Sunday, November 28, 2010

Dr Rami Reiner on Sefer ha-Yashar

Liveblogging from the music room at the National Library. Dr Aviad Stollman says that Rami Reiner is one of the fixtures of the library's "Beit Midrash", and thus an appropriate person to open the 'Scholar at Noon' lecture series.
Rami Reiner: The figure of Rashi still elicits feelings of love, and genealogical enthusiasm as well. Many people, till today, trace their lineage back to Rashi. Family is also strongly present in Rashi's own writings. Many of his descendants became noted scholars, and they noted this down even to the seventh generation. Mentions the four sons and one daughter of Rabbi Meir, Rashi's son-in-law. R Judah Sirleone was a grandson of Rivan, from the less famous branch of the family. In the mid-13th century the line fades away, and reappears in the 16th century with Maharshal.

Two daughters of Rashi, Yokheved and Miriam, who married R Meir and Rivan. Sefer ha-Yashar (responsa), p. 44: R Yaakov Tam mentions to his maternal cousin their mutual aunt Rahel - hence there was at least a third sister. But possibly he does not mean 'aunt' in the strictest sense, and we don't know any more about this Rahel. This is an example of biographical data that emerges from Halakhic discussions (how to write a name on a divorce writ).

R Meir and his sons receive a question from Germany, from Raavan and his sons. R Tam writes the response, probably his first, and mentions the death of his brother Isaac, who seems to have died young.

Now to move on to the manuscripts and editions. Mahzor Vitry, ed. Horowitz, p. 243 - Isaac ben Dorbelo tells of the death of R Tam's grandson, son of R. Tam's son Yosef. As Shabbat enters, R Tam asks his brother Shlomo to take the grieving father Yosef to the synagogue. Yosef was led to the synagogue by 'the Haver, Isaac ben Rabenu Shmuel'. Is this R Isaac of Dampierre?

In the scholarly literature, it is accepted that besides this son, Yosef, R. Tam had a son named Isaac.

R. Tam's composition, Sefer ha-Yashar, exists only in two manuscripts, both 16th century Sefardic copies. One in Oxford and the other here in the room. The two manuscripts differ from each other in content and order. The first edition of the book (Vienna 1811) was published from the Jerusalem manuscript, which the HIDA was also familiar with and other scholars after him. 1898, Rosenthal publishes only the responsa.

Number 58 in Rosenthal's edition ends with regards sent to 'our teachers' R Tam and to 'R Isaac ben Rabenu'. This would seem to be another son of R Tam, and in fact theories have been floated that the acronym RYBY, found in Sefer ha-Yashar, is this R Isaac ben Yaakov. It should be noted that this sentence is not found in the Jerusalem manuscript of Sefer ha-Yashar, but rather from the famous MS Montefiore 98.

Looking at the full text in MS Montefiore, it emerges that the question was sent mainly to R. Samuel, Rashbam, R. Tam's elder brother, and only secondarily to R Tam. That is why it ends by referring to 'our teachers'. And the son Isaac mentioned here is a son of Rashbam, and not of R Tam. He is probably also the Isaac ben Rabenu Shmuel mentioned in Isaac ben Dorbelo's story.

People in that 12th century generation knew quite well that there were two Isaac ben Shmuels in the same generation - the son of Rashbam, and the famous Isaac of Dampierre. Isaac ben Dorbelo differentiated between them by calling Rashbam 'Rabenu'. Another way of differentiating is in a responsum of R Tam (Ra'avyah and MS Oxford 566) sent to Rabenu Isaac ben Rabenu Shmuel his brother to Reims.

The scribe of Sefer ha-Yashar seems to have left Rashbam out of the responsum, while MS Montefiore left him in. The reason is probably because R Tam wrote the responsum himself, even though the question was addressed to Rashbam. Sefer ha-Terumah, written by a student of R Isaac of Dampierre, refers to this responsum as being written by R Tam. R Tam himself refers back to it elsewhere in Sefer ha-Yashar as something he wrote himself. The scribe of Sefer ha-Yashar followed this through by turning the text of the responsum into a focus on R Tam himself.

R Tam's daughter was widowed without children, and her brothers-in-law used the levirate link to press her for money. The story is found in Yihuse Tannaim va-Amoraim, and R Tam says there that R Tam covered the expenses 'ha-kol le-shem shamayim'.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Vocalization and History of Kabbalah

Jordan Penkower has published a new book (in Hebrew) with Cherub Press titled The Dates of Composition of The Zohar and The Book Bahir: The History of Biblical Vocalization and Accentuation as a Tool for Dating Kabbalistic Works. The title pretty much sums it up - the references to Hebrew punctuation in these Kabbalistic works provide key information for determining when the Zohar and the Bahir were written (and more importantly, when they were not written). The long chapter on the Bahir was written in response to an attempt by Ronit Meroz (in Da'at 49, 2002) to identify the punctuation system of the Bahir as being Babylonian ("nikud Bavli") and thus placing the composition of the Bahir in the very early medieval East.

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Authorized Copy

Someone notified me this morning that today, 8 November, is the 408th birthday of the Bodleian library in Oxford. It seems fitting that today they also launched (or at least, today I became aware of) a new website with a digitised version of one of their most important Hebrew manuscripts - the famous MS Huntington 80. There is more content that has yet to be posted, but the manuscript itself can now be seen in its entirety.

This manuscript contains the first two books of Mishneh Torah by Maimonides. It is famous because, towards the end of the manuscript, Maimonides himself wrote a note declaring that this manuscript was corrected against his own personal copy of Mishneh Torah. Therefore, it must reflect a very accurate version of the book.

Without getting here into the polemics that sprung up around this manuscript a few decades ago, I would like to mention that in a recent article, Karmiel Cohen has demonstrated that this manuscript does not always reflect the final stage of Mishneh Torah. There are instances where R Abraham Maimonides testifies that his father changed his mind and corrected the text, and this correction is not reflected in the Huntington manuscript. But, on the whole, it is definitely a manuscript worthy of a great deal of attention.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

At the National Library

The National Library continues to surprise its regulars and reach out to the wider public by running interesting events. I got an email about some upcoming events - since it doesn't seem to be on the library website I'll post it here.

There are two events that interest me. On November 14th there will be an evening event to mark the acquisition of a kabbalistic manuscript copied by Menahem de Lonzano. Lonzano is best known as a scholar of the Biblical masorah, but he studied and copied manuscripts in a variety of fields, and he played an important role in the transmission of Lurianic kabbalah. Many of the manuscripts that he describes in his works are not known from other sources, including several references to Provencal works. So that evening should be interesting - the speakers include an expert on Masora, a scholar of Kabbalah and a historian specializing in 16th century Ottoman Jewish history.

The other event is on November 28th. Dr Rami Reiner of Ben Gurion University will speak about Rabenu Tam, the grandson of Rashi, and some of his relatives. Reiner wrote his MA and his PhD on Rabenu Tam, who remains one of the most creative and fascinating personalities in the history of Halakhah. The lecture, scheduled for half an hour before the famous minchah minyan at the library, will also be an opportunity to see the manuscript of Sefer ha-Yashar - Rabeinu Tam's Sefer ha-Yashar, not the others - held by the National Library. There are only two manuscripts of this book, the other held by the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Rami is a great speaker, and this is a topic he's passionate about.