Wednesday, February 21, 2007

how does one go about getting photocopies of Manuscripts from JNUL?

In answer to this anonymous question:

1. Have some idea of what you are looking for.
2. Visit the JNUL website and and open their catalogue.
3. From the dropdown list of databases, choose Manuscripts.
4. Search by title, author, microfilm number (prefaced by f) or manuscript number. For this last option you need to use their abbreviations for the different libraries. It takes some getting used to.
5. When you know what you want, having noted down the name of the library, the film number - and, if you want only a specific section of a manuscript, the page numbers, you can email the Institute and work it out with them.
6. Chances are, you'll need to get permission from the library which holds the actual manuscript. The addresses are here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The real scandal

While the Toaff story continues to gather steam (I still don't really understand what his claim was), there is some really disturbing news. A few years ago, despite strong protests by women's organizations and the Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel, Rav Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, a Rav Elyashiv follower, Hagai Isirer, was appointed a judge on the Supreme Rabbinic Court in Israel (The other chief rabbi, Yisrael Lau, left the room, to avoid antagonizing anyone; incidentally, a key factor in the appointment was Haim Ramon's deal with the Haredim).

In a court system which denies the existence of aggunot (according to their website, there are only 30 cases such cases in Israel - there is some debate over the numbers, but this is clearly too low), Rav Izirer stands out for his misogyny. Once upon a time, the practitioners of halakhah did all they could to release women from a state of iggun. That does not seem to be the case in the rabbinic court system in Israel.

Another assumption that used to be true of all rabbis and halakhic decisors was that they would do anything to release children from the terrible fate of mamzerut. This situation most commonly arises when a woman was not divorced from her first husband (for any number of reasons - after WWII, some women assumed their husbands were dead, but years later they turned up alive, after the woman had already remarried and had children from her second husband). Rabbis will turn cartwheels to undo this situation, claiming that there never was a first marriage.

Now, however, Rav Izirer is actually trying to creating new mamzerim! Women who already received their divorces from their ex-husbands are now being threatened with retroactive nullification of those divorces, which would render their subsequent relationships retroactively forbidden.

Why? This is what Dr. Ruth Halperin-Kadari calls his "doomsday weapon" in the power struggle between civil family courts and rabbinic courts in Israel. The retroactive invalidation is being invoked in cases where the woman (or her children) has recourse to civil court over issues such as child support or the education of the children - issues the rabbinic court wants to have exclusive jurisdiction over.

In other words, for the sake of a power struggle, the Supreme Rabbinical Court is creating new mamzerim, using the kind of retroactive nullification which many rabbis have rejected so vehemently as a solution for aggunot. I don't know what steps can be taken to oppose this perversion of Judaism and miscarriage of justice, but at least I can blog about it.

New publications

Another forthcoming article in JSIJ - also about Rashi. Jordan Penkower's article, which documents all of the glosses to Rashi's commentary on the Pentateuch found in MS. Leipzig, appeared a few weeks ago. Now it is joined by Barak Cohen's (shorter!) piece on Rashi's comments on Amoraim. His conclusion is that Rashi did not have access to Iggeret Rav Sherira Gaon - nor to R. Yosef Tov Elem (Bonfils), who did.

The Yonah Fraenkel festschrift is about to appear, and the table of contents is available online.

Lost Jews

Hebrew University announced that two scholars (one of whom is a Mishpat Ivri scholar from TAU) have published a study in the Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha which demonstrates that the Jewish diaspora in Europe basically disappeared after the destruction of the Second Temple. Probably, they felt cut off from the spiritual center in Jerusalem, and eventually melded into their host culture.

This is very significant for medieval Jewish history, especially those interested in the roots of Ashkenazic halakhah. The Jewish settlement along the Rhine identified itself as being rooted in Northern Italy, and when it first surfaces in literary form, the Ashkenazic halakhah is already a hoary tradition. On the other hand, while we have extensive epigraphical remains from the Jews of Roman Italy, they don't reflect what we know about rabbinic Judaism. So this theory suggests that there was a break between Roman Italy and early medieval Italy, with the later Jewish population coming from a totally different, more rabbinic culture.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Contemporary Orthodoxy

On Saturday night we too attended the screening of Ethan Isenberg's documentary, The Lonely Man of Faith. Followed by a panel which was, frankly, depressing. In the wake of which I wanted to point out that the Academy of the Hebrew Language recently coined the term hadatah, which they define simply as "the opposite of secularization". Meaning, apparently, "the process whereby religious thinking, practises and institutions lose religious significance".

Photo of the panel here.