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.


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