The Talmudic Formulation of the Prophecies of the Four Kingdoms in the Book of Daniel

by Rivka Raviv

The concept of four kingdoms is found in several prophecies in the Book of Daniel, and similar non-biblical traditions are shared by many cultures (Persian, Greek and Roman). Our article deals with the formulation of the concept of four kingdoms in classical rabbinic literature. First, we will investigate to what extent the rabbis’ discussion relates directly to the biblical concept and not to the extra-biblical concept of four kingdoms. Next, we will review areas in which the rabbis reformulated the biblical concept: by updating its interpretation according to historical changes, and identifying the fourth creature as a boar, which represents the Roman Empire; and by granting great significance to the concept and thus transforming it from a marginal biblical concept to a seminal rabbinical concept. At the same time, we will see how the concept of four kingdoms became a central motif in the interpretation of the entire Bible, grapple with the deterministic view that emerges from the prophecies in the Book of Daniel, and compare this view to the one commonly found in classical rabbinic literature.

‘Tractate Kinui’:
A Forgotten Tannaitic Debate About Marriage, Freedom of Movement and Sexual Supervision

by Ishay Rosen-Zvi

Mishnah Sotah opens with a discussion of the evidence required to force a married woman to undergo the biblical ordeal for a suspected adulteress (sotah). The first two Mishnayot in this tractate discuss the mandatory warning procedure (kinui) whose violation (setirah) renders a woman a suspected adulteress, requiring her to undergo the sotah ritual. Through a close reading of these two Mishnayot, related Tannaitic material, and the discussion of the relevant passages in the two Talmudim, this paper offers a reconstruction of a large scale rabbinic debate about the limits of freedom of movement and socializing for married women. This debate stems from a fundamental dilemma: On the one hand, the rabbis, unlike some of their Hellenistic Jewish contemporaries, were unwilling to completely lock up married women in their homes. On the other hand, the rabbis were extremely troubled by the dangers of free socializing. This paper analyzes the different and sometimes contradictory solutions offered by rabbinic sources to this dilemma.

From Prayer of Personal Gratitude to Cosmic Hymn:
The Riddle of Ibn Ezra’s Commentary on Chronicles

by Aharon Mondschein

In addition to his known commentaries on various biblical books, Abraham Ibn Ezra (1089-1164) wrote a commentary on three verses in I Chronicles 29:11-13: “Yours, Lord, are greatness, might, splendor...Now, God, we praise You and extol Your glorious name.” This passage was published over 120 years ago by M. Friedlaender as an appendix to his Essays on the Writings of Abraham Ibn Ezra. Friedlaender assumed that this was part of a regular commentary to Chronicles that did not survive.
Elsewhere I have tried to show that there is no basis for this assumption; all seeming quotes from this “lost” commentary actually derive from other works of Ibn Ezra.
In this article I analyze this commentary and its methods of interpretation, which I find very different from Ibn Ezra’s stated principles—to write commentaries faithful to the plain meaning of the Bible. This commentary is theological and makes various philosophical assumptions. Therefore, this short pericope should be seen as a unique and independent composition written for special purposes.
Ibn Ezra thus joins a host of commentators who recognized the uniqueness of these three verses in David’s prayer, including the Talmud, which transfers them to the historical-eschatological plane (Berakhot 58a); the authors of the prayerbook, who incorporated them in various liturgical contexts; the early liturgical poets Yannai and R. Eleazar Ha-Kallir, who made them the subject of liturgical poems; and finally R. Solomon Ibn Gabirol, in his monumental piyyut, Keter Malkhut, where these verses play a central role.

The ‘Forlorn Lady’ in the Interpretation of the Song of Songs

by Baruch Alster

The article discusses the idea, raised by a few traditional Jewish exegetes, that the female protagonist of the Song of Songs is a “forlorn lady” whose husband deserted her, and who is arguing with her friends (the “Daughters of Jerusalem”) over the chances of his return. After viewing the concept of the “forlorn lady” in opposition to other traditional narrative approaches to the Song, we introduce two major commentaries (Rashi and R. J.H. Altschuler) that interpret the Song according to this concept, and show how they develop the plot along these lines. We then attempt to explain why Peshat exegetes adopted this idea, which to many readers seems incompatible with the simple sense of the Song.

Beilis Trial in Russian Public Discourse in the Context of Other National Minorities
— the Case of Votyaks (Udmurts)

by Judith Kalik

Two blood-libel trials took place in Russia during the late 19th and  early 20th centuries: one against the Votyaks (Udmurts) in the Viatka region and the other, the famous Beilis trial in Kiev. Despite their obvious similarities, including the active participation of writer Vladimir Korolenko on the side of the defense in both cases, these two trials were never systematically compared. The present study aims to illuminate the background surrounding  Russian public discourse in this period that led to the blood-libel accusations against such diverse national minorities as the Finno-Ugrics and the Jews. Positing that two contrary perceptions of Russian nationalism—inclusive imperial and exclusive racist—in fact stood on trial in both cases, it is possible to explain the most puzzling feature of the Beilis trial: the presence of self-proclaimed anti-Semites like Shulgin on the side of  the defense, and the presence of bizarre Judeophiles like Rozanov, on the side of prosecution

Rabbi Kook’s View of the “Besamim Rosh”

by Neria Gutel 

The views of various latter-day halakhic authorities towards the collection of responsa known as the “Besamim Rosh” reflect their respective attitudes towards modernity, faith and religious belief, approach to halakhic ruling, research, and “controversial” Torah literature. The view of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak ha-Kohen Kook (1865–1935) in this regard has never been investigated, but it is important to examine his position,  specifically in light of the various labels used to describe his approach. Some regard his halakhic approach as generally “lenient” while others consider it “stringent”; some view him as a halakhic “innovator” while others regard him as a “conservative” decisor. The extent to which he integrates non-conventional sources in his rulings is also a matter of debate.
A systematic review of the body of halakhic literature produced by Rabbi Kook reveals that he adopts a moderate, judicious attitude towards the “Besamim Rosh.” He is quite familiar with the book, and is aware of both its “conventional” and “problematic” aspects. To some extent siding with the book’s critics, Rabbi Kook nevertheless sometimes refers to the “Besamim Rosh” to bolster his own position. While never utilizing this source as the foundation for his halakha, Rabbi Kook sees no problem in enlisting it for support when it comes to detailed argumentation.  Hence, the conception that Rabbi Kook embraced the “Besamim Rosh” wholeheartedly does not mesh with the facts.

Immunity to Impurity and the Menorah

by Joseph M. Baumgarten

This paper surveys the objects classified as immune to impurity in biblical and tannaitic Halakhah. It then focuses on the Tosefta, which records the Sadducees’ ridicule of the Pharisaic immersion of the Menorah. This contrasts with the general Sadducean stringency in matters of purity. Prof. Sussmann’s original attempt to reverse matters by claiming that the Sadducees were actually protesting Pharisaic liberalism in allowing public access to the sacred vessels does not seem to be in accord with the straightforward sense of the Tosefta. We suggest that the Sadducean position derives from a priestly tradition concerning the cosmic symbolism of the Menorah. This symbolism is reflected in the Book of Zechariah and Hellenistic writings from the Second Temple period.

"Reduce, Reuse and Recycle": Prolegomena on Breakage and Repair in Ancient Jewish Society: Broken Beds and Chairs in Mishnah Kelim

by Joshua Schwartz

The present study seeks to examine ancient Jewish society from the point of view of its garbage, especially broken beds and chairs. While garbage is often a mirror of society, it is all too often neglected in the study of social history. The source material for this study of Jewish garbology is Mishnah and Tosefta of tractate Kelim, which in the course of halakhic discourse on ritual purity, provides much information on utensils, whole and broken, as well as on recycling broken or repaired utensils in ancient Jewish society. We have chosen to examine this furniture in view of the fact that sitting/reclining/sleeping are among the most basic domestic and social habits, with a profound influence on household furniture and domestic life. We shall examine details of breakage (simple, purposeful and external), the use of broken beds/chairs (in primary  and secondary capacities), repair and reuse in original capacity and recycling and use in a new capacity. Reference will be made to the Ancient Near East as well as to the Greco-Roman world. The present study serves as the first in a series of studies on the “history of breakage and repair in ancient Jewish society.”  52900 הפקולטה למדעי היהדות, אוניברסיטת בר-אילן, רמת גן JSIJ

Last Update:February 15, 2005