Talk of the Town

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

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

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

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Ruminations, עברית

מחשבות לרגל יום הולדתו ה727 של כתב יד ליידן

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

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English, Ruminations, Talk of the Town

Trying to Understand Scribal Practices

Among the many advantages of studying in Jerusalem are the many wonderful opportunities for class-outings. Not since elementary school have I been on so many field trips. Last week, I managed to get myself on a tour of The Shrine of the Book organized by the student councils of the departments of Bible and Hebrew Language. The tour was led by Dead Sea Scroll experts Prof. Emanuel Tov and Prof. Steven Fassberg.

One of Tov’s findings with regards to the biblical scrolls from Qumran that most struck the students on the trip was the character of those scrolls that were apparently written at the Qumran site. In the most recent edition of Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, Tov sums up the meaning of some of the changes found in these biblical scrolls: “These changes reflect a free approach to the biblical text…” (103). Fassberg, in his discussion of spoken Hebrew at Qumran, brought examples from The Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa) that exemplify this attitude. Here are two from Chapter 49 (my bar-mitzvah haftorah):

Masorah

1QIsaa

v24

הֲיֻקַּח מגבור מלקוח

היקחו מגבור מלקוח

v25

גבור יֻקָח ומלקוח

גבור ילקח ושובי

Whereas the Masorah uses the passive Qal (imperfect 3rd person masculine singular) twice, in the first instance The Great Isaiah Scroll has an active Qal in the 3rd person masculine plural, and in the second it has a Nifal imperfect 3rd person masculine singular. The Qumranic version adapts the ancient passive Qal, which disappeared as Hebrew developed, to more current, perhaps even spoken, forms of the verb (see Kutscher, The Language and Linguistic Background of the Isaiah Scroll, pg. 364).

For many on the tour such examples were startling. This attitude towards the biblical text and its transmission seemed at odds with the commonly recieved image of the Qumranic sect as a pious, elitist, and extremely devout group. How could such a group treat textual transmission – of the bible no less – so lightly? This question relates to what we expect from scribes, and how we are to imagine them. Must a pious scribe be a copious one with a significant amount of reverence for the text? And what does “reverence for the text” even mean? As these questions started to pop up in my head while exiting the shrine, I thought of their relevance to some of the well-worn partisan debates from the field of Rabbinics, and how scholars of biblical and rabbinic textual criticism might work collaboratively on problems of textual transmission.

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English, Readings

You Rejoice – though not Me: Some Notes on bMeg 10b and its Parallels

Lucas Cranach the Elder 'Untergang des Pharao im Roten Meer' (Germany, 1530)

Does God rejoice at the downfall of the wicked? Surely He wants the good to prosper and the wicked to perish. Yet, the destruction of God’s own creatures, regardless of some poor choices they may have made in the past, is also not a cause for Divine celebration. If one wishes to ascribe to a logical, binary scheme, the answer to this question can either be “yes” or “no”.  But this is the Talmud Blog, where a rabbinic “yes, but…” / “no, but…” will do just fine.  Indeed, rabbinic literature contains both views.  On the one hand, R. Ishmael confidently  responds to his students (preserved at Sifre Numbers 117) that indeed, God is happy when those who anger Him perish, while we also have a moving, anthropomorphic portrait of God’s pain at the wicked’s demise (mSan 6:5).

One of the better known talmudic passages that deals with this subject appears at bMeg 10b – towards the beginning of the so called Babylonian Esther Midrash (bMeg 10b-17a) which I am now teaching in the Hebrew University Talmud Department. The Babylonian Esther Midrash is a unique corpus. It is apparently the only complete midrash on a biblical book that was compiled in Babylonia, and as such it affords a rare window into Babylonian midrashic imagination. Scholars like Eliezer Segal have produced significant and lasting scholarship on the Bavli’s Esther Midrash. The primary tool in these scholarly endeavors is a kind of comparative criticism, that unfortunately ends up seeing the Bavli’s Esther Midrash as an essentially tone-deaf, pale reflection of Palestinian midrashic poetics.  Blame it on postmodernism, but I see in the Bavli’s ‘belatedness’ the beauty of the mosaic, pastiche – in short, a textual realization of Late Antiquity.

The passage that interests me appears towards the beginning of a long list of ‘petihtot’ to Esther, which Segal has demonstrated derive mainly from Palestinian exemplars. Indeed, the vast majority of tradents are Palestinian sages.  Further, in his assessment the full poetic punch of these petihtot is often effaced in the Bavli. This is true, but only if you consider Palestinian synagogal poetics as the sole form of legitimate poetry. Arguably, there is another kind of poetry that takes place in the processes of deconstruction and subsequent reconstruction which the Bavli performs on its Palestinian rabbinic heritage.

The point I have to make is a relatively, small, philological one.  But I do think that it partially explains a formerly incomprehensible Yerushalmi and also contributes to a deeper understanding of the development of two passages in the Bavli.  In any event, it has been far too long since the Talmud Blog had a post about a close, original reading of a sugya.

ר’ יהושע בן חנניה פתח לה פתחא להאיי פרשתא מהכא: והיה כאשר שש ייי עליכם להיטיב אתכם ולהרבות אתכם כן ישיש ייי עלי[כ]ם להאביד אתכם וג’

ומיחדי הקב’ה במפלתן שלרשעים 

והכת’ בצאת לפני החלוץ ואומרים הודו לייי כי לעולם חסדו ואמ’ ר’ יוחנן מפני מה לא נאמ’ כי טוב בהודאה זו לפי שאין הקב’ה שמח במפלתן שלרשעים

ואמ’ ר’ שמואל בר נחמני אמ’ ר’ יונתן מאי דכת’ ולא קרב זה אל זה כל הלילה באותה שעה ביקשו מלאכי שרת לומר שירה לפני הקב’ה אמ’ להן הקב’ה מעשה ידי טובעין בים ואתם אומרים שירה לפני

אמ’ ר’ יוסי ביר’ חנינה הוא אינו שש אבל אחרים משיש דוקא נמי דכת’ ישיש ולא כת’ ישוש שמע מנה

R. Yehoshua b. Hanania introduced the section from here: ‘And it shall come to pass that as the Lord rejoiced over you to do you good, so the Lord will rejoice over you to cause you to perish’ (Deut 28:63). 

Now does the Holy One, blessed be He, rejoice in the downfall of the wicked?

Is it not written, ‘as they went out before the army, and say, Give thanks unto the Lord, for his mercy endureth for ever (2 Chron. 10:21)’, And R. Yohanan said: Why are the words ‘for he is good’ omitted from this thanksgiving? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, does not rejoice in the downfall of the wicked? 

And R. Shmuel b. Nahamani said that R. Yonatan said, What is the meaning of the verse, ‘And one came not near the other all the night (Ex. 14:20)’?   At that time the ministering angels wanted to chant their hymns before the Holy One, blessed be He, but He said, The work of my hands is being drowning in the sea, and shall you chant hymns before me?

R. Yossi b. R. Hinana replied: He himself does not rejoice, but he makes others rejoice.  This is indicated also by the text, which writes yasis and not yasus, which proves [what we said]. 

(bMeg 11a, following MS Columbia; translation based on Soncino)

The opening verse is taken from the so-called “rebuke” section of Deut 28.  The link between this verse and Esther seems to center on the threatening verb “cause to perish (להאביד)” in Deut 28:63 and its ubiquity in Esther, for example at 4:7.  Apparently, R. Yehoshua understood the near destruction of the Jews in Esther as a realization of the Deuteronomic rebuke.  Judging from the first three petihtot of Esther Rabbah which cite Deut 28:66-68 and other later Palestinian midrashic parallels, this was apparently not an unusual way of introducing the Scroll of Esther.

The rest of the passage, however, is somewhat peculiar, and as such has gained the attention of generations of scholars.  I will focus on two issues:  The Talmud objects to the depiction of God as rejoicing over causing the destruction of the wicked, since two midrashic interpretations demonstrate that God does not rejoice when the wicked are punished (following Yehoshafat’s defeat of the Moabites; and after the drowning of the Egyptians in the Red Sea – the latter an example of a startling Babylonian reversal which was used in medieval times to justify the absence of Hallel recitation after the first day of Passover, but that is for another time).  The contradiction is resolved via a closer reading of the original verse from Deuteronomy, where God is now said merely to cause others to rejoice yet not rejoice Himself.  In other words, the entire sequence was generated by an apparent misinterpretation of the original verse that did not conform to midrashic traditions about God not rejoicing at the downfall of the wicked, and the conclusion is essentially to read the verse more carefully.  Further, as others have already pointed out (for example, E. Segal), the formulation of the original question “Now does the Holy One, blessed be He, rejoice in the downfall of the wicked,” is somewhat jarring, since nowhere in rabbinic literature do we find an entire generation of Jews referred to as “wicked”.

The passage bears a strong connection to a parallel at bSan 39b:

ויעבר הרנה במחנה

אמ’ ר’ אחא בר ר’ חננא באבוד רשעים רנה ובאבוד אחאב רני רינה

ומי חאדי הקב’ה במפלתן שלרשעים

והא כתי’ בצאת לפני החלוץ אומרים הודו ליי’י כי לעולם חסדו

ואמ’ ר’ יוחנן מפני מה לא נאמר כי טוב בפרשה זו לפי שאין הקב’ה שמיח במפלתן שלרשעים

ואמ’ ר’ שמואל בר נחמני אמ’ ר’ יונתן מאי דכת’ ולא קרב זה אל זה כל הלילה באותה שעה שטבעו מצרים בים ביקשו מלאכי השרת לומ’ שירה אמ’ להן הקב’ה מעשה ידי טובעין בים ואתם אומרים שירה לפני

א’ר יוסי בר’ חנינה הוא אינו שש אבל אחרים משיש דוקא  נמי דכת’ ישיש ולא כתי’ ישוש שמע מינה

‘And there went out the shout throughout the camp’ (1 Kings 22:36).

R. Aha b. R. Hanina said: ‘When the wicked perish, there is song (Prov. 11:10)’, and when Ahab perished there was ‘song of songs’ (following MS Yemenite, hagadot hatalmud, and others).  

Now does the Holy One, blessed be He, rejoice in the downfall of the wicked?

Is it not written, ‘as they went out before the army, and say, Give thanks unto the Lord, for his mercy endureth for ever (2 Chron. 10:21)’, and R. Yohanan said: Why are the words ‘for he is good’ omitted from this thanksgiving? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, does not rejoice in the downfall of the wicked? 

And R. Shmuel b. Nahamani said that R. Yonatan said, What is the meaning of the verse, And one came not near the other all the night (Ex. 14:20)?   At that time the ministering angels wanted to chant their hymns before the Holy One, blessed be He, but He said, The work of my hands is being drowning in the sea, and shall you chant hymns before me?

R. Yossi b. R. Hinana replied: He himself does not rejoice, but he makes others rejoice.  This is indicated also by the text, which writes yasis and not yasus, which proves [what we said]. 

(b. San 39a according to another Yemenite MS, MS Herzog).

This passage appears at the end of the fourth chapter in tractate Sanhedrin, where the Mishna describes how, after conveying a sense of seriousness to witnesses, the court reassures them that their task is essential and worthy.  One of the verses recited for the witnesses is Prov. 11:10: “when the wicked perish there are shouts of joy”.  At bSan 39b, the Talmud cites a verse from I Kings (22:36) that describes the news spreading of (the wicked) King Ahav’s demise.  R. Aha b. R. Hinina cites the verse from Prov and adds that when Ahav died there was even greater rejoicing.  Note that the Yemenite MS Herzog is vocalized רִנֵי רִינָה.  This leads into the same sequence that appears at bMeg 10b.

It is now easier to understand why the passage refers to “the wicked” – for Ahav’s wickedness was infamous. Yet, in certain respects the bSan passage is even more problematic than its bMeg parallel. The verse from Deuteronomy is not even quoted, but is nevertheless presumed in R. Yossi’s closing exposition.  And the opening question (‘Now does the Holy One…rejoice in the downfall of the wicked’) is almost incomprehensible, for where do we see God himself rejoicing at Ahav’s death?  On the other hand, there is reason to assume that the bSan passage is “primary” to the one in bMeg in the sense that the initialbuilding blocks of the passage were composed within the discursive context of bSan (yes, I am aware of Zvi Septimus’ article). This can be demonstrated since specifically bSan seems to have developed out of a parallel Palestinian passage preserved in the Yerushalmi that also appears as a comment on the same Mishna:

כת’ “ויעבר הרינה במחנה”.

מהו “הרינה”. הריני.

וכן הוא או’ “בצאת לפני החלוץ” וגו’. ללמדך שאף מפלת הרשעים אינה שמחה לפני המקו’ם.

It is written ‘And there went out the shout throughout the camp (1 Kings 22:36)’. 

What is “the shout” – hareni.

And it also says, ‘as they went out before the army (2 Chron. 10:21)’ etc. To teach you that even the downfall of the wicked is not a joy before Omnipresent. 

It seems clear that there is some relationship between the ySan and bSan passages. The Yerushalmi comments on the same Mishna, quotes the same verse from 1 Kings and then cites the same midrash on 2 Chron 10:21 (which first appears in the Mekhilta Beshalah, Shira parsha 1, p. 118).  Yet, on the whole, the meaning of this short Yerushalmi passage has eluded interpretation, particularly the first line.  What does the word הריני mean here, and what does it add to the verse from 1 Kings?

Not surprisingly, the traditional commentators try to apply the Bavli parallel to the Yerushalmi, and they suggest that the definite article (הרינה – the shout of joy) is interpreted here to refer to the great joy felt at the demise of the wicked.  Neusner’s translation emends the text accordingly “What is this cry (HRYNH)? Lo, it is a song (HRY RYNH).” On the other hand, the Mohr Siebeck translation suggests a reading of חרון – anger.  This seems to be based on the second line of the Yerushalmi, which cites the Mekhilta about God not fully rejoicing at the defeat of Moab.  Since the latter is apparently linked to the first line with the words “and it also says (וכן הוא אומר),” one might assume that the first line about “the shout” should also convey the same message of Divine displeasure at the downfall of the wicked.

In fact, the words “וכן הוא אומר” should actually be read “וכאן הוא אומר” (“and here it says”), and they merely represent a direct though shortened quotation of the Mekhilta passage according to the best witnesses. As for the first sentence “מהו הרינה – הריני”  the final word might perhaps be read as הרינו and represent a regressive assimilated form of הפעיל צווי הרנינו – ‘(you, pl.) Rejoice!’  As such, the Yerushalmi interprets 1 Kings 22:36 to mean that God is telling the Jews to rejoice (הרנינו) at Ahav’s death.  This then is juxtaposed to the midrash from the Mekhilta where God does not fully rejoice at the defeat of Moab.  The tension between these two positions, however, is unresolved.

This brings us back to the bSan parallel. If the original, Palestinian set of amoraic comments on mSan 4:5 contains two apparently unreconciled views of the Divine reaction to the demise of the wicked, the Bavli turns this material into a dialectical sequence.  Thus, originally, the comment on the verse from 1 Kings attributed to R. Aha b. Hinina (אחא בר חננא  – a name which looks suspiciously close to “” אחאב רני רינה as indeed is made clear in a variant preserved in geniza fragment CUL: T-S Misc. 28.201) apparently refers to God commanding rejoicing at the demise of the wicked Ahav. Notwithstanding the vocalization of MS Herzog, perhaps originally the term was to be read רנו רינה and similarly represent a regressive assimilation, now of the פיעל צווי form רננו.  Either way, the Bavli explicitly interrogates this midrashic understanding of 1 Kings, since in two places God is seen as not rejoicing at the downfall of the wicked.  The Bavli’s answer, based on Deut 28:63, now works perfectly.  God himself does not rejoice, but he causes others to rejoice – precisely as we see in the midrashic reading of 1 Kings 22:36 explicitly preserved in the Yerushalmi though only residually in the Bavli.

In short, we have a passage at bSan 39b that seems to, artfully, make use of a cryptic Palestinian text that juxtaposes God’s command to rejoice at Ahav the wicked’s death with his lack of joy at Moav’s defeat. This is turned into a series of questions that clarify where Divine joy at the downfall of the wicked is to be located – not within the godhead itself, rather in divine encouragement to rejoice. A philosophically fascinating proposition.

At last, this sequence intersects with bMeg 10b, where the citation of Deuteronomy 28:63 as a frightening petihta to Esther seems to elicit the need to ‘soften’ the troubling notion that God Himself rejoiced at the near destruction of the Jews in the Purim story.  No, God Himself did not rejoice. But he did encourage others to do so in carrying out their awful, destructive task.

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English, Talk of the Town

Back to School Shenanigans

With the month of November only a couple of days away, the MLB off-season over with a bang, and the first signs of snow falling in the Northeast, the school year here in Israel is just about ready to start. Here in Jerusalem, Hebrew U students will have new opportunities to study with Talmud Blog contributors and friends as The Department expands its teaching base and Rabbinics continues to find more homes in the university.

Last week, a few die-hard Talmudists got together to kick off the school year with a pre-yarhei kallah style gathering at the Nachlaot abode of one blogger/student. Books were discussed, cookies were nibbled, and summer experiences were shared until another blogger/student (granted, much more advanced at both), Pinchas Roth, stepped up to deliver a brief talk. Pinchas discussed two cases of “מקבילות שלא ממש מקבילות,” or “parallels that are not necessarily parallels” in medieval rabbinic literature. An interesting discussion ensued, and it served as a good example (but hopefully not a warning) for the new students in attendance of what their future studies in the Talmud department might look like. Later, as wine bottles were opened and handouts were reunited in a pile on the coffee table, talk turned to the ever growing number of degrees students combine with Talmud, which now include Art, Biology, and Computers. As the night wore on, it became clear to everyone present that notwithstanding Pinchas’ talk, of course nothing could really parallel Talmudic studies. And also, that the time had come for everyone to make their way home to their desks, where late night philological work might continue, uninterrupted.

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English, Technology

Digitization at JTS

In a comment a few posts ago, JTS’ new digitization project was brought to the attention of the Talmud Blog by the indefatigable maven of online resources, S. Luckily, I’ve been working out of the JTS library for the past couple of weeks and was able to catch Joseph J. and Dora Abbell Librarian Prof. David Kraemer for a brief chat on the library’s various digitization projects.

Manuscript digitization at JTS can be divided into three categories. First, the genizah material from the ENA collection is nearly available in its entirety via Friedberg. Some of the fragments had been available already on earlier versions of the Lieberman database, but even those have been re-photographed for FGP.

Hebrewmanuscripts.org includes pictures of microfilmed manuscripts. While the images aren’t the best, the process was quick (the site now includes material from HUC as well).

Since they last microfilmed their manuscripts in 1990, JTS has acquired another 800-900 items. The funds originally intended for the microfilm of these manuscripts have been reassigned for a digitization of them. So far around 100 have been taken care of. These manuscripts don’t have surrogates and therefore take priority over other items in the library’s collection. After they are done being digitized, the focus will be turned to the most artistically distinguished manuscripts, some of which are already available through their Special Treasure site.

Under the leadership of Prof. Kraemer, the JTS library seems well qualified to take on the exciting challenges of the digital age. For more information on their projects I would suggest checking out their Facebook page.

Apology: This post was originally published before being finished while travelling from my iPad to my computer. Funny how a post on digitization would suffer from its author’s own digital ineptitude…

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Announcements, Around the Web, English

Around the Web- September 20, 2011

First, in local news, we’d like to formally announce the opening of our Twitter account. You can now follow us @TalmudBlog. Thanks to our handy-dandy twitter-widget, our updates appear on the blog itself as well.

The new issue of the “Safranim’s Blog” just came out. The Hebrew language blog brings together the wise words of various Jewish Studies librarians from around Israel. This issue seems to be geared toward Rosh haShanah.

An Israeli organization called “Matmonei Aretz” (“מטמוני ארץ”) announced “the establishment of a Talmudic Museum in Jerusalem”.  The museum is dedicated to emulating the every day life of the Rabbis and is based on the scholarship of Prof. Ze’ev Safrai.

In related news, The Forward’s Philologos explains the meaning of the phrase “yarchei kallah” (h/t). The author seems to be unaware of the theory put forth by I. Gafni in his article “Nestorian Works as a Source for the History of the Yeshivot of Babylonia” (Tarbiz 51), on pages 572-73. Here’s a preview of Gafni’s theory:

אין צורך לומר, שגם מטבעות־לשון וביטויים הקשורים לעולם הלימוד יכלו לנוע במסגרת הממלכה הססאנית מדיאלקט ארמי אחד למשנהו. כאן ראוי להעיר — אמנם בדרך של השערה בלבד — על מושג מעניין, המופיע בתקנות בית־הספר בנציבין. בידוע, רבו ההשערות בדבר האטימולוגיה והמשמעויות הראשוניות של תיבת ׳כלה׳ בתלמוד ובספרות הגאונים, הן כתיבה בודדת והן בצירופיה השונים: ׳ריש כלה׳, ׳בני כלה׳, ׳יומי דכלה׳ ועוד. והנה, בתקנות נציבין נזכר כמה פעמים, כי התלמידים מתגוררים ב׳קליתא׳…

PaleoJudaica referred his readers to the The New York Times’ mention of a new exhibit on the Dead Sea Scrolls opening up in New York this October. From The Times:

The producers describe the show as one of the most comprehensive of its kind ever mounted; it will also include an in-scale re-creation of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, with a three-ton block of stone from the wall itself.

The following item isn’t news per se, but I did come across it recently and it is located somewhere “around the web”. Islamicmanuscripts.info includes dozens of interesting PDFs on, well, Islamic manuscripts, found in its “reference” section. The site also has some Jewish Studies classics like M. Beit-Arie’s Hebrew Codicology. Due to copyright issues, “all publications… have a read-only restriction and cannot be printed.”

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English, Recent Publications, Reviews

Quotations of ARNB from an Oxford MS

The most recent Jewish Studies Quarterly contains an article by Christoph Berner, “Quotations from Avot de Rabbi Nathan B in MS Oxford (Bodleiana) Heb. c. 24,” JSQ 18 (2011): 217-265.  This takes us back to the good old days of publishing whole portions of rabbinic manuscripts in academic journals. This of course is still quite common in Israel, but less so in the US and Europe.
By the way, the word “quotations” in the article’s title should not be taken as an indication of size.  As Berner writes:

This manuscript is the autograph of the Magen Avot, a commentary on Avot de Rabbi Nathan A composed by Yom Tov ben Moshe Sahalon. As already noted by Schechter in his edition of Avot de Rabbi Nathan, MS Heb. c. 24 does not only contain the entire text of version A, but also vast passages of version B, which are quoted in the commentary. Although the significance of these passages for the study of version B can hardly be overestimated, it was beyond the scope of the editorial project situated in Gottingen to systematically search the voluminous manuscript (341 folios) for B traditions. In consequence, the synoptic edition of Avot de-Rabbi Nathan published in 2006 includes MS Heb. c. 24 as a textual witness of version A only,10 a fact that calls for a separate publication of the B material…

In other publication news, Seth Schwartz’ relatively new book was just reviewed by Eric Stewart at the Journal of the American Academy of Religion. For the most part, Stewart seems to like it.

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Around the Web, English, Technology

Websites on Manuscripts and Websites as Manuscripts

A Google ngram of the use of the word codicology throughout history. Notice how the graph parallels the work of Prof. Beit-Arié (Hattip- Shamma Friedman).

Recently, while casually surfing the web, I came across “a hilariously unsuccessful for-profit online education project” known as Fathom.com, which ran during the internet bubble. In a time when forecasts floated around saying that “distance education” would be “a $9 billion industry by 2003”, Columbia University and other formal and informal institutions of higher learning banded together to “provide high quality educational resources to a global audience through the Internet.” Although the site hasn’t been updated in a few years and a lot of the links are broken, its courses are still up (now for free), and include some in Jewish Studies. To my great delight I came across one entitled “An Introduction to Hebrew Manuscripts“, co-authored by an all-star cast made up of the art historians Joseph Gutmann and Evelyn M. Cohen; the former JTS librarian and professor of Medieval Hebrew Literature and Jewish Bibliography Menahem Schmelzer; and the preeminent codicologist Malachi Beit-Arié. Beit-Arié, who is professor emeritus at Hebrew University, a member of the Israeli Academy of Sciences and Humanities, and past director of the JNUL, is currently at work on a project to create an online database of codicological information collected by the Hebrew Palaeography Project. The “study of books as physical objects” is quite an important field to be familiar with when approaching the Talmud and I immediately read through the seminar’s four sessions.

course images

Prof. Christine Hayes teaching a Yale Open Course. Prof. Hayes now assigns her online lectures to her current Intro to the Old Testament students.

Yet while reading about the different ways in which Jews have transmitted knowledge on paper I could not help but think of how I was learning all of this from a format which had in itself become passé. Within a decade of its publication, the really excellent seminar had already fallen by the way side as its medium fell out of use. Online learning still exists, but in slightly different formats, through the extremely successful iTunes University and Academic Earth. Except for podcasts like Prof. Michael Satlow‘s series “From Israelite to Jew“, most online courses nowadays are video or audio recordings of actual university courses. Both iTunesU and Academic Earth really have a huge amount of valuable information (with some overlap), but only a limited amount of Jewish Studies courses, which is why I was surprised to see that Fathom even had a Jewish Studies section on its site. A couple of years ago my friends and I discovered Prof. Christine Hayes’ online course “Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible)” and we were bothered that we could find practically no other full courses in Jewish Studies. Yeshiva University has a few academic lectures available on iTunes U and the Orthodox adult education organization “Torah in Motion” also has a number of academic lectures available for a dollar or two each. In Hebrew, the Youtube channel of Hebrew U has a few lectures worth watching, like Prof. Avigdor Shinan’s Introduction to Aggadic Literature and videos of the last World Congress of Jewish Studies. Still, this is scarce when compared to both the plethora of other courses available in the humanities and the amount of money which goes into Jewish Studies in the academy. When the number of potential listeners is also taken into account, it is pretty surprising that more Jewish Studies courses or guest lectures aren’t available online.

Perhaps students of Jewish Studies would do well to take the cue from Prof. Beit-Arié and try and curate a website based database that brings together links to the various free courses available online. Such a collection would not only make finding what is already available easier, but might convince more institutions to take part in online learning.

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