The Vocalization of Rabbinic Texts
The Cairo Genizah has provided numerous examples of different rabbinic texts that were vocalized. Whether the vocalization was Palestinian, Tiberian, or Babylonian, is another question that raises other issues. See the first comments to this post at the Talmud Blog for some implications about the type of vocalization found in Mishnah texts from the Genizah.
The vocalization of rabbinic texts can also be found in the well-known MS Kaufmann of the Mishnah and the MS of Sifra, Codex Assemani 66. Who vocalized these texts, while important, is less important for this post than the very act of vocalization itself.
Scholars have discussed the linguistic importance and characteristics of these different traditions of vocalization, but I am interested in their cultural context. Who needed this vocalization? What was the level of Hebrew knowledge of these MSS’s readership that they required a vocalized text? In some cases it is clear that the vocalization was added later. What were the factors that brought about this later addition?
I have been thinking about these questions after realizing that almost every single rabbinic text is available today in a vocalized version. Not only are they vocalized, but the more recent the edition, the greater chance that it is vocalized.
As I mentioned above, the text of the Mishnah has been vocalized for centuries. Individual tractates of the Talmud were vocalized before the complete vocalization of the Talmud found in Steinsaltz, Artscroll, or Tuvia’s (not yet complete). Probably every single midrash is available in a vocalized edition. For Midrash Rabbah, Merkin vocalized the text years ago, and this has continued with the Midrash ha-Mevoar series. Here are two other examples of midrashim that I recently bought. The first is a newly typeset edition of Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer with David Luria’s commentary. In this edition, the text of the midrash is vocalized. The other example is a recent edition of the Tanḥuma that includes both the traditional text and Shlomo Buber’s edition. In both versions, the text of the midrash is vocalized. A vocalized edition of Mikra’ot Gedolot is also available.
This vocalization is also found in halakhic texts. I just bought a vocalized edition of the Shulḥan Arukh that is only the text itself and doesn’t include any commentaries (excluding Isserles). The most popular editions of the Mishneh Berurah are vocalized, and another point is that they often don’t have any Rashi script. I could go on and on with examples.
I personally think that vocalized texts are extremely important and aid in learning correct Hebrew and Aramaic. Has modern technology brought us into a new era in the publication of rabbinic works?