Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A topic worth studying

An anonymous reader questions my choice of dissertation topic in light of the late Professor Ta-Shma's emphasis on the importance of Byzantine halakhah.

Yes, Byzantium - meaning the Balkans and Turkey - is largely uncharted territory in terms of halakhic literature. And there is surely need for more research on the topic.

But there are a number of reasons why so little has been done. For starters, there is not a very large amount of material. According to a quick search of the IMHM catalogue, most manuscripts in Byzantine script and halakhic content are Karaite. Of the rabbinic manuscripts, most are copies of well-known works from Western Europe.

Next, Byzantine Hebrew is markedly different from the Hebrew used by most medieval rabbis. It is often quite difficult to make it out.

The paleography of Byzantine Hebrew script is still being developed.

Byzantine rabbinic literature did not have much of an afterlife, because the communities were swamped by Spanish refugees in the 15th and 16th centuries. Therefore there were fewer opportunities to copy manuscripts, and many were surely lost.

One other factor to keep in mind is that the geographic boundaries are rarely enforceable, and some Byzantine halakhic discussions have been dealt with under the rubric of Italian halakhah (the study of which is not in such great shape either).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting.

In what way is Byzantine Rabbinic Hebrew so unique?

Has any work been done on Byzantine Jewish liturgy, beyond the descriptions of מחזור רומניא in Goldschmidt's מחקרי תפילה ופיוט?

3:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very little has been done on Byzantine liturgy and the so called מחזור רומניא. You can see Ruth Langer's discussion of the מחזור רומניא in reference to the Birkat Haminim in her article "Earliest Texts of the Birkat Haminim" in HUCA 76.

4:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leon Weinberger has published a lot of the romaniote/byzantine liturgy. I haven't seen anyone mine these piyyutim for halakic detail.

Richard Steiner's article in JSIJ and his notes on the Greek texts published by De Lange in JQR and Leshonenu commented on by Ta Shma is of interest as is the possible Byzantine connection of Shemaiah, Rashi's scribe.

What will you be doing your PhD on manuscriptboy?


10:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's has been a Synagogue of Romaniot Jews on the Lower East Side since the 1920s called Bnai Janina. They pray using the Sephardic nusach but have separately printed piyutim that the chazan uses on Yom Tov. They showed me the מעריב של ליל ראשון של פסח 'ליל שמורים' which is same as the Ashkenazic one.

It's open to tourists on Sundays.

11:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is what was written in the last comment before this one and my response:
manuscriptboy said...
Ah, Byzantium! That is indeed an important topic. I know someone who was going to write on it under Ta Shma.
Contact me by email if you want to discuss what I'm working on.

9:52 PM

Anonymous said...
i'm relatively new at this, and can't find your email on the blog.
interesting comments on your latest blog. now how or why was the dear late professor so mistaken.
the original anonymous
ps 7 hour difference between the holy land and i think where you are and so i don't get to see these blogs so often.

11:09 PM

still waiting for a visible email address

10:21 AM  

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