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Current Issue Article Abstracts

Winter 2017, Vol. 107.1

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“Those Who Descend upon the Sea Told Me . . .”: Myth and Tall Tale in Baba Batra 73a–74b

Daniel J. Frim

This article examines bBaba Batra 73a–74b, a collection of first-person narratives describing rabbis’ fantastical journeys at sea and in the desert. The author adduces parallels between three of the sea stories in the sugya and maritime tall tales preserved in other Near Eastern texts. He argues that the folkloric motifs present in the talmudic narratives under discussion represent shared cultural material, which the rabbinic authors and early audiences of the sugya would not have attributed to any specific non-Jewish tradition. The present paper also calls attention to the mythological dimensions of these talmudic narratives, arguing that some textual variants of the stories contain allusive vocabulary evoking eschatological and cosmological myths of the Leviathan. The possibility is suggested that these allusive features may have entered bBB 73a–74b after the Talmudic era owing to attempts by tradents and readers of the text to identify religious themes in the sugya.

God and His Son: Christian Affinities in the Shaping of the Sava and Yanuka Figures in the Zohar

Jonatan M. Benarroch

The main objective of this essay is to focus on the examination of Christian affinities in the shaping of the Sava and Yanuqa characters, and particularly on the close relations between the Yanuqa figure and that of Jesus. This analysis will be accomplished through a survey of various textual clues, which combined create a mosaic of Christian affinities which shaped the Sava and the Yanuqa characters, and reveal their complex and ambivalent attitude towards Christianity.

Three of the Sava and Yanuqa stories, in which these figures reach their fullest development and the greatest degree of aesthetic and poetic refinement, will serve as the main texts to be examined in this essay: the Tay‘a (Donkey driver) story printed in the introduction to the Zohar (Zohar vol. 1, introduction, 2b–14b); the Yanuqa story printed in the Balak pericope (Zohar vol. 3, 186a–191b); and the Sava story printed in the Mishpatim pericope (Zohar vol. 2, 92a–114a).

The Nationalization of Holy Sites: Yishuv-Era Visual Representations of the Western Wall and Rachel’s Tomb

Kobi Cohen-Hattab, Ayelet Kohn

The article studies visual representations of the burgeoning nationalization of the Western Wall and Rachel’s Tomb during the late Ottoman period and until the establishment of the State of Israel. It focuses on representations such as photographs and illustrations meant for sale and distribution to the general public; on ritual objects; on artisanal handicraft meant for hanging in the home; on practical items; and on jewelry.

The visual representations of the sites are examined in this article using four dimensions. On the ideological side, the religious dimension, prominent in the Ottoman period, was coupled with the national dimension during the era of British rule, and even modified to focus on the renewed settlement of the land and the ingathering of exiles. In the practical realm, the domestic dimension defines the artifacts in their incarnation as artisanal handicraft and works of art with a purely domestic existence. The physical dimension relates to the relationship between people, artifacts, and sites. At the end of the process, this semiotic mediation grants a new interpretation to a geopolitical reality.

The article’s claim is that national ideology used religious tradition as a platform to achieve its national goals: to unify the various identities in a multicultural society. Viewing visual commemoration of the burgeoning nationalism of Jewish holy sites in its two other dimensions—domestic and physical—gives this process further validation.

The PLO’s Rabbi: Palestinian Nationalism and Reform Judaism

Jonathan Marc Gribetz

This article explores how the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and its Research Center in Beirut appropriated classical Reform Jewish ideas to serve the PLO’s ideological battle against Zionism. How did PLO leaders and researchers learn in the 1960s of the Reform movement’s by-then long-overturned Pittsburgh Platform of 1885, and why did they think it still mattered? After noting a fascinating, if apparently unconnected, Late Ottoman precedent that may represent the starting point in the history of Palestinian Arab interest in Reform Judaism, the article identifies a more direct source of influence: the idiosyncratic twentieth-century American anti-Zionist Reform rabbi Elmer Berger. The article examines Berger’s collaboration with PLO intellectuals in challenging the legitimacy of Zionism. The article concludes with reflections on the broader question of how mutually hostile nationalisms relate to each other’s religious traditions and on the unexpected alliances fostered by debates over the nature of Jewishness.