On The Origin of the Term Nevi'im Rishonim

by Michael Avioz

The biblical books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings are collectively known in Hebrew as Nevi'im Rishonim (Former Prophets). A review of the evidence from earliest times through the Middle Ages leads to the conclusion that the designation was coined by the Soncino family, who printed those books with Rabbi David Kimchi’s commentary in 1488.

Rabbi Meir and the Samaritans: The Differences Between the Accounts in
the Yerushalmi and the Bavli

by Itzhak Hamitovsky

This article seeks to show how the Babylonian sources placed much greater emphasis than their Palestinian parallels on the role Rabbi Meir played in connection with the changing Halakhic status of the Samaritan community. This conclusion is based on an analysis of the tannaitic sources dealing with Rabbi Meir’s relation to the Samaritans and a comparison between the Babylonian sugyot in BK 38b and Hullin 5b-6a and their Palestinian counterparts. It is suggested that according to both the tannaitic sources and the Palestinian Amoraic sources, Rabbi Meir did not make any significant contribution to the halakhic campaign against the Samaritans. Rather, it appears from these sources that Rabbi Shimon b. Eleazar, Rabbi Meir’s student, played a significant role in this campaign, during the late second century CE. The redactors of the Babylonian sources, following literary patterns attested elsewhere in the Babylonian Talmud, attributed Rabbi Shimon b. Eleazar's position to his teacher, Rabbi Meir. If my analysis is correct, the attribution of this position to Rabbi Meir constitutes yet another example of the transformation of Palestinian stories by Babylonian sources in light of the concerns of the Babylonian redactors.

Collections of Halakhah or Analytic Clarifications in the Babylonian Talmud?

by Menachem Katz

Most of the Babylonian Talmud consists of sugyot, analytical discourses which form complete and closed structures. Another type of structure found in the gemara is the collection of sayings of a particular amora or of the stam. Rashi called sugyot of this type piskei shemu‘ot or piskei halakhot (Sukkah 3b, Pesahim 9b), terms which reflect the nature of these passages – apparently random collections of rulings, edited (according to Rashi) by the school of Rav Ashi.

This article discusses two such collections – Sukkah 3b-4b and Bava Kamma 26a-27a. It argues that these sugyot reflect a remarkable combination of analytical reasoning and complex literary design. In these collections of sayings, the sages of the Talmud discuss real, concrete cases, through which they explore basic concepts of Jewish law. We cannot treat these sugyot as simple collections of shemu‘ot. Rather, we must observe how they analyze in great detail the exact nature of the halakhic concepts they address.

Welfare and Education vs. Leadership and Redemption:
The Stories about Rabbi and Rabbi Hiyya as an Example of the Image of the Tannaitic Past in the Babylonian Talmud

by Moshe Lavee

This article proposes a reconstruction of the Babylonian perspective on the relations of R. Hiyya and Rabbi. We argues that shared motifs, structures and expressions justify reading a group of scattered traditions and stories as if they belong to a single cluster, which may be read coherently. A comparison to parallel traditions in rabbinic compilations from the land of Israel shows the Babylonian character of this reconstructed story. Thus, this story should not be read as reflecting the actual history of the Tannaim, but rather as expressing contrasting values and impressions that were later associated with the figures of Rabbi and Rabbi Hiyya. Rabbi represents tough political leadership, which is expressed, among other things, by restricting the spread of Torah  study and by Messianic aspirations. Rabbi Hiyya symbolizes opposition to Rabbi, emphasizing Torah education for the masses, social concern, and investment in the immediate future – the next generation. The reading strategy suggested in this paper seeks to integrate two different approaches to the study of rabbinic literature: the literary approach to reading rabbinic stories, and the study of the contribution of late redactors, transmitters and editors to the formation of the Babylonian Talmud.

The Altar as God's House: A Study in Maimonides' Temple Perspectives

by Itzhak Hershkowitz

The altar has a unique and complex status in the Bible, since two incompatible characteristics are attributed to it: it is depicted both as a portable sanctified object and as a stationary building. These opposing characteristics are evident in Maimonides' laws of the Temple (Hilkhot Beit Ha-Behirah). However, when Maimonides molds these rulings into a coherent codex of decrees, he prefers the building aspect of the altar, although he bases several rulings about the Temple, especially those concerning building materials and methods, on the conception of the portable altar.

Thus, Maimonides asserts that the altar is the fundamental essence of the Temple. Therefore, even if the Temple is not fully constructed, the presence of the altar alone is sufficient to provide a functional House of God. This view differs from that of the talmudic Sages, who regarded the altar solely as a temporary alternative to the Temple.

These conclusions derive from a textual, contextual, and linguistic study of Maimonides' writings concerning the relationship between the altar, the Temple's outer shell, and the other vessels that were utilized in the divine service.

Ramban’s Approach Toward the Plain Meaning of the Biblical Text vs. his
Commitment to Halakha

by Yossi Erel

In his commentary on the Torah, Ramban displays a deep commitment to the Halakha as it was determined by the Sages in the Talmud and in post-Talmudic traditions. Ramban often demurs when Rashi presents a Rabbinic interpretation that is not in accordance with the Halakha. However, the Ramban’s commitment to Halakha sometimes clashes with his parallel commitment to the plain meaning of the text (peshat), and in these instances the effort to be faithful to both approaches and to
reconcile them creates a hermeneutic challenge.

The first two sections of this article present two hermeneutic techniques that help Ramban meet this challenge. The first technique, frequently found in his commentary on the Torah, is the principle of deriving two Halakhot from one verse: the Halakha according to the peshat, and the Halakha according to the Sages. This technique was not accepted by the Ba‘alei Tosafot in France, whose interpretation
according to the peshat ignores the Halakha.

The second technique, Ramban’s main approach in analyzing Halakhic passages in the Torah, is one of synthesis between the two contradictory principles.

The third section of this article focuses on excerpts from Ramban’s works on the Talmud, in which he tries to find the source of the Halakha in the plain meaning of Biblical verses even when the Talmud does not cite a Biblical verse.

The fourth section returns to Ramban’s commentary on the Torah. Here Ramban looks for the Biblical verses which were the source of the Halakha even when the Sages cited midrashic sources. Indeed, Ramban constructs an innovative Halakhic framework with regard to the Sabbath and a number of other subjects on the basis of Biblical verses.

The fifth and final section of this article analyzes Ramban’s synthetic approach within the framework of his historical and cultural background and milieu, comparing it to that of the Ba‘alei Tosafot in France on the one hand, and to the Sephardic halakhic tradition in Spain and North Africa on the other. We also point out the directions of the developments that might have been influenced by Ramban’s dispute with
the Christians, which may have influenced his attempt to combine two parallel approaches in his commentary on the Torah.

Hyperbolic Language in the Mishnah

by Chanan Gafni

One of the heated debates in nineteenth-century Jewish scholarship concerned the Talmud’s interpretation of the Mishnah, which to many seemed to deviate from the plain, original sense of the Mishnaic text. In this context, a fascinating discussion was devoted to a number of Mishnayot that, according to the Talmud, employed hyperbolic language (leshon guzma). All of these Mishnayot involved various aspects of Second Temple ritual and, according to the Amoraim, all used the number 300 in a rather arbitrary way. In the nineteenth-century debate surrounding these mishnayot, some interpreted them literally, without ascribing a tendency to hyperbole to the Tannaim. Others, determined to defend the traditional interpretation of the Mishnah at any cost, rejected these attempts. As in many other cases, nineteenth-century scholarship involved not only critical concerns, but ideological considerations as well.

On the Meaning of šgl

by Aron Pinker

The etymology of šgl is obscure. Šgl is a verb and noun that occurs a number of times in the Hebrew Bible and has diametrically opposing meanings. A strong late tradition exists for understanding the verb šgl as an obscene term for copulation. Our analysis of biblical and Talmudic sources suggests that the obscenity of šgl (verb and noun) stems from its relation to the anus. Specifically, the verb šgl is “to sodomize a woman” and the noun šgl is “a woman that copulates anally, as a bitch.” In some cases in the Hebrew Bible that deal with foreign royalty, a borrowed Akkadian term šgl is used in the sense of “queen, lady.” The Hebrew šgl and the Akkadian term appear to be unrelated.

The Last Oral Torah?
The Division of the Torah into ‘Aliyot

by Ephraim Stulberg

The origins of the present-day system by which the weekly Torah reading is divided into seven rigorously delineated aliyot are shrouded in mystery. While recent scholarship has emphasized that standardization of
this practice is a relatively recent development, rabbinic literature contains no programmatic statements describing the principles upon which the modern division was founded. This article attempts to define a set
of fundamental principles that appear to have guided the formulation of the aliyah divisions currently employed in synagogues throughout the world. It argues that aliyah breaks in both narrative and legal sections were determined to a surprisingly large extent by midrashic considerations, conjoining seemingly unrelated texts in order to convey connections between them that would otherwise go unnoticed. More significantly, perhaps, the aliyah divisions were also manipulated so as to heighten audience interest in the reading, either by creating an
atmosphere of suspense or by consistently selecting expressions of blessing with which to conclude aliyot. This final point raises important implications for a reappraisal of audience response to the Torah reading and its importance in the lives of its listeners.

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Last Update:February 15, 2005