Friday, August 05, 2005

Talmud off Union Square

I finally got to the Talmud exhibit at the YU Museum. There were some really nice things there - a Bomberg Talmud on vellum, and another on blue paper. The Sabbionetta printing of Kiddushin, which arrays the Tosafot Rid and Ritba on the page.

One of the most impressive aspects of the exhibit is the provenance of the books on display. Many are from JTS, but many others are from private collections. Those are the books the public doesn't normally have access to, and this exhibit shows what a range of treasures are held by private collectors.

The first manuscript on display as you walk in is a Geniza fragment of Bavli Baba Kamma. It is a good example of how the Geniza brings the Jewish world together. The text is written in an Oriental (i.e. Middle Eastern) hand. It contains interlinear corrections in a Sefardic script. And glosses in Ashkenazic letters.

The curators did not pay much attention to marginal comments in the printed books on display, which is a shame. There is an ed. princ. of the Talmud Yerushalmi with personal milestones in the life of its owner, Yedidya Benveniste. A Wilhemsdorf 1716 printing of Megillah that belonged to someone named Eizik Berlin in 1853.

There were some silly mistakes in the captions. The Wien 1865 Talmud contains textual variants, titled Or Haganuz, from a manuscript in Vienna. But that manuscript, and those variants, are of the Tosefta, not the Bavli. And a large volume printed by Isaac Prostitz in Cracow 1597 is not Bavli either, but rather Alfasi. The explanation of the difference in editorial technique between the Bavli and Yerushalmi (persecution prevented the Yerushalmi from being completed) was presented, I think, too confidently.

An odd choice was one of the websites featured in the contemporary section. Come-and-hear, which besides hosting a transcription (legal?) of the Soncino translation of the Talmud, also provides the full text of a book by a woman named Dilling, who exposes Talmudic Judaism as a Marxist conspiracy of the Anti-Christ.

Some other notables pieces were a small volume of Baba Kamma copied by Anshel Moses Rothschild and passed down through his family (today it belongs to YIVO). A gemara printed in Shanghai in 1942, inscribed with the name Moshe Meir Mandelbaum, who was, as he says there, "currently in Shanghai".

The video footage of people learning Talmud the world over was cute. Recognized a few people I know. The special part there was a couple of minutes filmed in Ponevizh before WWII. It shows a teacher (sorry, no idea who it is), looking very animated and happy, learning with his students crowded around. All of whom were well-shaven, with ties and fedoras.

But must we really accept that the Schottenstein translation of the Talmud is the pinnacle of this tradition?

8 Comments:

Anonymous Lia said...

Wow that was very impressive and interesting! Sounds like a great exhibit (provided you're an expert in manuscripts). I can't say anything about manuscripts, but I can about your parenthetical note about why the Yerushalmi was cut off when it was. It would be great if we knew enough about 5th century Palestine to say with any modicum of confidence what it was that led to the closure of the Yerushalmi, apparently prematurely. Persecution is one of the options, but it falls short in many ways, and leaves a lot of questions unanswered (like, what persecution has to do with the sealing of the Talmud). Lucky medievalists - you guys have got so many more answers for your questions than the ancient studies people do.

12:11 AM  
Anonymous Lia said...

And can you just explain what you meant by your comment at the end about Schottenstein, or where that came from?

12:55 AM  
Blogger La Bona said...

What do you think of Female Circumcision?

It is said other than Muslims and Jews, circumcision is also performed by Coptic Christians, Protestants, and Catholics ...

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5:19 AM  
Blogger manuscriptboy said...

I am unaware of female circumcision in the Jewish tradition.

3:14 PM  
Blogger manuscriptboy said...

La Bona - looking through your blog, the only basis I saw for the idea that female circumcision is a Jewish tradition is the fact that some Muslims do it, and that Mohammed borrowed many Jewish traditions. Sorry, but that's not enough. We know precious little about the Jews with whom Mohammed came in contact, what their traditions were, and to what degree Mohammed followed them. There is a fascinating article on these ancient Arabian Jews by Meir and Menahem Kister. In Hebrew, in the journal Tarbiz. But the bottom line is, you'll have to try a little harder to convince me.

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Lia said...

Shaye Cohen has a new book called, _Why aren't Jewish women circumcised? Gender and Covenant in Judaism_
http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/10395.html>

8:05 PM  
Blogger Robert Schwartz said...

Its the "Schottenstein Edition" of the Talmud. Not the Schottenstein Translation. The family has many gifts, but they are not literary.

10:23 AM  
Anonymous Menachem Mendel said...

First of all, great blog. I stopped by the exhibit today in order to see it before it closed. It was a nice exhibit and the whole museum itself is very nice. A definite not well-known Jewish gem in NYC. A sorry absence from the exhibit, if I am not mistaken, is the English Soncino Talmud. While it wasn't the first English translation, for decades it was the most important one for the English-speaking world. I looked for it but couldn't find it.

10:03 PM  

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