Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Magic, again

Last week's New Yorker had an article about the present state of close-up magic - the world of illusion and card tricks. The article repeatedly emphasized that explaining how a magic trick works spoils it for the audience, who are now unable to appreciate it.

I thought of that while listening to Bruce Zuckerman speaking at Yeshiva University on Thursday. In demonstrating the magic he performs on Semitic artifacts and manuscripts, he commented that, when he "cleans up" a text to make it more legible, he can really do whatever he wants. In fact, he can put your name in the Genesis Apocryphon. If you're really important, he'll make you the Teacher of Righteousness. But when he shows people how he actually does it, they become suspicious and start pointing out all the mistakes he made.

The lecture was fun, and it drew a large crowd of YU Jewish studies people. From there I went down to JTS, where Menahem Kahana gave a speech to the NYC Talmud community, on the relationship between the Mishnah and Sifre Bamidbar. Kahana is preparing his critical edition and commentary on Sifre Bamidbar this year. His lecture was very methodical, and it was a real pleasure to hear. More American-oriented scholars there felt it was unsatisfying - because who really cares whether the Sifre quotes "our" Mishnah or a different "Mishnah"? Fair enough, but I have learned that there is a great deal of wisdom in choosing questions that can have good answers.

The latest issue of Tarbiz is chockablock full of fascinating articles. I've only seen a couple of them so far. TOC here.


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