Two Geniza Documents from Chapter Lulav Hagazul:
A Testament to the Antiquity of the Western Text

by Rabin Shushtri

The analysis of different textual traditions is one of the foundations of academic Talmudic studies in general and of research on the Babylonian Talmud in particular. Analysis of the manuscripts of Tractate Sukka in the Babylonian Talmud shows clearly that there are two main branches of the text of this tractate: the vulgate branch and the Yemenite branch. One of the main methods for evaluating a manuscript is comparison to indirect text-witnesses. In this paper I have compared the version of the talmudic text attested by Maimonides’ writings to that found in extant manuscripts and secondary text-witnesses. There are seventeen places where Maimonides’ rulings depend upon a specific version of a sugya. My analysis shows that in fifteen of them Maimonides conforms to the Yemenite version. As for the other two instances, in one Maimonides’ version is secondary, and in the other the Yemenite branch is secondary. Thus, we conclude that Maimonides and the scribes of the Yemenite branch had a common source. Moreover, in the vast majority of places this common tradition appears to reflect the original version of the Talmud, before it was edited. This is a reflection of the high quality of the Yemenite tradition, which was hardly affected by later intervention. It is unlikely that scholars changed the text of the Talmud to make it conform with Maimonidean rulings, and indeed a study of the aforementioned passages shows this to be impossible. This tradition persisted, reaching the greatest halachic authority of Medieval times, Maimonides, and therefore when we analyse his rulings, which often do not suit the conclusion of the sugya in the text of the Talmud known to us, we must take into account the possibility that his ruling was based on a different version of the talmudic text.

On Talmudic Name Wordplay:
A Literary Device and its Significance

by Nachman Levine

This article discusses the various literary devices used in Talmudic wordplay about names of people or places. Such wordplay appears in stories about Mishnaic or Talmudic sages and others, or in citing teachings of sages. Sometimes this literary device is used for rhetorical artistry; more often it is used to underscore and create literary and conceptual connections or significance in a Talmudic story’s deep structure and meaning. Its artistic function works not only at the stylistic-rhetorical level, but also, significantly, at that of conceptual significance.


by Daniel Sperber

1. B. Hullin 31a, commenting on M. Hullin 2:3, speaks of a “horned scalpel” as a legitimate instrument for the simultaneous ritual slaughter of two animals. The author attempts to find archeological evidence attesting the existence of such instruments.
2. Y. Ketubbot 7:6, 316 mentions a woman’s head cover called kflitin. The author suggests that this is the Latin capillametum, a sort of headpiece which covered part of a woman’s hair, and in this way also explains a passage in Y. Shabbat 6:7.
3. The author offers an explanation of a passage by the Byzantine poet R. Pinhas, Kiddush Yerahim to the month of Elul.
4. The author examines the theme of rivers that flow backwards, a motif found in B. Bava Metzia 596.
5. Lamentations Rabba, ed. Buber pp. 54-55 mentions the dream symbolism of the beams of a house, a theme also found in Nordic mythology.
6. Y. Shabbat 6:5 seems to suggest that a metal disc in one’s shoe can relieve rheumatic pains. This theme is found in both classical and western folklore.
7. An explanation of passages found in Byzantine piyyutim describing the different coloured gold in parts of the temple candelabrum.
8. An examination of the motif of clashing rocks found in B. Berakhot 54a-b and parallel sources in terms of the parallels to this motif in world folklore.
9. R. Yehoshua ibn Shu‘ib in his Derashah for the First Day of Pesach associates the rule that one does not shave during the Omer period (between Passover and Pentacost) with Lev. 2:14, which speaks of barley being aviv, perhaps meaning moist. The connection between barley and shaving was unclear to me till I found a passage in Al-Biruni’s Chronology which relates that according to Anan, founder of the Karaite movement, the intercalation of the year, adding a leap-month, was determined by checking “the prickles of the beard of the barley”, hence associating in indirect fashion the prohibition of shaving during this period with the biblical verse referred to above.
10. Further evidence is brought for the use of saliva for curing eye troubles.

 Samson as Messiah - Another Look

by Shimon Fogel

This paper deals with Samson as Messiah. In some midrashic sources, especially those concerning Jacob’s blessing to Dan (Genesis 49:15-18), Samson is described as a failed messiah. Samson began some messianic activity but did not succeed in completing the task. Some of these sources are explicit, whereas others use motifs and terms that carry messianic connotations in rabbinic literature.

Portraying Samson as a failed messiah should lead to a reevaluation of rabbinic ideas about messianism. The model reflected here is quite different from the common one: Samson is a lone military hero, not one who stands out for piety. The fact that Samson is not denounced for his messianic activity may point to a “soft” messianic model, in which the messiah is not a predestined redeemer, but a human being with potential to succeed that may or may not be fulfilled.

The appendix deals with Samson’s messianism in the late midrashic literature attributed to R. Moses the Preacher (Provence, 11th century). There we find an explicit statement to the effect that the future messiah will be very similar to Samson. This fact reflects the important role that messianic issues occupy in this literature.

Books Encountered by Ramban After He Arrived in the Land of Israel

by Jonathan Jacobs

Ramban (Nahmanides) reached the Land of Israel in 1267, towards the end of his life. During this period he emended his commentary on the Torah, introducing hundreds of changes. Letters that he dispatched, still extant, include instructions concerning 134 addenda to the commentary. A careful comparison of some forty manuscripts of his commentary reveals hundreds of other addenda. Some of these were very long, while others consisted of only a few words.

Some of Ramban’s changes arose from a new awareness of the geography of the land and familiarity with its actual characteristics. Others arose from works to which Ramban was exposed only after reaching the Holy Land, such as the Targum Yerushalmi, Rabbi Hananel’s translation of the Torah into Aramaic, and the Megillat Setarim by Rabbi Nissim. In addition, we see the influence of other works not mentioned explicitly by Ramban, such as the Midrash Leqah Tov by Rabbi Tuvia ben Eliezer.
The biblical commentary of Hizkuni apparently made an especially strong impression on Ramban, who seems to have seen it only during the final years of his life. Dozens of Ramban’s addenda are a direct result of his exposure to this commentary.

The Origins of the Meiri’s Commentary on the book of Proverbs and the Concept of 'Nations Bound by the Ways of Religion'

by Israel Ben Simon

In this article I discuss the influence of Rabbi Jacob Anatoli on Rabbi Menachem ha-Meiri as manifest in the latter’s commentary on the Book of Proverbs. I claim that the commentary of the Meiri is based largely on that of Jacob Anatoli, as found in his essay “Malmad Hatalmidim” on Proverbs. In addition, I argue that the origin of the term “nations bound by the ways of religion,” as defined by the Meiri, is also based on this essay.

Freedom of Choice in the Thought of Rabbi Josef Albo

by Shalom Sadik

This article aims to explain different aspects of the issue of freedom of choice in the thought of Rabbi Yosef Albo. The first part of the article analyzes the views of Albo with regard to three specific topics: the control of a person over his or her actions; the influence of the stars on people; and the knowledge of God. Regarding these three topics Albo expresses opinions which leave room for human freedom of choice. For example, Albo explains that when a person is in a situation in which he or she cannot influence the outcome, this is due to past poor choices he or she has made.

The second part of the article describes the psychological process that precedes human choice. According to Albo, there are three conditions that must be met in order for there to be human choice. The first is the real possibility to act differently. The second is the understanding of the different options with which one is faced. The third is being conscious of these possibilities. Once choice exists, it is a person’s will which proceeds to decide which option to choose.

The Transformations of a Liminal Jew:
Myth and Literature in Some Modern Literary Variations of the R. Joseph della Reina Story

by Haggai Dagan

The story of R. Joseph della Reina, a practical Kabbalist who tried to defeat the devil in order to hasten redemption, first appeared in Jewish literature in the sixteenth century.  Although the story was largely ignored in later religious literature, della Reina has fascinated modern Jewish writers, whose use of the story constitutes a  fascinating encounter between a subversive Jewish myth and mature literary art.

This paper discusses literary interest in della Reina and maps its appearance in contemporary Jewish literature from early nineteenth-century Eastern European literature to representatives of modern Israeli literature such as Dan Zalka and Pinchas Sade.

Din and Debate: Some Dialectical Patterns in Tannaitic Texts

by Tzvi Novick

The paper examines a set of technical terms employed in tannaitic literature in connection with the analysis of a din, or logical inference. I demonstrate that anonymous Akivan midrash transforms rhetorical terms that occur in debates between named parties into punctuation that structures the argumentation. In analogous contexts in Ishmaelian midrash, such punctuation does not occur. The first appendix addresses the relationship between the dialectical patterns examined in the body of the article and a collection of baraitot marked as illogical by the Bavli.  The second appendix, building on one of the technical terms examined in the body of the article that employs the rhetoric of surprise, addresses the expression of surprise in homiletical contexts.

Hasdai Crescas and His Circle on the Infinitely Expanding Torah

by Ari Ackerman

Crescas’ critique of Maimonides’ approach to codification and his attempt to develop a unique codificatory methodology are grounded in his understanding of the infinitude of the Torah. However, his brief comments on the Torah’s infinity invite two possible interpretations: On the one hand, the Torah can be conceived as infinite because it is comprised of an infinite number of laws from its inception. On the other hand, the Torah can be considered infinite because it undergoes an infinite process of growth. Evidence for the former can be culled from his discussion of the immutability of the Torah, while evidence for the latter is apparent from various statements of his students regarding the unceasing derivation of new laws. It is possible that in response to these conflicting tendencies within Crescas’ thought, Joseph Albo deviated from his teacher regarding the immutability of the law and accepted the prospect of an additional public revelation, which will herald changes in the law.

The Hebrew Bible in Europe in the Middle Ages: A Preliminary Typology

by David Stern

This article is a preliminary attempt to track the history of the Hebrew Bible as a material book in Europe during the Middle Ages (from the twelfth century until the emergence of print in the late fifteenth century). The article discusses three different types or sub-genres of Bibles that Jews used in this lengthy period, and then traces the different material forms that each of these types took in Sefarad, Ashkenaz, and Italy. The three types of Bibles are (1) the Masoretic Bible, which contains either a complete TaNaKH or different sections of it (e.g., just the Prophets) with the Masoretic notes; (2) the Liturgical Pentateuch, a Humash accompanied by either the Haftarot or the Megillot (or both), sometimes  other Biblical texts that were read in the synagogue, and often the Targum (or Rashi); and (3) the Study Bible, which is characterized either by a multiple number of commentaries on the page with the Biblical text or manuscripts in which the commentary occupies so prominent a position that it is clear that the book was meant to be studied. The article discusses the origins and development of each type, its decorations and illustrations, and its relationship to contemporary books produced in the relevant gentile host-cultures (e.g. Islamic and Christian Iberia, the Latin West, and Renaissance Italy).   

Biblical Grammatical Elements in the Nineteenth-Century Hasidic Hebrew Tale

by Lily Okalani Kahn

This paper contends that, contrary to the common belief that Hasidic Hebrew hagiographic tales composed in mid-to-late nineteenth-century Eastern Europe reflect an overwhelmingly rabbinic-based idiom, they actually exhibit a large component of biblical features. The paper first examines the most widespread biblical morphological elements, namely the 1cs, 1cp, and 3mp pronouns anokhi, anahnu, and hemah; the 3fp yiqtol form; the cohortative; the masculine singular imperative with heh suffix; infinitives construct without lamed prefix; qal infinitives construct of I-yod and I-nun roots; and the hitpael. It then explores the major biblical syntactic elements, including the wayyiqtol, wayehi, and weqatal; the expression of present states with qal qatals; and the particle na. The paper assesses the Hasidic Hebrew use of these forms and constructions, demonstrating that they are often employed differently from their biblical antecedents. Likewise, it addresses the authors’ motivations for utilizing these features, showing that in many cases they may serve to root the tales linguistically within the tradition of biblical historical narrative. These points are illustrated with examples from a corpus of tales published by M.L. Rodkinsohn, M.M. Bodek, J. Kaidaner, E. Shenkel, I.M. Bromberg, and F. Munk.

A Kabbalistic Reinvention of Maimonides' Legal Code: R. Abraham Isaac Kook's Commentary on Sefer Hamada

by  James A. Diamond

Throughout his prolific career R. Kook engaged the seminal medieval Jewish thinker, Moses Maimonides. It is this engagement, or appropriation, which forms the focus of this study, and in particular an early methodical, though fragmentary, commentary on the Book of Knowledge (Sefer HaMada), the first section of Maimonides’ legal code, the Mishneh Torah. R. Kook creatively reinvents Maimonidean halakha and philosophy in an existentially kabbalistic register. A close reading of various passages of the commentary demonstrates a concerted project to reconcile Maimonides’ thought with his own. R. Kook systematically appropriates Maimonidean positions only to have them transcend their own rationalist limits to a kind of meta-metaphysics. The Guide of the Perplexed looms large in R. Kook’s concerted subversion of Maimonides’ rationalist grounding of the commandment to know, love, and fear God, the very first commandments enumerated by Maimonides in his tabulation of the mitzvoth, and the first to be halakhically explicated in the Mishneh Torah. In particular, comments on halakha that share a metaphorical image or prooftext with the Guide, when examined closely, target both the Mishneh Torah and the Guide to construct a new intellectualist halakhic mysticism.  52900 äô÷åìèä ìîãòé äéäãåú, àåðéáøñéèú áø-àéìï, øîú âï JSIJ

Last Update:February 15, 2005