Thursday, May 29, 2008

Some recent articles

In response to an ongoing, and rather silly (to my mind) debate over the Orthodoxy of Saul Lieberman, Ari Chwat published a Hebrew article on Lieberman's move from the circle of Rav Kook in Jerusalem to JTS in New York. Chwat has been doing some interesting archival research recently, and one of his discoveries is that Benjamin Manasseh Lewin, editor of Otsar ha-Geonim, spent some time at JTS, though not as a member of the faculty.

Judah Galinsky has an article in Tsiyon 72, 4 (2007), continuing his work on R. Asher ben Yehiel in Toledo. In this article, he brings together some of the strands of his recent work by demonstrating how the Rosh influenced local practices of tax-paying and charity in order to achieve a shift in values, towards communal support of learning Torah Lishmah.

Tsiyon 73 (2008) includes an article by Prof. Simcha Emanuel surveying halakhic discussions of Gentile wet-nurses. Jews in medieval Europe used wetnurses frequently, and Jewish ones were more expensive. Emanuel discusses the halakhic issues that arose, including the question of whether the nurse would be allowed to eat non-Kosher foods. The only Halakhist to really discuss this question was R. Isaac Or Zarua, but apparently, French Jews in Paris and Sens were actually quite strict about this. Emanuel suggests that it was the Or Zarua's teachers in Paris and Sens who taught him this stringency, but they failed to mention it in their own halakhic works. Why?

One answer that Emanuel hints to, but does not pursue, is that this was a position held by only part of the community in these cities - and not by the Tosafists themselves. This opens the door to interesting questions regarding the position of authority that the Tosafists held in their own communities (akin to the debate about the authority of the Tannaim).

The answer he gives is that, as it turns out, Tosafists do not always discuss their actual practice when commenting on Talmudic texts. They do it frequently, to be sure, and thus allow historians of Halakhah to keep themselves busy. But not always - sometimes they are content to focus on the Talmud, ignoring the ramifications for their communal practice.

Of course, it's possible that their failure to discuss this particular custom may have been because of how uncomfortable it made relations with Christians at times:

בדבר הזה אין אנו מודיעין למלכות

Professor James Diamond was kind enough to send me a PDF of his article 'King David of the Sages: Rabbinic Rehabilitation or Ironic Parody?'. The Talmud tells some very strange stories about King David, which leave you wondering whether you're supposed to admire or revile the biblical figure. Diamond suggests that they are best read in an ironic key, which allowed the rabbis to voice their criticism of his actions while preserving his stature in the eyes of the masses.

JNUL digitized books

Found wanting by Captain Internet, the JNUL continues to digitize interesting books. The latest batch includes:

An early printing of the Mishnah, known as "Defus lo noda".

Tumat Yesharim, Venice 1622. Includes the first edition of Temim De'im. TD is an important collection of Provencal halakhah, and is the only source for many 12th century responsa.

The requisite Steinschneider book.

Talmud Yerushalmi on Kodashim, Szinervaralja (Romania) 1907-1909. See here and here and here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Textual witnesses of the Tosefta

My friend Asaf Pink, who works for the "Primary Textual Witnesses to Tannaitic Literature" project, and who is writing his MA thesis at Hebrew University on Genizah fragments of the Tosefta, will be delivering a lecture at JTS next Tuesday, 27 May, at 10 am. His topic will be the relationship between the two main Tosefta manuscripts, Erfurt and Vienna.

For a previous attempt to delineate that relationship, see Adiel Shremer's article, here. By the way, should anyone think that after Saul Lieberman's edition, there is no work left to be done on the Tosefta, Asaf has told me in the past that there are quite a few fragments of Tosefta that Lieberman did not utilize.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Gemara manuscript

I'm thinking of writing a series of "biographies" on important Hebrew manuscripts. As a beginning, I want to introduce Firenze, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale , II.1.7-9. These volumes actually contain (at least) two manuscripts, each containing tractates of the Babylonian Talmud.

7 is a very early manuscript, the earliest dated Ashkenazic codex. It contains the end of Seder Kodashim, including the Mishnah text of Middot and Kinnim. It was written by a single scribe, and he recorded the colophon that allows us to date the manuscript to 1177. The volume in its present state also includes a copy of Berakhot, which was probably written at about the same time but by 8 different scribes. The main part of the manuscript spent a lot of time in Ashkenaz, where it accumulated marginal glosses (hagahot!) in Ashkenazic script, while the glosses in Berakhot were written by Italian Jews. Berakhot was probably the first part of the manuscript to arrive in Florence, where it was censored in 1472.

The lasting value of these manuscripts lies more in their para-textual aspects than in the text itself. The textual tradition of Ms. Firenze 8-9 is typically Ashkenazic, as Shamma Friedman demonstrated conclusively in regard to Bava Mezia - closely related to MS Munich 95 and (for Sanhedrin) to MS Karlsruhe . However, it is Ashkenaz post-Rashi, incorporating the extensive textual emendations proposed by that extremely influential 11th century sage. Volume 7 is also typically Ashkenazic, according to Yoav Rosenthal's work on Kareitot, though it seems like it doesn't follow Rashi as much.

But the paratext! First of all, volume 7 is obviously of great importance for the under-developed field of Ashkenazic paleography (I suspect that greater consumer demand for Genizah paleography has pushed that field forward, with Ashkenazic manuscripts being left behind. Also, there are so many dated documents in the Genizah that there is a solid basis for the methodology, while there are very few early dated manuscripts from Europe. One important paleographer at least, Tamar Leiter, wrote or is writing her doctorate on Ashkenazic manuscripts).

Second, these manuscripts have been in Christian hands in Florence for hundreds of years, and they (but only vols. 8-9) contain hundreds of Latin glosses, translating passages that Christian readers found interesting. These glosses were studied by Hen Merhaviah. I've forgotten too much Latin to read them myself, but simply noting their presence on the page can alert the Talmudic reader to a passage of potentially polemical significance.

There is also the matter of the scribe's name. Volumes 8-9 were copied by a scribe named Reuven, who marked his name in various places. Berakhot, as mentioned, was written by a whole club of scribes. But Kodashim was copied by a single scribe. He didn't mention his name in his colophon. There is one place where the name Yitzhak is marked out clearly. The paleographers think this was added later, and that it does not reflect the scribe's name. In their written description, they make no attempt to explain what it is. The context, though, might give a clue.


1. Codices hebraicis litteris exarati quo tempore scripti fuerint exhibentes, vol. IV (1144-1200), ed. Malachi Beit-Arie, Colette Sirat, Mordechai Glatzer and Tamar Leiter, Paris and Jerusalem 2006.

2. Shamma Friedman, Talmud Arukh, Jerusalem 1996.

3. Mordekhai Sabato, Ketav Yad Temani le-Masekhet Sanhedrin, Jerusalem 1998, p. 11.

4. Yoav Rosenthal, Babylonian Talmud Tractate Kareitot: A Study of its Textual Traditions, PhD dissertation, Hebrew University 2003, p. 55.