Monday, January 19, 2009

New studies of Hebrew language

Hebrew language is not my field, and I'm usually interested in studies that emanate from that field because of their use of Hebrew manuscripts. Two important studies have been published recently.

Gabriel Birnbaum has published a study of the language of the Mishnah, based upon Genizah fragments. I like his method - instead of trying to deal with all the fragments together, he devotes a separate chapter to each manuscript under consideration. Only in the final chapter does he draw general conclusions from the material. Published by the Academy for Hebrew Language, table of contents here.

The second book is by Michael Rizhik, and studies Hebrew in medieval Italy. His study is based on medieval Mahzorim from Italy, and is published by Magness and Bialik (it's not on the Magness site yet).

Thursday, January 08, 2009


A sign of the times, I guess. I attended two lectures this morning, delivered as part of the Scholion Marathon. The first by Dr. Shai Secunda, visiting from Yale University. The second by Dr. Micha Peri, whose doctorate on transmission of knowledge in medieval Ashkenaz I saw when I returned to Hebrew University a few months ago.

Shai spoke about hell in the Babylonian Talmud, giving two examples of Iranian themes that creep into Tannaitic or EY sources when quoted in the Talmud. The first related to Jesus being described as spending his time in the Other World steeped in boiling feces. The second was the idea of people who sinned sexually being led into the Other World by a dog.

Micha Peri claimed that in the 12th century, Ashkenazic Jews began imagining Heaven as being composed exclusively of Jews, and Hell populated only by non-Jews (with the exception of Absalom, who still received special treatment in Hell because he was Jewish).