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More MSS from the British Library

The British Library has just uploaded more than three hundred Hebrew MSS. They have uploaded some beautiful medieval Hebrew manuscripts. Details and some images can be found in this post. A list of the Hebrew manuscripts online can be found here.

New Book: Practicing Piety in Medieval Ashkenaz


I can’t wait to get my hands on this new book by Elisheva Baumgarten, Practicing Piety in Medieval Ashkenaz: Men, Women, and Everyday Religious Observance.

In the urban communities of medieval Germany and northern France, the beliefs, observances, and practices of Jews allowed them to create and define their communities on their own terms as well as in relation to the surrounding Christian society. Although medieval Jewish texts were written by a learned elite, the laity also observed many religious rituals as part of their everyday life. In Practicing Piety in Medieval Ashkenaz, Elisheva Baumgarten asks how Jews, especially those who were not learned, expressed their belonging to a minority community and how their convictions and deeds were made apparent to both their Jewish peers and the Christian majority.

Practicing Piety in Medieval Ashkenaz provides a social history of religious practice in context, particularly with regard to the ways Jews and Christians, separately and jointly, treated their male and female members. Medieval Jews often shared practices and beliefs with their Christian neighbors, and numerous notions and norms were appropriated by one community from the other. By depicting a dynamic interfaith landscape and a diverse representation of believers, Baumgarten offers a fresh assessment of Jewish practice and the shared elements that composed the piety of Jews in relation to their Christian neighbors.

Here is the table of contents:

Chapter 1. Standing Before God: Purity and Impurity in the Synagogue
Chapter 2. Jewish Fasting and Atonement in a Christian Context
Chapter 3. Communal Charity: Evidence from Medieval Nürnberg
Chapter 4. Positive Time-Bound Commandments: Class, Gender, and Transformation
Chapter 5. Conspicuous in the City: Medieval Jews in Urban Centers
Chapter 6. Feigning Piety: Tracing Two Tales of Pious Pretenders
Chapter 7. Practicing Piety: Social and Comparative Perspectives

The Making of the Talmudic Encyclopedia

This is an excerpt from an article about the Encyclopedia Talmudit:

The importance and popularity of the Talmudic Encyclopedia is in its accessibility not only to scholars, but to anyone who wants to understand certain phrases or concepts or ideas within the vast world of Torah knowledge or Judaism, and who does not have the opportunity or ability to wade through thousands of tomes of recorded Jewish scholarship. This, combined with the reliability, accuracy and condensed style is unparalleled in the halakhic literature.

Why Learn Talmud

This looks like a nice series of programs at Drisha:


Wednesday Evenings, 6:30-9:00pm:
October 29, November 5 & 12

Each evening will begin at 6:30 with a choice of workshops.
At 7:15, we will break for tefilat ma’ariv, refreshments, and informal conversation.
At 7:45, we will join together in the beit midrash for a lecture or panel discussion.

We invite educators, rabbis, students, parents, and all interested members of the community to participate in this conversation.

WORKSHOPS – 6:30-7:15pm
(each workshop meets for three weeks)

Existential Dialogue: The Complex Human Spirit of the Talmud-Rabbi Tsvi Blanchard

Ancient Texts, Modern Lessons-Yaffa Epstein

Archeological Talmud: Digging Deeper-Rabbi Ysoscher Katz

What Does the Talmud Say About Talmud?-Rabbi Jon Kelsen

LECTURES – 7:45-9:00pm

October 29:
Talmud Study as a Religious Practice-Dr. Devora Steinmetz

November 5:

The ‘Conceptual’ Approach to Talmud Study: Where Has It Been, Where Is It Going, and Why Does It Matter?-Professor Chaim Saiman

November 12:
Navigating the Sea of Talmud: Study, Teaching, and Personal Religious Meaning
Dr. Alyssa Gray, Rabbi Dov Linzer, and Rabbi Ethan Tucker
in conversation


All sessions meet at Drisha – 37 West 65th Street, 5th floor
For more information on sessions and presenters, visit
To pre-register, call 212-595-0307 or email

There is no fee for this program.
We welcome contributions to support our work.

This event is sponsored by Drisha Institute in partnership with Mechon Hadar, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, and Yeshivat Maharat.

Israeli News Program on Religious Zionism

Israeli Channel 10 has been broadcasting a series of broadcasts on the current state of religious zionism in Israel. During each episode, the reporter, Roi Sharon, focuses on a different issue. All of the broadcasts are in Hebrew.

1. Episode 1-Focuses on the tensions between the “Hardal” and more liberal religious elements within religious zionism.

2. Episode 2-Features an extended interview with Rabbi Eli Sedan, the founder of the pre-army academy (מכינה קדם צבאית) in Eli, Bnei David.

3. Episode 3-Relations between Sephardim and Ashkenazim in the religious zionist sector.

Photo Exhibit on the Ezrat Nashim


The Israeli architectural photographer Adva Naama Baram has a photo exhibit at the Architect’s House Gallery in Jaffa consisting of photographs of different women’s sections (Ezrat Nashim) from synagogues around Israel. Haaretz has a report about it:

The women’s section of the Yom Tov Taranto Synagogue on the narrow Gilboa Street in Jerusalem’s Ohel Moshe neighborhood is actually a row of chairs outside, with an improvised roof over it made of wooden beams and corrugated iron. In the Ahdut Israel synagogue in Jerusalem, the women’s section, a closed-in terrace, has the dimensions of a narrow corridor. The women’s section in the Heichal Yehuda Synagogue in Tel Aviv is touchingly tiny, located behind a thin curtain. The women’s section in the ancient synagogue in Peki’in consists of a single stone bench at the entrance to the building, outside. Although the women’s section in the Anan Hanassi Karaite synagogue in Ashdod is more spacious, it still maintains the principle of segregation.

If the subject interests you, I recommend that you listen to an interview with Baram that was broadcast on TLV1.

Origins of the Phrase Hag Sameah

The Academy of the Hebrew Language has an interesting post about the origins of the phrase חג שמח/Ḥag Sameaḥ. It turns out that this phrase is relatively new, with the first evidence of its use coming only in the twentieth century.

הברכה “חג שמח” שגורה על לשוננו בתקופת החגים, אך לא תמיד היא הייתה חלק ממסורת החגים היהודיים. ואכן מקומה נפקד מן הרשימה בְּרָכוֹת וּבִטּוּיֵי נִמּוּס שפרסם ועד הלשון בשנת תרפ”ח (1928), ותחתיה אנו מוצאים שתי ברכות אחרות למועדים: “מועדים לשמחה” ו”תזכו לשנים רבות”. מקורן של ברכות אלו במסורות העדות: הברכה “מועדים לשמחה” נהוגה בשלושת הרגלים בעדות רבות – אשכנזים וספרדים גם יחד. מקורה בתפילת העמידה ובקידוש של הרגלים: “וַתִּתֶּן לָנוּ ה’ אֱלהֵינוּ מועֲדִים לְשִׂמְחָה חַגִּים וּזְמַנִּים לְשָׂשׂון…”. על פי זה גם נהוג בחלק מן העדות להשיב על ברכת “מועדים לשמחה” במילים “חגים וזמנים לששון”. ממסורות העדות מוכרות גם ברכות קרובות, ובהן “מועדים לשלום”, “מועד טוב”, “מועדים טובים” (הצירוף ‘מועדים טובים’ נזכר בזכריה ח, יט).

It apparently has its origins in the Yiddish phrase “פרעהליכן יום־טוב”. What did people say before חג שמח/Ḥag Sameaḥ? Depending on where you lived, the common phrases were “מועדים לשמחה” and “תזכו לשנים רבות”.

Hag Sameah

The earliest use of חג שמח that I could find on the website Historical Jewish Press was from April 9, 1903 edition of Ha-Magid, and it was actually talking about a holiday greeting card that an anti-semitic member of the Hungarian parliament received. Before the 1930’s there were very few uses of the phrase.

חג שמח

Prophetic Justice and Using a Stolen Lulav

Jonatan Ben-Dov addresses the interplay between prophetic justice, Talmudic law, and traditions from Babylonian versus those of the Land of Israel in The Moral Quandary of Lulav Ha-Gazul
The Torah and Bavli vs. the Prophets and Yerushalmi

If a religious act is made possible through deceit, is it nevertheless valid? Or does a moral blemish have the power to ruin a ritual action? For example, if a person brings a sacrifice that has been bought with stolen funds, or confiscated due to abuse of government power, to the Temple – may it be offered on the altar? Intuitively, it feels as if the answer should be no, and this is indeed one of the answers offered by the Talmudic sages. Nevertheless, as we will see, some sages take a more moderate position, seeing fit to take the sting out of an uncompromising moral requirement.

The prophets, who dealt with similar problems, tend to a rather strict moral position. Amos (2:7) rebukes the people who “lie down next to the altar on garments that their debtors have given as security, and drink wine that they have bought with money obtained from [unjust] fines.” In Isaiah 61:8, the prophet declares “For I, the Lord, love justice, I hate robbery with a burnt offering”. Similarly, Malachi (1:13) rebukes the priests: “…you have brought stolen, lame, and sick animals…” The severity of their comments is not surprising; prophetic zeal leaves little room for compromises.

More on the Oldest Known Torah Scroll


Updated information about the oldest known Torah scroll. [From Facebook]:

The rediscovery of the oldest known complete Torah scroll, a sheepskin document dating from 1155-1225, was announced by Prof. Mauro Peran in May 2013 at the University of Bologna. Carbon analysis performed independently by the University of Salento in Italy and the Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign confirmed the date.


The scroll (36 meters or 40 yard long and 64 centimeters or 25 inches high) doesn’t take into account the rabbinical rules that standardized how the Pentateuch should be copied that were established by Maimonides in the late 12th century. The Hebrew letters were written in the Oriental Style of the Babylonian tradition.


Research conducted by the librarian Prof. Rita De Tata has now (Sept. 2014) reconstructed the history of the manuscript. This scroll has been in Bologna for centuries, since it was donated by local Jews to Auimerico Giliani da Piacenza, the superior of the Dominican Order of the city, at the very beginning of the 14th century. Attributed to Ezra himself, the manuscript was preserved as one of the most precious relics and exhibited to travelers and scholars. Taken to Paris after Napoleon suppressed the monastic and religious orders, it was returned in 1815 and kept in the Pontifical Library, now the University Library, together with other manuscripts of the Bible. In 1889 Leonello Mortara mistakenly catalogued it as “an Italian script [from the 17th century], rather clumsy-looking, in which certain letters, as well as the usual crowns and strokes show uncommon and strange appendices,” The scroll was forgotten, until Prof. Perani was commissioned in 2012 to write a new catalog of the University of Bologna library’s Hebrew manuscript collection.

The Migrating Tales of the Talmud

Migrating tales talmud

Richard Kalmin’s new book Migrating Tales: The Talmud’s Narratives and Their Historical Context is now available.

Migrating Tales situates the Babylonian Talmud, or Bavli, in its cultural context by reading several rich rabbinic stories against the background of Greek, Syriac, Arabic, Persian, and Mesopotamian literature of late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, much of it Christian in origin. In this nuanced work, Richard Kalmin argues that non-Jewish literature deriving from the eastern Roman provinces is a crucially important key to interpreting Babylonian rabbinic literature, to a degree unimagined by earlier scholars. Kalmin demonstrates the extent to which rabbinic Babylonia was part of the Mediterranean world of late antiquity and part of the emerging but never fully realized cultural unity forming during this period in Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia, and western Persia. Kalmin recognizes that the Bavli contains remarkable diversity, incorporating motifs derived from the cultures of contemporaneous religious and social groups. Looking closely at the intimate relationship between narratives of the Bavli and of the Christian Roman Empire, Migrating Tales brings the history of Judaism and Jewish culture into the ambit of the ancient world as a whole.

Ruth Kalderon has also published a book on the Talmud, Alfa Beita Talmudi (H). The first chapter can be read here.


May this be a year of filled with health, happiness, and many quality books.




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