Current Issue Article Abstracts

Spring 2023, Vol. 113.2

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Bat Asher and the Disclosure of Special Knowledge: A Second Temple Interpretive Tradition?
Jonathan Kaplan


Critical scholarship on tannaitic midrash has long postulated that aggadic traditions common to works associated with the schools of Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Ishmael stem from a shared collection of midrashic traditions, some of which may date to the Second Temple period. One such tradition is the collection of legends that grew up around Serah, the long-lived daughter of the patriarch Asher, first appearing in the Mekilta and the Tosefta. In this research note, I examine additional evidence to support the claim for the prerabbinic nature of the traditions at the root of the legends associated with Serah, notably the brief mention of Anna the prophetess in the Gospel of Luke (2.36–38) and a Samaritan tradition about Sherah, the Samaritan Aramaic form of Serah, found in the fourth-century c.e. strata of the Samaritan compilation, Tibat Marqe. The similarities between these texts suggest that they may be extant examples of an earlier interpretive tradition of connecting the genealogy of a long-lived Israelite or Jewish woman with the tribe of Asher to signify her as one who discloses special or forgotten knowledge, a tradition with likely origins in the Second Temple period.




Partnership: Private Law and Political Theory in Rabbinic Laws of Neighbors
Benjamin Schvarcz


This essay offers a reading of early rabbinic laws of neighbors and reconstructs a distinctive political theory with a "partnership" concept at its heart. The thesis presented here begins with the idea that for the early rabbis, there is a form of partnership that arises spontaneously—i.e., with no need for agreement or contract—between people who live in close vicinity. In this way, individual neighbors become partners in spaces, objects, and structures situated between their private properties, and the people of the city become partners in all public matters and assets. Private-law reasoning serves the rabbis to theorize the life of the city as a whole. A major implication of this theory is that ultimate political authority lies in the hands of the people of the city, not in those of potential affluent or religious leaders. The people of the city rule the city because it is theirs in partnership. This civic theory, it is proposed, should be read in the intellectual context of Roman political thought. The rabbis are shown to exploit the gap between the views of Cicero and the Roman jurists about the city and to produce a political theory beneficial to provincial cities that would be recognizable to Roman intellectuals of their time. The people of the city, therefore, rule as equals among themselves and as autonomous vis-à-vis external imperial power. Reading the early civil legal principles in this way serves to expand the canon of Jewish political thought.



From the Egyptian Palace to the Spanish Courts: Joseph in Nahmanides' Commentary
Miriam Sklarz


This essay addresses a significant characteristic of Nahmanides' Torah commentary on the Joseph narrative—his striking emphasis on Joseph's integrity and loyalty to his Egyptian master. This emphasis throughout the Joseph narrative is exceptional and is lacking in the commentaries of Nahmanides' predecessors.



Martin Buber's Dialogical History: Theopolitics as a Critique of the History of Human Power
Yemima Hadad


This essay explores the relationship between Buber's philosophy of history and his political theory, known also as theopolitics. Buber's first book on theopolitics, Kingship of God (1932), implemented the principle of dialogue as a critique of leadership. Dialogue reconciles the paradox of authoritarian theocracy and absolute freedom of anarchy: it unites the interhuman relationship (religious anarchy) and the divine-human relationship (direct theocracy). Without dialogue, anarchy would become chaotic and theocracy would actually mean the tyranny of the priests (hierocracy). But Buber's theopolitics also revealed a particular understanding of history. As this essay demonstrates, Buber held a notion of dialogical history (contrary to Hegelian dialectic history), which ultimately functioned as a critique of the history of victory and power. Dialogical history criticizes not only secular but also any kind of religious or sacred history claiming to authorize human power by divine justification. Dialogical history, therefore, should be seen as "counter-history," not only because it is based on a rehabilitation of myth (Hasidic tales and biblical myths) but also because it is engaged in an alternate philosophy of history, whose fulfillment is vouchsafed neither by the necessary unfolding of a spirit, nor by "great" historical deeds, but by everyday human agency and responsibility alone. 



Ben-Gurion and American Jewish Students at the Cusp of the Sixties: Between Solidarity and Persuasion
Adam S. Ferziger


On March 8, 1960, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion landed in Boston to deliver a major address at Brandeis University. Although the focus of the rest of his U.S. trip was diplomatic, he ended his stay with New York appearances on March 16 at the Reform movement's HUC–JIR, the Conservative-associated JTS, and the Orthodox-affiliated YU. At all four campuses, he encouraged American Jewish students to spend a year of study in Israel, a practice that was uncommon at that time but has since become de rigueur. Yet close examination of archived transcripts, taped recordings of the events, and first-hand accounts reveal significant differences in each presentation. Together with contemporaneous descriptions, personal diary accounts, and in concert with fresh academic understandings of Ben-Gurion articulated in recent years, these provide novel insight into Ben-Gurion's relationship with American Jewry and its various components—especially religious denominations—at this relatively advanced stage in his public career.



Breathing, Nostrils, and the Press: Rethinking the Hebrew–Yiddish Axis in the United States, 1870–1900
Yael Levi


The early American Yiddish and Hebrew presses had various affinities and bonds. This essay seeks to examine the connections between newspapers written in the Hebrew alphabet in the United States between the 1870s and 1890s and highlight the parallel process of growth undergone by periodicals in both languages. Diverting from standard research in this area that treats the Yiddish and Hebrew presses in the United States as two separate entities, this essay emphasizes the points of contact and proximity between them. It reviews the interconnectedness of the Hebrew and Yiddish presses during its first two decades, emphasizing personalities and material culture, and situates the phenomenon against its broader cultural background. More specifically, it presents a case study—Hebrew and Yiddish periodicals published in Chicago in 1889—and compares the periodicals' content and form. The essay then traces the geographical and cultural bilingual heritage of the publications' founders. By analyzing the features and origins of these contacts, this essay offers a different and more nuanced consideration of the historical perception of Hebrew and Yiddish in the American context.



The Myth of the Jew: Negating the Negation
Nitzan Lebovic

Review of:

Paul Hanebrink, A Specter Haunting Europe: The Myth of Judeo-Bolshevism. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018.

Elad Lapidot, Jews out of the Question: A Critique of Anti-Anti-Semitism. Albany: SUNY Press, 2020.

Ole Jakob Løland, Pauline Ugliness: Jacob Taubes and the Turn to Paul. New York: Fordham University Press, 2020.