Responsive Blessings and the Development of the Tannaitic Liturgical System

by Ishay Rosen-Zvi

The paper deals with the liturgical system in Mishna Berakhot and the place that benedictions on external events or phenomena occupy in it. Contrary to the common view which interprets the Mishna as discussing three discrete liturgical practices, Shema (chapters 1-3), daily prayer (4-5) and meal benedictions (6-8), this paper claims that the Mishna presents a unified liturgical system, which shares a common basic feature: all its constituent parts are constructed as a series of benedictions. This is a unique phenomenon in ancient Jewish liturgy, unknown in other, related liturgical systems, such as that used in Qumran.
The second part of this paper examines the special place of the last chapter of Mishna Berakhot in this liturgical system. This chapter deals with a distinctive type of benediction, which does not have a fixed time or context, but is recited in response to external events or phenomena (formulated in the Mishna as “one who sees X says Y”). Although blessings of this sort are already well-documented in the Bible (e.g. Gen 14:17; Num 18:10), they do not receive fixed formulations and are not mandated in any pre-rabbinic or adjacent culture. The paper discusses this phenomenon from religious and phenomenological perspectives, analyzing the complex status of these benedictions in rabbinic liturgy and the logic of their inclusion in Mishna Berakhot.

Creative Redaction and the Power of Desire –
A Study of the Redaction of Tractate Qiddushin: Mishnah, Tosefta, and Babylonian Talmud

by Avraham Walfish

Towards the end of Chapters 1 and 4 of tractate Qiddushin the Babylonian Talmud brings two series of stories about attempts by Sages to withstand sexual temptation. These two groups of stories are linked to one another by numerous unmistakable literary allusions, suggesting that they were redacted in light of one another. Clear literary links between the end of the first and last chapters of Qiddushin exist in the Mishnah and the Tosefta as well, suggesting that the redactors of the Bavli followed the lead of the tannaitic compilations in forging a literary connection between these two parts of the tractate.

The literary links between the first and last chapters of Mishnah Qiddushin center on the values of Torah study, pursuing a profession, and marrying. The discussion in the last chapter demonstrates that these values, presented as harmonious and complementary in the first chapter, may in fact clash with one another. The Tosefta further develops the motif of clashes which may arise among these values, interweaving this theme with the importance of avoiding transgression. The Bavli carries all of these themes forward, and moves the discussion of avoiding transgression into the realm of inner struggle with the evil urge, the theme that serves as the point of departure for the story collections in Chapters 1 and 4. Although the collections in the two chapters appear to present diametrically opposed views regarding the ability of man to withstand the urges of the evil inclination, the ramified literary connections between the two collections suggests that the two seemingly opposite messages need to be coordinated with one another. Through close reading of the two discussions we attempt to understand how and why the Talmud sought to interrelate them.



A Study of Two Tales in Midrash Ruth Zuta
And Their Adaptation in Hibbur Yafeh me-ha-Yeshu‛ah

by Ronit Shoshany

Ruth Zuta is a short midrash on the Book of Ruth, arranged by verse; it includes five tales, each of which commences with the word מעשה (tale).
Three of these tales have parallels in rabbinic literature, and the other two are unique to Midrash Ruth Zuta. This article deals with the latter, discussing their meaning, their connection to biblical stories, and the relation between them. It is argued that the first tale – Ruth Zuta 1:20 – is an adaptation of the biblical story of Job, and the second tale – Ruth Zuta 4:11 – is a combination of the story of Joseph in Egypt and the rabbinic story of Abba Yudan (Vayiqra Rabba 5:4 and parallels). Parallel factors in the two tales suggest a common author, who inserted them in two central positions in Midrash Ruth Zuta in order to characterize the major figures in the Book of Ruth: Naomi and Ruth.  
The second part of the article deals with the adaptation of the two tales in Hibbur Yafeh me-ha-Yeshu‛ah (“The Book of Comfort”) by R. Nissim b. Jacob of Kairouan. The origin of the story “The Lord is Faithful in Repaying” (chapter XXXI) in Ruth Zuta 4:11 is generally accepted. It is argued here that the story “Elijah the Prophet as a Builder” (chapter XXI), for which other scholars have not identified a Jewish source, has common features with Ruth Zuta 1:20. The discussion of the tales’ adaptation demonstrates that R. Nissim used similar methods to those used in rabbinic literature. He adapted earlier material and shaped it to serve the purpose of his book and the needs of his period.



Studies in the Transmission of the Oral Torah According to Maimonides' Introduction to the Mishneh Torah

by Yitzhak Hershkowitz

In this paper I discuss Maimonides’ unusual listing of the various mishnaic and talmudic Sages in the introduction to his Mishneh Torah (i.e., disorder in the sequence of the rabbinic figures mentioned and over-emphasis of the role of several of these figures, while decreasing the historical significance of others) and Rabad’s critique of this material. Rabad’s comments reflect the historical and chronological viewpoints of scholars preceding Maimonides (Rav Sherira Gaon and others), but Rabad did not clarify why Maimonides adopted his unique approach to describing the generations of the rabbinic sages. I argue that Maimonides’ hidden purpose was to promote a perspective of the Oral Torah that differed from the views adopted by Rabad. Rabad’s approach, which attributed great importance to the Geonim and demonstrated their crucial impact on the development of the Oral Torah, served in the polemic against Karaism. Maimonides, however, wished to lessen the importance of the Geonic scholars and enhance that of certain talmudic sages, particularly those who contributed significantly to transmitting rabbinic teachings from one generation to another.

To support his revolutionary point of view, Maimonides developed a special terminology with unique meaning. For example, the term Beit Din, in this special parlance, does not denote an actual court of law, but a group of scholars dedicated to disseminating in public the legal and ideological teachings of their master. Maimonides thus gained the freedom to disregard actual historical associations between scholars, and was able to describe the history of trends and ideas rather than of individual sages. By doing so, Maimonides expressed the outstanding and undisputed status of the Mishnah and the Talmud, as opposed to other works written after the Babylonian Talmud. Maimonides uses this distinction as a basis for emphasizing the uniqueness of his own works as the exclusive successors of the Mishnah and the Talmud.


Rashbam on the Song of Songs: A Reconsideration

by Jair Haas

The beginning of the medieval commentary on Ecclesiastes found in Ms. Hamburg 32 is identified as “the commentary of Rabbi Shmuel.” The “Rabbi Shmuel” referred to was identified by Adolph Jellinek as R. Shmuel b. Meir (Rashbam), the famous grandson of Rashi, whom Jellinek understood to be the author of both the Ecclesiastes commentary and of the commentary on the Song of Songs immediately following it.
In his doctoral dissertation Yaakov Thompson has argued, based on comparison with Rashbam’s commentary on the Torah, that the commentary on the Song of Songs must indeed have been written by Rashbam, since numerous parallels obtain between the two commentaries, such as identical exegetical approaches, use of similar technical vocabulary, etc.
The present study sets out to demonstrate that the similarities that Thompson pointed out are no greater than the affinities that can be traced between any two Peshat commentaries written at approximately the same time in the same geographical area, and that Thompson did not succeed in proving that Rashbam authored the commentary in question. Furthermore, it can be shown that there are numerous differences, inconsistencies, and even contradictions between the two commentaries, which makes Rashbam’s authorship of the Song of Songs commentary highly improbable, if not impossible.

Determining the Masoretic Text of the Bible:
Rabbi Mordechai Breuer and His Methods and Sources

by Yosef Ofer

In his last book, Biblical Text in the Jerusalem Crown Edition and its Sources in the Masora and Manuscripts (Jerusalem 2003; Hebrew) the late Rabbi Mordechai Breuer rounded off his long-term project of determining the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible. He had already published no less than three editions of the Masoretic Bible, and here he spelled out line by line the considerations in each of his textual decisions about the consonantal text of the Bible, particularly in the preparation of the 2000 edition, Jerusalem Crown: The Bible of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. A detailed review of the book illuminates Breuer's method—careful attention both to the manuscripts and to the tradition of Masoretic notes—as well as the special place the Aleppo Codex of the Bible, the "Crown," held in his view.

The Commentary to Proverbs in MS Vatican and the Early Exegesis of Radak

by Yitzhak Berger

Umberto Cassuto was the first to argue that Radak is the author of the commentary on Proverbs found in MS Vatican 89. Frank Talmage later confirmed Cassuto’s position and published the commentary as that of Radak. Recently, Naomi Grunhaus noted a fair number of disparities between this work and other works of Radak, and forcefully challenged the claim of Kimhian authorship. The present study, however, supports the attribution of the work to Radak.

The article shows that earlier arguments in favor of the attribution are stronger than they might appear, and introduces new parallels, both substantive and terminological, to Radak’s works. Furthermore, the commentary’s introduction suggests that it is its author’s first exegetical work, and in fact most of the distinct features of the Proverbs commentary appear to reflect the exegetical and stylistic preferences found in Radak’s other early compositions. In particular, several features of the Proverbs commentary match those of Radak’s commentary to Chronicles, which is widely considered to be early. Indeed, the author’s exegetical tendencies most closely resemble those found in the especially early versions of Radak’s Chronicles commentary which are preserved in two manuscripts.


On the Original Structure and Meaning of Mah Nishtannah and the History of its Reinterpretation

by Richard C. Steiner

Mah nishtannah has been understood in a number of very different ways.  Three major interpretations of mah nishtannah (labeled A, B, and C) can be defined using five parameters: 1. the meaning of mah; 2. the number of questions; 3. the number of sentences; 4. the meaning of she-; 5. the referent of nishtannah.  Interpretation A (1. mah = “what?”; 2. one question; etc.) is original, and the shift to interpretation B (1. mah = “why?”; 2. more than one question; etc.) and interpretation C (1. mah = “how [very]!”; 2. no questions; etc.) can be traced using dated translations and commentaries.

According to interpretation A, the meaning of mah nishtannah is “What is/was different (=special) about this night that we are eating matzah instead of bread...?”  Here the entire mah nishtannah is one long sentence (constituting a single question) in which the she-clauses describe the differences that result from the difference mentioned in the mah-clause.  Thus, the question refers to two kinds of differences: (1) an underlying difference, expressed by the verb nishtannah in the first half and (2) surface differences-symptoms or manifestations-expressed by the she-clauses in the second half.  Of the many parallels in Rabbinic literature, the closest is found in the Mekhilta.

The Mishnaic Hebrew mah shanah/nishtannah... she... formula is related to formulas in Talmudic Aramaic and Biblical Hebrew that share its basic structure.  Aramaic may shena de- is derived from the MH formula and even interchanges with it at times; it too serves to correlate two differences or sets of differences.  The MH formula, in turn, derives from the biblical mah... ki... formula, in which ki expresses consequence and mah clearly means “what,” not “why.”

Interpretation A has the virtue of clarifying the relationship of mah nishtannah to the discussion that follows it in the Mishnah.  Close reading of the text of the Mishnah (in its most original extant form) according to interpretation A reveals that it records two conflicting opinions concerning the proper manner of answering mah nishtannah.  The first opinion is that it is enough to address the underlying difference expressed by the verb nishtannah in the first half of the question.  The second opinion, that of R. Gamaliel, is that it is also necessary to explain how that difference engenders the surface differences expressed by the she-clauses in the second half.

Interpretation C, which takes mah nishtannah as an exclamation (rather than a question or series of questions), appears first among the exiles from Spain.  This interpretation may well be post-medieval; Sephardim of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries still understood mah nishtannah as a question. 

In Ashkenaz, the disappearance of the original interpretation was a more gradual process that began in the sixteenth century and culminated in the twentieth.  A Judeo-German translation preserved in a manuscript dated 1535 still reflects interpretation A, but a similar translation published around 1590-1606 in Prague exhibits slight changes pointing to interpretation B.  The quantity of such tell-tale changes increases gradually in subsequent Judeo-German translations.  This long process of reinterpretation “passed over” the translations of E. Baneth (1927) and E. D. Goldschmidt (1936).  Both of these have a single question mark, but unlike the eighteenth-century translations and their descendants, they have it at the very end, after all of the she-clauses.  These translations and the commentaries of Zevi Hirsch b. Tanhum, A. L. Frumkin, and J. E. Bombach represent a return to the translation of 1535 and Maharal’s commentary (1582), which in turn reflect an interpretation that can be traced back at least as far as R. Saadia Gaon

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Last Update:February 15, 2005