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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.

The Meaning of Ma’avirin et Ro’a HaGezeirah from Unetaneh Tokef

My colleague, Rabbi Jeff Hoffman, has written a post about the meaning of the phrase “Ma’avirin et Ro’a HaGezeirah” from Unetaneh Tokef.

For many generations, there have been commentators – including Ramban (12th c.)[3] and R. Yitzchak Arama (15th c.), among many others – that have taken issue with the theology of the prayer. Many worshipers, too, have had trouble believing its main thrust. After all, don’t we all know pious people who involve themselves passionately with repentance, prayer, and charity, and yet who nevertheless have died young, or who have died violently? This prayer promises exactly the opposite! It is hardest on people who have lost loved ones soon after Rosh HaShanah because, in the wake of experiencing this central prayer, they are challenged to believe that their loved one was sentenced to die as heavenly punishment.

One of the ways that some modern machzorim have dealt with the issue is to “translate” the problem away, whether or not they are doing so consciously. For example, the ArtScroll Machzor (1985) translates the climactic line of the prayer as “But repentance, prayer and charity remove the evil of the decree.” Similarly, the Koren Machzor (2011), translated by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, renders “But repentance, prayer and charity avert the evil of the decree.” There is a subtle, but crucial interpretation in these translations. Instead of the three pious actions – repentance, prayer, and charity – actually cancelling the harsh decree itself, they cancel the harshness of the decree.

Read the whole post here.

Reviews of Mehalekhet Bedarkah

Below is a list of reviews or article about Malka Puterkovsky’s new book, מהלכת בדרכה, that I hope to keep updating as they are written.

1. Yael Levine in Kipa and INN (Hebrew): A critical review of Puterkovsky’s chapter on woman saying the mourner’s kaddish. Levine wrote:

[An] in depth analysis uncovers cardinal problems throughout the entire chapters from the perspective of using sources that make it impossible to rely upon it. I will preface my words by saying that I don’t disagree on a practical level with the halakhic possibility of women in our day saying mourner’s kaddish from the women’s section, for this there are sources, including the opinion of Rabbi Yehudah Herzl Henkin. Along with this, the chapter that Puterkovsky wrote about this topic is very problematic from the perspective of the use of sources and their analysis, it is full of errors, and it presents an unreliable picture.

Puterkovsky’s answer: “My response to these words is written in the book. The readers are invited to read and judge for themselves.”

2. Interview (Hebrew) with Puterkovsky by Emily Amrusi. See post about it here.

3. A review by Rabbi Yoel Katan, a response by Malka Puterkovsky, Katan’s response to Puterkovsky’s response. (Hebrew)

4. Yehuda Yifrach has written a few comments on Facebook. (Hebrew)

5. Ravtzair has also been collating reviews.

6. A response by the yoetzet halakhah Shlomit ben Shayah to Rabbi Katan’s review, along with a clarification by Rabbi Katan. (here)

7. Rabbi Yoni Rosensweig with some comments here, here.

8. Yael Levine has a review (English and Hebrew) posted at the Seforim blog that focuses on the chapter in Puterkovsky’s book about the recitation of mourner’s kaddish by a  woman.

Malka Puterkovsky in Her Own Words

There is an interview (Hebrew) with Malka Puterkovsky, the author of the recently published book on halakhah, in Israel Hayom. The interviewer, Emily Amrusi, asked Puterkovsky many questions and these are some of her comments and answers.

“I am not beholden to any institution, program or training. I went the entire way with excellent teachers, but on my own, as an autodidact, therefore I have freedom of thought. I am not a member of any guild. I don’t have to answer to any rabbi or politician. Some of the rabbis in Israel are out of touch. I heard a rabbi speak very passionately about the effectiveness of conversion therapy for homosexuals. A fiery speech. At the end I looked at him and asked if the honorable rabbi would propose that his daughter marry such a young man. How can you dare voice your opinion without learning the material. Take it upon yourself that you won’t open your mouth about a subject that you don’t believe in.”

“I wrote a multi-year program [for rabbinic ordination], that is appropriate also for mothers. A program for the training of “dovrei halakhah” (Halakhic conversationalists). I’ll take away some of the laws of kashrut [from the curriculum], a rabbi does not have to learn kashrut in detail. He is not a mashgiah kashrut (kosher supervisor). They will learn psychology, sociology, economics. The majority of halakhic questions that I am asked are dependent upon a psychological hurdle. A rabbi must feel the things at the tips of his fingers. He must first be a person of interpersonal relations. Friendly, a good person, desiring to make the world better (tikkun olam).”

Answering a question about what is the difference between her and Reform Judaism: “I follow the principles of halakhic decision making. A halakhic personality (Ish Halakhah) learns the entire chain. I personally am subservient to Torah and my personal life is conducted according to halakhah. This is how we are educating our children. I wear a head covering, despite it being uncomfortable for me. When I enter to speak at the Army Command College people immediately start whispering, ‘Why have you brought this religious woman (dosit).’ A head covering immediately pigeonholes me, but I won’t take it off. That is the difference between me and Reform Jews. I hope that whoever criticizes something that I wrote in my book will do it according to the proper method. That he should explain to me where I made a mistake in the learning.”

Previous posts about Malka Puterkovsky can be found here and here.

Not in Our Store

Bli Neder, I will have my own copy of Malka Puterkovsky’s new book (see here) on halakhah in a few weeks, but in the meantime one chain of Judaica stores associated with the national-religious community in Israel has found a non-creative way of addressing the issues that the book raises, not selling it. The chain of store Divrei Shir is refusing (Hebrew) to sell Puterkovsky’s book. This news item actually began as a post in the important Facebook group Halakhic Feminists and from there it seems to have migrated to an internet news site for the national-religious community.

Every book store can choose which books to sell and which not to sell, and those looking for the book it is apparently available in many of the general bookstores such as Steimatzky and Tzomet Sefarim.

Anyone interested in the book should also read Tomer Persico’s comments (Hebrew) about it.

Rockefeller Museum Collection Online


The Israel Antiquities Authority, as part of its attempt to upload digital images of objects held under its auspices, has began to post digital images of the archaeology collection found at the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum. The collection can be found online here. HT to Dr. Lea Mazor.

The Heart and Soul of Judaism

Anyone interested in Talmud must watch this video of a discussion about the study and love of Talmud with Prof. Christine Hayes and Rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer. HT to the Talmud Blog on Twitter.

In her opening remarks Hayes called Talmud the “Heart and Soul of Judaism.”

Is She an Eishet Halakhah

In a few weeks, the small number of halakhic works that have been written by women will be increased by one when a new book on halakhah by Malka Puterkovsky will be published.

Mehalehet bedarka

During the past few weeks an interesting discussion has been going on about what title should be used for Puterkovsky. Is she a rabbanit? An eishet halakhah? The discussion surrounding how she should be described on her Wikipedia page has left the confines of Wikipedia. There has been discussion on social networks, an article (Hebrew) on a popular Israeli Internet site for the religious public, and now there has been a discussion about it on Israel Radio. The radio spot can be listened to below: (Hebrew)

In addition, last year Puterkovsky was interviewed on a popular Israeli radio program and that interesting interview (Hebrew) can be found below:

I have addressed the issue of titles used for women in the Israeli Orthodox community here, and it will be interesting to see how this discussion continues.

Update: Here is a picture from the book launch via Facebook.


Reconstructing the Talmud Available for Purchase

The new book Reconstructing the Talmud is now available for order from Mechon Hadar. Below is the table of contents.





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