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Book Launch: Reconstructing the Talmud

The book Reconstructing the Talmud is a wonderful introduction to the modern study of Talmud. It includes analyses of Talmudic sugyot, showing how the use of modern critical tools helps us to better understand the Talmudic text. It will be available on Amazon very soon.


Review: Steinsaltz Reference Guide to the Talmud Revised Edition


Koren Publishers was kind enough to send me a review copy of the revised edition of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s Reference Guide to the Talmud. Below are my impressions of this important book.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s Reference Guide to the Talmud is based upon his Hebrew volume מדריך לתלמוד that was first published in 1984, and was later published in an English edition in 1989 by Random House. The preface to this revised edition summarizes the differences between this edition and the earlier one.

There are several innovations in this revised edition designed to render the Reference Guide more accessible to those not conversant in Hebrew or Aramaic. The sections Mishnaic Methodology, Principles of Talmudic Hermeneutics, and Halakhic Concepts and Terms, which appeared in the previous edition in Hebrew alphabetical order, appear in this volume in topical order. An index of Hebrew terms appears at the end of this volume to enable one seeking a Hebrew term to locate the relevant entry.

I think that this difference is best illustrated by looking at the chapter Halakhic Concepts and Terms. While in the previous edition the terms are listed according to their Hebrew entry, in this edition the terms are first divided by seder (order) of the Mishnah, then divided further by topic, and after that they are listed by their English translation.

For example, the first topic of concepts and terms listed in Seder Zeraim is “Prayer.” Under this category, are listed: Prayer (תפילה), Ritual washing of the hands (נטילת ידים), the Amidah prayer (שמונה עשרה), Patriarchs (אבות), etc. The next category is “Prayer-Related Matters,” containing terms such as Intent (כוונה) and Diversion of attention (היסח הדעת). The Hebrew is included after the appropriate English translation. As was stated in the preface, if know the Hebrew term you can look in a general index and then find out on which page it is listed. This newer way of listing the terms emphasizes the relationship between different terms that are associated with the same or similar topics.

This topical division is also used in the chapter “Principles of Talmudic Hermeneutics.” Instead of presenting all of the terms in alphabetical order according to the Hebrew of Aramaic, the terms are divided into the following categories: Rabbi Yishmael’s Thirteen Hermeneutical Princples, Rabbi Akiva’s Hermeneutical Principles, Other Hermeneutical Principles. In my opinion this division give the reader a truer perspective of the different origins of these principles.

The chapter on Talmudic Terminology keeps the alphabetical listing according to the Hebrew or Aramaic that was found in the first edition.

This revised edition also contains numerous changes in the English text itself. Below is one example.

First edition: ולא?-And is it not so? Sometimes, when the Gemara reaches a negative answer to a question or problem raised, it refers, as it were in astonishment, to the answer just given and asks: ולא?-“Is this really not so?”-It then continues by attacking the negative answer. (See Bava Metzia 114a.)
See also סלקא דעתך; (ו)תסברא; האי מאי, איני [In the original edition these words are actually in the opposite order but I was unable to format the Hebrew in such a manner.-MM]

Revised edition: ולא-And is it not so? Sometimes, after the Gemara offers a negative answer to a question or problem that was raised, it reacts with astonishment to the answer just given and asks: And is it not so? The Gemara then proceeds to reject the negative response (see Bava Metzia 114b).
See also סלקא דעתך; (ו)תסברא; האי מאי, איני [In the original edition these words are actually in the opposite order but I was unable to format the Hebrew in such a manner.-MM]

Note the changes to the English, but also the absence of “ולא” in the middle of the definition in the revised edition.

The absence of Hebrew/Aramaic from the body of definitions or explanations is probably my only complaint with the revised edition. For example, in the chapter on “Mishnaic Methodology,” for the definition of “Incident-מעשה,” in the first edition the following was written:

…The significance of such incidents is very great, bearing in mind the general principle מעשה רב-“A practical incident teaches us a precedent.”

In the revised edition:

…The significance of these incidents is great, bearing in mind the general principle: Great is the proof cited from an incident.

Lastly, while contained the same amount of material, the revised edition has a smaller footprint, although more pages. The first edition was 9 1/4″ x 11 1/2″ (323 pages), while the revised edition is 6 1/2″ x 9 1/4″ (549 pages).

Despite my one criticism, the revised edition of the Reference Guide to the Talmud is a very important work which should be in the library of most people who study or have an interest in Rabbinic or Halakhic literature. I am glad that the time was taken to revise and reprint this very important work.

Sussman Catalogue of Talmud MSS Online

The Friedberg Jewish Manuscript Society, associated with the Friedberg Genizah Project, has just posted online in PDF format Yaakov Sussman’s Thesaurus of Talmudic Manuscripts.

“The Thesaurus of Talmudic Manuscripts” is a catalog of all manuscripts in the word that can possibly be found, of Mishna, Tosefta, Talmud Yerushalmi, Talmud Bavli and Rif. This major project started from the Mishna project which Prof. Y.N. Epstien has started and worked on, continued by Prof. A.A Orbach and then by Prof. Yaacov Sussmann. For years the project was supported by Israel National Academy of Sciences. A few years ago the Friedberg Genizah Project decided to support the project, complete it and publish it. All manuscripts, whole or of the smallest size are included. The total number of items is about 9,000. Every item contains relevant data about the condition of the manuscript, a bibliography, and very valuable information about “joins”. The Thesaurus, which was completed with the support of Dr. Yoav Rosenthal and Dr. Roni Shweka, includes two catalog volumes and a third one of introductions and indexes. In the current site the three Sussmann volumes are displayed in the format of the original book as PDF pages. Browsing through the book can be done by clicking on the page corners, the arrows beneath the book or with the Browse button. Clicking the Browse button allows the selection of a page number, an entry number or a shelfmark (by library). Vol. 3 can also be viewed using its List of Contents. 2. Entries for a specific Talmudic reference can be viewed by performing a search with the Search icon. 3. On the margin of every page more details are displayed (for the entries that have such information) by clicking on the appropriate entry number. The data displayed include the full bibliographical reference abbreviated in the entry, the list of shelf marks that forms a join with the given entry, and corrections and additions from the appendices.

The FJMS requires free registration, and if you haven’t already registered, what are you waiting for? On the FJMS website I also saw a future link to “Bavli Variants,” so it looks like the FJMS will be adding even more things. Yishar Koaḥ.

Alyssa M. Gray on Jewish Law as Great Literature

Below is a video of Alyssa M. Gray’s Eli Talk on “Jewish Law as Great Literature.”

Original Series of Melilah Now Online

The original series of Melilah, an important Hebrew journal from the 1940s and 50s is now online.

Melilah: A Volume of Studies was founded by Edward Robertson and Meir
Wallenstein, and published (in Hebrew) by Manchester University Press from
1944 to 1955. Five substantial volumes were produced before the series was
discontinued. In his editorial foreword to the first edition, Robertson
explained that Melilah had been established to promote Jewish scholarship
in the face of the threat posed by the Second World War and its aftermath.
The title of the journal refers to the ears of corn that are plucked to rub
in the hands before the grains can be eaten (Deut. 23:25).

These issues have many important articles, including the classic article by Naftali Weider, Islamic Influences on the Hebrew Cultus, or in the original Hebrew, השפעות אסלאמיות על הפולחן היהודי. (From H-Judaic.)

Parashat Hashavua in Israel

Below is a news segment (Hebrew) from Israel Channel 2 News on Parashat Hashavua in Israeli society. It reports on the numerous study groups from different sectors of Israeli society and now the uses of SMS and Twitter. HT to Amihai Bannett who is featured at 1:48 for his #פרשה on Twitter.

Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef on the Peace with Egypt

One of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef’s most discussed responsum is his one on withdrawing from territories captured in war in the framework of a peace accord. I have discussed this responsum here, and now a new document has been published that further sheds light on Rav Ovadiah’s opinion on the issue. Itzik Sudri, whose sister is Rabbanit Yehudit Yosef, has posted notes of Rav Ovadiah that he had written before he spoke on the radio on Yom Ha-Atzmaut, 1982.

Directly preceding the following excerpt, Rav Ovadiah spoke about the importance of settling the land:

אמנם לצערנו בשבוע האחרון היינו נאלצים בהתאם להסכם השלום עם מצרים, לעקור ישובים ובפרט עיר ״ימית,״ על כל תושביהם, ולהחזירם לידי מצרים, היינו עדים למחזות נוראים של צער וכאב גדול. אך הכל כדאי למען השלום, ולמנוע מלחמות ושפיכות דמים מעמנו…וכבר אמרו חז״ל כל המקיים נפש אחת מישראל כאילו קיים עולם מלא. ולכן החזרת שטחים למצרים עדיפא ממלחמה ושפיכות דמים, שכול ויתמות ח״ו…״

Nevertheless, in the past week we have unfortunately been forced, in accord with the peace agreement with Egypt, to uproot settlements, specifically, the city of Yamit, including all of their citizens and to return them to Egypt. We have been witness to horrific scenes of suffering and much pain. But all of this is for the sake of peace and to prevent wars and bloodshed from our people…Our sages of blessed memory have already said that “anyone who saves a single life from Israel it is as if he has saved an entire world.” Therefore, the return of territories to Egypt is preferable to war and blood shed, bereavement and orphanhood.


RavOvadiah Yom Haatzmaut 1982

Interviews with Two Scholars of Ancient Judaism and Talmud

Below is a short video from the Jewish Channel of interviews with Michal Bar-Asher Siegal, author of Early Christian Monastic Literature and the Babylonian Talmud, and Alexei Sivertsev, author of Judaism and Imperial Ideology in Late Antiquity.

The Israel Prize 2014

At yesterday’s Israel Prize ceremony many outstanding individuals were honored. Three of the honorees were Prof. Shamma Friedman, Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, and Rabbinit Adina Bar Shalom. To learn about Prof. Friedman and his contribution to the study of Talmud, read this interview with Yitz Landes. See these articles about Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein by Yair Rosenberg and Elli Fischer. To get an introduction to Adina Bar Shalom’s contribution to opening up of higher education to ultra-Orthodox Jews read this profile of her work. Adina Bar Shalom also lit one of the torches at the official ceremony marking the beginning of Yom Ha-Atzmaut, and a video of that can also be found below.

Below are some pictures from the ceremony that I took from the broadcast. The entire ceremony can be viewed here, and below is also a video of Prof. Friedman receiving his award.







Today’s Historic Rabbanut Exams


After a legal battle, today four women are taking (H) the Israeli Chief Rabbinate semikhah exam in the laws of kashrut. Last year the religious women’s organization Emunah petitioned the High Court of Justice to force the Rabbinate to allow women to take the exam and become mashgihot kashrut (kashrut supervisors). In December, before the High Court of Justice decided in the case, the Chief Rabbinate gave the OK and today four women are taking the exam.

I am not sure how this will affect the other appeal for women to be allowed to take other semikhah exams offered by the Chief Rabbinate.

(Photo from Ynet)




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