Friday, August 26, 2005

Reports from the Congress

I was unable to attend the Fourteenth World Congress of Jewish Studies this summer in Jerusalem. But I have been attempting to glean as much information as I can, from friends who did attend and some who spoke there. Hopefully, I will be able to present some of that information here.

Last night I heard a little about the session devoted to Mif'al ha-Mishna. The Mifal aims to produce a catalogue listing all the textual witnesses - complete and fragmentary - to Rabbinic literature - Mishna, Tosefta, Bavli, Yerushalmi, Alfasi and probably some others. To date, the only section to be published was Otzar Kitve Yad shel Midreshe ha-Halacha by Menahem Kahana.

I was aware of the frenetic activity at the Mifal leading up to this session of the Congress. But apparently the announcement there was that the catalogue will be published in a year. At some later stage, the fragments themselves will be made available online.

This is momentous news, and when it is actually carried out, will make the textual study of Rabbinic literature much easier. But, as David Rosenthal teased Jacob Sussman during the session, the catalogue has been in the offing for nearly 30 years. Rosenthal claims that he himself gave the Israel Academy of Sciences his critical edition of Mishna Neziqin a full seven years ago, and it is entirely their fault it has yet to be published.

Another of the speeches delivered during that session was by Dr Ezra Chwat and was devoted to Geniza fragments of Alfasi. Study of the fragments has given Ezra a clearer picture of the extent to which the Rif was studied throughout the Mediterranean. Comparisons to Islamic modes of learning and textual transmission allow him to make interesting suggestions. For instance, the part the book played in the transition from oral learning of the Talmud to a written culture.

Ezra has pieced together 52 copies of the Rif from the Geniza with titles (altogether he has found 776 discrete copies of the work). Only nine of them carry the name "Hilchot Harif", or anything similar. The rest carry only the name of the tractate. Chwat suggests this reflects the feeling, on the part of the copyists and the consumers, that the contents was simply Talmud. The written Talmud, as opposed to the longer, more discursive Talmud that was learnt orally in the yeshivot. A shorter Talmud, that released the public from an information glut and allowed laymen to access their religious tradition.

The project has unearthed copies of Rif written by famous scribes, such as Halfon ben Menashe, who flourished in Fustat in 1100-1138, and Yefet ben Shlomo, whose copy of Mishne Torah received the approbation of Maimonides himself.

Please feel free to send me descriptions, summaries and notes from the Congress.


Blogger Lipman said...

Sounds very interesting indeed. I'm looking forward to the proceedings. (I hope I can get them somewhere when they're published in a couple of decades, because since they sell them only on subscription for a lot of money, some libraries don't have them anymore.)

5:49 PM  
Blogger manuscriptboy said...

Don't hold your breath. Only a small part of the proceedings from the previous congress were published on paper. Some were posted on the WUJS website, but then disappeared when they migrated to

6:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

manuscriptboy, search the articles in the renewed LEKKET.COM


10:47 AM  

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