Monday, January 16, 2006


I'm getting married today.

I'm proud to report that the officiating clergyman has his own personal hate site. I don't normally link to sites I consider reprehensible, but there is a principle (Tosefta Yoma 4:12; TB Yoma 86b; MB Lerner, Assufot 14 [2002], pp. 99-112) that one must publicize certain sins to prevent a further desecration of the name of God. Rabbi Blau's actions have been righteous and his motives exemplary, and his detractors are worthy of every humiliation.

Gemaragirl, the woman I am privileged to be marrying, does not yet have a proper web presence, but that will hopefully be rectified soon. Using that nickname of hers once in the past produced a flurry of fruitless Google searchs, so don't bother.

There is a wedding custom that the groom is encircled by the bride seven times before the marriage ceremony. Scholars (e.g., Aharon Ahrend, Sidra 7 and Roni Weinstein in his book on marriage rituals in early modern Italy) seem to concur that this is a magical attempt to protect the groom from dastardly attempts to sabotage the consummation of the marriage. The groom at those moments is particulary vulnerable, and so the bride creates a circle of protection around him.

But many rabbinic sources, including Rabbi Dosa the Greek - the first to mention the custom, in the fourteenth century (see Me'orot HaRishonim p. 325 and one of Spiegel's articles in the Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim memorial volumes) - invoke a biblical verse. "How long wilt thou turn away coyly, O thou backsliding daughter? For the LORD hath created a new thing in the earth: a woman shall court a man" (Jeremiah 31:21). The verb in Hebrew is תסובב, "shall encircle a man". Thus, the idea that the bride should encircle the groom.

The eschatological import of the verse is unpacked in Midrash Tehillim 73 by R Shmuel bar Nahmani - in this world the man courts the woman, but in the world-to-come, the woman will court the man. So too, in this world, God must pursue His people to persuade them to do His will. But in the world-to-come, they will pursue God, hoping to serve him.

The Talmud (Yevamot 62b) uses this verse in Jeremiah as a prooftext for the observation that a man living without a woman lives without a wall to protect him.

I'm praying that in our marriage we are able to carry forward and live out the traditions we both study and teach. And at the same time, to create something completely new, "a new thing on earth". That we always love each other and are able to protect each other, and that together we pursue God with all our might.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

New Mishne Torah

Students of Rabbi Eliyahu Zeini have published a one-volume edition of Maimonides' Code, the Mishne Torah. They advertise that their edition incorporates varia lectiones culled from other editions of the book published in recent years - those of R Joseph Kafih, Shabse Frankel, Nahum Rabinovitch and Yitzhak Shilat. They boast that they have corrected changes made by censors. But the really interesting changes in the Code are the more subtle ones, the ones made by scribes, or by the author himself.

Here's the rub. Kafih's edition is based exclusively on Yemenite manuscripts. Frankel's represents primarily European manuscripts and printed editions. Rabinovitch's version, with his commentary Yad Peshutah, follows the Oxford manuscript. As far as I am aware, only Shilat made use of Genizah fragments.

The Maimonidean presence in the Genizah is very strong. Thanks to the Fustat synagogue, we have many fragments in the Rambam's handwriting, and many other pages written by his close acquaintances. For examples, see here and here and here (by the way, the Arabic original of the Guide is here).

Avi Lifshitz, a student of Shilat, recently completed a Master's thesis at Bar Ilan University studying the significance of these fragments in the study of Mishne Torah. This is an important step, that must be followed by an appraisal of the relative worth of individual scribes and copies.

One small example, in shorthand. Isure Biah 21:9 - "U-bilvad...". Frankel's edition testifies that this phrase is missing from most manuscripts. It is also not to be found in a genizah fragment, BL Or. 10832/1, from the Gaster collection.