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Current Issue Article Abstracts

Fall 2016 Vol. 106.4

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On Gerson Cohen’s “Blessing of Assimilation” a Half Century Later: Editor’s Introduction

David N. Myers

A View from Late Antiquity Onward

Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert

On Jewish Languages, Names, and Distinctiveness

Sarah Bunin Benor 

Arnold Eisen

The Blessing of Gerson D. Cohen

David B. Ruderman  


Sexual Serpents and Perpetual Virginity: Marian Rejectionism in the Babylonian Talmud

Michael Rosenberg 

This article explores a midrash in the Babylonian Talmud that features the trope of the hind, an animal referred to multiple times in rabbinic literature as being noteworthy for its vaginal narrowness. The author argues that the midrash reveals significant awareness of Christian tropes about Mary the mother of Jesus—and in particular, tropes with especial currency in Christian circles in eastern Syria and the western reaches of the Sasanian Empire—and subtly subverts them. The effect of this deployment and subversion is a sustained polemic against the notion of Mary’s virginity, not only prior to, but even subsequent to the birth of Jesus. This case is then contextualized as part of a broader phenomenon of mariological critique in the Babylonian Talmud, a phenomenon that is in turn considered in light of the even broader historical trend in which Jewish communities develop awareness of and respond to increased Marian devotion among local Christian populations. This final point of comparison suggests that, in addition to polemic, we are likely to find examples of rabbinic appropriation of Marian themes in the Babylonian Talmud. One possible example is considered, but this remains a likely rich avenue for further research.

Fish Eats Lion Eats Man: Saadia Gaon, Syriac Christianity, and the Resurrection of the Dead

Yonatan Moss

Through an examination of their respective treatments of the resurrection of the dead, this article argues that the ninth-century, northern Mesopotamian Syriac authors John of Dara and Moses bar Kepha provide a key to understanding Saadia Gaon’s knowledge of Christianity and his overarching project of “hellenizing” rabbinic Judaism under Abbasid Islam.

A Portrait of the Kabbalist as a Young Man: Count Joseph Carl Emmanuel Waldstein and His Retinue

Paweł Maciejko

As a point of departure, this paper takes a portrait of Count Joseph Carl Immanuel Waldstein on which he is portrayed holding a copy of the Zohar. The portrait is a highly unusual (and possibly unique) representation of a Jewish book in Western art: it is possible to recognize a specific edition of the work and an exact passage taken from it. The paper addresses a question as to why this particular passage of the Zohar was selected. An interpretation of this passage within the framework of Sabbatian kabbalah is proposed. The paper discusses the milieu of the count and his contacts with Jewish kabbalists. In particular, the relationship between Count Waldstein and Wolf Eibeschütz, the youngest son of Rabbi Jonathan Eibeschütz is analyzed. The portrait is interpreted as a pictorial representation of Sabbatian political theology putting forward the idea of the eschatological conflict between Islam and Christianity paving the way for the acceptance of the messiah Sabbatai Tsevi by non-Jews.