Menachem Mendel

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Physical Materials in a Digital Age

This is a video of a conference from last summer at the National Library of Israel that addresses issues related to books in the digital age.

Physical Materials in a Digital Age

Sharon Liberman Mintz, The Jewish Theological Seminary


Michelle Chesner, Columbia University
In the Footprints of Giants: Taking the Digital Beyond Digitization

Ilana Tahan, The British Library
For King and Country: The Physicality of Historical Ephemera

Arthur Kiron, University of Pennsylvania Libraries
Judaica in the Age of Digital Reproduction

IBA TV Series: A History of the Land of Israel

The Israel Broadcast Authority has produced a multi-part series on the history of the Land of Israel (Hebrew), והארץ היתה תוהו ובוהו: תולדות ארץ ישראל. From what I have seen it looks like a well-made TV program. Below is a link to the most recent episode (no. 6 of 15) which is about the Return to Zion after the destruction of the First Temple and the early Second Temple Period. The earlier episodes can be found on Youtube and keep an eye out on the IBA Youtube channel for future episodes.

Divine Law in the Container Store

Ancient Jew Review has posted Beth Berkowitz’s comments from a recent SBL session on Christine Hayes’s What’s Divine about Divine Law?: Early Perspectives.

From Divine Law in the Container Store.

But the story that Hayes is telling is really more about the rabbis, who take a very interesting approach to the problem. Whereas Philo makes Mosaic law look a whole lot like Greek divine law, and Jubilees makes Greek divine law look a whole lot like Mosaic law, and Paul invests in keeping them separate, the Rabbis argue with the assumptions on which the entire conversation is based. Who says that something being temporary, particular, changing and sometimes irrational makes it human? Maybe we need to rethink what it means for law to be divine in the first place. They go so far as to say that these attributes of particularity and irrationality, so constantly denigrated in the Hellenistic world, are actually virtues. It’s like when you say you love someone despite their faults, versus saying you love someone because of their faults; the rabbis are the “because-of” types. The rabbis see the flaws as endearing, as distinctive, as making the Torah far more interesting. But it’s not like they didn’t know how everyone else looked at it; they knew everyone else considered these attributes flaws, and as disqualifying the law from any sparks of divinity. They realized how ridiculous their position seemed.

Leopold Zunz: Creativity in Diversity


Ismar Schorsch’s has a new book out on one of the most central figures in modern Jewish studies, Wissenschaft des Judentums, Leopold Zunz: Creativity in Adversity

In 1818, with a single essay of vast scope and stunning detail, Leopold Zunz launched the turn to history in modern Judaism. Despite unending setbacks, he persevered for more than five decades to produce a body of enduring scholarship that would inspire young Jews streaming into German universities and alter forever the understanding of Judaism. By the time of his death in 1886, his vision and labor had given rise to a historical discourse and intellectual movement that devolved into vibrant sub-fields as it expanded to other geographic centers of Jewish life. Yet Zunz was a part-time scholar, at best, in search of employment that would leave him time to study. In addition to his pioneering scholarship, he was as deeply engaged in ending the political tutelage of German Christians as the civil disabilities of German Jews. And to his credit, these commitments did not come at the expense of his loyalty to the Jewish community, which he was ever ready to serve.

Prof. Schorsch will be speaking this Wednesday night, December, 7, at the Leo Baeck Institute/Center for Jewish History about his new book.
Two of Zunz’s most important works have been translated into Hebrew, Ha-Derashot be-Yisrael and the recently published Minhagei Tefilah u-Fiyut bi-Kehilot Yisrael.

Repost: Sabbath Firemen and Jewish Law

In light of the recent fires in Israel I am posting a link to an old post from this blog that addresses the evolution of the issue of fighting fires on Shabbat in Jewish Law, Sabbath Firemen and Jewish Law. May those fighting the fires continues the holy work that they are doing. Shabbat Shalom.

New Article: Military Conquest and Private Ownership in Jewish and Islamic Law

This looks like a very interesting article, “The Effect of Military Conquest on Private Ownership in Jewish and Islamic Law.”

This article presents the legal outlooks of two fundamental religious judicial systems—the halakha of Judaism and the shari’a of Islam—on the effect of war on private ownership. Specifically, we address the situation in which the conquered inhabitants are Jews or Muslims and halakha or shari’a are the legal systems of their religions, respectively, but the conqueror is a nonbeliever or secular sovereign. Such situations evoke the following questions: To what extent the transfer of ownership by the conquering sovereign is recognized by the religious laws of the conquered population? May a member of the conquered religion acquire property that was seized by the nonbeliever sovereign from a member of the conquered religion? Is transfer of ownership by virtue of conquest permanent or reversible, so once the conquest ends, ownership reverts to the pre-conquest owner? Various approaches to those questions within each of two religious legal systems are presented. Some of the similarities and the differences between halakha and shari’a are pointed out.

Leonard Cohen on the Akeidah

Much has been written about Leonard Cohen, but I just wanted to post two things. One is his beautiful midrash on the Akeidah for this week’s parashah, and the another is a recording of a concert of his from Tel Aviv in 1980. Shabbat Shalom.

New Book: Learning to Read Talmud

There’s a new book about learning Talmud that may be of interest.


Here’s a description of Learning to Read Talmud: What It Looks Like and How It Happens from the publisher’s web site:

Learning to Read Talmud is the first book-length study of how teachers teach and how students learn to read Talmud. Through a series of studies conducted by scholars of Talmud in classrooms that range from seminaries to secular universities and with students from novice to advanced, this book elucidates a broad range of ideas about what it means to learn to read Talmud and tools for how to achieve that goal. Bridging the study of Talmud and the study of pedagogy, this book is an essential resource for scholars, curriculum writers, and classroom teachers of Talmud.

And the table of contents:

Introduction. Learning to Read Talmud: What It Looks Like and How It Happens
Jane L. Kanarek and Marjorie Lehman

Chapter 1. Stop Making Sense: Using Text Guides to Help Students Learn to Read Talmud
Beth A. Berkowitz

Chapter 2. Looking for Problems: A Pedagogic Quest for Difficulties
Ethan M. Tucker

Chapter 3. What Others Have to Say: Secondary Readings in Learning to Read Talmud
Jane L. Kanarek

Chapter 4. And No One Gave the Torah to the Priests: Reading the Mishnah’s References to the Priests and the Temple
Marjorie Lehman

Chapter 5. Talmud for Non-Rabbis: Teaching Graduate Students in the Academy
Gregg E. Gardner

Chapter 6. When Cultural Assumptions about Texts and Reading Fail: Teaching Talmud as Liberal Arts
Elizabeth Shanks Alexander

Chapter 7. Talmud in the Mouth: Oral Recitation and Repetition through the Ages and in Today’s Classroom
Jonathan S. Milgram

Chapter 8. Talmud that Works Your Heart: New Approaches to Reading
Sarra Lev

Postscript. What We Have Learned About Learning to Read Talmud
Jon A. Levisohn

If you order from the publisher’s website and add the discount code READTALMUD30 you can get a thirty percent discount.

Future Publications from Writings of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef

The ultra-Orthodox news website Kol Hazeman has an article (Hebrew) about the work that is being done on publishing the writings of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef that were not published in his lifetime.




The article describes describes a very large amount of not only different types of writings, e.g. letters, responsa, his own description of halakhic controversies with which he was involved, but also many historical documents from Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef’s life. It looks like we will be getting many more responsa and other writings from Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef in the years in the come.

Moadim Lesimha.

The Gemara Card

Many people who study Talmud are familiar with Rabbi Yitzhak Frank’s books Grammar for Gemara & Targum Onkelos: An Introduction To Aramaic and The Practical Talmud Dictionary. In addition to these books of Rabbi Frank we now have The Gemara Card, a laminated large-format pamphlet that includes some highlights from Rabbi Frank’s books: translations of important Talmudic terminology, explanations of acronyms, Aramaic verbal conjugation tables, etc. Samples of the Gemara Card’s pages can be viewed here.

Screen Shot 2016 10 07 at 10 40 37 AM

The Gemara Card was developed by Dave Sachs in cooperation with Rabbi Frank. Many of my students have found that the Gemara Card has helped them in their study of Gemara. The Jewish Link of NJ has an article that describes the genesis of the Gemara Card.

Sach’s religious momentum took him afterward to Israel, where he joined a post-graduate Torah-learning program in Yeshivat Hamivtar. His background immediately caused him some difficulties in studying Gemara, as Talmudic Aramaic was not one of the subjects that was stressed in his Hebrew-school education. He would sit hours on end in the Beit Midrash, with a Gemara open on one side and a dictionary on the other, eventually deciding to start writing a “cheat sheet” of the most common terms. As this reference sheet, and his Gemara skills, continued to grow, many of Dave’s friends asked for copies as well, and he realized that this project, started as a crutch to compensate for missing Aramaic language skills, could be a useful aid to even the most practiced Gemara learner. Looking back on his years in Maryland, where most of the analysis-oriented engineering classes encouraged condensing reference information into one sheet to bring to an exam, Sachs realized that this same principle could be applied to the equally analytic study of Talmud; and, thus, the creation of the professional Gemara “cheat sheet” began.

I highly recommend this for anyone who studies Gemara. Gemar Hatimah Tovah.




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