Mishnah (A.Z. 2:5) and Tosefta (Parah 10:3) contain two halakhic
deliberations between R. Joshua and R. Ishmael which relate that R.
Joshua diverted the discussion to a different topic, asking R. Ishmael
if the verse “For your love (דודיך) is more delightful than wine”
(Cant. 1:2) is read in the masculine (dodekha) or feminine (dodayikh).
Three issues have been raised concerning this passage: Which was the
original context within which the discussion took place, that of the
Mishnah or of the Tosefta? What is the relationship between the
question relating to the verse in Canticles and the halakhic discussion
preceding it? Finally, and most important, what is the meaning of R.
Joshua’s proof for the proper vocalization of the word?
"How Does One Create Fine Children:"
Bavli Nedarim 22b, R. Eliezer’s wife, Imma Shalom, describes her
husband’s behavior during intercourse, mentioning his practice to
“reveal a handbreadth and conceal a handbreadth.” This statement has
been understood by most traditional commentators and academic scholars
as an expression of extreme modesty, or as an attempt to avoid the
experience of physical pleasure, as part of a comprehensive lifestyle
governed by the ascetic ideal.
Sugyot Which Were Emended Due to the Transition From Oral
Study to Written Study
this paper, the authors discuss two adjacent pericopae from Sukkah 36b.
Each of these passages presents two conflicting versions of a single
dictum. By examining the text of these sugyot carefully, the authors seek
to demonstrate that the original versions of each of these dicta were
identical. The difference between these passages found expression not
in their text, but in the intonation used during oral recitation of
this material, and perhaps also in the bodily gestures which
accompanied such recitation. This stems from the fact that during the
period close to the redaction of the Talmud its text was studied
orally, so its intonation constituted an integral part of transmission
of the sugya. Once the Talmud
was committed to writing, its intonation was forgotten, and so was the
original sense of these sugyot.
Therefore, copyists and scholars emended them in their effort to grasp
the meaning that was lost with memory of the intonation.
"The Hardest One - Ascara": Diphtheria as Sacred
Disease and Supernatural Retribution in Mishnaic and Talmudic Literature
is a viral disease that develops in the throat. Ancient Jewish sources
describe it as a serious and cruel illness, which sometimes breaks out
as a mass epidemic. In the theological world of the Sages, diphtheria
was considered as a sacred disease that affected sinners who committed
offenses with a functional connection to the mouth and throat, such as
defamation or eating forbidden foods.
Rashbam's Commentary on the Story
of the Creation
Rashbam’s unique conception of the creation
story in Genesis 1 as an introduction to the commandment of the Sabbath
in the Ten Commandments is well known, and it illustrates Rashbam’s
extensive use of the principle of introduction. While some scholars
considered this conception of Genesis 1 a reaction to Christian or
mystical Jewish interpretations of this chapter, the present article
stresses the need to examine this original exegesis in its exegetical
context. Since Rashbam himself suggests his conception of the creation
as motivated by exegetical considerations, it seems necessary to
understand the principle of introduction that Rashbam applies here as
related to the exegetical difficulties which he raised. This
understanding of the exegetical motivation and advantage of Rashbam’s
commentary can be accomplished in this case by recognizing that it is a
reaction to Ibn Ezra’s exegesis of the same passage.
Once Again Seething a Kid in Its Mother's Milk
It is well known that the thrice-repeated
biblical law prohibiting the seething of a kid in its mother's milk is
the basis for the general Jewish prohibition of consuming, cooking, or
even profiting from meat and dairy products prepared in
combination. Despite two millennia of commentary, however, there
still is no general consensus about the meaning of the proscription in
its biblical context. Most ancient and modern commentators have
explained it on the basis of humanitarian and/or cultic concerns.
The first part of this paper is a critical examination of those lines
of interpretation, with special attention to the traditional
hermeneutics that inform them. The remainder of the paper
advocates an interpretation that classifies milk and meat among the
“forbidden mixtures,” based primarily on the ancient “science” adduced
in an extraordinary seventeenth-century Jewish commentary and on recent
work on the role of gender in biblical law.
When Rabbi Eliezer Was Arrested
Literature contains three stories about the arrest of Rabbi Eliezer and
the accusation of minut
leveled against him (Tosefta Hullin 2:24; Bavli Avodah Zarah 16b-17a;
Kohelet Rabbah 1:8 ). The three versions of the story represent
different historical, social and religious realities. In the earliest
version, which is found in the Tosefta, Jews and Christians are
entangled with one another, as well as with the realities of Roman
policy toward both Jews and Christians. The Rabbis strove to unravel
the entanglement, but it is difficult to know to what extent they
succeeded. By the time the story reached the Bavli and Kohelet Rabbah,
the Jews and Christians had parted ways and developed distinct
identities, but the Christians had now become entangled with the
Romans. Old boundaries were no longer relevant, new ones were drawn and
the traditions developed and were changed accordingly.
Structure and Ideology in the
Aher Narrative (bHag 15a and b)
narrative of the condemnation and apotheosis of Elisha ben Avuya (Aher)
in bHag 15, which has been treated in several recent studies, justifies
further inquiry regarding its literary form, esoteric aspects,
structure, and time of composition. The literary form is a
bifurcated parallel eight-unit structure in which the first four units
are mirrored in the second group. The latter set reverses the problems
set in the first one. The esoteric elements show that the first
four units are governed by an absolutist either/or modality, which does
not allow Elisha to save himself, or Meir to save him. This is
reversed in the second half where, governed by dialectical rabbinic
modes, reasoned argument reverses divine decrees. This
bifurcation encodes a general opposition between surface/deeds and
interior/Torah. Structuralist analysis of the first and final
(eighth) unit shows how they mirror each other in opposing ways to
reach different outcomes: in unit one, Elisha is condemned; in the
final one, Meir is restored. The outcomes differ because the first unit
had no “helper,” whereas the final one did. The matching style of
the first and final episodes, the thoroughgoing revision of earlier
traditions elsewhere, as well as the matching parallel literary
structure, indicate that the Elisha narrative was produced by late
A Talmudist's Halakhic
In his Book of the Commandments Maimonides makes “the peshat of scripture” the sole source of halakhah that carries biblical (de-orayta) authority, relegating laws derived midrashically to the lower, rabbinic (de-rabbanan) status. While seemingly privileging the “way of peshat” championed by his older contemporary Ibn Ezra, this Maimonidean principle has long been a source of perplexity, since Maimonides elsewhere devalues Scripture’s “literal sense.” To resolve this crux, the current study begins by clearing up a confusion created by the Hebrew translations of Maimonides’ works, in which Arabic zahir (lit. “apparent [sense]”) is rendered peshat, whereas he distinguished between the two concepts. In line with his Judeo-Arabic exegetical heritage, he did not privilege the zahir, i.e., the literal (“apparent”) sense, which, in the exegetical tradition founded by Saadia (and endorsed by Ibn Ezra), was to be adjusted in light of reason and tradition. On the other hand, Maimonides used the Hebrew/Aramaic word peshat (left untranslated in his Judeo-Arabic writings) as a technical term connoting the original (and legally authoritative) sense of Scripture—according to the “transmitted interpretation” (“Oral Law”) given at Sinai, which may diverge from the literal sense. Drawing upon hermeneutical concepts from Muslim jurisprudence, Maimonides distinguished between this source of halakhah and further laws that the Rabbis derived from Scripture via midrashic extrapolation, which he likened to qiyas (legal analogy) in Islamic law.
Categorically Jewish, Distinctly
This article articulates concepts underlying the permanent exhibition of the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. These include: pre-partition Poland-Lithuania was a multinational commonwealth in which the Jews had a relative degree of security; the Jews were both in Poland and of Poland, and the civilization they created was categorically Jewish but also distinctly Polish: their history is a story of overall achievement and stability, punctuated by crisis and persecution; antisemitism, more or less a constant presence, was not unrelenting and should not overwhelm the narrative; and the Shoah was not the culmination of Jewish history in Poland. Disputed issues include the question of the place of Polish Jews in Jewish history, who “owns” the Polish-Jewish experience, the history of Hasidism, how to portray the Holocaust in Poland, who is a Jew and how negative Jewish attitudes and actions towards Poles should be treated. The Museum will dare both Poles and Jews to take seriously a new metahistory, derived from recent scholarship, contradicting some deeply held stereotypes and cherished conventional notions.
Last Update:February 15, 2005