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
Creative Redaction and the Power of Desire –
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 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).
Studies in the Transmission of the Oral Torah According to
Maimonides' Introduction to the Mishneh
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.
Rashbam on the Song of Songs: A
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.
the Masoretic Text of the Bible:
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
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.
On the Original Structure and
Meaning of Mah Nishtannah and
the History of its Reinterpretation
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
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
Last Update:February 15, 2005