Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Baruch Dayan haEmet

I just read that Prof Elka Klein died. I read a couple of her articles, and the introduction to her just-published book, and was impressed by the balance of approaches in her work. Original documentary research, broad knowledge of the historical and halakhic background, and even readable (the topic was legal documents, so I think that last point is quite impressive). Apparently, another book is supposed to be published next year.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Moving On

Well, we got through three days of Purim. Though some hangovers linger, today is a new day - one on which scribes were saved. Next challenge - erev Pesach. Ta Shema and Gertner.

At the Dinur Center book sale last week I acquired the long-awaited memorial volume for Tirtzah Lifshitz, titled Mehkarim beTalmud uveMidrash. Almost 600 pages of articles by leading Talmudists. Things that caught my eye - Alon Goshen-Gottstein on the death of R Eliezer b Hyrcanos, Menahem Kahana on Klal uFrat in Tannaitic literature, Chaim Milikowsky on philology and text-criticism (finally, a good discussion of how to deal with manuscript variants). And I'm only halfway through. Mrs Lifshitz was working on her doctorate on Midrash Shmuel, the text of which will hopefully be published soon on the basis of her work. She died in 1998, before I started university. But her photo told me that I had known her by sight, from the neighbourhood we both lived in. May her memory be a blessing.

And now, for fear of running out of time, I will go.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Purim Scholarship

Purim torah sometimes seems old-fashioned. This contemporary version was posted on MailJewish by Martin Stern (I added the links):

Book Review
Shorshei Kerem Rosh Nevolim by Mordekhai ibn Shakhran
edited with introduction and notes by Rabbi Alter Brandwein
(240 + xii pages, $100)
reviewed by
Shimmy Benkish,
Emeritus Professor of Palaeooinology, University of Weinburg

As has been reported widely, the Sefer Shorshei Kerem Rosh Nevalim by the 10th century exegete, Ibn Shakhran, was found recently in the wine cellars of the Vatican where its folios had been used as stoppers in ancient amphorae. Until now he was only known from scattered quotations but now we can appreciate his deep understanding of the Tenakh in all its brilliance.
The author obviously chose this name for his sefer as an acrostic of his name. It is also a reference to his home town, Gibraltar, which had been known, previous to the Arab conquest, as Nebelberg from the Visigothic word meaning 'foggy mountain', because of the clouds that often envelope its summit, or el Pe'on, the Rock, as it is still called by its residents, HaTsur in mediaeval Jewish works. The Arabs renamed it Gebal Tariq, the mountain of Tariq, after their leader. In defiance, the indigenous population called it 'el Pe'on del cabecilla', literally the rock of 'the head of the gang of scoundrels', rosh nevolim.

It seems that his idea that Hebrew words were derived from four letter roots from which one letter was removed to give different nuances of meaning, drew the ire of his contemporary, Dunash Ibn Labrat, who wrote of him "Ben Kaf keVen Quf ", implying that, with such opinions, his name should have been with a quf rather than a kaf. This may also be the earliest reference to the colony of Barbary apes which still live in Gibraltar. Ibn Ezra was moved to defend our author against this calumny in his comment on Tehillim (81,17) "umitsur devash asbi'eka - kemo
hamefaresh hagadol Ibn Shakhran me'ir Tsur shemidevarov anu sevei'im devash." This may itself be an allusion to Ibn Shakhran's introductory comment to the Megillah "Why is Shushan always referred to as 'HaBirah' - because it was the centre of beer production in Achashverosh's
empire." In Biblical usage devash invariably refers to date honey, the raw material for beer manufacture in Bavel, barley beer being peculiar to the land of Madai ('Beer Production in the Bible and Talmud' by Professor Yehoiyada Felix, Beer Sheker University Press, 5715*)

To give the readers a better idea of his approach, we quote some further insights on the Megillah which will whet their appetite for more.

Noach and the Megillah
Ibn Shakhran notes that, throughout the Torah, the name of Noach is spelled chaser, yet in the Megillah, we find it spelled malei in three places, a hint to be livesumei bePurya ad delo yada, in that one should be as malei yayin as Noach (Gen. 9,21). He notes (Esth. 9,17) that this must be the source of the beraisa brought in the Avos deRabbi Natlan (Schlechter edition, 1,1-3, Van
De'Stijl Brothers' Press, Weinheim, Baden, 5526*): "HaBakbuk kibel haYayin meKerem umesarah leNoach (Gen. 9, 20-21), veNoach liVnos Lot (19, 31-36), uVenos Lot leOved Edom haGitti (2 Sam. 6, 10), veOved Edom haGitti leNaval haKarmeli (1 Sam. 25, 36) [There seems to be a chronological inaccuracy here since Naval was prior to Oved Edom, but perhaps this is a case of ein me'uchar umukdam beshikhrus - when drunk one has no perception of time - S.B], veNaval haKarmeli leBelshatsar (Dan. 5), uVelshatsar leAchashverosh, veAchashverosh asah mishteh lekhol sarav ve'avadav (Esth. 1, 3) " Noach hayah omer 'Al sheloshah devarim haOlam omed, al haYayyin ve'al haShekhar ve'al haSaraf' " Hu hayah omer 'Im ein kerem ein yayin ve'im ein yayin ein shikhrus' '' Its repetition (9,18), supports Rav Yeina Saba's memra in Massekhes Shikurim. (Falsher edition 7,12, Tokayer Press, Martha's Vineyard, Mass., 5716*) that 'livesumei applies to both days of Purim, umeshum sefeika deyoma machmirin bazeh"!

In his comment on "ya'asu eits gevoah chamishim amah" (5,14), Ibn Shakhran brings Midrash Shekhar Tov which explains that Haman obtained this piece of timber from Noach who had used it as one of the cross beams of the ark (Gen. 6,15):
"How is it that Noach was drawn into the Megillah? Our Sages teach that when Zeresh told Haman to hang Mordekhai on a gallows fifty amos high, he asked her where such an enormous piece of timber might be found. To this she replied 'Did not your ancestor Noach build his ark
with such mighty beams? Go to him and ask for one!' This advice greatly pleased Haman and he did so. When he came to Noach with his request Noach refused, so Haman grabbed one end and tried to make off with it. At this, Noach grabbed the other end to prevent its loss but, being
an extremely elderly man, could not stop Haman who thereby dragged him with the beam into the Megillah." Since it says (Esth. 9,16) "veNoach mei'oyeveihem", which he translates as "and Noach from among their enemies", Ibn Shakhran points out that Haman's hatred of Jews must have come from Noach together with the rest of his junk

The mothers-in-law of Achashverosh
It seems that surrogate motherhood was still known in his days since he comments on the verse "Gam Vashti haMalkah asesah mishteh nashim" (1,9) "HaKesiv 'mishteh' im hei, vekakri 'mishtei' im yud, vezeh sod gadol - achas lezera' veachas le'ibbur" and notes that both are named in the Megillah, "Bo'arah" (1,12) and "Keshokh" (2,1). The former was obviously the biological mother as he explains "venikreis al shem zeh mipnei shehe'erah bah ba'alah", so the latter must have been the surrogate. He notes that it is clear that these two must be the mothers of Vashti since they are brought in connection with her downfall.
He comments "al tikri 'kam bechamaso' (7,7) ela 'beKam chamoso' vezeh shemah shel imah shel Esther " she was also known as "Shokhakhah" (7,10) and this is no contradiction to the verse 'she had no father or mother' (2,7) because her mother's name had been forgotten. Though some
say Esther had two mothers like Vashti, this is a mistake: her mother's name was 'Kam', and 'Shokhakhah' was rak kinnui be'alma".

There are many further insights brought by Ibn Shakhran for which the reader is recommended to obtain a copy and intoxicate himself with its wisdom, "halo hem kesuvim al sefer (10, 2)".

*Note that hashtus, hashikor and hashasui have gematrias 5715, 5526 and 5716 respectively. Also this year 5765 is the gematria of hashetuim (with two yuds from the shem hameshulav of course!)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Rare books

Recently I read the novel The Rule of Four. Not bad, though a pale reflection of Umberto Eco's masterpiece, Foucault's Pendulum (the authors try to explain all their literary allusions!). The book revolves around a Renaissance work, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. Anyway, I just noticed that this rare book is available for viewing at our own National Library. Pretty cool.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Slanderers and whistleblowers

My friend Daniel gave a class tonight, focusing on a responsum of Maimonides (no. 111), which I will try to translate:

We ask the grace of our lord, light of the world, our master and Rabbi Moses ben R. Maimon, what say you - great rabbi, wonder of the generation from sunrise to sunset - of a certain Hazzan, who is also a Talmid (member of the yeshiva?), regarding whom an unmentionable rumour (rinun) has proliferated, but no witnesses have come forth, and he has enemies. Should he be expelled from his position or not? Should he be punished? If the rumour should be confirmed and he is punished, shall he be removed from his position? What if only one witness comes forth? Our master should teach us and be rewarded twicefold from heaven

The answer: What every intellectual should know. That no official should lose his position because of a mere rumour, even if he has no enemies... and even if the testimony is valid, he should not be removed, if he accepts his punishment, because no-one is pulled down from his holiness, from the great Sanhedrin down to the Hazzan ha-Knesset, unless he perpetrated a sin in public. And if this rumour has been spread about him, he should not be removed and it should not be publicized... And the man who spoke of this person without seeing him for himself should be banned, because there is no greater afkarta (irreverence) than that. He should be lashed for spreading libel... and be careful of the honour of Torah, for a mitzva is a candle and the Torah, light. And Moses wrote.

That's the responsum. We spent most of the class focusing on the Talmudic discussions, and Rambam's codification of them, which betray much internal tension, but none of which seem to sustain the conclusion of this teshuva.

Hil. Sanhedrin 17:8-9 A high priest who sinned and was lashed retains his position. But a Rosh Yeshiva leaves the Sanhedrin altogether.
Hil. Talmud Torah 7:1 A sage or rosh yeshiva who "smells" is never publicly banned, unless he sinned in public on a grand scale. He is lashed in private. And any talmid hacham who is liable of excommunication, the court does its best to avoid the case.
Hil. Talmud Torah 6:14 A list of grounds for excommunication. Number 23: a talmid hacham about whom "evil rumours" abound (shemuato ra'ah).

The tentative conclusion was that, in the case before him, Maimonides felt confident the rumours were false, and therefore the whole thrust of his response was away from any shadow of blame.

At the end of a lengthy discussion of this source, R David b Zimri (Egypt, 1479-1573) commented: But he surely concedes that if the official committed a crime in his official capacity, e.g. if he taught women and sinned with one of them, then he is removed until proven to have heartily repented, so that we not leave a stumbling block before him.

By now, you probably understand what bothers me about this discussion. The words sound so familiar. We hear them again and again and again in regard to rabbis accused of sexual crimes against students and other people. Is this really what generations of Halachic authorities thought was the right thing to do?!

I think an important observation must be made. In all the sources we discussed, in the Talmud and Rambam, no victims were mentioned. The substance of the accusations was that the person under scrutiny was a sinner, someone who slipped below the high moral standard expected of a religious functionary. That is really a matter that concerns only the sinner and God. But society tends to be unforgiving of people exposed to its glare, and so such sins become the subject of discussion. Which leads to hillul ha-Shem, the desecration and denigration of God's name by those associated with Him. Which is why the ideal situation is when his indiscretions go unnoticed.

But the people I have in mind, the ones accused of sexual harassment, molestation and other crimes, are in a different category altogether. They have hurt people. It does not concern only the rabbi and God. It concerns the victims. And victims are precisely the kind of people Batei Din and communal leaders are supposed to be protecting. And here hillul ha-Shem works in precisely the opposite way. It is the concealing of the matter that is disgraceful. Leaving them in their positions is not only dangerous, as the Radbaz realized. It devalues the positions they hold and the organizations in which they function.

The question of whether such functionaries should be allowed to resume their positions after having stood trial and served their sentences is a more subtle issue, I think. And the question of unsubstantiated accusations and rumours is definitely complex. But the conspiratorial, collusional way the issue is dealt with at present is a travesty, an unforgivable stain on the record of organized Judaism.

Take a look at this. Responsum 274. An issue I didn't mention, but which is important, is the different way in which our society relates to sexual harassment. In this responsum, the complaint of the widow who claims that the school-teacher made an offensive suggestion to her does not seem to be focused on a crime he committed towards her person. The issue is his good name. I don't think she could have received any personal damages from him even if her accusation had been proven. So, even if to our ears it sounds like a contemporary case of sexual harassment, I don't think that's how Maimonides, and his community, perceived it. Which is why his response can be described as "full of common sense".

Sunday, March 20, 2005

So Much Holier than Thou, she'Haval al ha'Zman

In Friday's HaAretz I saw an article by an old classmate of mine, Shmuel Yanai. He wrote about the Bnei Berak neighbourhood of Ramat Elhanan. Recently, the neighbourhood has suffered several losses, causes unclear (I would guess the unspeakable cancer, but maybe car accidents). In response, the local rabbinic leadership has decided that, in their neighbourhood, Shabbat will be ushered in ten minutes earlier.

There are theological issues here that I don't want to get into. Let's focus a little on the halachic side. Part of the rationale for this new stringency is the proximity of the neighbourhood to Petah Tikva. In Petah Tikva, Shabbat comes in earlier than in Bnei Berak. Therefore, they concluded, we can do the same.

But Shabbat comes in early in Petah Tikva for a historical reason. The city was established by generation-old Jerusalemites who dared stray beyond the walls of the Old City. In recognition of that connection, Petah Tikva decided to follow the Jerusalem custom. By appropriating this custom for Bnei Berak, a city with a shorter history, it is being debased into just another way of making life difficult.

In the Sixties and Seventies, one of the hot topics in rabbinic circles was how to observe Shabbat in outer space. One opinion was that an astronaut orbiting the Earth must observe Shabbat every seventh orbit. This would translate into once every three days, I think. Rav Menahem Mendel Kasher wrote a harsh response (in his periodical, Noam, reprinted here). His main point was that the essence of Shabbat is its time. Shabbat is the seventh day. No less and no more. Once you start stretching those boundaries, it loses its meaning.

Of course, another fundamental aspect of Shabbat is its difference from the rest of the week. You must cease from work on the Sabbath. But you must work the rest of the week for that to mean anything.

I couldn't find the article on Haaretz.com, and couldn't link to it on Haaretz.co.il. If anyone can provide the link, I would be grateful.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Wish List

Maybe you can help me. I've been trying for a while to get hold of the following books:

1. Sefer Rokeah haGadol, ed. Schneursohn, Jerusalem 1960.
3. Perushim uFesakim leRabbeinu Avigdor haTzarfati, ed. Hershkowitz, Jerusalem 1996.

There are other books I want, of course. MA Friedman's book on Jewish marriage in Palestine, for instance. But I have to go now. Thanks!

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Epstein Prize

Monday night was the annual Jacob Nahum and Zipporah Epstein Memorial Prize night. JN Epstein was the founder of the Institute of Jewish Studies at Hebrew University, and the Talmud department thereof. Each year, his family awards a prize to an outstanding undergraduate student in the department.

Shlomo Naeh gave a lecture on the last mishna in Makkot. Classic Naeh - very precise, distinction between two very close lexical meanings of a word, minimal interference with the text, and a final flourish that shows how everything works much better if you just move things around a little. (For another example, see his article in Netiot le-David, also on Makkot).

The keynote speech was given by the recipient of this year's prize, R Nissim Luk. He spoke about a passage in Seder Olam which Chaim Milikowsky discussed in PAAJR 50 (1983). To understand the passage properly, Nissim consulted with hydrologists, and presented the audience with star maps and graphs of water levels in wells throughout Israel. I won't try to present his whole thesis here. If you read Milikowsky's article, you'll see that he understands the Seder Olam version to be primary, and Rashi's reading in the Talmud to be a corruption of that. Nissim showed that there are two original versions of the baraita - one in Seder Olam, and the other in the unemended versions of the Bavli. Each version makes its own sense. Clearly, though, both versions stem from a common origin.

Anyway, we all felt it was a fitting tribute to Nissim's hard work.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Saturday Night Blues

In me tardus Amor non ullas cogitat artis,
Nec meminit notas, ut prius, ire vias.

Besides attending prayers, eating well and sleeping even better, I spent Shabbat working through Elliott Horowitz's articles on Purim violence. In Zion 59 (1994) and Poetics Today 15 (1994), he found traces of a tradition of violence on Purim. Specifically, violence towards Christians and Christian religious symbols (more on that in his article here). Another article in Zion 64 (1999) explored the halachic sources for the idea that Amalek is alive and kicking - sometimes identified with specific historical figures, including Jews, but usually as a general epiphet for European Christianity.

One of the themes Horowitz likes to explore in his work is the way earlier scholars deal with information they find uncomfortable. For instance, many Jewish historians found it hard to believe that Jews could have physically assaulted Christians without direct provocation - on Purim or at any other time. By stringing together many such incidents, Horowitz makes the point that this really is one of the aspects of Purim in Jewish history.

So, what does that mean? Is it simply a historical curiosity? The year Horowitz published his two articles, current events seemed to prove that his thesis was still valid (these Google results are disturbing in themselves!), that Jewish violence towards others on Purim is a living tradition.

Horowitz makes it clear that this tradition was a popular one, not something sanctioned or even mentioned in Halachic sources. In his later Zion article, he looked at what Halachic sources do contain. Mostly, they swing between two poles - the commandment to eradicate Amalek is a dead letter, or it is theoretically binding but political considerations usually make it impossible (e.g., the absence of a king to lead a war against Amalek).

I sincerely believe in the importance of acknowledging all of our heritage, as I have said here before. But I am not a big proponent of violence. What lesson can I learn from this?

For one, that the acts of the few can have a lasting impact on the many, for generations. For another, Jewish history is not necessarily something to hide behind in proclaiming moral superiority. Morality is something that has to be constantly strived for, struggled for.

And third, that Jewish social history is not all about being victimised!

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Fresh Tarbiz

Volume 73, 1 (2004) of Tarbiz has appeared. It features, among other important articles, a piece by Menahem Kahana on the presentation of mahlokot in the Mishna, and Shulamit Elizur on an ancient Tisha b'Av custom preserved in a kerovat 18, a poetically expanded version of the Amidah. Oh, and Ezra Fleischer's response to Shlomo Naeh's theory on the triennial Torah-reading cycle, an article by Aharon Shemesh on Qumran, and more. So, if you were afraid I didn't have enough to read, set your mind at ease.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Aggadah in the Bavli

Professor Eliezer Segal spoke last night at Hebrew U on midrash aggadah in the Babylonian Talmud. This, as far as I understood, is the gist of his forthcoming book.

The Talmudic center in the land of Israel produced a very wide range of literarily complex exegesis on the Bible. This work, known collectively as Aggada, usually combines close reading of the biblical text, moral instruction and literary devices. Amoraic Aggada found, to a certain degree, in the Palestinian Talmud, but mostly in discrete works devoted exclusively to this genre - Genesis Rabba, Leviticus Rabba, Tanhuma-Yelammedenu and so on.

The Babylonian center, during the same period, produced only one work - the Babylonian Talmud. Which does not contain a great deal of comparable material in the field of aggada. Segal's claim is that the Babylonian amoraim were in the habit of taking aggadic homilies from Israel, stripping them of their literary structure, and presenting them as simple exegetical comments on the Bible.

Sometimes, they would expand these comments into binary controversies. For example, Rav and Shmuel are presented as disagreeing whether the "new king" described in Exodus 1:8 is really a new king, or an old king with a new policy. The idea of the "old king with new policy" is rooted in a homiletical link between Exodus 1:8 and Hosea 5:7, as can be seen in various versions of the Tanhuma. But the Bavli was not interested in the link, or the larger context, but only in the exegetical novelty of it. And, to balance it out, the Bavli added an opposing position, that Pharoah really was a new king.

Combatting Jewish Superstition?

This is what I was complaining about. Mesora quote a Tosefta and a Rambam to support their position that tying red string around your wrist for good luck is idolatry.

But let's throw our net a little wider. R Meir ha-Cohen of Rothenburg, in his Hagahot Maimoniot, ad loc (Mishne Torah, hilkhot Mezuza 5, no. 4) quotes authorities both for and against the custom of writing magical names into the mezuza. This was a widespread Ashkenazic custom (see further: Daniel Sperber, Minhagei Yisrael 2, 103-106).

In Tosefta ki-fshuta on the words "and he who ties a red string on his finger" (vol. 2, p. 82), after citing classical parallels to this custom, Saul Lieberman remembers that the nurses in his home town would tie red strings around the necks of children, to protect them from scarlet fever. He concludes that the Tosefta should be interpreted narrowly, to forbid only strings around fingers and not around other limbs.

My point is this. I also think that the popularity of red strings, and the whole culture that surrounds it, is pathetic and insidious. But the way to combat it is not to excise chapters from our history. Humour seems a much better tack to me.

Ultimately, what will draw people towards Judaism and away from quackery is sensitive, thoughtful and open-minded practitioners and representatives, not polemics with cynical opportunists.

Thanks to Avraham for the Mesora link

Monday, March 07, 2005

Manuscripts online

Just in time for Purim, another Hebrew manuscript is now online. The collection of ketubbot is very user-friendly, and the entire site is enjoyable.
(About the piyut for Purim, see Shulamit Elizur's article in Tarbiz 64 (1995), pp. 499-521 [I haven't read it yet, but I made a copy and will hopefully get to it soon]).

The Sea of Gaza

I just came across an interesting angle on the pejorative suggestion to "drink from the Sea of Gaza". Mordechai Akiva Friedman published a ketubba written in "Hazor de'al gaf Yama demeliha", Hasor, which is on the shore of the salty sea. He shows (Jewish Marriage in Palestine II, Tel Aviv 1981, pp. 316-317) that this is Rafiah, and that "the salty sea" is the accepted name for the Mediterranean.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Joy and rapture

After many months of searching, last night I found and bought a copy of Semak of Zurich. Also, a nice booklet by R Moshe Pinchuk (who headed the Zionist kollel in Melbourne for several years), titled An Introduction to learning the Palestinian Talmud. It includes a very useful list of Geniza fragments of the Yerushalmi and where they were published.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Hagahot on Talya Fishman - part I

Talya Fishman, 'Rhineland Pietist Approaches to Prayer and the Textualization of Rabbinic Culture in Medieval Northern Europe', Jewish Studies Quarterly 11 (2004), pp. 313-331

Fishman has often dealt with interesting questions, and the direction she develops in this article - one she apparently deals with at greater length in a forthcoming book - seems especially intriguing. But there are points which bothered me about this article. Some are nitpicking. But some, I think, are symptomatic of a tendency to apply categories and processes from different cultures without testing them carefully enough.

In keeping with the early Ashkenazic practice, when I make a statement based on unpublished remarks of my teachers, I will mark it with MR, meaning mi-pi rabbi (from the mouth of my teacher).

First, I want to comment on something Fishman wrote recently somewhere else:

Writing in twelfth century France, at a time when variant manuscripts of the Babylonian Talmud were in circulation, the most famous talmudic glossator, the Tosafist Rabbenu Jacob ben Meir Tam, attacked the rampant practice of textual emendation of rabbinic writings in his Introduction to Sefer ha-Yashar, i.e., "The Book of Probity." This critical perspective points to the emergence of two new historical conditions: (a) Written texts of the Oral Torah were no longer be regarded as aides de memoire, for had that been the case, lexical variants would not be a cause for concern. (b) There were now critical readers who paid attention to changes between one manuscript recension and another.

This short description (attached there to the wrong Sefer ha-Yashar!) implies that, before Rabbeinu Tam, there were no critical readers comparing recensions of the Talmud. This is ridiculous. Shamma Friedman, in his study of BM in the Lieberman festschrift, showed how European scribes were aware of two versions of the Talmudic text (which he finds represented by two manuscripts each), and they continually oscillate between the two. More to the point, Vered Noam demonstrated (in Sidra 17 [2001-2002]) that Rashi's textual emendations often obscure the hoary version he found before him. In other words, at least two generations before Rashi, lexical variants and their critical readers abounded.

I think that what Rabbeinu Tam was really doing was laying the foundations for a halachic revolution. As he himself says (p. 9), lots of people were criticizing the text. But RT wanted to read the Talmud closely, and to consider that reading authoritative enough to base new halachic conclusions on it. For that to be justified, he had to be sure that the version he was basing himself on was authentic.
In her present article, Fishman focuses on the concept of textualization - the process by which early medieval European society moved from finding authority in oral tradition to placing great emphasis on the written word. Yisrael Ta Shma wrote at length on this process in the introduction to his book on early Ashkenazic minhag (Minhag Ashkenaz ha-Kadmon, 2nd ed. Jerusalem 1998), which Fishman doesn't seem to mention here.
Specifically, she wants to trace the effects of this process in the area of prayer - not so much liturgy as practices related to it. A central source for her study is R Elazar Rokeach's commentary on the siddur, based on the Herschler edition - an edition which obscures a complex network of manuscripts, which make it very unclear what the Rokeach actually wrote himself (MR).
Fishman describes (p. 320) the early Piyyutim, composed in Palestine in the sixth-eighth centuries - as reflecting the "valorization of memory-intensive recollection", which aimed to transmit oral teachings "trespassing the rabbinic prohibition against inscription".
I find this very unconvincing. The allusions in piyyut are too obscure to expect memorization. What they demonstrate is virtuosity - the ability of the cantor to invoke, off the cuff, a dazzling array of sources, motifs, ideas and verses; to bring them all to bear on the specific setting - Yom Kippur that falls on Shabbat, a circumcision feast on Sukkot - and rework them artistically. The audience understood as much as they could. But they were an audience, not schoolchildren being drilled on their lessons.
As for the "prohibition against inscription" - there never was such a prohibition on aggadic material. Not in Palestine, anyway (MR, but see JN Epstein's discussion in Mavo leNusah haMishna).
The use of numbers as an organizing principle (p. 319) is evident in the warp and woof of the Talmud itself (Jeffrey Rubenstein's article in The Talmud Yerushalmi and Graeco-Roman Culture III, and Shamma Friedman's article on the Bavli, referenced there) and is not unique to midrash.
The term marviah, which Fishman translates as "am enlarging" (p. 315) seems, based on a quick Responsa search, to have one of two close meanings. Either to ease things, or to profit. In this case, I think it is clear (in light of the general theology of Hassidei Ashkenaz) that the second meaning is applicable. The Hassid counts the letters while praying, thus devoting more time to his prayer to God and finding new meanings in the words. Invoking Shiur Komah in this context is unnecessary.
To be continued.