Monday, January 21, 2008


Dr. Yehoshua Hurvitz, who wrote his doctoral dissertation under Victor Aptowitzer, just published a new book. A critical edition of Sefer Mordekhai on Pesahim, published by Makhon Yerushalayim. I haven't seen it yet. But the very fact that a person at his age took on and completed a task like that amazes me.


We watched the film Talmud last night. Some of the footage was very interesting. A lot of old films of Jews in Eastern Europe before the Holocaust. Various Chabad yeshivahs around the world. Devorah Zlochower teaching the 2005-2006 Scholars' Circle. A monk somewhere (Italy?) leafing through a Bomberg Talmud. Myself leafing through a Bomberg Talmud.

But the commentary was appalling. Bad jokes, quasi-insights based on total ignorance of Hebrew, vague historical perspective. And nothing about talmudic parodies. Speaking of which, I just saw that a scholar explained Kalonymus ben Kalonymus's famous Masekhet Purim as something he did to let off steam when he was taking a break from academic translation. Not because he was mischevous or sarcastic, or anything undignified like that.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Web and academy

Interesting post by Jeffrey J Cohen about the use of web resources in academic work. He comes out quite harshly against Wikipedia. He himself was a pioneer in publishing academic studies in hypertext mode.

I find Wikipedia a fascinating thing to watch. Sometimes you need to know where to look. The article on Donmeh contains some (allegedly) first-hand reports of the community today - but they're hidden in the Discussion section. Since people don't usually admit freely to belonging to a sect equally reviled by Jews and Muslims, it's not so easy to find descriptions like that.

A random Google search can often also be an important source of information, and my example for today is another manuscript sold off at the Montefiore auction is on the market again.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


to Dr. Gemara Girl!!!

And another article, in the Forward, about Tzelem.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Jacob's Iconic Face

Two recent treatments of the midrashim about Jacob's face being carved on the Divine throne:

Rachel Neis, 'Embracing Icons: The Face of Jacob on the Throne of God', Images 1 (2007), pp. 36-54

Shamma Friedman, 'Tselem, Demut ve-Tavnit', Sidra 22 (2007), pp. 89-152

In the New York papers

A nice article about the NYPL, and finally, some press coverage of Tzelem.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Just when you thought...

A Steinschneider conference at the Jewish National Library. Menachem Mendel, back from vacation, connects him to my previous posts. I've received several thought-provoking responses to my musings this week - thank you to everyone. I'm thinking about what you've said.

I just got a copy of 'Talmud', a French documentary by Pierre-Henry Salfati. When I've seen it, I'll let you know what I think.

I'm also curious to hear reports from the Shamma Friedman festschrift night at the Schocken Institute, and about the ongoing conference at the Institute for Advanced Studies, on Ashkenaz and Science. Anyone who was there, please feel free to send comments and descriptions.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

A little more

Don't get me wrong. I love working in libraries and I hope I can continue doing that kind of work in the future. But I also want to be doing something with a more tangible human impact. Also, if I felt more successful, I would probably worry less about whether what I'm doing is worthwhile.

New blog

A good friend pointed out a new blog. So far only one posting has appeared, but it looks like ספרים חדשים במדעי היהדות will be dedicated to short reviews of new books in Jewish studies. If my hunch about the identity of the author is correct, we can look forward to some incisive comments.

The annual lecture marathon at Scholion is coming up. A lot of the topics leave me cold, but as you already know, I think Amos Geulah is cool.

Last night at an engagement party, a distant relative asked me what I'm up to, and when he heard, he got all excited and started sharing with me his frustrations with contemporary Haredi halakhic practice. He's a hasid himself, by the way. He asked me whether I could recommend a good book on German Tosafists. All I could think of was Simcha Emanuel's wonderful Shivre Luhot, but I think that was too obscure for him. He talked about the opposition to an eruv in Brooklyn, and predicted that selling hamets will soon go out of style too.

Anyway, it brought me back to my wondering whether there is a point to what I'm doing. When I catalogue a manuscript, I know that I'm doing something that could be of some use to a future scholar (though, with some of the stuff I've worked on, I pity the scholar who finds herself studying anything so boring). But I don't want to be a librarian all my life. I do hope to become a full-fledged academic some day. That choice presents me with two great worries. One is whether I will survive in the cut-throat world of academia (especially in Israel, where the pool is smaller and teeth are sharper, or so I hear). The other is whether as even a successful academic I would be contributing something worthwhile to the world. A lot of the research out there is just fodder for people's anger at the communities they come from, belong to or wish they belonged to. I don't feel comfortable with all that negativity. Maybe that's one reason why I focus on the Middle Ages.

Recently, I realized that, on some level, I've been priming myself for growing up to be a person in the thirteenth century. Short of something out of Timeline, that's probably not going to happen. So what other reasons are there? There are so many people out there helping others in a real way - including plenty of people in liberal arts. But how much practical good can come of manuscript studies and the history of medieval Halakhah?