Tuesday, January 23, 2007

New stuff:

Richard Steiner's lecture about the early Semitic texts he found in Egypt.

Peter Schafer's book about Jesus in the Talmud.

Yaron Ben-Naeh's book about Jews in Turkey in the 17th century. He's one of those scholars who tries to garner a certain degree of notoriety. I remember reading Ruth Lamdan's response to his article in Zion about homosexuals in Jewish Ottoman society. She claimed that Ben-Naeh mangled a reference to a section in a book so that he could refer to responsum no. קקה , even though the source he needed was in siman קקו, just for the sake of the profanity. I haven't seen this book yet, but his articles which I have read have been very interesting.


Early this morning I came across a fascinating comment in Yerushalmi Dmai:
רבי התיר בית שאן רבי התיר קיסרין רבי התיר בית גוברין רבי התיר כפר צמח רבי התיר ליקח ירק במוצאי שביעית והיו הכל מליזין עליו אמר להו באו ונידיין כתיב וכיתת נחש הנחושת וכי לא עמד צדיק ממשה עד חזקיהו להעבירו אלא אותה עטרה הניח לו הקב"ה להתעטר בה ואנו העטרה הזאת הניח הקב"ה לנו להתעטר בה
If I understand this correctly, R. Yehudah ha-Nasi is supposed to be saying that, though he is not a greater halakhist than his predecessors, and even though they did not change the status of these towns, people should not take that as a sign that he should not change either. In other words, the personal status of a halakhist is not the criterion for whether he can take a revolutionary position. Nothing hugely surprising, but I don't remember hearing of this source before. [Update: A very close parallel, with the use of the phrase "makom le-hitgader bo" is found in Bavli Hulin 6b]

Yesterday I was looking at one of the places where Rabbeinu Tam's mahzor is mentioned. It is unclear from the Talmud which blessing one recites after eating wheat (i.e., whole wheat - puffed or raw, but not ground or cracked). Rabbeinu Tam wrote into his mahzor that one should say the three-fold blessing (al ha-mihyah) but with the formula "al ha-adamah ve-al peri ha-adamah" (on the earth and on the fruit of the earth). Afterwards, he erased it, because no such blessing is found in the Talmud. Indeed it isn't, and Tosafists were among those who sometimes felt one may not make a blessing which is not canonized in the Talmud. But didn't Rabbenu Tam know that when he first wrote it?
His nephew, Ri ha-Zaken, responded to this problem with that wonderful yeshivish answer - eat it with bread!
[Tosafot Berachot 37a, Or Zarua and Sefer Al ha-Kol - quoted in Tosafot R. Yehudah Sirleon ad loc]

Last week I read Robert Brody's Goitein lecture on Pirqoy ben Baboy. He goes through the relatively few studies that have been devoted to Pirqoy's epistle to North Africa, and mentions some of the Genizah fragments which have not yet been published. But his focus is an alternative version, published by BM Lewin. By comparing the two versions and invoking Occam's razor, Brody concludes that Pirqoy utilized an earlier polemical work, one which had been targeted at proto-Karaites. This explains why the epistle defends the rabbinic law of Pikuah Nefesh - not a topic which we have any reason to believe that Babylonian and Palestinian Geonim differed over. That would make it the earliest known rabbinic polemic, before the time of Rav Saadiah Gaon, whom Brody previously saw as the pioneer of that genre.

I think all these thoughts revolve around questions of what rabbis can do, what they think they can do but can't, and what others do in their name.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Why Israeli politics is so bad

Because everyone is related. Including this distinguished Genizah scholar. He doesn't seem to have a website with his articles (which have been reduced to less than a trickle in recent years), but these scholars do:
David Assaf
Yehudah Liebes
Chaim Simons (not as well known, and the header of his webpage tells you a lot, but his articles in Sinai are sometimes important)

I list these because they have been gracious enough to provide the public with some of their academic writings in full text. I hope more academics follow suit.

Now I notice that Ben-Sasson is dealing with the tension between politics and study in a lecture at Penn: "Pietism and Politics – Can They Go Together? The Medieval Egyptian Sufi Case"
The answer, presumably, is yes, since the pietistic Maimonides family held control of Egyptian Jewry for several generations.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Following the example of Ma'agarim, the Bar Ilan Responsa Project is now available to subscribers online. If I understood correctly, you can run searches without subscribing, but the full text would be barred. By the way, in terms of online text, I just noticed that while Wikipedia has entries in a great many obscure languages, it doesn't seem to have an Aramaic Wikipedia. Anyone out there game to start it off? When we were in basic traning, I remember one of my friends coming up with some brilliant translations of army slang into Aramaic. אית לך שעתא בנפקותא!

Scholion is having its annual marathon of lectures by prospective fellows, including a few people I know (go Miriam!). One of them, Benny Brown, will be speaking about the stringent sexual restrictions of Gerrer hassidim. Meanwhile, Rav Elyashiv has banned all forms of higher education (beyond a teacher's diploma) for women.