the martyrdom of R. Akiva in rabbinic texts raises some questions about Boyarin’s readings, and it is accompanied by a lengthy Appendix  on the matter (available here with permission from the author and publisher). The Talmud blog is honored to provide a space for Professor Boyarin to respond.

My teacher, Prof. Saul Lieberman, May the Memory of the Righteous be for a Blessing, used to say that the proper Festchrift for a senior scholar was one in which his students and colleagues corrected all of the errors he or she had made in his work over the decades. I begin, then, by thanking Prof. Paul Mandel for catching and correcting an important error in my work, one that was, moreover, compounded by successive revisions of the argument in which the initial error was never corrected until quite recently. I also wish to congratulate him on a very important and largely compelling article. Let me step back a moment and fill in the background here for those who might not know of what I speak.

Mandel recently published an important article (“Was Rabbi Aqiva a Martyr? Palestinian and Babylonian Influences in the Development of a Legend,” in Ronit Nikolsky, Tal Ilan  eds, Rabbinic Traditions between Palestine and Babylonia (Brill 2014))  in which he argued that in the Yerushalmi and in the earlier stages of the Bavli’s transmission, the story of Rabbi Akiva’s death [Berakhot 61b] is not portrayed as a martyrdom but as something he calls a “political drama” (It’s not clear to me how a martyrology is ever not a political drama, but nonetheless). The important evidence is that in the earliest forms of the text as preserved in one family of Bavli MSS, significant markers of the martyrological character of the story are missing, only to be added in later families of manuscripts to Massekhet Berakhot. The argument, and it is a quite compelling one, leads to the conclusion that the martyrological elements in the story are a later addition, perhaps—even probably—is added to the story in the Byzantine era and under the impact of Christian martyrological literature. As I’ve said already, by and large, I find this article convincing. The conclusion, of course, invalidates my own interpretations of this story in its form as a martyrology as late-ancient and intimately bound up with the formation of the very notion of martyrology as a Jewish/Christian co-invention in the third and fourth centuries. One is always sorry to lose a treasured reading, but זה בונה וזה סותר,כך דרכה של תורה. The work lines up with other analyses of this type (including at least one of my own) in which we see that notions that we ascribe to the Bavli are really the product of late stages of transmission of the text and the earliest forms of the Bavli-text as found in manuscripts line up much more closely with the Yerushalmi. Indeed, Rabbi Akiva may not have been fully understood as a martyr until some time later than we thought, although it may not be gainsaid that there are martyrological moments even in the earliest Bavli transmissions of the story.

As said, Mandel is to be congratulated on this achievement. He, however, devotes quite a bit of time in the article, and especially in an appendix, discussing an egregious error that I made in doing my own work on this topic, and it is this aspect that I would like to take up here. First off, as said, of course he is right. When I originally translated this text, I simply skipped an entire line in transcribing from the Vilna edition of Berakhot, a regrettable error in its own right, especially since the line that I skipped strongly supported my interpretation of the story.

Here is the bit of text, as I wrote it and as it ought to have been transcribed. I wrote:

In the hour that they took R. Aqiva out [to be executed], his disciples said to him, “Our master, so far? [i.e., is this necessary].

I should have written:

At the hour that they were bringing out Rabbi Aqiva for execution, it was the time of the reciting of the Shema, and they were flaying his flesh with iron combs; and he was accepting upon himself the yoke of the heavenly kingdom. His students said to him: Our master, so far? [i.e., is this necessary?]

Mandel makes much depend on this missing line of text:

What is particularly significant in this text [i.e., Boyarin’s mistaken text] is the fact that the query of the disciples to Rabbi Aqiva appears directly after the exposition declaring his being taken out for execution; there is no mention of the torture or of Rabbi Aqiva’s recital of the Shema at this time. This means that the disciples’ alarmed question, “Our teacher, so far?,” must be taken to be a challenge to the very act of his impending death, as Boyarin indeed explains in a bracketed addition: [“i.e., is this necessary?”], meaning “is this [acquiescence to your] execution necessary?” Rabbi Aqiva’s answer, based upon his midrashic comment to Deut 6:5, thus becomes a forceful argument for the “joining of Eros and Thanatos”; Rabbi Aqiva’s message to his students is: “Death is not only required of me at this time [“it is necessary”], but all the more: I have actively sought out just this martyrdom all my life as a fulfillment of the commandment to love God.”

I cannot, for the life of me, see how the addition of the elements of Rabbi Akiva being flayed alive, nor that the moment was the time of the reading of the Shema, detract one iota from the martryological interpretation of the story as it appears in the textus receptus. The students, nonetheless, see their teacher being flayed, a grisly form of execution, and ask whether it is necessary that this awful thing happens, to which he answers, yes. Rabbi Akiva, moreover, prepares to accept the yoke of the kingdom, i.e., his tormented death, at this very moment by reciting the Shema, as it happens. It is trivializing of the story in the extreme to make the disciples question a merely halakhic one: Is it necessary to read the Shema at such a time? Their question remains directed at the master’s impending death as well as present pain. His answer is precisely that through the recitation of the Shema at the time of being tortured and killed, he fulfills the mitzva of “with all your soul.” Had the addition of the line I inadvertently skipped been lethal for my reading, this would have been a much more important error than it is. I cannot see, however, how adding the detail of Rabbi Akiva being flayed alive (certainly a martyrological trope) or the moment being the time for the reading of the Shema detracts from the martyrological reading of the textus receptus. If anything it surely enhances that character.

אמר להם: כל ימי הייתי מצטער על פסוק זה:
‘בכל נפשך’ (דברים ו ה)  אפילו נוטל את נשמתך. –
אמרתי: מתי יבא לידי ואקיימנו?

Any way that it is construed then, the textus receptus surely describes a desire for martyrdom on the part of its hero protagonist, with or without missing lines of text. Despite having little effect on the interpretation of the passage in the textus receptus, it remains a regrettable error nonetheless. The same error was repeated, moreover, in three other publications about this narrative both in Hebrew and in English over the years. I am chastened and embarrassed.

More egregious than that is the evident fact that even when I claimed later on in one of the publications to be citing from a manuscript, the error persisted, so once again the work was sloppy at this point. I had clearly been reading the MS at the time of the later work, as a large new chunk of text considered there was copied from the MS. At that time, moreover, some elements of the variant readings of the Oxford MS did enter my translation (interestingly the variant that Mandel considers “most significant,” the repetition of אמרו, is represented in my revised text!) of this story then. The haplography (if that be the right term for a skipped line) remained in place, although, to be sure, the flaying is indeed absent in the Oxford text, and that is an important part of Mandel’s argument as well. The repetition of the error is, to me, unaccountable. I hope that there are few errors of such a nature in others of my works but hardly imagine that none exist, much as I have tried to be careful over the years both with copying, translating, and checking manuscript variants. It is necessary to restate, however, that the skipped line does not affect my original interpretation of the text; as said above, putting it back in only enhances my reading. In the latest version of the text (the recent Hebrew translation of Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash), the line is restored with only positive effect). The error itself is, therefore, regrettable and mortifying but not, in itself, of great interpretative significance.

The argument of my various readings of this narrative (and they are in different discursive contexts and themes) stands even better once the text of the textus receptus is restored. Much of this is, therefore, a red herring that detracts from the genuine innovation of Mandel’s own case which I would now quickly lay out. Where earlier scholars in general read the story in the Bavli as we have it as representing an early (at least ideological) reality, Mandel shows that it reflects rather a later ideological reality. He does so by demonstrating that the earliest witnesses to the Bavli text read quite differently: in them, the disciples’ question is not: Is it necessary to suffer and die, Master, but rather is it necessary to read the Shema in such a condition of danger. Where some—not Boyarin as Mandel himself remarks—would have read the text as representing something about the actual death of R. Akiva and some, Boyarin, as representing fairly early rabbinic representations of that death, Mandel thus shows that in its earliest form it is considerably less martyrological in its import and that the strongly martyrological elements are later additions to the text during its transmission. Where, then, I had thought it to be evidence of a third or fourth century rabbinic contribution to a developing shared discourse of martyrology, Mandel shows, I think, that it is rather evidence for continuing later influence of Christian martyrologies on the developing talmudic text. I by and large accept this conclusion which takes Prof. Lieberman’s point from The Martyrs of Caesarea and expands it. The story of R. Akiva’s martyrdom is thus a much less apt example for an early, common, discourse shared by Rabbis and Christians in Caesarea. So be it; a fine and important conclusion. It is curious, however, that Mandel in treating only the fate of this story, completely ignores the rather significant other evidence that I have cited for early rabbinic martyrological discourse defined exactly as I have done as eroticized and even desired death for God. Within the mini-corpus of my texts on this subject, there are citations and discussions of Sifra Ahare Mot 8,3, on the “three boys,” Sifre Devarim on the death of Rabbi Hananiah ben Tradyon, and especially the Mekhilta Shirata 3 on Rabbi Akiva’s own drasha: We have loved you until death. Even without the story in the Bavli, the inference that eroticized death, a conflated eros and thanatos, was quite early found in rabbinic literature seems quite sound. (And, this, it should not be necessary to add, even without accepting ascriptions of tannaitic sayings to their alleged authors or imagining that the tannaitic midrash took shape before the late third or even early fourth century).

Such deliberate, not accidental, elision of evidence is evidence of Tendenz. Mandel shows his hand when he claims that his refutation of my historical interpretation of the Bavli text destroys entire the thesis that I have developed in Dying for God and even more so in Border Lines of ongoing blurred borders between nascent Christianity and rabbinic Jews. This, I suspect, is his real target, and it is arrant nonsense. The argument about Rabbi Akiva’s alleged martyrdom is only one chapter out of four in the former book and not even mentioned (as Mandel concedes) in the latter one, in which there are a couple of hundred pages of textual evidence, analysis, and reasoning that have nothing to do with martyrology at all. Moreover, in the Hebrew publication in the Dimitrovsky volume, there is an extensive discussion of other martyrological tales from the Talmud, as well from Tractate Avoda Zara and translated from the universally acknowledged best MS of that text, in addition to the discussions of tannaitic midrash as mentioned above. There may very well be other textual errors lurking in both books, and surely other ways of construing the evidence, ones that might even convince me, as Mandel has here, that I need to revise my thesis, but invalidating one important and highly evocative piece of evidence does not go far in challenging a thesis that is argued on a much much broader evidentiary base. Mandel’s argument on this score, then, is an argumentum ad hominem (by discrediting the author of the argument and not the evidence or reasoning) and as such simply and plainly invalid.

Daniel Boyarin is Hermann P. and Sophia Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture at the University of California, Berkeley.

English, Guest Posts, Reviews

‘Introduction to the Grammar of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic’- A Review

Elitzur Bar-Asher Siegal, Introduction to the Grammar of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, (Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2013) – Reviewed by Aaron Koller

For those interested in the grammar of the Bavli, the past few years have seen a steady stream of important new publications. The book under review here will take pride of place in any serious study of the language, as it is the only volume that presents a full picture of the language. An advanced seminar can now work through Bar-Asher Siegal’s book, pore over Sokoloff’s monumental Dictionary of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), study Moshe Morgenstern’s Studies in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2011; see my review here), and use the series of high-quality publications of magic bowls (many also with the involvement of Morgenstern),[1] and emerge with a good knowledge of the dialect.


Perhaps more, however, students in such a seminar will emerge with a deep sense of the challenges facing researchers of the dialect. Those challenges are well adumbrated in Morgenstern’s volume, and they are addressed in Bar-Asher Siegal’s book throughout. These challenges also make the notion of an introductory grammar to the dialect somewhat problematic from the outset. So while Bar-Asher Siegal’s book is excellent, as will be detailed below, it should also be said that the problems of genre and audience are serious here. The author himself notes at the outset that because of the nature of JBA and our data, it is “difficult to write an introductory grammar book of the sort available for Biblical Hebrew, Biblical Aramaic, Classical Arabic, Classical Greek, Classical Latin, etc.” (§0.8, p. 33).

One of the strengths of the book is its precision, both philological and linguistic. (There is a seven-page “glossary for linguistic terminology” at the end [251-257], apparently reflecting the author’s understanding of the demands he is making of his readers.) While there are exercises for each chapter (found, oddly, at the end of the book in a single bloc (pp. 259-286)), this can be a teaching grammar only for advanced students. But let me be clear: the rigor reflected on every page of the book is to be applauded, even if it makes things complex. The only alternatives, in the current state of our knowledge, are to forego a serious analysis of the language or to rely on the printed editions in all their glorious corruption.

Bar-Asher Siegal’s book relies on original research in the manuscripts of the Bavli and original grammatical analysis by a scholar who moves effortlessly between Semitic philology and linguistics. This is as good as an “introduction to Jewish Babylonian Aramaic” can be, and it is difficult to imagine anyone producing a better grammar of this type until there are qualitative advances in the field of JBA.

Bar-Asher Siegal argues, both in the introduction to the book (pp. 28-31) and in an article published in the same year,[2] that there are no really reliable manuscripts for the Bavli. This is against the methodology preached by Yechezkel Kutscher, which has proven so productive for the Mishnah and the Sifra, in particular. Whereas Morgenstern contends that there are such texts, but they are texts not seriously studied by Kutscher – namely, the Early Eastern manuscripts – Bar-Asher Siegal’s claim is that there are no manuscripts that can be utilized as the “primary texts” due to their exceptional reliability. What that means in practical terms is that each and every linguistic phenomenon, from orthography to morphology to syntax, has to be investigated thoroughly and independently in all of the manuscripts. And the result is that many of the paragraphs in the grammar contain references to textual readings in particular manuscripts.[3]

This position comes as something of a disappointment to textual scholars, who would like to be able to study the reliable manuscripts and be confident in the text found therein. Bar-Asher Siegal’s denial that this is the case means there is no text that can be studied to learn the grammar; there is an inescapable circle of reconstructing the grammar and ascertaining the text. If this were a pure circle, there would be no entry point, of course, and there would seemingly be no reliable criteria for determining which witness to follow on any given feature. We need some place to start. While Morgenstern looks to the EEMs, Eljakim Wajsberg has said that there are some “actually good” manuscripts of the Bavli, but apparently is confident in only two: a Yemenite manuscript in Oxford of Sukkah, and a Geniza fragment of Bava Metsia‘.[4] Even if they are not infallible, these texts give us an entry point into the grammar. Here we have mostly reliable manuscripts that provide some of the needed grammatical data. Using this foundation, Bar-Asher Siegal’s method can then be employed: each feature and phenomenon can be studied throughout all of the witnesses in an effort to write a real grammar.

One of the theoretical points made by the author which constantly accompany the analysis is that the text of the Bavli is a problematic witness for JBA. This is for two reasons. First, the Bavli seems to reflect different dialects. This is true not only in the well-known tractates with a somewhat different grammar;[5] randomly distributed throughout the Talmud are features that ought no co-exist within the same dialect. One example is found in §4.2, #6 (pp. 91-92). Here Bar-Asher Siegal discusses forms such as תלמידיך “your student,” where the singular form shows an unexpected yod before the suffixed possessive pronoun, and תלמידך “your students,” where the plural form does not have the expected yod before the suffixed possessive pronoun. He explains how each form may have developed – the former through reanalysis of the yod as part of the suffix rather than a pluralizing morpheme on the noun, and the latter through a sound change of ay > a before a word-final consonant (/_C#). Bar-Asher Siegal then comments:

If this situation reflects the actual forms of JBA, then clearly the two phenomena could not reflect one stage in one language, since either /y/ elided or its morphological role was reanalyzed. Thus, the various forms should either reflect different historical stages or two dialects. This is another example where JBA regularly reflects more than one linguistics system.

Second, however, and more fundamentally, the Bavli may not reflect JBA because scribes often try to mask developments within colloquial language in their written texts. When manuscripts differ between a more archaic and a later form, it often cannot be known whether the text originally had the older form and this was later mistakenly updated, or whether it original reflected the newer form and was then mistakenly “corrected” to the older form. Bar-Asher Siegal explains carefully (and in more detail than the summary offered here) on p. 30 why this is such a far-reaching problem, and concludes, “we may have to be satisfied with the fact that it is not always possible to determine which phenomenon is original. Often it is only possible to raise the various options regarding each and every form.” Fortunately, much of the time Bar-Asher Siegal does reach a conclusion regarding which form is to be preferred, but this caution is indeed found throughout the book.

After the methodological introduction, the book opens with a paragraph introducing orthography, that ends, “The goal of this section is to provide an overview of the different orthographic practices one will encounter in the manuscripts” (§1.1, p. 37). This makes it clear that beginning Talmudists are not the target audience of the book.[6] But this exemplifies the strengths of the book, as well: the grammar of JBA has never received this thorough and sophisticated a study, and anyone, beginner student to advanced scholar, who studies any section of the book will be enriched by it.

Here and there are claims or analyses with which one could quibble. To take one example, Bar-Asher Siegal discusses the pharygealization of the א in words borrowed into JBA. Following Breuer, he identifies this process in the word Ṭayyi’, for example, which appears as טייעא in JBA. Here it may also be that the ע is the result of a folk etymology, however; in many of the other examples he gives of this phenomenon (§3.1.4, pp. 71-72), one wonders whether the presence of a non-etymological ע simply points to the lack of any opposition between א and ע in the dialect, as he discusses in a different example (עדי “these”) later (§, p. 81). This is the level at which the criticisms take place, however: building on the wide-ranging and fundamental work offered in this book itself, it may be possible to offer suggestions in different areas.

There are comparisons made throughout the book to other languages. Generally, these comparisons have one of two purposes. Sometimes there is a historical point being made, or implied; this is the case when the comparison is to Mishnaic Hebrew, Mandaic, Syriac, or North Eastern Neo-Aramaic dialects, for example. In such cases, it is likely that when there is similarity there is influence. Comparisons are also made to Akkadian, Greek, and other languages, presumably just for typological purposes (although Akkadian certainly did leave an impression on Eastern Aramaic, including JBA). Cross-linguistic data is put to good use in understanding how some of the distinctive features of JBA developed and are used. One example are the enclitic forms of the pronouns used on participles. Bar-Asher Siegal is able to observe that across languages, it is not uncommon for co-referential (redundant) pronouns to become a copula or a marker of agreement, and the originally dislocated element gain a central role in the clause, so that an originally marked construction becomes unmarked (§4.5.2, pp. 98-99). This allows for a clear presentation of the development of עדיפנא אנא “I am preferable” from an original אנא עדיף אנא.

Beginning in chapter 5 (p. 111), the book focuses on the verb. It should be noted that there is no artificial division found in this book between morphology and syntax, so never is the student asked to memorize forms without being told what function those forms play. As forms are introduced, their roles in the language are made clear, as can be seen in the Table of Contents (available here). At the back of the book (beginning on p. 334), there is an alternative Table of Contents, however, with the subjects arranged in the order one might find them in a traditional grammar: orthography, phonology (vowels, consonants), morphology (nouns, pronouns, verbs), syntax. In both it is clear that syntax plays a much larger role in this grammar than in most “introductory” grammars, especially in the later chapters. Indeed, although Bar-Asher Siegal is gracious in giving credit to early scholars for describing the syntax of JBA, the reader will find sophisticated discussions of many syntactic constructions here. The student of general Semitics may well benefit from these discussions even if only for comparative purposes.

One of the more ambitious parts of the book is a full presentation of the Tense – Aspect – Mood (TAM) system of JBA (§7.2, pp. 162-168). Here Bar-Asher Siegal parts ways with most older presentations, and denies that the prefix conjugation expresses the irrealis mood; he also argues that the verb הו”י, in different forms, serves to mark the tense of imperfective verbs as past or future. As in some of Morgenstern’s work, there is here a constant interplay between the conceptualization of the grammar (here, the TAM system) and the philological work with the manuscripts. It is of critical importance for the broad theory to ascertain whether the proper verbal form in a passage is איעול or עייל, for example, but the theory itself also provides justification for preferring one form (in this case, איעול), so there is something of a feedback loop here, which needs caution but also strengthens the analysis.

Related to the TAM system is the forms of the verb הו”י, and Bar-Asher Siegal deftly shows (§, pp. 168-170) that the verb went from a fully-conjugated verb in a sentence such as כי הוינן אזלין בתריה דר’ יוחנן “when we were walking after R. Yohanan” (b. Berakhot 23a, in MS M) to being frozen in its 3ms form, such as כי הוה אזלינן בתריה דר’ אלעזר “when we were walking after R. El‘azar” (b. Shabbat 12a). The analysis concludes with the note that cross-linguistically, “loss of agreement is related to cliticization,” and it is therefore possible that הוה had become a tense prefix before the participle, rather than a real verb.

There are stimulating proposals and analyses in every section. Those who put the most into the book will get the most out of it. Following the exercises and the vocabulary sections will enable students to feel quite comfortable with JBA as a language. There are some typographical errors which will hopefully be corrected in future editions, but none that I noticed could create obstacles for learning.

I mentioned earlier that this is the best introduction to JBA with the current state of the field. The field is at a high point now, in terms of the quality, quantity, and sophistication of the research being produced. But it is also now clear what would be needed to usher in a new era of JBA studies: a full critical edition of the Bavli. This would, in light of the discussion above, need to be an eclectic edition, and producing such an edition would perforce generate new linguistic and philological insights at every turn. It would also continue the feedback loop: as our texts get better, the grammar will get better, and as the grammar gets better, both the texts and how well we understand them will improve.

Bar-Asher Siegal’s text ends, rather abruptly, with a quotation from Mo‘ed Qaṭan 28a: רבה הוה קא יתיב קמיה דרב נחמן, חזייה דקא מנמנם “Rabbah was sitting in the presence of Rav Nahman, and saw that he was dozing off.” For anyone with an interest in the Bavli, it will be difficult to doze off in the middle of this book. The rigor and thoroughness make for intellectually stimulating and productive study, and open up new avenues in grammatical and linguistic analysis of the Bavli, that most cherished and most challenging of texts.


[1] See Shaul Shaked, James Nathan Ford, and Siam Bhayro, with contributions from Matthew Morgenstern and Naama Vilozny, Aramaic Bowl Spells: Jewish Babylonian Aramaic Bowls (Leiden: Brill, 2013).

[2] See also Bar-Asher Siegal’s more systematic discussion in “Reconsidering the Study of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic- Five Decades After E. Y. Kutscher and his Influential Methodology,” Zeitschrift der Deutschen  Morgenländischen Gesellschaft  163 (2013), 341-364.

[3] It should be noted that the book does not contain a list of the manuscripts used or the abbreviations utilized to refer to them; the reader is sent to Sokoloff’s Dictionary for that. While Sokoloff’s foundational position in the study of JBA makes this not unreasonable, it still would have been convenient to include the list in the book.

[4] See Eitan Pinsky, “הגרמטיקליזציה של הפועל הוה בצירוף הוה+בינוני בארמית של התלמוד הבבלי” (MA thesis: Hebrew University, 2013), 10 n. 43.

[5] On which see most thoroughly Yochanan Breuer, “The Babylonian Aramaic in Tractate Karetot according to MS Oxford [Bodl. heb. b. 1],” Aramaic Studies 5 (2007), 1-45.

[6] Even advanced students will have to work hard to follow what is being said in passages such as, “Locative PPC [= predicative possessive construction]. In this type of PPC the PR [= possessor] is encoded as the place where the PD [= possessed] is located. The common construction is structurally an existential sentence with the PD behaving as its subject, and the PR as the location. In JBA the PR follows the preposition ב ‘in’ (§, p. 107).” The first example given is then לית ביה מיא “It does not have water” (B. Qam. 61a), which seems much simpler than the analysis provided.

Aaron Koller is associate professor of Jewish Studies at Yeshiva University. His most recent book is Esther in Ancient Jewish Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).


A Positively Diverse JLA Conference

A Positively Diverse JLA Conference – Guest Post by Sara Ronis

Three weeks ago, I set out for Antwerp, Belgium for the Jewish Law Association international conference. The Jewish Law Association brings together academics, lawyers, dayyanim and ethicists from Israel, Europe and North and South America to have conversations about Jewish law in a variety of historical time periods, locations, and contexts.

The theme for this year’s four-day conference was Judaism, Law and Literature, and consciously drew from a wide range of sources and approaches. Diversity was very much in view in Antwerp this year, particularly regarding the genre of papers presented. I heard papers that were social-historical accounts of particular legal techniques or bodies, literary and rhetorical critiques of narrative accounts of trials, positivist perspectives on what Jewish law should be, and constructivist theological readings of what Jewish law must be in conversation with a wide range of Jewish sources. Having a diversity of methodological orientations and historical specialties in the audience led to productive questioning of generic conventions, while highlighting the unique contributions of particular approaches. (Anecdotally, several participants noted that a greater diversity had also been achieved in seeing larger numbers of graduate students and women participate in the conference.)

Hosted by the University of Antwerp, the conference engaged explicitly with the local environment through a tour of Jewish Antwerp, and a visit to the Holocaust Museum in nearby Mechelen, Belgium, timed to coincide with the Fast of 17th of Tammuz.  These tours created space for smaller-scale conversations and reflections over the course of the week.

This year’s JLA was also a transitional year, bidding goodbye and saying thank you to the leadership of Prof. Bernard Jackson, past president and outgoing Chairman of the JLA, and welcoming a new board headed by Amos Israel-Vleeschhouwer and Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman.  Their closing remarks focused on collaboration, cooperation, cross-disciplinary interaction, increasing the JLA’s online profile, and creating a space in which researchers at all stages of work can give and receive feedback on their work.  I am sure all participants look forward to seeing their vision realized at the next international conference in 2016.

[Attached are summaries of some of the various papers that I and some of my colleagues heard over the course of the conference. The papers have been summarized by Elisha Anscelovits, Shira Weiss, and me]

Guest Posts, Reviews, עברית

‘מכילתא דרשב”י פרשת נזיקין’

מחר, ה-30 ליוני, יתקיים האירוע השנתי לזכר ד”ר ליאורה אליאס בר-לבב ז”ל בספרייה הלאומית בירושלים. הערב יוקדש לצאת ספרה מכילתא דרשב”י פרשת נזיקין: נוסח, מונחים, מקורות ועריכה, ירושלים 2013. לרגל הארוע אנו מפרסמים כאן ביקורת על הספר מאת אסף רוזן-צבי.

ספר זה הוא עיבוד קל של עבודת הדוקטור של ליאורה אליאס בר-לבב ז”ל שהושלמה לאחר פטירתה. הספר עוסק בעריכתה היצירתית של המכילתא דרשב”י. לצערנו עבודה זו נקטעה ונזקקה בעצמה למעורבות פעילה של עורך לצורך התקנתה לפרסום. זכתה אליאס בר לבב בכך שעבודת עריכה זו תיעשה בידי פרופ’ מנחם כהנא שהוא האדם המתאים ביותר לכך הן מההיבט האישי והן מההיבט המקצועי.

מלבד העיסוק החשוב בשאלת אופי עריכתה של המכילתא דרשב”י והיחס למקבילותיה תרומתו הגדולה של הספר היא בניתוחים הבהירים ובפרשנויות המחודשות הרבות שבו לקטעים שונים מהמכילתא, שלא זכתה, כידוע, לפירושים רבים. ככזה, ספר זה הינו חובה עבור כל מי שעוסק במדרשי התנאים בכלל ובקטעי המכילתא דרשב”י על פרקים כא-כב בספר שמות בפרט. את עיקרי חידושיה סיכם כהנא במילים הבאות (עמ’ יא):

שורה ארוכה של חידושים פרשניים מאירי עיניים בהבנתן המילולית של דרשות המכילתא, בהארת מובנם המדויק של מונחים מדרשיים, בחשיפת הזיקה הספרותית העמוקה של המכילתא למשנה ובייחוד לתוספתא ואף בפיתוח תובנות מתודולוגיות מחודשות על דרכי העריכה של המכילתא דרשב”י בפרשת נזיקין.

וזו מסקנתה של אליאס בר-לבב בנוגע לעריכת המכילתא (עמ’ יג):

המכילתא דרשב”י בחלקים גדולים שלה אינה מדרש מקורי אלא עיבוד, לא תמיד מושכל, של מקורות קודמים לה שעמדו לפניה.

כהנא מסתייג בפתח הדבר מתיאור זה בעיקר ביחס לתיאור הצרימות והחספוסים כעבודת עיבוד ‘לא מושכלת’ והוא מעלה את האפשרות לראות בכך מוסכמות ספרותיות שונות של עריכה.


הפרק הראשון עוסק בנוסח המכילתא דרשב”י ובהצעות חילופיות לנוסח שפורסם במהדורת אפשטיין ומלמד. נוסח מתוקן של המכילתא דרשב”י לדיני נזיקין (שמ’ כא, כח – כב, ה) מופיע כנספח לספר.

הפרק השני סוקר את המונחים המדרשיים של המכילתא דרשב”י והוא עבודה חלוצית ובסיס נתונים חשוב ביותר. במהלך הספר עושה אליאס בר-לבב שימוש רב בהבנה המדוייקת של כל מונח ומונח ומראה כיצד פכים קטנים אלו מהווים בסיס לניתוח הדרשות, הבנת יחסן למקבילות ומגמת עריכתן. כך לדוגמא, הקיצור יוצא הדופן של המונח ‘(אין לי אלא) Y, X מנין?’ או ההיכרות עם המבנה השונה של המונח ‘לרבות X’ בהשוואה למונח ‘לעשות… כיוצא ב-X’ מאפשרים לה לזהות בין הדרשה המקורית לזו המועברת (עמ’ 253-258). בחינה מדוקדקת של מונחי הדיון יכולה היתה לשמש גם בסיס לשאלות הרמנויטיות רחבות יותר. לדאבוננו מעיד כהנא שעיוניה של אליאס בר-לבב בדרכי המדרש ובקנוונציות המדרשיות לא הושלמו ועל כן לא פורסמו בעבודת הדוקטור.

בפרק השלישי, העוסק ביחס למקבילות במשנה ובתוספתא, מראה אליאס בר-לבב באופן משכנע מאוד כיצד דרשות קשות במכילתא דרשב”י מתבארות מתוך השוואה למשנה והתוספתא ולאור הבנת הדרשות כעיבוד (לא תמיד מוצלח, לדעתה) של המקורות הללו. בחלק מהמקרים החספוס נוצר מתוך ניסיון שלא צלח לאחד הלכות שונות ובמקרים אחרים (והמעניינים יותר בהקשר של הבנת הז’אנר המדרשי) מתוך ניסיון לעגן ולקשר את ההלכות למילות הפסוק. בדרך זו נוצרו ‘מדרשים מלאכותיים, לאקוניים מאוד ונטולי בהירות הלכתית’ (עמ’ 239). חידוש חשוב נוסף הוא ההבחנה שדווקא התוספתא, ולא המשנה, היא המקור ההלכתי העיקרי ששימש את עורך המכילתא דרשב”י בציטוטיו. אמנם גם המשנה עומדת ברקע דרשות רבות. בהקשר זה מנתחת אליאס בר-לבב את חטיבת הדרשות הארוכה על נזקי האש (שמות כב, ה) וטוענת שהיא עיבוד מורכב של רצף ההלכות במשנה ב”ק פרק ו.

בפרק הרביעי עוסקת אליאס בר-לבב בדגמים שונים של שכפול דרשות והעברתן. תופעה זו מוכרת בכל מדרשי התנאים ובעיקר בשתי המכילתות על פרשת נזיקין, הן בעקבות הדינים החוזרים על עצמם שבפסוקים והן בעקבות הניסיון ליצור מערכת משפטית אחידה. אליאס בר-לבב טוענת שהתופעה רחבה הרבה יותר במכילתא דרשב”י אולם מהעיון בדוגמאות נראה שהייחוד איננו רק בכמות אלא גם באיכות. תופעה נוספת הנידונה בפרק היא הצמדה ושילוב של מדרשים סותרים היוצרת את הרושם המוטעה שכוונתם זהה.

אביא כעת בקצרה אחת מהדוגמאות שבהן עוסקת אליאס בר-לבב (עמ’ 162-164 בספר) הממחישה באופן משכנע כיצד פתרון הקושי שבדרשה נובע מחשיפת העיבוד של המדרש לאור המקבילה בתוספתא. הפסוק בשמ’ כא, כח עוסק בשור שנגח אדם והרגו, שדינו סקילה – ‘סקול יסקל השור’. על מילים אלו מופיעה במכילתא דרשב”י הדרשה הבאה, עמ’ 178:

אין לי אלא אלו בלבד, מנין לרבות ולדותיהן ועריבתיהן? ת”ל סקל יסקל.
ולא יהא מסקלו מיד אלא כונסו לכיפה עד שעה שימותו
ור’ אלעזר בר’ שמעון אומ’ <<כולהן>> היו נסקלין

בשורה הראשונה מחדש המדרש שני עניינים: א. גם ולדות הבהמה שנולדו לאחר שנידונה ליסקל ולפני סקילתה בפועל – יומתו עמה. ב. אם הבהמה שנידונה ליסקל נתערבבה בבהמות אחרות ולא ניתן לזהותה – כולן יסקלו. בשורה השניה נאמר שכונסים את כל הבהמות (מדובר במקרה שהתערבבו עמה) למקום הסגר עד שימותו בעצמן ובשורה השלישית מובאת דעתו החולקת של ר’ אלעזר בר’ שמעון שבמקרה זה כל הבהמות (שהתערבבו) נסקלות. אליאס בר-לבב מצביעה על שני קשיים מרכזיים בקטע: א. הדרשה הראשונה מתייחסת לשני מקרים (ולדות ונתערבו) ואילו בהמשך מתייחסים רק לדין נתערבו. ב. היחס שבין השורה השניה לבין מה שלפניה ולאחריה – אם כונסן לכיפה עד שימותו הרי שהן אינן נסקלות כלל! אך מהמשפט ‘ולא יהא מסקלו מיד אלא…’ משמע שההמשך מסכים עם דין הסקילה?!

הפתרון שמציעה אליאס בר-לבב הוא לאור המקבילה שבתוספתא ב”ק ה, ה:

נתערבו באחרין ואחרין באחרין – כולן אסורים בהנאה.
מה יעשו להן? כונסין אותן לכיפה עד שעה שימותו.
ר’ אלעזר בי ר’ שמעון אומ’ כולהן נסקלין.

בנוסח התוספתא אין כל קושי – היא עוסקת במקרה של נתערבו בלבד ודעת ת”ק היא שלא סוקלים אותן אלא כונסין לכיפה בלבד. לפי אליאס בר-לבב, העורך ציטט את המחלוקת מילה במילה מהתוספתא והקדים לה את המשפט ‘ולא יהא מסקלו מיד אלא…’ שמטרתו לגשר בין הדרשה הקודמת במכילתא דרשב”י שדין בהמות שנתערבו הוא סקילה לבין דעת ת”ק שבתוספתא שדינן כינוס בכיפה. התוצאה היא ששיטת ת”ק מוצגת כהסתייגות מדין הסקילה שלפניה, בעוד שהיא למעשה דעה חולקת. דומני שהצעתה של אליאס להסבר דרך עבודתו של העורך משכנעת ביותר, גם אם לא ברור האם נכון לכנות עיבוד מעין זה כ’לא  מושכל’.

ניתן היה לסכם את מחקרה של אליאס בר-לבב בהצבעה על המאפיינים הייחודיים של המכילתא דרשב”י בעיבוד החומר התנאי שלפניו ובכך שחלקים גדולים מהמדרש אינם מקוריים אלא פרי של יצירה משנית (עמ’ 337). אולם סיכום מעין זה מעביר את הרושם המוטעה שממחקר המכילתא דרשב”י לא ניתן להסיק למדרשי ההלכה האחרים, ולא היא. אליאס בר-לבב עצמה מציינת כי המכילתא דרשב”י היא מדרש תנאי אותנטי המגלה קרבה גדולה למדרשים האחרים מדבי ר’ עקיבא (ספרא וספרי דברים) כפי שניכר באופן השימוש שלו במונחי הדיון (146-147). במקומות שונים משווה אליאס בר-לבב את התופעות שהיא מזהה במכילתא דרשב”י גם למדרשי הלכה אחרים, אולם אין היא עושה זאת באופן שיטתי. דומני שהשוואה מעין זו תלמד שבמכילתא דרשב”י קיימת הקצנה של תופעות עיבוד שונות הקיימות גם במדרשי ההלכה האחרים. מוקצנותן של התופעות במכילתא דרשב”י מקלה על זיהויין וניתוחן ועל כן מחקר זה ראוי להוות בסיס לבחינה של תופעות אלו גם במדרשים האחרים.

השאלה המרכזית שהעסיקה את אליאס בר-לבב היא זיהוי דרכי העריכה והעיבוד של המכילתא דרשב”י – מנין נוצרו הצרימות במדרש הקדום והמאוחר (המקורי והמעובד) וכן בין המדרש למקבילותיו. כמו כן עסקה בפירוש מחודש לקטעי מדרש קשים לאור חשיפת המקורות והעריכה. אולם עבודתה הפרטנית הרחבה יכולה וראויה לשמש כבסיס לשאלות רחבות נוספות, שאליאס בר-לבב לא זכתה לפתח. ואדגים כאן רק שלושה עניינים כאלו:

א. הרמנויטיקה – ההבחנות הרבות בין דרשות מקוריות לבין עיבודן יכולות לשמש בסיס לשאלות חשובות של קדום ומאוחר בהקשרים פרשניים. כך לדוגמא ניתן לבחון האם קיימים מאפיינים שונים לדרך הלימוד ממילות הפסוק בדרשות המקוריות לעומת דרכי המדרש המשתקפות בדרשות המעובדות.

ב. היחס שבין מדרש ומשנה – אליאס בר-לבב מראה כיצד המכילתא לוקחת הלכות העומדות לפניה ומעבדת אותן לדרשות באמצעות עיגונן במילות הפסוק. תופעה זו, שיש לבחון אותה גם במדרשים אחרים (ונראה שיימצאו בכך הבדלים בין דבי ר”י ודבי ר”ע), יכולה להיות קיימת כבר ברובד הקדום של המדרש ויש בה חשיבות גדולה להבנת הפרוייקט המדרשי כולו והיחס שבין המדרש וה’משנה’.

ג. המדרש המקורי והשוואה לדבי ר’ ישמעאל – לאחר הזיהוי של דרשות רבות כעיבוד של מקורות תנאיים מקבילים ניתן לשאול מה הם החומרים המדרשיים המקוריים שעמדו בפני עורך המכילתא דרשב”י. שאלה זו מעניינת במיוחד לצורך השוואה בין חומר מדרשי קדום זה לבין המדרש המקביל מדבי ר’ ישמעאל. שאלה נוספת היא עד כמה ניתן למצוא דמיון או מחלוקת בין שני בתי המדרש לא רק ביחס לחומר הדרשני וההלכתי אלא גם ביחס לדרכי העיבוד והעריכה שלהם.

לסיום מילה על ההיבט האישי שמאחורי ספר זה. לצערי הרב לא זכיתי להכיר את ליאורה, אך יצא לי לשמוע את שבחה ממכרים משותפים שונים. כעת יכול הקורא להתוודע למעט מדמותה בפתח הדבר המרגש שכתב פרופ’ כהנא שהיה בקשר קרוב עמה במשך שנים, הנחה אותה בעבודתה ואף ערך את הספר לדפוס. מתוך העיון בתוכנו של הספר ניכרים דבריו על הכוח הפרשני, הברק האינטלקטואלי והיצירתיות יוצאת הדופן של ליאורה ועל כן חזקה שאין גוזמה גם בתיאורו את אישיותה המופלאה והאצילית.

סוף דבר, ספר זה גדוש בחידושים הן ביחס לקריאה ופרשנות של דרשות המכילתא והן ביחס להבנת דרכי העיבוד והעריכה של מדרשי התנאים. אמנם העיון הפרטני בסוגיות הלכתיות סבוכות בהלכות נזיקין אינו קל לקריאה למי שאינו מצוי בעולם זה, אך הניסוח הבהיר והקולח מצליח להקל את עמל הלימוד במידת האפשר. צער גדול הוא שהמחברת לא זכתה להשלים את מחקרה אולם דומני שגם חוסר שלמות זה מעורר את הקורא להמשיך ולהפך בעניינים החשובים הנידונים בו.

אסף רוזן-צבי הוא דוקטורנט בחוג לתלמוד והלכה באוניברסיטה העברית. עבודת הדוקטור שלו, בהנחייתו של פרופ’ מנחם כהנא, היא על מסכתא דכספא שבמכילתא דר’ ישמעאל והיא עוסקת בין השאר בשאלות של פרשנות, עריכה והרמנויטיקה מדרשית.

Announcements, English

The Talmud Blog- Now in Hebrew!

In case you haven’t noticed, the Talmud Blog has undergone some changes over the last couple of weeks. We’ve updated our look, reorganized things a bit, and prepared the site for Hebrew posts.

Like all virtual artifacts, the blog is ‘located’ in The Cloud. But most of the humans who work on the blog are based in Jerusalem. We also have a considerable readership in Israel, even if most of our audience lives in the United States. So the time has come, as we enter our fourth year of collective web-logging, to post in Hebrew as well. You will be able to access these on the top right tab “פוסטים בעברית“. Yakov Z. Mayer, a doctoral student at Tel-Aviv University, will be editing our Hebrew content.

That said, given the internationalism we aspire to, the main language will remain English, which like it or not has overtaken Latin as the language of science and letters. We should add that potential submissions in Hebrew, English are very much welcome.