Thursday, December 28, 2006

Another daughter of Rashi

The next volume of Maggie Anton's trilogy, Rashi's Daughters, is supposed to appear soon. Meanwhile, an annotated version of part of it is available here. I've heard that the first book is fun reading, but it isn't available through the NYPL system yet. I did read her article in Judaism, but found it shallow. Looking through the annotated version mentioned above, it is clear that Anton is well read. But most of her Jewish sources are painfully old - Israel Abrahams, Irving Agus (scroll down for the comment about his taste in cars) and Joshua Trachtenberg. The primary source she seems to use the most, Israel Elfenbein's Teshuvot Rashi, is also notoriously problematic. Just to give you an example that I happen to be looking at this morning - number 52 (p. 46). In the sources he cites, the responsum is ascribed to R. Yitzhak ben Yehudah, Rashi's teacher. In Sefer ha-Niyar (an interesting book in its own right - the title reflects its appearance at the time when France was moving from parchment to paper, a transition which was apparently very speedy and decisive), it is attributed to Rav Sar Shalom Gaon. But nowhere is Rashi named as the respondent.

In any case, it is nice that Rashi is arousing popular interest. By the way, apropo Anton's speech at JTS, for which she produced the annotated chapters - I just noticed, and have not yet listened to, a recording of Beth Berkowitz speaking there about her book on capital punishment. Her claim, that Hazal's approach to capital punishment was not as humane as it is sometimes made out to be (and as I am still inclined to think), sounds interesting.


Blogger DafKesher said...

From the (quite extensive) blurb on the OUP site, it seems that Berkowitz's book might be making a possible - but not an absolute conclusion.
Because: why do we have to say that power discourse is, of neccesity, inhumane? Could not the Rabbis of the Mishnah be saying that they would run the system differently while at the same time being humane about it?
I think - while reserving judgement until I read the book, which will take too long to get to libraries, and which I can't afford becuase academic publishings are too expensive for anyone paying for their own books - that this is another case of academic sensationalism covering (independantly important) more minor insights which are actually useful.

2:00 AM  
Anonymous Lia said...

I heard Dr. Berkowitz lecture about her book at JTS, and read a part of it in dissertation form. Her issue isn't that the rabbis aren't humane. She argues that there's another dynamic at play that shouldn't be ignored. At this stage, she hasn't yet resolved the relationship between the moral side of things with the political/social, but it is only her first book. Also, know that Dr. Berkowitz is a serious scholar, who knows her stuff, and neither in personality nor in her scholarship can she be described as "sensationalist."

3:47 AM  
Blogger DafKesher said...

I retract my comment, and what you said was what I meant: Power discourse has nothing to do with humaneness etc. But there is some sensationalism at play here, perhaps on the part of Oxford University PRess?

5:13 PM  
Blogger DafKesher said...

Berkowitz Update:
Having read large sections of Berkowitz's book, and having found it quite interesting, I have the following observations to make.
1. She uses foucault too much. sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
2. She completely ignores the reason all the other scholars cited Rabbinic discourse as abolitionist and humane - the (completely nutty) rabbinic rules of evidence. Comparison with contemporary death-penalty discourse without noting the difference in rules of evidence superfluates most of her arguments.
3. There is, still, too much sensationalism, too much (talk about contemporary scholarship *(is Devorah Steinmetz Israeli or American? who cares? do we care that Americans come to Israel? what difference does this make? could all this information not be relegated to a footnote?)
4. Reading "just" the mishnah on a matter like this seems to me to be the easy way out.
This is not to negate the importance of this book, which places power discourse at the center of the reconstructed rabbinic death penalty ritual. I just wish it was done more carefully.

3:04 PM  

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