Mythologies

מאה שנים למותו של שכטר

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למה אני כל אך אוהב את התמונה הזאת?

שניאור זלמן שכטר יושב כאן באולם שהקצו לו בספריה של קימברידג’, שמש בריטית עגומה מאירה מהחלונות את אוצרות הגניזה המבולגנים עדיין, חלקם עוד מונחים בתוך תיבות העץ הכבדות בהן הובאו מקהיר, חלקם כבר פרושים על השולחנות אחרי מיון ראשוני. הצלם תפס היטב את היחסים שבין שכטר לבין החלל שבו הוא נמצא. השולחנות הארוכים הללו נראים קצת כמו שולחנות של שטיבל חסידי, הדלת הכפולה מאחור כמו ארון קודש, ובכלל האולם נראה כמו בית כנסת שנותר בו רק מתפלל אחד.

הצילום מבויים לעילא, קווי הפרספקטיבה מתנקזים כולם אל ראשו של שכטר, הנישא מעל גבו הרחב, הכפוף משהו. גם מדידת האור המדוייקת מעידה על הכנה מוקדמת, גם הריצפה המטואטאת. זהו צילום במסורת צילומי הניצחון הקולוניאליים, רגע פתיחת הארגזים, הצייד עומד ומניח את מגפו על ראשו של האריה השחוט. אבל כאן ניכר איזה טון אחר. שכטר מניח את ראשו הכבד על כף ידו כאילו חוכך בדעתו אם להוריד את הראש לנפילת אפיים. ריח האבק ממלא בוודאי את החדר ונדבק לחליפה. זווית הברכיים מלמדת שלא נוח לו על הכסא הזה, אולי התיישב עליו במיוחד לצורך הצילום. מסתמא רוב עבודתו עברה עליו בעמידה ובהתרוצצות משולחן לשולחן. על מה הוא חושב כשהוא מרים את מבטו לרגע מן האותיות הפורחות שעל הקרע שלפניו. אולי הוא מעלה בעיני רוחו את הדרכים בהן לא בחר – את פניו הזועפות של השואל ומשיב, ממנו קנה את תורתו, את פניו של אביו השוחט, אולי את נופי ילדותו ברומניה או את רחובה הראשי של זכרון יעקב, מקום מגוריו של אחיו התאום, החלוץ. אחרי רגע הוא בטח מתעשת במשימתיות כזאת שחב”דניקים יונקים עם חלב אמם ולא מאבדים לעולם, מזמזם לעצמו איזה ניגון התוועדות נמרץ שהוא זוכר מינקותוו ושב לעבודה.

כאן, בקלויז המאולתר והמבודד שלו, הוא בורא לעצמו עולם חדש במקום העולם שנטש, ביצירתיות מעורבבת עם חקרנות ועם תחושת דחיפות של אוריינטליסטים רומנטיקנים מושבעים, שיודעים שאת כל פלאי תבל נוכל למצוא אם רק נצרף נכון את הדפים. פה הוא מקים לתחיה את בן סירא, מרכיב מחדש את ברית דמשק, מגלה את המכילתא החדשה ונופח באפה נשמת חיים, בורא את העולם החרב מחדש ואז יוצא חזרה החוצה אל הנסיונות שוברי השיניים לתרגם את המחשבות שממלאות את ראשו ביידיש למשפטים באנגלית רצוצה.

יהודי יקר. יארצייט מאה השבוע ועוד חושבים עליך כאן.

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Conferences, English

A Conference on “Aggadic Midrash in the Communities of the Genizah”

Along with fellow students in Hebrew University’s Program for the Study of Late Antiquity, I set out to Haifa University early yesterday morning in order to attend a conference organized by an inter-university research group on “Physical Culture and Textual Culture in the History of the Land of Israel.” One of the day’s highlights was that I happened to sit next to Haifa University’s Dr. Moshe Lavee, who asked that I share the following information about an exciting conference that he is organizing, to take place at HaifaU next week:
The newly founded center for Genizah Research at the University of Haifa will hold the second conference of the research group on “Aggadic Midrash in the Communities of the Genizah” on Wednesday and Thursday next week, 15-16/1/2014 . The conference will present the fruits of the group, as well as lectures by scholars who deal with the subject and adjacent topics such as the relationship between Piyyut and Midrash, the question of oral homilies and sermons, the representation of Midrash in Judeo Arabic materials, and more.
The first day will also include an event marking the recent publication of Uri Ehrlich’s edition of the Amidah prayer according to Genizah fragments . On the second day there will be a special session on the use of new computational tools for classifying and analysing material from the Genizah from Qumran.

agada-heb

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English, Recent Publications, Talmud in the News, Technology

From the Pages of Haaretz

One of the best parts of the holiday season here in Israel is that the local papers have to put out more supplemental material to keep everyone occupied. In addition to the regular weekend magazines, each holiday gets its own special section.  This seems to mean more articles that relate to rabbinic literature, as editors scramble to fill these now numerous weekend and holiday editions. Two of them, from Saturday’s Haaretz, are worthy of discussion here.

In the book section, folklorist Eli Yasif has a review of a recent collection of papers given at the fifteenth World Congress of Jewish Studies’s session on Louis Ginzberg’s Legends of The Jews. The papers, originally delivered in honor of the passing of one hundred years since the start of the book’s publication, cover a wide variety of topics, some only tangentially related to Legends (videos of the lectures have been available online for quite some time now on Hebrew University’s youtube channel). Together they also provide ample room for Yasif to discuss the “American” characteristics of Legends, and hence the name of the article, “An American Legend”. Yasif seeks to better understand why the work has become a standard on bookshelves across America, often in its shortened Legends of The Bible version, whereas Israelis have for the most part gotten their dosage of aggadah exclusively from Bialik and Ravnitsky’s Sefer ha-Agadah (a point brieflly addressed on the Talmud Blog this past summer). He offers a few explanations, such as Legend‘s size and the lack of a Hebrew translation of the one volume Legends of the Bible. To his reasons I would add that Bialik would have still been a household name in Israel even if he hadn’t co-penned Sefer ha-Agadah. Bialik’s stature clearly played a role in his collection’s success while Ginzberg’s pedigree and position in the Conservative movement in America did not help in Israel. As Yasif mentions, the academic virtues of Legends far exceed those of Sefer ha-Agadah. I would venture that its relative slow appreciation in academic circles in Israel, also noted by Yasif, might be due in part to the rather late appearance of an index to the Hebrew edition. Although a Hebrew edition had already appeared in the sixties, the index was only published in the recent Shechter edition.

The other Haaretz article deals with the technological aspects of the Friedberg Genizah Project. Some of the most exciting parts of the article are its discussions of the project’s breadth and of the technology behinds the “joins” – cases where previously unconnected fragments can be shown to have actually stemmed from one artifact. Amazingly, project director Prof. Yaakov Shweka promises to have 99% of all genizah fragments online by the end of 2012. The article’s discussion of the technology behind fragment recognition is truly fascinating and well worth reading. It turns out that some of the programmers joined the team because of their work developing face-recognition programs for Google and Facebook. Similar technology is being used to recognize and piece together various fragments dispersed in libraries all over the globe. The hope is to one day apply this technology to sift through Qumran fragments as well.

From Tahrir to Ben Ezra, it is exciting to see that even Genizah study is being affected by Facebook.

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English, Readings

Total Disaster

The word אסון is quite rare in the Hebrew Bible. It appears in Genesis 42:38 and 44:19, where it refers to Jacob’s fear of Benjamin’s death. It also appears in the oft-quoted and frequently debated law of the two fighting men who hurt a pregnant woman in Exodus 21:22-23. Neither locus is very good for explaining what the word means exactly, apart from something bad. To make matters worse, in Exodus – the only legal context in which the word appears– the Septuagint goes uncharacteristically off-script and does not translate the term but rather the sentiment of the law. (In Genesis it translates malakisthênai, which probably means “to succumb [to death]; cf. Xenophon Cyropaideia 2.3.3).

In their distress, dictionaries also include several references to Hebrew Ben Sirah: these are supposed to help, since they are in Hebrew, and they are also translated into Greek and Syriac. The Septuagint of Sirach sometimes translates אסון as thanatos, death, but in one place (34:22-23/LXX 31:22-23) the meaning in Ben Sirah is more general:

[…] בכל מעשיך היה צנוע. וכל אסון לא יגע בך.

Be modest in all your doings/and no אסון will touch you

The Septuagint here translates אסון as arrôstêma, a sicknes or illness, and not simply “death”. This is related to the meaning that survived in modern Hebrew, “disaster.” The Biblical meaning of the word – in Genesis and Exodus – is still unclear.

The verse from Ben Sirah, however, had an interesting afterlife in the Palestinian version of the grace after meals. In a geniza fragment (T-S NS 122.39, no picture on Friedberg), we find a rhyme:

ורצון תעטרינו. ומזון תשבעינו. ואסון העביר מקרבינו.

כי אתה הוא יוצרינו וזונינו וזן את הכל.

Crown us with your benevolence, and satiate us with food, and remove אסון from us

For you are our creator and our feeder, and feeder of all [things].

The choice of the word אסון is interesting. The word rarely appears in the Talmuds, and when it does it is quoted from scripture, mostly Exodus. Additionally, here אסון does not seem to mean “death”, rather something more general, an antonym of רצון. And why choose אסון for the grace after meals? Why not something that rhymes just the same and makes more sense in context, like רזון or חרון?

The wording of the blessing is best explained by the immediate context of the word in Ben Sirah; the verse immediately following is

טוב על לחם תברך שפה. עדות טובו נאמנה.

Good (LXX: clearly, lampron) bless bread with lips/the testimony of his good faith.

The verse on “modesty” is in fact a heading for a list of instructions on how to eat and how to bless, and is situated after a segment called מוסר יין ולחם, The Teaching of Wine and Bread. The composer of this blessing knew Ben Sirah, and read וכל אסון לא יגע בך in the context of the blessing for food.

This snippet of Ben Sirah joins other prayers which are based on or influenced by Ben Sirah, such as מראה כהן, said at the end of the Ashkenazi Avoda Service on the day of Atonement, based on Ben Sirah 51, שבח אבות עולם.  Perhaps the entire Avoda Service itself is also based on the same chapter in many ways, but that is for another time and another post.

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Around the Web, English, Technology

Digitally Humanizing Jewish Studies

RAMBI has added RSS feeds (=RAMBIRSS)

The past week has seen some updates in the digital humanities side of Jewish Studies.

For those of us who like wasting time constructively online, RAMBI has added some 17 RSS feeds of recently published articles. Each feed is dedicated to different categories of the catalog.

In its newest version, The Friedberg Genizah Project added another 70,000 images or so to its database. Most of the images are of fragments located in the Cambridge University and British Libraries. The FGP also made some significant “website improvements”, such as a redone “browse by collection function”, a unified advanced search, an expanded text search, joins display, and more (I hope in a future post to provide guidelines for getting the most out of FGP).

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