While for many Jews today is not only the seventh day of Hanukkah, but also Rosh Hodesh, for North African Jews, specially women, today is Eid al-Banat, or Rosh Hodesh of the Women. It is on this day that North African Jewish girls and women have a special celebration whose origins are unknown, although some people associate it with the connectionbetween Judith and the Hanukkah story.
In the second century B.C.E., as the powerful Assyrian army invaded the Near East, the town of Bethulia was besieged by the cruel and domineering Holofernes, the Assyrian emperor Nebuchadnezzar’s top general. If Bethulia fell, the whole country would come under Assyrian control. Discouraged, the city’s elders agreed to surrender if they were not rescued within a few days. Judith, a young widow and most unlikely savior, challenged them to take responsibility for the survival of their famine-stricken community. Accompanied only by her maid, she set out for the enemy camp. Smitten with her beauty, Holofernes invited her to a banquet. When he fell asleep in a drunken stupor, they were left alone in his tent. After praying for God’s help, Judith took his sword and decapitated him. With the Assyrian army thrown into confusion, she urged the Israelites to launch a surprise attack; they emerged victorious. [from here]
There isn’t very much in English on Eid al-Banat, but if you are in Jerusalem tonight there is an evening devoted to it at Yad Ben Zvi, so hurry up and get there. Hebrew readers can read this very informative article about it by Yael Levine. [HT for finding out that today is Eid al-Banat goes to Lahav Harkov, the Jerusalem Post Knesset reporter.]
Over Shabbat lunch a friend and I talked a bit about Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. One of the topics that we talked about what the evolution of his edition of the Talmud. How did he go about working on it? Who helped him with it? See this previous post on the question. In the interview below he does mention how he came up with a number of options for the new layout and the Lubavitcher Rebbe pushed him to choose the one that he chose in the end.
Besides this information, I wasn’t able to find out much more. I decided to do some searching around the great web site, Historical Jewish Press, to see what I could find. I did find a few interesting tidbits about his edition of the Talmud, but if anyone has any more concrete information I would be very appreciative. A nice find was the following interview with him from Devar ha-Shavua, no. 37, from September 12, 1969. I tried to make it as legible as possible.
Israel Channel 10 broadcast a segment on how at the official Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony for Ben-Gurion University no women were allowed to either light candles or sing. The rabbi of the university was the authority that decided that this would be the policy and he was supported by the administration. After protests the administration did say that women can light a candle, but only with a man and no blessing. Next year women would be able to light candles at a separate ceremony and say the blessing, but still no singing. What a disgrace.
Below is the video of the news report. (Hebrew)
Update: Thanks to the public outcry on the last night of Hanukkah a woman lit and made the blessing on the Hanukkah candles at BGU. Kudos to BGU for making the right decision. (Hat tip to Sigal Samuel’s tweet and Emily Hauser’s retweet.)
In the latest issue of Mosaic, the Bible scholar (and former neighbor) Joshua Berman has an interesting essay on the nature and function of Jewish Law. Below is a small excerpt.
Not until Maimonides did anyone truly codify the halakhah. Not only did his Mishneh Torah, completed in 1180, have no precedent in the annals of Jewish law; it has no precedent in the history of legal codification. When Greeks and Romans and others codified their laws, they did so (as we have seen) in order to unite disparate peoples and incorporate them into new and large polities. Maimonides wrote his code to achieve the converse: to preserve the unity of a single people facing ever greater dispersion. Keenly aware of the original nature of his work, he explained its historical impetus in just these terms.
So long as the great yeshivas of Babylonia flourished, Maimonides writes, Jewish learning and knowledge were at their height; in his own day, however, these institutions are but a distant memory. Now the Jewish people face unprecedented dispersal, compounded by political instability. For the Jews of these newly far-flung communities, mobility and communication are severely limited, and hence ignorance has soared. Maimonides conceives of his code as a solution. If Jews cannot gravitate to centers of learning, the code will come to them, providing clear instruction in all spheres of halakhic life.
What was the fate of Maimonides’ bold innovation? Some communities embraced his Mishneh Torah as a statutory code. Many others came to regard it as a source to consult while electing to retain autonomy of rule and practice. It took another four centuries and the composition of Karo’s Shulhan Arukh, completed in 1563, for codification to reach its apex.
Halivni’s theory can be summarized as follows: Much like in the time of the Tannaim, the Amoraim formulated apodictic statements in the form of “So-and-So said such-and-such.” These Amoraic formulations were originally based on dialectical argumentation. The Amoraim, however, did not transmit their dialectics but rather just their conclusions. Professional Reciters memorized the apodictic statements and were available for consultation, but there was no official transmission of dialectical argumentation. The apodictic statements were transmitted independently of the Mishnah and circulated in non-canonical loose collections. By the time of Rav Ashi (c. 430), the production of apodictic statements by Amoraim had slowed down and had come to an almost complete halt by the time of Ravina II (c. 500). In Halivni’s scheme, the Amoraic period continues for another fifty or so years and we do find the occasional name of someone who lived during this period in the Talmud (such as Rav Ravai of Rov, who appears both in a version of the Talmud quoted by R. Hananel and in the letter of Sherira Gaon.) At this point, in the mid-sixth century, the period of the Stammaim begins and it is the Stammaim who are responsible for both the anonymous content of the Talmud and the form of the sugya. Whereas in earlier iterations of his theory Halivni believed that the Saboraim lived between the period of the Amoraim and the period of the Stammaim, he now argues that the Saboraim lived at the end of the Stammaitic period, close to the time of Yehudai Gaon (c. 770), when independent Rabbinic authors begin to produce works of their own.
Prof. Zvi Arieh Steinfeld passed away last week in Jerusalem. At the Talmud Blog Shai Secunda has some words about Prof. Steinfeld and his contribution to the study of Talmud. While I never studied with Prof. Steinfeld, I did get to know him during the time that he spent at JTS after his retirement from Bar-Ilan, and I can identify with Shai’s recollections of his personality. If my memory is correct, he was born in Romania and came to Israel as a young boy. Prof. Moshe Samet once described to me how he remembered when Prof. Steinfeld came to the Ponevezh Yeshiva as a young boy and Samet helped out Steinfeld since at the time he didn’t know much Hebrew. A list of his publications can be found here. יהי זכרו ברוך.
During the past few weeks much has happened in Israel in the area of marriage. Much of it started with an article by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed that called for a recognized brit zugiyut, literally a covenantal relationship, between people. While there are different interpretations of what type of relationship this would be and what would be its legal standing, for the sake of simplicity let’s say that it is a sort of state-recognized civil marriage. Tomer Persico sums up (here) other positive reactions by national-religious rabbis over the past few weeks, including Rabbi Benny Lau. Below is a video of a discussion between MKs Ruth Calderon (Yesh Atid) and Yoni Chetboun (Bayit Yehudi) from an Israeli morning news program about the issue. (Hebrew) Chetboun’s apocalyptic predictions about a brit zugiyut seem a bit less realistic given that after his appearance on TV more rabbis came out in favor of supporting some type of recognized relationship.
Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) was a prolific scholar, impassioned theologian, and prominent activist who participated in the black civil rights movement and the campaign against the Vietnam War. He has been hailed as a hero, honored as a visionary, and endlessly quoted as a devotional writer. In this sympathetic, yet critical, examination, Shai Held elicits the overarching themes and unity of Heschel’s incisive and insightful thought. Focusing on the idea of transcendence–or the movement from self-centeredness to God-centeredness–Held puts Heschel into dialogue with contemporary Jewish thinkers, Christian theologians, devotional writers, and philosophers of religion.