Current Issue Article Abstracts

Summer 2022, Vol. 112.3

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Ishmael b. Phiabi Burned Two: A New Text from the Geniza on a Pharisee-Sadducee Debate
Binyamin Katzoff

One of the few disagreements among different Second Temple groups documented in writings that present both opposing viewpoints concerns the level of impurity of the priest who burns the red heifer. A baraita in Tosefta Parah (3.6) reports a dispute between a high priest, Ishmael ben Phiabi, and the Pharisees over this issue, and includes arguments offered by each side to support its view. In the case recorded, the ashes of the red heifer were discarded, a matter of grave consequence considering how infrequently, according to rabbinic tradition, the ashes of the red heifer were prepared. Scholars who have dealt with this passage have pointed to serious difficulties in the readings, but all of their proposed solutions involve either unsupported textual emendations or strained interpretations of the words as they stand. This paper examines a new version of the story discovered in an early Geniza fragment of the Tosefta that contains several significant variants which taken together lead to a definitive reading of the arguments presented by the various sides. The new version of the story enables us to better understand this dispute within the framework of the halakhic thought of the rival groups, the Dead Sea sect and the Pharisees, and to analyze the dialogue ascribed to the opponents in terms of the nominalism-vs.-realism discourse.

Deaf Hishām and Esau's Death
Joseph Witzum

According to a rabbinic tradition, Esau tried to prevent Jacob's burial in the Cave of Machpelah. At first Naphtali rushed to bring a legal solution in the form of the title deed from Egypt, but eventually Hushim the son of Dan killed Esau and thus solved the problem with might. The relationship between the two different solutions is the focus of this article. It first traces the midrashic history of both motifs and demonstrates that originally they were independent of each other. The article then examines in detail the different Jewish attestations of the Hushim account, all of which combine the legal conflict over Jacob's burial and Esau's death by the hands of Hushim. Finally, it studies a Muslim parallel transmitted by al-Suddī, an eighth-century scholar from Kufa. In al-Suddī's version there is a violent conflict with Esau concerning Jacob's burial with no mention of Naphtali and the legal solution. In attempting to determine whether al-Suddī's account reflects adaptation or preserves an old version, I offer a history of the Hushim account, emphasizing the dynamics through which midrashic motifs and traditions were conflated and reformulated.


A Lifetime in Letters: New Evidence Concerning Immanuel of Rome's Timeline
Dana Fishkin

This article examines two letters written by Immanuel of Rome, the fourteenth-century poet and thinker from Italy. Using new manuscript evidence, as well as a new comparative lens, the essay challenges traditional ideas about Immanuel's timeline and intellectual affiliations. Considering a discovery of an older version, a reexamination of a freestanding letter believed to have been part of the Maimonidean debate between Zerahiah of Barcelona and Hillel of Verona shows that Immanuel was not involved in this dispute over the proper application of philosophy and science to biblical exegesis. Having no known addressee, Immanuel's invective letter addresses a scholar's reliance on foreign wisdom, but the most interesting part of the letter is the concluding invective couplet. While scholars had identified the freestanding letter as an indication of Immanuel's involvement in the Maimonidean controversy, this article contends that such involvement is far more evident in a rhetorical letter embedded in Mahberot Immanuel, Immanuel's poetic anthology. The embedded fictional letter, addressed to Joab, challenges a poet, teacher, and ersatz scholar, as Immanuel derides his inability to appreciate allegorical readings of the Bible and his lack of a philosophical education. Using allusions to his own allegorical readings of biblical verse, Immanuel lampoons Joab as an Ashkenazic Jew, in his traditionalist exegetical sensibilities as well as in his inability to compose mellifluous verse. The article concludes that Immanuel was deeply attuned to the nuances of late medieval debates over the relationship between philosophy and Torah.

Medicalizing Magic and Ethics: Rereading Lurianic Practice
Assaf Tamari

Recent years witnessed a growing scholarly awareness to the centrality of practice among early modern kabbalists, and particularly in Lurianic Kabbalah. While the importance of human action to this branch of Safedian Kabbalah has long been recognized, the significance of its "over-detailed," "bewildering," practical discourse to the formation of its meaning has received much less attention. This article reexamines how R. Hayim Vital, Luria's closest disciple, shaped the Lurianic notion of action, through an exploration of one of the most highly technical and formulaic practical loci in his writings: the tikune avonot (sin amendments or penitentials). The article proposes a reading of these practical formulae as a medical, or rather medicalized, discourse, closely related to the contents of Vital's lifelong medical activity—a factor that has been hitherto almost entirely neglected in the Lurianic scholarship. The article analyses these penitentials through the two traditions that have been presented as lying at their basis, the magical prescriptive tradition and the pietistic (especially Ashkenazi), so-called "ethical," penitential literature. It demonstrates in what ways they are altered by the discursive presence of medicine, and moreover, how medical discourse provides a key to the uniqueness of the Lurianic discourse of action, as it arises from the details of these tikune avonot. Thus, the article shows that in order to comprehend the rise in the place of action in Lurianic Kabbalah, one must acknowledge the oft-concealed contribution of epistemic shifts—such as the assimilation of medical discourse—to changing kabbalistic perceptions and attitudes.


The Editor's Place: Samuel Boehm and the Transfer of Italian Print Culture to Cracow
Andrea Schatz, Pavel Sládek

The editor and publisher Samuel Boehm worked for Hebrew presses in Northern Italy before moving to Cracow, where, in 1569, he joined Isaac Prostitz's newly established press and remained visibly active until 1586. This article analyzes in detail the transfer of Italian print culture to East-Central Europe, in which Boehm was highly instrumental. After clarifying a few biographical details, we investigate Boehm's involvement in the intricately woven networks of publishing in Cremona, Padua, and Venice and analyze how he claims visibility for his prominent role, especially in publishing parts of Joseph Karo's Bet Yosef. The article then explores the contexts of Boehm's move to Cracow in a period of Venetian-Ottoman conflict and anti-Jewish hostility that led to a crisis for Venetian Hebrew printing, and it situates the establishment of Prostitz's press in the wider contexts of Hebrew printing in East-Central Europe. Following Boehm's work in Cracow, in particular as an editor of Moses Isserles, the article traces the transfer of central elements of Italian print culture to Cracow: material (types and ornaments), the discourse on editing in the paratexts, editorial expertise concerning halakhah, the organisation of the print shop with fluctuating and overlapping roles for various actors, and the commitment to the transregional distribution of varied genres of Jewish knowledge. Finally, turning to Boehm's editing of Abraham Zacut, we highlight Boehm's own complex vision of the role of transregional movement and local stability for Jewish cultural productivity.


Redeeming Books from the People of the Book: Politics of Rescue from 1840 to the Legacy of a Zionist Mission in Damascus
Noah S. Gerber

The Damascus Affair of 1840 has often been interpreted as one the finest hours of modern Jewish solidarity. This essay probes an unexplored legacy of that chain of events, a sense of entitlement to spoils in the form of cultural artifacts, especially Hebrew manuscripts, a Jewish mutation of "informal imperialism" in the Ottoman East. Among others, scholars and institutions associated with the Wissenschaft des Judentums, a transnational but highly occidental republic of letters, became a beneficiary of this migration of primarily Hebrew books from the Jewish Orient. The geographical orbit of this study extends north to Aleppo, to the imperial capital of Istanbul, as well as to both Cairo and Alexandria in Khedival and subsequently British-ruled Egypt. The primary focus, however, is on Damascus, where a communal sense of custodianship regarding local textual treasures failed to materialize over time. Subsequent Zionist efforts directed at the Jews of post-Ottoman Damascus reveals continuity with the above pattern and eventually two important Bibles, the Aleppo Codex and Crown of Damascus, were smuggled out of Syria to Jerusalem. The essay concludes by reflecting on the fortunes of native Shami agency in these changing contexts.

The Cracow Bais Yaakov Teachers' Seminary and Sarah Schenirer: A View from a Seminarian's Diary
Rachel Manekin

Academic scholarship on the Cracow Bais Yaakov teachers' seminary in interwar Poland, and on the Bais Yaakov movement in general, has relied to a large extent on internal sources, such as promotional literature, the Bais Yaakov journal, semihistorical accounts by interested parties, and memoirs written after the Holocaust. The reason for that was the dearth of other sources. The present article provides an analysis of excerpts from a hitherto unnoticed diary written by Bracha Levin, a Polish Lithuanian student at the Cracow Bais Yaakov teachers' seminary in the years 1929–1930. The diary records personal sentiments and observations about the seminary that were not intended for external view or public recognition, and thus is of immense importance for historical research. The wealth of information contained in it reflects the experience of other young seminary students like her: teenage girls struggling with religious faith, desiring freedom, love, and intimacy, attending the seminary for the purpose of acquiring professional training, and grappling with school expectations on the one hand and the challenges of modernity on the other. On the whole, the diary's critical attitude toward the seminary reflects the views and educational background of students coming from the Lithuanian regions annexed to Poland after World War I, and emphasizes the gap between those students and students coming from Polish Hasidic homes.


Gersonides on Jacob's Pathognomic Dream
Y. Tzvi Langermann

Levi ben Gershom (Gersonides, 1288–1344), scientist and philosopher, authored an extensive commentary on the Pentateuch, where he applies his scientific expertise and inquisitiveness much as he does in his other writings. Following Maimonides, he interprets the narrative of Genesis 32.25–30, which describes the patriarch Jacob's mysterious wrestling match with an unnamed opponent, leaving Jacob with a sensible limp, as a prophetic dream. Going beyond Maimonides, Gersonides inquires as to how a dream could induce an orthopedic injury, and suggests, as one avenue, that the dream was pathognomic: Jacob acted out in a dream the tussle he feared he would have with his brother Esau. Though "medical dreams" were much discussed in premodern medicine, and "sleepfighting" was described by some Christian contemporaries, Gersonides' analyses stand out in their originality and detail.