Previous Issue Article Abstracts
Summer 2022, Vol. 112.3
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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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Spring 2022, Vol. 112.2
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Eastern European Jewish Studies: The Past Thirty Years
This study, based on quantitative analysis of several bibliometric datasets, examines the position of East European Jewish studies. It is argued here that the number of studies on East European Jewry, as exemplified by the datasets analyzed here, is not proportional to its demographic, sociopolitical, or cultural position in history. The proportion seems rather to replicate the mental maps of “centrality” and “marginality” in the contemporary world, with Israel as an important exception. It is further suggested that power relations between centers and peripheries of academic Jewish studies go along the lines of the more general mechanisms of systemic inequity in academia, for which geography and social diversity, together with gender, are the primary and best recognized factors of underrepresentation. The underrepresentation of Eastern Europe is even more transparent when viewed through the map of the geographical origin of the scholarship. Most high-profile scholarship is produced in North America and Israel, while the number of contributions coming from Eastern Europe is negligible. This is surprising when confronted with the apparent boom of Jewish studies in several countries of the region. The sample material analyzed here suggests the existence of self-limiting East European practices which create alternative local circulations for publications produced and distributed there that never merge into a wider international exchange of knowledge.
One of the distinctive features of the Jewish Quarterly Review over the past seventeen years—from the time that the brilliant and dearly departed Elliott Horowitz and I became coeditors—has been our reliance on the mode of the forum to debate, revisit, and probe. Our first forum in volume 94 in 2004 brought together a diverse trio of scholars, Robert Bonfil, Gavriel Rosenfeld, and Sister Carol Rittner, to analyze Daniel Gold-hagen’s book A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair. Their critical and often sharp reflections inaugurated a new tradition and created a place of honor for the forum in JQR. Since that time, we have taken up many trends, themes, books, and scholars in our fora; they allow for more supple and compact engagement with scholarship in the field of Jewish studies than our formidable articles.
Victor Yefimovich Kelner, 1945–2021 (ז״ל)
Jan Gross’s Neighbors and Poland’s Narrative Shock
Precarious Muse: Holocaust Studies and Polish Jewish Studies
The Eastern European Problem of Hasidic Studies
This essay presents an analysis of a story which has been largely neglected by scholars of what has come to be known as the “Yavne Cycle,” and of talmudic narrative as whole: the Bavli’s version of the story of R. Dosa ben Harkinas. I begin with a close reading of the story, focusing on its sophisticated use of point of view and irony, and then go on to consider its literary and cultural contexts. I seek to establish its status as a high point of talmudic narrative art, an important and highly distinctive element of the Yavne Cycle, and a powerful counter-voice in the Bavli as a whole. I further argue that this story is part of a larger body of texts in the Bavli that challenge the Bavli’s dominant discourse and values. These sources may in turn reflect the work of a group of dissident scholars who were active in the Babylonian academies.
Using the memorbikher literature, which has received only little scholarly attention so far, this article explores the position of the Jewish midwife in eighteenth-century Germany. The memorbikher genre allows us to decipher the activity of many Jewish women who were involved in midwifery and did not leave any trace in other sources from the period. It shows that boundaries between “official” and “unofficial,” “professional” and “unprofessional” midwives were fuzzy, and that a significant number of deliveries in the Jewish community were performed by midwives who were not connected to any formal authority.
The article also traces the case of Haya’le, the Offenbach community’s official midwife, who was active in the city in the mid-eighteenth century, and whose illuminating case is described in detail in the local pinkas. Haya’le’s case enables us to grasp the complex status of Jewish midwives and to see them as active players who had the power to improve their positions, not as passive victims of the male establishment. The examination of memorbikher and pinkasim together provides a more complete picture of Jewish midwives in this period, and points to shifts in their social position that constituted an institutionalization of Jewish midwifery.
This essay offers a new perspective on childhood and youth in Morocco and western Algeria beginning in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Since most current studies of childhood and youth in that era focus mainly on Europe, and very seldom on Asia and Africa, our knowledge of the latter is limited, particularly with respect to the Jewish communities of Muslim lands as opposed to those of Europe. Furthermore, existing research has relied on texts authored by adults which normally depict childhood solely in the context of the Jewish calendar and Jewish life cycle, but ignores the political, social, and cultural processes set in motion during the mid-nineteenth century which precipitated changes across North Africa with a bearing on children and youth. Based on a review of French texts written by youth in Morocco and western Algeria during the early 1930s and published in a Morocco-based Jewish newspaper, I propose a model of multiple modernities in Jewish childhood and youth throughout the region. The model comprises a variety of programs: the adoption of modern European ideals, educational values, and leisure culture; the emergence of a modern national Jewish identity, Hebrew and Zionist; the continued observance of family and community traditions; and finally, the cultural segregation of Jewish youth from the surrounding population.
DaKH: On One Reference Sign in Medieval Hebrew Manuscripts
Joel Binder, Mordechai Weintraub
This essay describes a signe de renvoi that appears in Hebrew manuscripts from the tenth century up to the eighteenth. This sign can be found in almost all geographic regions in which Hebrew manuscripts were copied and in all literary genres. Unlike graphic signes de renvoi which appear in Hebrew manuscripts, the sign described in this paper consists of two Hebrew letters: דך. In the first part of the paper the various ways in which manuscript copyists employed this sign are described in detail. The second part describes the ancora sign, which can be found in Greek, and later also in Latin, papyri and manuscripts from the first century b.c.e. until the fifth century c.e., and attention is being called to the graphic and functional similitude between these two signs.
Fall 2021, Vol. 111.4
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Jewish Latin America: Seven Essays
Natalie B. Dohrmann
Américo Castro’s “Problem”
Fanny Edelman and Jewish Argentine Anti-fascist Women, 1930–47
Sandra McGee Deutsch
Bruria Elnecavé: Making Sephardim, and Women, Visible
Adriana M. Brodsky
Roman Coinage and Its Early Rabbinic Users
Tannaitic literature, the earliest stratum of rabbinic literature, offers a detailed account of a complex and multivalent relationship between a small group of provincial subjects of the Roman Empire and their coins, couched in legal terms. In this article, I discuss tannaitic prescriptions for use and abuse of coins against the backdrop of other nonrabbinic Jewish approaches to Roman coinage, and in the context of the political meaning of coin use in the Roman Empire. For the Early rabbis, coins are a special category of object, governed by their own rules and made special by the image on them, which the rabbis do not consider idolatrous. To fulfill some obligations imposed by the Torah or the rabbis, the rabbis required the use of “current” (i.e., Roman-approved) coinage while arrogating to themselves the authority to regulate individual coins and to order them pulled from circulation. Coins are thus an interesting test case for the complex relationship between the Early rabbis and the empire to which they were subject.
This article presents a literary evaluation of one compilation of stories from Yitzhak Aboab’s Menorat ha-ma’or relating to a violent era in the history of the Jews in medieval Iberia, and in particular the case of Jewish informers to the Spanish crown. Compiled in fourteenth-century Toledo, this anthology of rabbinic lore from late antiquity implemented a unique Sephardic method that presents aggadic material in thematic order. In the introduction to the first chapter, Aboab creates a new cycle of stories compiled from separate tractates in the Babylonian Talmud. These tales are framed by a moral interpretation claiming all informers must be zealously punished. Surprisingly, the Aggadic lineup suggests a more complex picture. Whereas in the first two stories the sages function as informers to the king’s court, the last story is about a victim of an informer. The literary thread does not produce a stable moral message concerning informers. Rather, Aboab poses a moral dilemma that encourages his readers to take sides in a conflict between these iconic sages who reflect two opposing points of view on the role of informers. Several responsa documents from the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Spain show that Aboab used stories that were frequently cited in legal debates on the legitimacy of the death sentence for informers. Alongside presenting a toolbox for further readings of Menorat ha-ma’or, this article shows the extent to which this anthology emerges as a primary source that enriches our cultural and historical understanding of Sephardic Jewry.
Jews and Abuse of the Cross in the Middle Ages
Medieval European Jews often reacted violently to the cross or crucifix, seeing it as an idolatrous “abomination.” Jews encountered the cross in various material forms, whether displayed in the church, or used in procession, or depicted on the clothing of crusaders and religious officials. It was not only a religious symbol, however: it was also a symbol of Christian power, and its virtual omnipresence in medieval Europe would have been a constant reminder of the Jews’ political weakness. At times, the Jews’ political impotence and violence against them may have provoked real attacks on the cross. The danger that such attacks would predictably result in martyrdom has led some scholars to question whether Christian accounts of such attacks on the cross are reliable, or whether they constitute a “cross desecration libel” fabricated about the same time as the blood libel in medieval Europe. This paper surveys both Latin and Hebrew sources treating medieval Jewish responses to the cross and argues that following the First Crusade, Jewish views of martyrdom may have encouraged abuse of the cross as a defiant sign of Jewish identity. It concludes that accounts of Jews’ abusing the cross were not merely Christian fabrications or literary inventions, but likely point to actual behavior.
After the Spanish expulsion, the Jewish exiles sought refuge in the Ottoman Empire, Western Europe, and North Africa. Among the North African countries, Morocco harbored the largest number of refugees, many of them settled in Fez. The arrival of the Spanish exiles introduced a new wave of intellectual activity to the local Jewish community in Fez. While previous studies have shown their contribution in the fields of halakhah, poetry, and historiography, this paper demonstrates that a new chapter began in the realm of Jewish thought as well. The works composed by the exiles who settled in Fez were diverse, comprised of the literary genres that had once proliferated in Spain, mostly sermons and commentary. A review of their writings reveals that they were preoccupied with the central theological subjects discussed in the Middle Ages, yet they did not compose their own original philosophical or theological works. They were heavily influenced by the writings of earlier and contemporary Sephardic thinkers; it appears that it was philosophy and astrology in their moderate version that had shaped their worldview. At the same time, they had a strong affinity for ancient rabbinical aggadah, and likewise to the zoharic and kabbalistic literature. Sephardic Jewish thought tradition continued to exist after the expulsion, not only in the Ottoman Diaspora and European Sephardic communities, as is has been claimed in previous research, but in Morocco as well.
This essay argues that women’s active participation in modern Jewish culture shaped modern Jewish masculinity. I examine this phenomenon by looking at how women figured in the writings of Jewish men as symbols of a new cultural modernity, showing how male writers orient themselves in relationship to women. The article focuses on the works of two well-known and popular writers, Abraham Cahan (1860–1951) and Sholem Aleichem (1856–1916), one American and the other Russian, who played important roles in shaping Yiddish culture as writers and literary gatekeepers. Reading their works, the essay shows how they represent and identify with their female protagonists, whose acts of reading open new modern social and political vistas. In Cahan’s “The Imported Bridegroom” (1898) and Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye the Dairyman, published serially between 1896–1914, young female protagonists read European novels that propel them to rebel against arranged marriages with Jewish Talmud scholars, and in doing so, they challenge the patriarchal authority of traditional Jewish texts and their male interpreters. In the place of this authoritative textual tradition, the female protagonists embrace the novel as a secular authority on everyday life. Reading these works, I illuminate how male writers’ portrayal of Jewish women’s desires articulate their own vexed relationships to a changing literary culture that included women.
Summer 2021, Vol. 111.3
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FORUM: LOOKING AT LISTS
Bricks without Mortar: Looking at Lists
The scholars in this forum were invited to choose a list from their own field of study, then reproduce it and bring their distinctive lenses to its analysis, paying special attention to the form itself.
Many lists are engendered by rupture (one rarely inventories one's property unless that property is in jeopardy or in transition) and, so, mark the joins in time. Others do the epistemological work of classification. Still others do things that are wholly unexpected, like the list you'll read that authorizes a religious performance.
The Postmortem Inventory of Astrug Mosse, a Jew of Marseille (1397)
Daniel Lord Smail
This brief essay offers a set of remarks on the postmortem inventory of a Jew from the city of Marseille who died in 1397. The inventory, which lists all the assets in the estate, had been compiled by the decedent's daughters and was then presented to the court in order to be registered. Like many inventories from the region, it proceeds room by room, and offers valuable glimpses of Jewish material culture as well as the folk ontology governing the classification of things. The article includes a translation of the inventory, recording strikethrough deletions and interlineations.
Lists and inventories permeated the experience of Jews who fell victim to the Holocaust, as well as that of those they left behind. The National Socialist and Vichy regimes were obsessive about both lists of Jews and inventories of their property. In the years and decades following the war, survivors and their heirs seeking restitution of their goods or reparations for their loss encountered entangled bureaucracies, each requiring their own form and rhetoric of inventory. This article explicates the work lists and inventories did for both oppressors and victims, as well as the rich insights they offer historians.
The Fruits of Halakhah
Tractate Ma'aserot of the Mishnah commences with the general rule that one is not obligated to tithe fruits and vegetables until they become edible, and follows this rule with a lengthy list of different produce items alongside the time in which each one of them can be registered as "food" and is therefore subject to tithing. This essay briefly discusses this list to elucidate the rabbinic practice of list-making as a textual, rhetorical, and cultural phenomenon. It argues that this list demonstrates the complex and multilayered textual history of the Mishnah, but also the coherent and consistent message of the Mishnah that halakhah is the ultimate way of seeing, organizing, and understanding the entire world. At the same time, this list depicts a world in which halakhah is inscribed into rather than superimposed upon the natural order, and thus rhetorically turns compliance with rabbinic law into a desired state of harmony with nature.
In the autumn of 1713, as plague ravaged the city of Prague, the offices of the Habsburg monarchy drafted a list of the salaries of Jews working to ameliorate conditions within the Prague ghetto, which the monarchy had sealed off from the rest of the city. The list reveals the state of plague response in this premodern Jewish ghetto—of barbers, nurses, care for the sick and the dead, as well as study and prayer—and its financial cost to the community. The production and archival maintenance of the list may also hint at the tensions between Jewish self-governance and state administration. Its creation, an act of budgeting and good order, may not simply have been the product of Jewish compliance with Habsburg record-keeping, but may even have been a barter of information on paper for practical non-interference in affairs of the Jewish community.
An Ottoman Sephardi Trousseau
This essay highlights the nineteenth-century trousseau list of an Ottoman Sephardi bride named Rosha Ben Gabbay. Recorded in a mix of Ladino, Turkish, and Hebrew and preserved in the archives of the Jewish community of Izmir, the ashugar lists the numerous garments, textiles, and furnishings that the bride would bring to her new home. Though rooted in the patriarchal economics of an Ottoman Jewish marriage market that continuously regarded women as sources of material and financial capital, the ashugar also reflects the tacit expectation that brides like Ben Gabbay bear a new form of cultural capital demanded by the modern age, namely the savvy negotiation of life a la turka and life a la franka. In navigating this perceived opposition that pervaded nineteenth-century Ottoman life, brides like Rosha Ben Gabbay were important mediators of modernity in the eastern Sephardi diaspora.
This essay describes a list of planetary horocrators—that is, the planets ruling each hour of the week—found in an eleventh-century manuscript from the Cairo Genizah. Four different fragments of this manuscript have thus far been identified, and they enable the reconstruction of the list's original layout. Such a list can easily be tabulated, but the medieval Jewish scribe who produced it preferred to spell it out in its entirety, and in a very disorganized manner. In part, this was because the Jews of medieval Cairo were more used to working with lists than with tables. But given his interest in various methods of divination (his manuscript also included a handbook of goralot, or lot-casting), our scribe may have deemed that the cumbersome and opaque layout of his list might enhance its perceived validity.
Traditional Jewish interpretations of the story of the tower of Babel, as preserved in various midrashic collections, concentrated on sins committed by the builders on account of which they deserved divine punishment. The main purpose of such an approach was to draw from the scriptural account a moral lesson, regardless of the historicity of the narrated events, their dating, chronology, etc. In contrast, medieval Karaites living in the lands of medieval Islam shifted the main focus of their exegetical interest in this text to history, including the history of the text. Exploring historicizing tendencies in medieval Karaite commentaries on this biblical narrative, this essay ponders the seemingly simple question of what made the Karaite exegetes of the time discover history and read biblical stories as true histories. It demonstrates how the exegetes' novel approach to Scripture may have resulted from their engagement with the surrounding Muslim culture, which was concerned with establishing the historical context of the qur'anic revelation and investigating the reasons and circumstances of revelation (asbāb al-nuzūl). Tracing specific Islamic influences on the Karaites' reading of the story of the tower of Babel, the essay argues that they can be detected not in direct borrowings of specific interpretations, but on a meta level, owing to differences between Muslim and Jewish conceptualizations of revelation, which engendered diverging exegetical responses to Scripture in the two religions. Finally, the essay addresses the question of the Karaites' contribution to the history of Jewish exegesis of this chapter.
Isaac the Blind's Letter and the History of Early Kabbalah
No document is more central to the scholarly historiography of kabbalah's "origins" than a unique letter written by R. Isaac the Blind. Since its discovery, scholars have made it the foundation for an elaborate narrative about the transmission of kabbalistic traditions from Provence to Gerona at the beginning of the thirteenth century. Scholars have not only used the letter to help reconstruct the ties between these two centers, but even to reconstruct their purported theological concerns about the transmission, composition, and dissemination of esoteric lore.
The present study offers a fresh and thorough explication of this cryptic, and partly encrypted, document, which is here translated and critically edited. Whereas previous scholars focused on its exoteric opening, neglecting the esoteric central portion that spans nearly half of the letter, the author elucidates this difficult section, with the assistance of traditions attributed to Isaac and the writings of his own trustworthy nephew, Asher b. David. Particular attention is paid to Isaac's quotations from Sefer yetsirah, which reveal the central pillar of theology supporting Isaac's doctrine of mystical intentions (kavanot). This decipherment yields a new understanding of the exoteric section and of the entire correspondence between the kabbalists: they were debating the mystical-contemplative significance of certain liturgical kavanot and religious rituals (especially taking an oath by the Tetragrammaton).
In the aftermath of the 1848 revolutions, the search for a symbolic Jewish presence in the urban centers of Central Europe led to the emergence of a monumental synagogue architecture in the Moorish revival style. This new architectural convention experienced a sudden breakthrough in April and May 1854, when it was adopted almost simultaneously in the plans for three major synagogues to be built in Leipzig, Vienna, and Pest. In this article, I will demonstrate that the social and aesthetic agendas of the three community leaderships were interconnected and that they must be understood in the context of the international political events transpiring at the time. In the spring of 1854, Europe witnessed the military and propagandistic run-up to the Crimean War. In the spirit of liberal patriotism, Hungarian Jews identified with the Ottomans against the Czarist Empire and saw the contemporary Islamic-Christian alliance as a globalizing extension of the emancipation process.
Aaron David Gordon's life and writings have been gaining renewed interest in recent years. The prevailing position among scholars is that, in contrast to his articles, his philosophical magnum opus, Man and Nature, was not written in response to public polemics in the New Yishuv, but rather as a philosophical study, intentionally kept distant from the events of the hour. In contrast, this study demonstrates that Gordon wrote the first chapter of Man and Nature, which bears the book's title and delineates its conceptual framework, as a critical response to Life and Nature (1909) by Yehuda Leib Metmann (1869–1939), the founder of the Hebrew Gymnasium. In his Man and Nature, Gordon came out against Metmann's educational vision, which called for gaining control of nature in the Land of Israel by means of rigorous scientific investigation, in the spirit of the Baconian slogan "knowledge is power." Exploring Gordon's critique of Metmann's Life and Nature may shed new light not only on the circumstances that led to the writing of one of the major Jewish philosophical works of the twentieth century, but also on Gordon's compelling and acutely relevant call for the preservation and protection of nature regardless of human interests and needs.
Spring 2021, Vol. 111.2
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Commandments and the Community of Law in Tosefta Berakhot
Ayelet Hoffmann Libson
This paper examines the role of law and liturgy in constructing the political borders of the early rabbinic community, focusing on the treatment of the blessings over commandments (birkat ha-mitsvot) in chapter 6 of tBerakhot. The conclusion of both Mishnah and Tosefta Berakhot addresses several liturgical formulas that are invoked when encountering an assortment of unique natural phenomena. As such, these texts center on the most religious of spheres, pertaining to issues such as prayer, ritual, miracles, and theology.
One anomalous subject addressed in the last chapter of tBerakhot is the blessings over the commandments. This essay argues that the novel institution of the blessings over the commandments serves important legal and political functions. By detailing who is obligated to recite which blessings, the Tosefta creates a stratified conception of legal obligation, with some members of the community obligated by more duties than others. Moreover, the language of the blessings, the laws pertaining to blessings, and the examples of blessings given by the Tosefta frame the concept of obligation (mitsvah) as a duty that ties the individual to the broader community through the performance of the law. The Tosefta thus presents a novel vision whereby carrying out legal obligations accompanied by blessings simultaneously denotes legal personhood and delineates the political borders of the community.
This study concentrates on bilingual charters from tenth- and eleventh-century Catalonia. It shows that Jews participated in the Christian bureaucracy and that Hebrew was incorporated into Latin deeds. Furthermore, local Latin formulas and documents were internalized into the Hebrew formulas and subsequently into the Jewish legal system in this region and era. After offering a survey of this corpus, the article attempts to provide a cultural history of these documents, with particular attention to questions of language and identity, by understanding their place within a predominantly oral and visual culture. Through a comparison of Hebrew formulas in Catalonian bilingual deeds with Latin and Aramaic formulas, it argues that the use of Hebrew was a cultural choice that served as an identity marker. Furthermore, the use of the Hebrew alphabet became the Jewish signum, the graphic symbol representing the Jewish self, conveying a message of an acceptable, even equal, Jewish identity within a Christian culture. Thus, Jewish landowners selected Hebrew not as a rejection of Latin but within the context of increasing engagement with the Christian legal system. The choice of Hebrew by this economic circle predates, and may have ushered in, the intellectual turn toward Hebrew in the same region during the late eleventh and twelfth centuries, known as the "translation movement."
One of the thorniest problems for the writing of medieval Jewish social history is the paucity of source materials. Yet even where documentary materials such as the Cairo Geniza do remain, scholars often complement their study of documentary materials by making recourse to legal materials. The legal genre of responsa, full of rich detail about life, has been particularly useful for social historians. In this paper, I will revisit this historiographic practice and suggest that legal queries from the Jewish community in the medieval Islamic world present a biased and sometimes tendentious picture of quotidian detail, and they must be studied with care and attention to the Sitz im Leben of the query itself. Internal evidence from two responsa from the hand of Moses Maimonides concerning a single case, the responsa of the geonim, and detail from court practice in medieval Egypt all reveal the ways that queries and responsa are works of legal advocacy from rabbinic patrons on behalf of their litigant clients. Therefore, historians may not take for granted their historical accuracy of detail—even detail given seemingly en passant. By rereading Maimonides' different responsa, I also shed light on the relationship between Jewish commercial law and mercantile practice in medieval Egypt.
Beyond the Rabbinic Paradigm
Ephraim Shoham-Steiner, Elisabeth Hollender
Using medieval Cologne as an example, this paper seeks to extract traces of a lay leadership from rabbinic texts of medieval Ashkenaz. It reveals evidence of a culture of leadership and arbitration that was based on Jewish tradition and common sense, rather than an emphasis on talmudic law and argumentation. This is demonstrated by a discussion of known leaders, texts about Cologne Jews, rabbinic statements that criticize Cologne's Jewry for halakhic leniency in favor of economic gain, and cultural assimilation to the Christian environment. The sources presented in this study suggest the existence of a lay leadership entrusted with governance and arbitration, existing in Cologne and possibly other places in medieval Ashkenaz. This system of governance and arbitration seems to have been possible in Jewish communities that had no strong rabbinic presence and probably existed in many places. Only with the arrival of strong local rabbinic authorities did the lay leadership yield its place to rabbinic leadership.
The first two transports of Hungarian Jews arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau in May 1944. The extermination camp was located within range of the Allies' bomber aircraft, leading to demands to bomb the site. The fact that the extermination camp was never bombed, along with the dramatic impact of the murder of Hungary's Jews during the final stages of World War II, has turned the failure to bomb Auschwitz-Birkenau into a symbol of the powerlessness of the free world and of Jewish leadership to rescue the Jews of Europe. This essay presents a new approach to this episode, based on documents in the archives of American Jewish activists involved in the issue of the bombing of the camp—above all, Leon Kubowitzki, who headed the World Jewish Congress's Rescue Department. From the documents, we learn that leading figures in the Jewish and Zionist leadership asked that the U.S. administration not bomb Auschwitz, preferring other forms of military action by partisans or paratroopers against the camp. While a number of scholars have noted this position of the WJC, most treat it as peripheral. Contrary to the commonly accepted scholarly belief, the course of action taken by U.S. Jewish leaders was a significant strategic political step designed to damage the capability of the extermination camp by means other than bombing.
IN THE UNCERTAIN DAYS IN WHICH WE LIVE, as pandemic rages, temperatures rise, and authoritarians seethe, the "stranger" has reappeared with full force around the world. The United Nations counts nearly 80 million forcibly displaced people in the world today—individuals who are in places where they are not welcome and do not feel welcome themselves. Over the last few years, the list of those held responsible for the woes of the world has grown long: immigrants, people of color, Muslims, Syrians, Afghans, Eritreans, Mexicans, and LGBTQ people. They are often deemed strangers to societies in which they, in fact, are indigenous or at least natively familiar with the local language and culture.
A Bounded Leeway
THE IMPORTANCE OF GEORG SIMMEL'S "Excursus on the Stranger" as a seminal text for the discourse on the topic is undisputed. His portrayal of the stranger—who is neither a fleeting visitor nor a member of the group, who combines proximity and distance, embodies mobility, objectivity, and freedom, and inhabits a status that is both positive and negative, enriching and vulnerable—has become a standard reference in cultural studies and the humanities in general. While the conceptual tools that Simmel has forged in his excursus continue to exert wide influence, critics have recently argued that his depiction of the stranger no longer applies to the increasingly globalized, mobile, and mutable world of today.
BEING A STRANGER is the universal condition of modernity. Simmel, like many of his fellow sociologists and Germans at the end of the twentieth century, was riveted by the question of what the new era of trains, light, cities, and money had in store for humanity; but following his anti-positivism and Weberian tendency to look for ideal types, he grasped this change through the emblematic figure of the stranger. Why was the stranger such a key figure of modernity?
IN HIS LANDMARK 1908 ESSAY "The Stranger," Georg Simmel links the Jews to his signature sociological type almost only in passing. In identifying the Jews as the "classic example" of an intruding outsider group that specializes in trade because all the productive economic niches in their host society are "already occupied," he makes clear that he considers this minority the strangers of history par excellence.1 He also associates the outsider stranger, in highly positive terms, with intellectual acuity and objectivity. He equates this objectivity with freedom, noting that the stranger, precisely because of his separation from the social world surrounding him, "is not bound by ties which could prejudice his perception, his understanding, and his perception of data."
ON JULY 15, 1916, the young Gershom Scholem wrote a letter to his older brother Werner, concerning the connection between Georg Simmel and the Austrian-Jewish philosopher Otto Weininger, who committed suicide in 1903 at the age of twenty-three. Scholem didn't think highly of Simmel (and neo-Kantianism in general) and portrayed him, echoing both Zionist and antisemitic discourses, as a talmudic, abstract, Jewish intellectual: "[Simmel] has created a machinery bearing the name 'Simmel' that functions as follows: one inserts a problem, the 'Simmel' machine moves and reacts purely, mechanically, it transfers the problem into a foreign language, and after a bit of time elapses a book or an essay gets spat out—which, if people consider it valuable, then has to be retranslated back into the original."
"Exkurs über den Fremden" and the Jewish Question of the Fin de Siècle Period
Søren Blak Hjortshøj
IN RECENT YEARS, Georg Simmel's "stranger" figure has been highlighted as a universal ideal for cultural encounters, cosmopolitan identity, mobility, and migration.1 Yet the focal point of this essay is to discuss whether it is accurate to perceive Simmel's stranger as a universal ideal when examining the contextual references of the "Exkurs." Thus, by focusing on the many references to the so-called Jewish Question of the fin de siècle period, I will discuss whether Simmel's stranger is bound to Jewish history in particularistic fashion.
Futures of Jewish Exemplarity
Jakob Egholm Feldt
GEORG SIMMEL'S "THE STRANGER" (1908) might be considered an exemplar for the processual relationship between the particular and the general in history. As Elizabeth Goodstein notes in her book on Simmel, the stranger exemplifies Simmel's social theory, holding that over time and across various events, particularities can evolve into general forms or abstractions, and they may become a lens through which we see what has happened and what will happen in a different way.
The Stranger as a Threshold Figure
GIVEN ITS SUBJECT AND GEORG SIMMEL'S BACKGROUND, one would think that Simmel's excursus "The Stranger" (1908) and Jewish history could easily be brought into sustained conversation. Widely thought to be the most original social thinker of the turn of the twentieth century in Germany, Simmel was of Jewish descent. In "The Stranger," he refers to European Jews as the "classic example" of this social type. The excursus became a landmark in twentieth-century social theory and sociology.
The Specter of Ahasver
GEORG SIMMEL'S "THE STRANGER" (1908) opens not by formulating the concept of strangeness itself but with the conditional phrase "If wandering"—initially anchoring strangeness in wandering so naturally that an incidental mention suffices. Indeed, in the next sentence, Simmel predicates the definition of the stranger on the poetically expressed dynamic between coming today and leaving tomorrow, on one hand, and on coming today and staying tomorrow, on the other hand. Apropos, he also states that this is not the standard use of the term "stranger."
Note: From the Archives
Jewish Censorship of Menasseh ben Israel's Piedra Gloriosa: A New Document from the Archives
Steven Nadler, Victor Tiribás
IN LATE 1654 OR EARLY 1655,1 Menasseh ben Israel, one of four rabbis serving the Portuguese Jews of Amsterdam's Talmud Torah Congregation—and arguably the most famous Jew in Europe in the seventeenth century—published a book titled Piedra gloriosa (Glorious stone). Framed as a commentary on the Book of Daniel, the treatise contains Menasseh's most explicit presentation of his messianist views.
Winter 2021, Vol. 111.1
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David Lazer, an editor of Nowy Dziennik in Krakow, a founder of Maariv in Israel, and the editor of Maariv's literary section, maintained written and personal contact with Marc Chagall from 1957 to the mid-1970s. Lazer visited Chagall at his home in Vence and Saint-Paul-de-Vence. This article presents their correspondence and describes their meetings and the nature of their relationship, which was sentimental and emotionally rich. Lazer was a great storyteller with a talent for eloquent statements, supported by his knowledge of Jewish culture and literature, which included a fascination with Jewish folklore. This allowed him to feel at ease in the Yiddish cultural sphere, which was important to Chagall and through which he expressed his personal and creative identity. Lazer was also a good source of information on current affairs in the bloc of Central and Eastern European countries, about which Chagall was extremely curious, and Lazer likewise kept Chagall informed about the political problems faced by Israel. Lazer wrote detailed reports about each of his visits to Chagall for Israeli readers, for whom the world depicted by Chagall in his paintings was very familiar—a village, a shtetl, a Jewish street. In one letter to Chagall, Lazer told him that he was the author of the largest number of articles about him in the Hebrew press. Apart from the artistic value of his paintings, Lazer's fascination with Chagall stemmed from the cultural proximity of the diasporic Jewish world, which had given them a similar spiritual and intellectual formation, and from his interest in Yiddish literature.
This essay offers an initial examination of the influence of German grammatical theory on Hebrew grammatical works at the beginning of the Jewish enlightenment (late eighteenth century). The examination is based on the terminology and description of one issue—Hebrew pronouns—as presented in two main works: Moses Mendelssohn's booklet Or lintivah(Berlin, 1783); and the comprehensive grammar of Judah Leib Ben-Ze'ev, Talmud lashon ‛ivri (Breslau, 1796). The essay reveals the German sources of these two scholars and analyzes the manner in which the sources were used. This analysis paints a picture of their careful and selective adaptation of the German model, while illustrating the manner in which they perceived Hebrew grammatical elements through German features. This approach has left its imprint on Hebrew grammar to this day.
Solomon and Ashmedai Redux: Redaction Criticism of bGitin 68b
This paper deals with the redaction criticism of a story from the Babylonian Talmud, bGit 68b. This study aims to distinguish further between the diverse sources of this complex narrative and to differentiate between the Eastern and Western elements that it contains. The conclusion is that the unusually long story in bGitin is a product of a late and tendentious editing. It is based on a minimum of three once-independent narrative traditions. The first told of how King Solomon built the Temple with the help of a friendly demon; the second told of how King Solomon built the Temple with the help of a miraculous object called shamira. It seems that these stories were in competition with each other; that is, one of them clearly appeared as an antithesis to the other. The late editor decided to harmonize them, transforming the two tales into a single story about how a friendly demon built the Temple with the help of a miraculous object. This composite story served as an introduction to the third narrative tradition, mobilized by the editor. According to this account, the throne of King Solomon was captured by an insidious demon, and the king went into exile. Blending the story of how a friendly demon built the Temple with one about how the throne was usurped by an evil demon was the last stage in the tortuous emergence of this extraordinary tale.
From the Middle Ages until the present, the development of astrology among Jews has been associated with Abraham Ibn Ezra (ca. 1089–ca. 1161). He created the first comprehensive set of Hebrew astrological textbooks, which addressed the main systems of Arabic astrology and provided Hebrew readers with access to the subject. Some of his works became known to Christian scholars during his years in the Latin West and shortly after his death. However, Ibn Ezra's astrological writings remained outside the mainstream of Latin astrological literature until the last decades of the thirteenth century. An Ibn Ezra renaissance took place in the Latin West, thanks to a number of almost simultaneous translation projects. This essay aims to shed light on a limited but fundamental facet of the Ibn Ezra renaissance in the Latin West: the impact of the earliest datable translation project—Hagin le Juif's French translations, carried out in 1273—on subsequent Latin translations of Ibn Ezra's Hebrew astrological writings. The current study examines all of Hagin's French translations and all the relevant Latin translations of Ibn Ezra's astrological writings. In addition, the current study presents hitherto unknown biographical information about Hagin le Juif and attempts to explain the cultural context of his French translations.
The polemical anti-Christian narrative Toledot Yeshu (henceforth, TY) is the earliest freestanding composition written by Jews against central tenets of Christianity. Broadly speaking, the narrative is a subversive rendering of central aspects of the life of Jesus and was composed at some point during Late Antiquity or the early Islamic period. This article discusses the origins of the long ("Helene") version of this polemical parody, which was well known in most parts of the Jewish world, and argues that this expanded version of the narrative was a creation of the classical Islamic period, in Judeo-Arabic, likely around the ninth or tenth century. This argument is supported by manuscript evidence in Judeo-Arabic from a slightly later period. Furthermore, Jewish-Christian debate in a variety of Near Eastern languages was and remained active during the first few centuries of the Islamic period, and the tone and contents of TY are typical of the polemics composed during this time. A further backdrop for the creation of this Jewish polemical narrative was the existence of numerous accounts of Jesus's birth and childhood in Arabic, among Muslims and Christians, which would have provided fertile ground for the creation of a Jewish account of Jesus's birth and childhood, or "Jewish infancy gospel," as found in TY.
During World War I, Yehoshua Radler-Feldman (R. Binyamin) published in the newspapers Ha-@herut and Ha-po'el Ha-tsa'ira series of reports and commentaries. In these articles, Radler-Feldman severely criticized the ongoing state of war, which he considered lacking any semblance of political logic or moral reasoning. His main criticism was directed toward the Allied powers, which, in his view, bore the major responsibility for the outbreak of the war. Radler-Feldman determined that the Allied powers also caused the war to drag on in order to protect and enhance their own colonial interests. However, they obfuscated these interests in order to implant the feeling that the war was inevitable.
This essay examines the way the critical approach of Radler-Feldman to World War I reveals the unique Jewish cultural position that he wished to put forth. It shows that he integrated into his writings elements of the pacifist-feminist philosophy of his time, as well as theological views of the Jewish feminine and anticolonial criticism. Through this unique cultural amalgamation, Radler-Feldman intended to uncover the political-cultural order that enabled the war to continue and that influenced the modes of creation of modern nations in general. Furthermore, disengagement from the prevailing political-cultural order would have given the rising Jewish existence in Palestine, according to Radler-Feldman, freedom from the patterns that such an order imposed on its formation and would have turned it into an entity unlike, and inimical to, the one that the European nations were determined to replicate.
"We Were Slaves": Deportation to a Soviet Forced Labor Camp during WWII as Depicted in the Memoirs of the Polish-Yiddish Writer Avrom Zak
Magdalena Ruta, Maria Piechaczek-Borkowska
This essay discusses the memoir Knekht zenen mir geven (Buenos Aires, 1956), by Avrom Zak (1891–1980), a Polish-Yiddish journalist, poet, and prose writer who survived WWII in the Soviet Union. While in the USSR, he was deported in summer 1940 to a forced labor camp in the Republic of Komi, where he spent more than a year. The essay focuses on the reconstruction of the existential experience that Zak's memoirs contain against the backdrop of the memoirs of Polish Gulag prisoners who, unlike the Jewish prisoners, have already become the subject of extensive research by literary historians. Moreover, the essay addresses the uniqueness of the Jewish experience. Yiddish memoirs of Polish Jews who were prisoners of Soviet forced labor camps during WWII, heretofore absent from studies of so-called Gulag literature and/or Soviet exile literature and, in a broader sense, from Holocaust studies, are still waiting to become incorporated into that discussion. It is only by collecting the greatest possible corpus of testimonies that we shall be able to reconstruct a wider image of the Soviet aspect of the Jewish experience of WWII.
Summer 2020, Vol. 110.3
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This essay challenges previous scholarship regarding the provenance and meaning of the story of Beruriah’s downfall and death first attested in Rashi’s Talmud commentary. I argue that, contrary to the recent scholarly consensus, there is good reason to believe that Rashi drew on a much earlier tradition and that his account represents the only attested explanation for the Bavli’s reference to ma‘aseh de-Beruriah. I further present a new reading of the story, viewing it not as a polemic but as a complex narrative that exposes the rabbis’ own anxieties regarding women and their place within halakhic discourse and practice.
Abraham in Wonderland: On Judeisapta and Imaginary Jewish Sovereignty in the Fourteenth-Century Austrian Chronicle (Österreichische Chronik von den 95 Herrschaften)
William C. McDonald
The late fourteenth-century Austrian Chronicle (Österreichische Chronik von den 95 Herrschaften), a prose work composed anonymously in Habsburg Vienna, contains a fabulistic history of Austria and its rulers––including a description of heraldic devices. According to the Chronicle, the first geographical designation for Austria was Judeisapta (lit: appropriate for Jews), a land named by a Jew but devoid of Jews. The initial settler, Abraham, was a pagan who, some eight centuries after the deluge, left Terra Ammiracionis (Wonderland) for Judeisapta. Later, Jewish rulers of Austria, under darkly articulated circumstances, converted from idol worship and then reverted to paganism in pre-Christian times. In conformity with the Augustinian scheme of the Ages of the World, Jewish sovereignty in the Chronicle is portrayed as evanescent and transitory, worthy of attention only as a preparatory stage for the Christian ascendancy. An important theme is the conversion of Austrian Jews, whose fictitious history betrays a fragile conception of religious affiliation.
“The Wedding Canopy Is Constituted by the Being of These Sefirot”: Illustrations of the Kabbalistic Huppah and Their Derivatives
Uri Safrai and Eliezer Baumgarten
From as early as the thirteenth century, the visual dimension of Jewish esotericism was manifest in various representations of the kabbalistic ilan (tree of life)—a diagram of the sefirot (emanations). Among the many kinds of the kabbalistic diagrams, this essay focuses on the early modern kabbalistic image of the huppah, the wedding canopy suspended over the bride and groom in a traditional Jewish wedding. These images represent the sefirotic structure as a ceremony, with bride, groom, and elements of the huppah as its dynamic components.
In this essay, we discuss three pictorial traditions of the kabbalistic huppah that were produced throughout the sixteenth century. Given the similarities among them, it is evident that all of the diagrams are part of the same kabbalistic tradition was circulating during this period. That said, the drawings are not identical and, most importantly, appear in different contexts. We will thus analyze the divergent phases of the huppah’s representation in this tradition. At each stage, the canopy was endowed with special meaning that was influenced by the greater context in which it was produced and its relation to corresponding figures.
Hours before his arrest at Stalin's order on January 27, 1949, the Soviet Yiddish poet Peretz Markish gave his wife Esther Markish several manuscripts. Among these was Der fertsikyeriker man (The Man of Forty), a virtuosic and densely enigmatic eighty-page poem. Divided into two books, the poem moves from Expressionist scenes of war and revolution to visions of borderless space, radical temporality, and erotic liberation. Its regular amphibrachic tetrameter stabilizes Markish's extravagant metaphors and abstractions within a tightly-corseted form. As he handed her the documents, Markish told his wife: "[The Man of Forty] is the best thing I've ever done. I want you to take special care of it."
The Husserl-Heidegger Relationship in the Jewish Imagination
Daniel M. Herskowitz
This essay examines ways in which the troubled personal and philosophical relationship between the philosophers Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger was imagined, retold, and deployed in Jewish contexts. Focusing on the typological structures animating its reception, it argues that different narratives and ideological commitments concerning Judaism and Jewishness are absorbed in retellings of the Husserl-Heidegger episode. As such, these retellings offer a portal into major concerns in twentieth-century European Jewish thought and existence.
Jewish Vacations in Nazi Germany: Reflections on Time and Space amid an Unlikely Respite
Ofer Ashkenazi and Guy Miron
This essay considers the ways in which German Jews negotiated the new experiences of time and space during their vacations in the Third Reich. We argue that their reflections on vacations facilitated a rich discourse on the essence of Jewish bourgeois identity at a time of fundamental transitions. Our analysis utilizes three types of sources that encompass a variety of perspectives and sensibilities: personal diaries of Jewish vacationers, photo albums of Jewish families on vacations, and writings on vacations in Jewish newspapers. Following insights from the sociology of time, the article examines how reflections on vacations participated in the formation of the Jewish “lived time” under Nazism. Within this framework, our analysis indicates the dual function of vacation: as a realm of (bourgeois) normality, which underscores continuity, on the one hand; and, on the other hand, as a break with the normal flow of time, an ephemeral shelter from the experience of crisis. Consequently, the essay illuminates the roles that vacations played in the transformation of the spatial identity of German Jews. The steadily narrowing choice of vacation resorts accessible to them instigated various reactions among German Jews. In their reflections on the places of vacations, some conceived taking a vacation as an act of defiance, underscoring continuity in middle-class experiences, whereas others depicted the new spatial experiences as an opportunity to rethink Jewish identity.
This essay demonstrates that the work of the Catalan philosopher Ramon Llull was read by Sephardic Jews around the time of their expulsion from Spain and contextualizes Jewish Lullism in terms of sociocultural identity. I identify a curious Hebrew fragment of seventeen philosophical definitions as having been extracted from Llull’s centum formae (hundred forms) in his Introductorium magnae artis generalis. It is written in a peculiar Catalanized Castilian in Hebrew script that seems to indicate the existence of a lost Catalan version of the work. I situate the copying and especially its readership as coming from the milieu of Sephardic Jewish physicians in Italy, probably shortly after the expulsion. Llull’s readership among these physicians reveals that his method was perceived as relevant for the trained Jewish physician and for the study of scholastic logic, both prior to and after the expulsion, reflecting the high degree of Jewish absorption and adoption of the Christian cultural trendsof late fifteenth-century Spain, particularly Catalonia. An appendix offers a critical edition of the fragment with contrastive comments to known Latin manuscripts.
In August 1932, when nineteen-year-old Hadassah Kaplan learned that she would no longer be able to teach in the New York public school where she had been a substitute teacher, she decided, instead, to travel to Mandatory Palestine. Her parents, including the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, Mordecai Kaplan, agreed that she should spend the year studying Hebrew and exploring Palestine’s capacity to revitalize Judaism as a civilization. Within her first month abroad, Hadassah began corresponding with her father in Hebrew. This note includes an exchange of Hebrew letters between Mordecai and Hadassah in which he articulated his loneliness as he sought to revitalize Judaism in the United States. He asked Hadassah if “a man like me [should] settle in the Land of Israel?” She shared her father’s question with two of his friends, the Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold and the Zionist educator Jessie Sampter, who expressed reservations about Kaplan migrating. But Hadassah liked the idea. She argued that this was a place where he could pursue his own happiness, having already done enough for the “spiritual state” of the Jewish people. The discussion between father and daughter offers insight into their reflections on what role the Hebrew language and the Land of Israel should play in their personal lives as well as for the Jewish people more generally. Within the year, Hadassah returned to New York where she and her father lived most of their lives. Nevertheless, each remained committed to Hebrew and Zionism, with Mordecai briefly settling in Israel after retiring in the mid-1970s.
This appendix accompanies the essay by Ilil Baum, "Jewish Lullism around the Expulsion A Spanish-Catalan Fragment in Hebrew Characters from Ramon Llull's Introductorium Magnae Artis Generalis," JQR 110.3 (2020): 553–573.
The following critical edition presents a late fifteenth- or early sixteenth-century fragment from the Vatican Library (MS Vat. ebr. 375, ff. 50r–51r), written in Catalanized Castilian in Hebrew script. It contains seventeen philosophical definitions that I identify as part of Ramon Llull's lists of centum formae(hundred forms) in his Introductorium magnae artis generalis (Introduction to the great general art; also known as Liber de universalibus, The book of universals). The edition is meant to make this material accessible to researchers interested in the study of Jewish-Christian intellectual relations in the Iberian Peninsula, particularly with regard to the reception of the work of Ramon Llull. It includes a reproduction of the Hebrew text, a transcription and critical edition with comparison to the known Latin manuscripts in the footnotes, and an English translation.
Spring 2020, Vol. 110.2
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Among the central players of Josephus’s autobiography are those he refers to as “the Galileans.” Patronized by their one-time general as a restive and emotional mob ready to ignite at the slightest indignation, “the Galileans” are of vital importance to Josephus’s imagined success as general of the Jewish forces in Galilee. Josephus’s condescension toward “the Galileans,” strange as it is, is compounded by the fact that he regularly contrasts them with the inhabitants of Galilee’s major cities, principally Sepphoris, Tiberias, and Gabara. This essay revisits the curious presentation of “the Galileans” in Josephus’s writings, picking up an inchoate suggestion of Shaye Cohen of a Galilean ethnos. I argue that Josephus does indeed view “the Galileans” as an ethnos of their own, distinguishable from the Jews of Galilee, who mainly reside in the region’s urban centers. That is, the term “Galileans” in Josephus’s works functions first as a marker of ethnic belonging and so is not equivalent to “an inhabitant of Galilee” tout court. Josephus’s presentation of “the Galileans,” moreover, is colored by an ethnic prejudice that essentializes a few traits and makes them foils for the virtues of Josephus and the Jews. The introduction to “the Galileans” in his Jewish War (J.W. 3.42), which portrays them as “pugnacious from infancy,” converges with their characterization in Life, written some two decades later. I briefly consider the historical implications that follow from this reevaluation of “the Galileans” in Josephus.
Maimonides’ Menstrual Reform in Egypt
In the spring of 1176, Maimonides ordered Jewish women throughout Egypt to observe rabbinic menstrual purity laws or risk major financial loss: the dowers their husbands had promised them at marriage. Scholars have understood this decree mainly in context of Karaite-Rabbanite relations, or as inspired by a mass refusal among women in twelfth-century Egypt to perform rabbinic immersion. Both frameworks were first suggested by Maimonides himself, but both are misleading. In this essay I argue that the decree instead responded to an otherwise unknown aspect of medieval “common Judaism”: a quasi-biblical and nonrabbinic—but not markedly Karaite—menstrual purity regime that had prevailed among Jews throughout the medieval Middle East for centuries. After reconstructing these biblicizing menstrual practices, the essay examines the novel administrative tools that Maimonides, breaking from the long-established political norms of Jewish communal leadership in Egypt, deployed to end them, and the ways in which Jewish husbands and wives deployed these tools in turn in the decades afterward—not always as Maimonides had intended them to. The story of this reform offers an exceptional window onto Maimonides’ great project of rabbinic normativization as it played out not on the pages of the Mishneh Torah but on the ground in Egypt in his own day—its radical political character as well as its complex social effects and social limits, especially as these affected women within the equally but differently gendered spheres of the household and the rabbinic courtroom.
Jacques Basnage (1653–1723), author of the first comprehensive history of postbiblical Judaism, has elicited starkly contrasting evaluations. Some historians have been inclined to see him as the founder of the “pro-Jewish tradition in the Enlightenment”; in Heinrich Graetz’s view, Basnage’s History of the Jews offered an “incalculable service to Judaism.” Other, more recent historians have condemned Basnage’s harsh portrayal of the Talmud and his adherence to a Christian presumption of an eventual Jewish conversion, sometimes even branding his work as “antisemitic.” This essay expands the analysis of Basnage by proposing that an important feature of his historiography was the broad reception of Jewish historians, many of whom he studied in translations by Christian Hebraists. In his presentation, he consistently excised Jewish claims about the theological meaning of history but otherwise tried to retain as many Jewish sources—and voices—as possible for reconstructing history, often even including Jewish accounts of doubtful historicity. As is evident in his reception of Solomon ibn Verga and Isaac Cardoso, Basnage was especially determined to include Jewish records of Christian persecutions and atrocities, all of which he validated as he constructed a historical argument against Christian oppression of Jews and Judaism.
Before the interwar period, yeshivas (rabbinical academies) were unpopular among Polish Hasidim, who preferred a less formal educational paradigm centered on a shtibl (house of study). Following the First World War, however, shtiblekh emptied out and specifically Hasidic yeshivas were designed as an emergency measure to retain the young people within the Hasidic fold. Paradoxically, this educational revolution depended to a great extent on people like Shimon Engel Horovits of Żelechów (1877–1943?)—elite scholars educated in traditional shtiblekh, who often looked on modern yeshivas with suspicion, if not outright enmity. This essay explores Engel’s biography as an educator, focusing on his vision of Hasidic education as an alternative solution to the interwar crisis that befell the Hasidic communities. It discusses Engel’s endeavors as a part of a broader phenomenon of the Hasidic renaissance aimed at redefining and reviving the original spirit of Hasidism, which interwar communities had supposedly lost. Finally, it shows how his controversial ideas put his life on a collision trajectory with the modernizing endeavors of Hasidic leaders in Poland and eventually ended his career when his conflict with the administration of the famous Yeshivat @Hakhme Lublin resulted in violent riots.
When it comes to Jewish politics and religion, contemporary scholarly trends broadly—if cautiously—favor the classic interpretation of modernity as a moment of rupture. When it comes to Jews and economics, however, continuity appears to be preferred. Taking up this disparity as it manifests in Jewish economic history and ethics, this essay argues that greater attention to the concept of capitalism would point back toward rupture, and that such a direction should be considered despite its checkered past.
Both poles of Jewish economic history’s essentialist/contextualist divide affirm Jewish economic continuity, albeit in different ways. Essentialists claim that Jews were ushered by historical circumstances into economic niches that prefigured capitalist dynamism and fluidity, while contextualists reinforce liberal ideological notions of an unchanging “economic sphere” even as they attempt to avoid grand narratives. Capitalism, for the former, is seen as having always existed in nuce, even though fettered by environmental, technological, and political factors; for the latter, capitalism is intentionally left underdetermined in order to avoid being drawn back into old debates. If, however, we consider capitalism (with Polanyi and others) a qualitative “great transformation,” both of these descriptive orientations appear problematic.
A similar problem appears in Jewish economic ethics, considered here through the example of the Oxford Handbook of Judaism and Economics. Biblical and rabbinic texts on topics defined today as “economic” are read in ways that suggest the perennial existence of contemporary categories. Taking a historical view of capitalism as a qualitatively determinate phenomenon might assist this field’s normative work.
Jews and Money: Time for a New Story?
Because some of the oldest and most enduring anti-Jewish stereotypes have to do with money, academic work on Jews and money is often fraught. The dominant scholarly narratives on the subject typically acknowledge the (stereotypical) idea that Jews have always and disproportionally been involved with money, but instead of attributing this to the Jews’ perfidious nature or intentions, they argue that it is the result of centuries of discrimination against Jews in Europe. These accounts further argue that the Jews’ economic involvement was a positive factor in the development of Europe’s economy. Two new books—Julie Mell’s The Myth of the Medieval Jewish Moneylender and Francesca Trivellato’s The Promise and Peril of Credit—vigorously challenge the traditional narrative. Mell applies data analysis to archival sources to demonstrate that the medieval Jewish moneylender, a staple of Jewish history, is a myth, while Trivellato marshals the power of digital databases to trace and debunk the early modern legend that Jews invented bills of exchange (the precursors of today’s checks). Both authors combine in-depth and corrective historical study with a reflection on the state of scholarship on Jews and money, from the nineteenth century to today. After examining Mell’s and Trivellato’s books in detail, this essay argues that their challenges to traditional historiography should be taken seriously and will hopefully prompt renewed research and debate into this important topic.
Fall 2019, Vol. 109.4
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THE EVOLUTION OF RABBINIC law into a sophisticated and elaborate system took place during the first centuries of the Common Era in the shadow of Roman imperial power. The rabbis were clearly aware of Roman jurisdiction, as it shaped juridical practices and the legal atmosphere in the provinces and, like all other inhabitants of Roman provinces, they could not escape its control over their daily lives. But what role did this legal environment have in shaping the rabbis' own lawmaking? This question is essential for studying the development of early rabbinic law and is also pertinent to our understanding of the legal culture in the provinces of the Roman Empire as a whole.
THREE LATE THIRTEENTH-CENTURY Jewish sources describe the dramatic death on 22 Kislev 5025 (December 19, 1264) of a Christian convert to Judaism named Avraham ben Avraham avinu (Abraham son of our father Abraham) of Augsburg. The first of these sources is the Nuremberg Memorbuch, which was created by Isaac ben Samuel of Meiningen in 1296 to commemorate deceased community members. The Memorbuch states that Avraham of Augsburg "was disgusted by the gods of the nations," "hacked off the heads of idols"—presumably Christian devotional objects, such as crucifixes or statues of saints—"trusted in the Eternal One," and was tortured and "burned [at the stake by Christians] for the [sake of the] unity of God."
IN ONE OF HIS LETTERS sent from Safed to Kraców, Shlomo Shlomel Meinstral presents several episodes related to the life and works of the kabbalist Avraham ben Eliezer ha-Levi Berukhim (1515–93). A native of Dresnitz (Strážnice) in Moravia, Shlomo Shlomel immigrated to the Holy Land in 1602—thirty years after Yitsḥak Luria Ashkenazi (1534–72) had passed away and nine years after Avraham ha-Levi's death. From Safed, he sent several epistles to Eastern Europe, where three of them were compiled and published as Shivḥe ha-Ari. An additional document, to which scholars usually refer as Shlomel's fourth epistle, was not integrated into the hagiographical collections on Luria and his fellowship. While we only know of one version that survived in manuscript, it has nevertheless had a significant impact on Jewish communities over the last four centuries. Its popularity is due to the fact that different sections were included in several highly influential books of the early modern period, among them Naftali Hertz Bakhrakh's Emek ha-melekh (Amsterdam, 1648), the first comprehensive Lurianic work that appeared in print and one of the major sources for Lurianic teachings before the printing of Ets ḥayim in 1782; Tsevi Hirsh Kaidanover's musar classic Kav ha-yashar (Frankfurt, 1705–6), which was issued bilingually and therefore reached both a Hebrew and a Yiddish reading public; Zekharia Simner's charm book Sefer zekhirah ve-'inyane segulah (Hamburg, 1709); and the anonymous, allegedly Sabbatian musar work Ḥemdat yamim (Izmir, 1731–32).
THIS PAPER OFFERS a new perspective on the mystical writings generated by the "Ma'aminim" (the faithful). The Ma'aminim, a group commonly known by their derogatory Turkish name Dönme (turncoats),1 were descendants of Sephardic Jews who interpreted the conversion to Islam of their messiah—Shabbetai Tsevi—as a necessary step toward redemption, forming a secret community of converts in his wake. The Ma'aminim lived in Ottoman Salonica, one of the most important port cities of the Ottoman Empire, the largest center of Sephardic Jews, and home to various Muslim and Christian communities. The Ma'aminim were formally Muslim and part of Ottoman Islamic society, yet they maintained cryptic associations and practiced in secret a unique messianic religion. As a result of this secrecy, their intellectual, social, and spiritual world has long been terra incognita to outsiders.
ON MAY 16, 1925, the front page of The Light, Lahore's bimonthly magazine of the Ahmadiyya Society for the Propagation of Islam, proclaimed in bold uppercase letters: "GREAT GERMAN SCHOLAR WON." The ensuing article reported the conversion to Islam of Hugo Marcus (1880–1966), a "scion of a high German family, a Ph.D. of Berlin University, a scholar of distinction and author of good many books," whose articles revealed a "remarkable grasp of the inner beauty of the Message of Islam." There were several inaccuracies in the article's description of Marcus. He had, indeed, published prolifically in the fields of moral philosophy and aesthetics, and his writings on Islam had also been well received, garnering him the praise of Muhammad Iqbal, the spiritual father of the future Pakistani state. The "great scholar" touted in the headline, however, had received his Ph.D. not from Berlin but from the University of Bern. If the mistaken alma mater could be written off as a journalistic slipup, the aristocratic pedigree attributed to Marcus seemed somewhat more consciously contrived. The celebrated "scion of a high German family" was in fact the son of Jewish industrialists who had lost their fortunes in the wake of the First World War. Passing Jewishness off for aristocracy was a far stretch, even for a period as socially transformative as the Weimar era. At the time when his conversion was so proudly announced, Marcus was a forty-five-year-old bachelor living with his aged mother and supporting himself as a private tutor.
BEN-ZION DINABURG—later Dinur—began his Hebrew essay "The History of the Jews in the Land of Israel at the Time of the First Crusade" with the following words:
Our knowledge of the history of the Jews in Erets Yisra'el and their fate at the time of the conquest by the Crusader forces in the First Crusade is scant and extremely vague. Contemporary historians and chroniclers of that generation were all Western, therefore they most often spoke about the Gzerot Tatnu [the 1096 massacres], providing us with detailed information about the persecution of the [Jewish] communities in the Rhineland. […] But they did not touch on the situation of the communities in the East or their fate. […] Regrettably, until now the fragmented information and the little evidence regarding the Yishuv in Erets Yisra'el, which is scattered throughout the rich contemporary foreign literature, Western and Eastern, has not been collected. [End Page 631] My purpose is to try to illuminate in my paper a few points about the history of the Yishuv in this decisive period.
Dinur's essay, published in 1927, is the first study by a Zionist scholar wholly dedicated to the fate of the Jewish communities in Palestine at the time of the Crusades.
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Summer 2019, Vol. 109.3
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David N. Myers
THE TWO HUNDREDTH ANNIVERSARY of the founding programmatic statement of modern Jewish studies, Leopold Zunz's "Etwas uber die rabbinische Literatur" from 1818, is an invitation to reflect on the extraordinary growth and evolution of the field. It is hard not to be impressed by the scope of Zunz's manifesto or by his boldness in envisaging a new scholarly undertaking that would satisfy the high professional standards of Wissenschaft. With preternatural confidence, the young twenty-three-year-old Zunz drew a sweeping map of the field, imagining a vast range of disciplinary and thematic approaches to the study of Jewish literature, culture, and history in the postbiblical period.
The unstable political conditions of Zunz's day, punctuated by a rising tide of anti-Jewish expression and violence, and the absence of any enduring institutional framework to support Jewish studies, make his foresight all the more impressive. There is indeed something of the clairvoyant in the 1818 essay, and yet his prognosticating talents did abandon him in at least one regard. Zunz famously predicted that there would be fewer Hebrew books a century later than in his day. The rise of Zionism and the modern Hebrew movement guaranteed the failure of that prediction. The State of Israel would go on to develop the densest concentration of scholarly talent and institutional support in the world.
The rediscovery of medieval Jewish philosophy of religion as a model for a modern concept of Judaism was largely the work of several nineteenth-century scholars belonging to the movement for a Wissenschaft des Judentums, commencing in the 1820s in Germany. This study provides an account of the first critical-academic reception of Yehuda Halevi's twelfth-century work Sefer ha-Kuzari within the Wissenschaft movement between the years 1840 and 1865. In those years an interesting development can be observed. Contrary to the assumption that the reform-minded protagonists of the movement would neglect the antiphilosophical Kuzari in favor of Maimonides' rationalism in the Guide for the Perplexed, the essay finds that in the contemporary discussions of Halevi the opposite was the case. Beginning with the rediscovery of the Kuzari and the publication of the first academic editions of Halevi's philosophical work in the 1840s, the work was deeply appreciated by the Wissenschaft scholars for its promotion of Jewish spirituality as an alternative to dry legal talmudism. In more general terms, by rediscovering its own rich theological traditions from the Middle Ages, this first generation of university-trained Jewish scholars was able to build a new, independent, and complex self-image for Judaism in modernity without relying on Christian (Protestant) concepts or theological doctrine.
Heinrich Graetz, known to twenty-first-century readers as a famous historian of the Jews, was also a prolific and influential biblical exegete. With his passing in 1891, Graetz was remembered by subsequent generations as both historian and exegete, but by the mid-twentieth century Graetz's exegetical scholarship had been dropped from his intellectual biography. Recent publications have overwhelmingly focused on Graetz's historical writings, and we still lack a comprehensive account of Graetz's biblical hermeneutic and its broader cultural and political significance. Restoring Graetz's exegetical scholarship to his oeuvre substantially reorients our understanding of his thought: we regain access to some of the most fascinating and influential scholarship Graetz published that is not visible in his historical writings; we perceive a series of dialogical networks woven across the pages of his exegetical publications; we encounter several of Graetz's most polemical interventions in German historical and biblical scholarship; and we gain access to the full meaning of his historical writings. Even as we await a thorough account of Graetz's biblical hermeneutic, this essay offers an entrée into to Graetz's exegetical oeuvre by detailing how Graetz's exegetical scholarship determined the contours of his famous History of the Jews.
For most of the nineteenth century, German Jewish scholarship ceded the critical study of the Hebrew Bible to Protestant scholars at German universities. Sporadic efforts by the likes of Krochmal, Luzzatto, Geiger, and Zunz failed to overcome the ideological constraints that impeded the mounting of a Jewish response. To fill that void with a Jewish voice, Heinrich Graetz devoted the last twenty years of his life to a sustained critical study of the history and literature of biblical Israel. Given the dominance of Wellhausen's scholarship at the time, scholars have paid scant attention to the legacy of Graetz's prodigious output. The purpose of this essay is to assess his achievement and its shortcomings. In the end, Graetz legitimated the application of critical scholarship to the Hebrew Bible.
This essay situates the Ottoman-born Abraham S. Yahuda (1877–1951) at the center of modern Jewish historiography. In the process, the essay demonstrates how Yahuda held a Jewish studies chair at a major Western university a full decade before Salo Wittmayer Baron (1895–1989) and Harry Wolfson (1887–1974). One intervention offered by this essay is methodological: the recovery of this forgotten figure, whose papers are dispersed across archives in multiple continents, suggests not only the ways that the material archive can challenge given historical narratives. Such work also provides a kind of history of a discipline, albeit through an encounter with its limitations; in the case of Yahuda these limitations are inextricable from the complex legacies of scholarship, empire, and the state and can therefore be studied as part of a process of coming to terms with such forms
Taking the paradigm of a bridging of "Orient" and "Occident" as a point of departure, this essay illustrated some of the ways in which Abraham Shalom Yahuda mediated this perceived divide, as he stood at the intersection of multiple and often conflicting scholarly and ideological movements and alliances, including Wissenschaft des Judentums, Sephardism, Zionism, and loyalty to the British Empire. Through discussion of his interactions with Jewish and Spanish scholars, leaders of the Zionist movement, and British colonial officials, this essay demonstrates how Yahuda profitably engaged in these relations, as he merged his sensibilities from the world of powerful Sephardi oligarchs in late Ottoman and early Mandatory Jerusalem and what has been rendered the "politics of notables" of the late Ottoman period with an Orientalist scholarly orientation. Yahuda's assimilation of the expectations others had projected onto him as a "good Oriental turned Occidental" shaped his self-fashioning, as it allowed him to fluidly move in and out of different milieux; yet this also complicates our understanding of his process of de-Orientalization to which others had alluded. I demonstrate that Yahuda was not "de-Orientalized" but was in fact very much caught up in the scholarly Orientalism and the ongoing imperial politics of his time. Ultimately he was unable to broker various imperial tensions and divides along the Oriental-Occidental axis.
Abraham Shalom Yahuda contributed significantly to Samaritan studies. This essay offers a first attempt to outline his activities in this field, relating particularly to the so-called Samaritan Book of Joshua "discovered" by Moses Gaster—the so-called Abisha-scroll of the Samaritan Pentateuch—and to Yahuda's important role in the trade of Samaritan manuscripts. Yahuda's interest in Samaritan studies is to be understood in the context of Wissenschaft des Judentums, in which the prominence of Samaritan studies is striking and likely finds its explanation in the German Jewish search for a Jewish identity that was different from and outside the traditional world of Ashkenazi Judaism.
From Saadia to Yahuda: Reviving Arab Jewish Intellectual Models in a Time of Partitions
Almog Behar and Yuval Evri
Numerous intellectuals associated with the Hebrew Haskalah and the Arabic al-Nahda movements sought to "return" to key historical figures in Jewish and Arab culture—a project that allowed for the reinterpretion of a historical figure's work and image. Within twentieth-century Arab Jewish thought, we find a growing interest and engagement with the Arab Jewish legacy of the medieval Muslim world. The legacies of medieval writers like Saadia Gaon, Moses Ibn Ezra, Yehuda Halevi, and Maimonides became sites of exploration, investigation, and symbols of an Arab Jewish and Sephardi heritage. In this essay, we investigate the role of Saadia Gaon in Abraham Shalom Yahuda's scholarly and political work. We examine the different ways in which Yahuda shaped Saadia as a political and intellectual model vis-à-vis the Wissenschaft des Judentums scholars of Yahuda's generation and the al-Nahda circles
This essay explores the ways in which Abraham Shalom Yahuda (1877–1951) mobilizes Arabo-Islamic culture for the construction of Hebrew culture as manifested in his writings that treat Arabic literature. The essay's argument comprises two parts: first, that Yahuda's production of Arabic poetical literature endeavored to familiarize Jewish communities, in particular European Jews, with Arabic culture. As such, I argue that Yahuda did not Hebraize Arabic poetical texts nor he Judaize Arab figures that he treated. Rather, he preserved essential characteristics that were intended to acquaint European Jews with the otherness of Arabs and simultaneously with the Jewish self. Second, Yahuda's efforts also sought to draw a connection between contemporary Jews and their "Israelite brethren"—in Yahuda's words—as Yahuda concurrently urged his Hebrew-reading audience to embrace spiritual and moral values that characterized the Jewish forefathers. Prominent Arab figures, particularly poets, represented the perfect example to transmit moral values that Jews needed in order to restore their relation with the land of their ancestors. In advocating for embracing moral values such as bravery, loyalty, and hospitality, Yahuda's noble Arabs and heroes represented the Orientalism of Arabic culture and its relevance to the Jews of his time, highlighting the common denominators between Arabs and Israelites.
Spring 2019, Vol. 109.2
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Orit Malka and Yakir Paz
In tKet 4.5 a rare distinction between types of captives is introduced, bearing dramatic consequences: a husband must ransom his wife if she is a "captive of banditry" but not if she is a "captive of a kingdom." In addition, the Tosefta rules that if divorced, the ransomed wife is entitled only to a ketubah of 100 dinars, and not of 200 dinars as expected by the standard halakhah. Despite previous scholarly efforts, the rationale for the distinction and its unique legal implications remains unclear. In this essay, we offer a solution based on the Roman law of captivity. We argue that this distinction is adopted from the Roman law that distinguishes between captors based on the degree of their political legitimization. Furthermore, the reduced monetary obligations of the husband in the Tosefta should be understood in light of the legal consequences of captivity on a citizen which, according to Roman law, entail suspension or dissolution of all the citizen's legal bonds, including marriage. Beyond solving local problems, the essay points to a profound impact of the Roman model of citizenship on tannaitic halakhah. According to the common opinion, external circumstances cannot impact the status of a Jew vis-à-vis the halakhah. In contradistinction, the Tosefta follows the Roman model that views the applicability of the law as a matter of citizenship, which may be lost.
Joseph E. David
This essay traces the formation of notions of selfness and kinship in medieval Karaite law through analysis of commentaries on the prohibitions to marry close-kin members. By examining what it takes to become a relative within kinship, either consanguineal or affinal kin-ties, the study explores different notions of selfness that stand at the base of these legal trends and approaches. It also brings forward Karaite texts that have largely been ignored in modern scholarship; some of these are medieval manuscripts presented in print here for the first time. Karaite authors discussed in the essay include Anan b. David, Ya'qub al-Qirqisani, Levi b. Yeft, Yeshuah b. Yehudah, Solomon b. David, and Yehuda Hadassi.
This study explores the notions of space underlying a famous Hebrew travel account from the twelfth century: Benjamin of Tudela's Sefer masa'ot (Book of travels). Instead of reading it as an eyewitness report documenting the human geography of the medieval world, I seek to understand the "aggregatory" character of a literary work that contains both empirical and imagined information about distant places and lands, some of which it shares with medieval Arabic and vernacular literatures. By means of this knowledge, the Sefer masa'ot reflects on almost the entire geographic trajectory of the then-known world. Highlighting how the book constructs the Mediterranean basin as an interconnected, Jewish space, I furthermore challenge the positivism that still dominates the scholarship on this book. My argument, which is partly based on GIS data, is that its "hodological" representation of geography according to routes does not necessarily reflect Benjamin's own movement in time and space but rather functions as a way of illustrating the connectivity of Jewish diasporas. In order to contextualize its narrative, I also compare Benjamin's Hebrew work to the Arabic Rihla (Journey) by Ibn Jubayr, a contemporaneous Muslim traveler from Granada, as well as other medieval sources. Arguably, both Benjamin and Ibn Jubayr use the (loosely defined) literary genre of the travel account to envision an interconnected and unified Jewish and Muslim oikumene, respectively.
Ellie R. Schainker
This essay uses the case of a childless widow and her apostate brother-in-law to examine how gender and conversion became lightning rods for Jewish legalists and publicists like Moshe Leib Lilienblum to espouse religious and social reforms in late-imperial Russia. A microanalysis of Sura Gener's sensational levirate divorce case and the multiple legal regimes involved in adjudicating her fate sheds light on the history of Jewish modernization in the late Russian empire and argues that there was no straightforward process of secularization. In the crosscurrents of late nineteenth-century Russian Jewish social and religious life—Haskalah, Orthodoxy, government intervention, economic dislocation and migration, Jewish apostasy, and assimilation—women became a battlefield for the fight over changing religious and social norms and communal authority. Rather than a narrative of modernity entailing the weakening of halakhah, the decline of rabbinic authority, and a reactionary Orthodoxy, the Gener affair highlights the religious preservationist aspects of the Haskalah, the expansion and assertiveness of rabbinic authority buttressed by mass transport and new media, and the potential alignment of ritual expertise and social reform in rabbinic interpretation and vernacular debate. As such, analysis of the Gener affair adds a helpful corrective, exploring the paradoxical rise and creative development of religion at a time when standard models of secularization suggest that it should have declined.
FORUM: Was There a Third Yeshivah in Babylon?
The stimulus for this essay was provided by the recent proposals of Haym Soloveitchik concerning the origins of medieval Ashkenazi Jewry, which were first presented publicly in a lecture at the World Congress of Jewish Studies conducted in Jerusalem in the summer of 2013 and later published in more detailed form in the second volume of Soloveitchik's collected essays.1 I discussed many aspects of these proposals with Professor Soloveitchik several years earlier, and he acknowledged these conversations in his publication and even credited me for specific suggestions,2 but I was unable to convince him that his suggestions with regard to connections between the "founding fathers" of Ashkenaz and the contemporaneous Jewish community of Babylonia were highly problematic. Now that these proposals have appeared in print, and in view of Prof. Soloveitchik's repeated assertions that he is no expert in geonica and requests for specialists in the field to evaluate his suggestions,3 I have taken it upon myself to do so. I am grateful for the opportunity that Soloveitchik's fresh approach to this topic has provided for me to clarify, both for myself and for my readers, my thoughts on several related questions, as well as to explore some possibilities I had not previously considered.
Let me begin by thanking Professor Brody for the attention that he has given to my essay "The 'Third Yeshivah of Bavel' and the Cultural Origins of Ashkenaz—A Proposal" (his essay in response appears in this issue of JQR).1 He himself is a renowned expert on geonica and has further drawn on the expertise of many equally distinguished scholars: the medieval Jewish historian of Ashkenaz and unquestioned authority of Jewish-Christian polemics, David Berger2; the authority on rabbinic chronology and master of the editing of rabbinic texts, Chaim Milikowsky; Daniel Schwartz, a leading historian on the Jews and Judaism of the Second Commonwealth whose broad range of knowledge extends down to Wissenschaft des Judentums in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; and Beryl Septimus, an authority on medieval Spain and Provence who has equally made serious contributions to the study of Mishneh Torah. I feel honored to have drawn the attention of so many distinguished scholars and challenged by their concentrated critical fire. Professor Brody drew on the expertise of numerous colleagues; the formulations, however, are his. He naturally assumes full responsibility for the end product and signed his name on the critique, and it is to him that I address my reply..
Fall 2018, Vol. 108.4
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This paper examines a group of rabbinic texts pertaining to the translation of the laws of the Torah into seventy languages, which are based on biblical traditions pertaining to the transcription of the Torah on stones after Israel's entrance into the promised land (Deuteronomy 27:2–8, Joshua 4:1–10 and 8:30–35). After having carefully analyzed the exegetical logic at work in each text, I assess the impact of the Roman context in which the rabbis lived upon this literary tradition, bringing additional rabbinic texts and Roman literary, epigraphic and legal evidence into the conversation. My argument is that, to a great extent, these rabbinic texts interpret the biblical traditions in light of Roman norms concerning the communication of laws and edicts in the empire, a point already briefly hinted at by Saul Lieberman in his book Hellenism in Jewish Palestine. Even more fundamentally, these rabbinic texts reproduce or echo Roman legal reasoning. As a consequence, the universalist perspective at work in these texts can be considered both a mimicry of Roman universalism and an expression of opposition to the Roman model.
Rebecca J. W. Jefferson
The discovery and relocation of genizah material is a multi-layered and complex story. This article re-examines, to the extent possible given the current available evidence, the discovery and distribution of Cairo genizah manuscripts in the late nineteenth century by taking a closer look at known historical accounts in conjunction with some lesser-known contemporary reports. Much provenance and provenience history was lost or destroyed during the course of multiple relocations and reorganizations of these materials; thus, this article emphasizes the need to pay greater attention to the multifaceted history of the Cairo manuscripts, and the need to be more circumspect when using an "across-the-board" term like "the Cairo Genizah." Such a label can prevent us from truly appreciating the breadth of Jewish material culture in Cairo in all its varied manifestations over time. More detailed provenance history for the genizah manuscripts will increase our knowledge about how culture is transmitted and how attitudes towards the preservation of Jewish cultural heritage have evolved.
David B. Starr, Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern
This paper introduces and explores the earliest extant work by Solomon Schechter (1847-1915). The conventional reading of Schechter presents him as a scholar, a practitioner of the Science of Judaism. However, Schechter's parody of the Hasidic movement, its masters and its adherents, written in the mid-late 1870's, suggests that even as Schechter engaged in rigorous scholarship he also worked as a creative artist. He associated with Jewish thinkers, writers and activists such as Peretz Smolenskin, and like them he created art for the sake of wrestling with the vital issues in Jewish life. His writing experiments enhanced his self-discovery. The text enables us to glimpse Schechter at an early period of his journey from his Romanian Hasidic family and community to a modern self, one with multiple identities, the relations of which shifted over time. His parody drew from the tradition of literary mystifications and was in dialogue simultaneously with the Sipurei Ma'asiyot, hagiographic stories about Hasidic masters, and with Joseph Perl's anti-Hasidic satire Megaleh temirin (Revealer of Secrets). Schechter's parody of Hasidism ironically contained both appreciation of this major modern movement of religious enthusiasm and criticism of its foes, revealing Schechter's eclectic nature and discomfort with committing fully to any trends in his contemporary Judaism.
This essay probes and problematizes purported distinctions between religious pseudepigraphy and literary deceit. When we attend to what ancient religious pseudepigraphs say about lying, we may be more inclined to recognize the intention to deceive. Apologies for ancient religious pseudepigraphs sometimes resemble defenses for alleged modern forgeries, raising the possibility that academics may not be sufficiently alert to the extent of dishonesty lurking in our source material. In this respect, grappling with ancient lies may also help us recognize modern ones. In any event, the current moment—marked by crises of forgery and falsehood—call for a greater awareness, and increased suspicion.
Chapter 10 of I Maccabees tells of the competing efforts of Seleucid King Demetrius I Soter and his contender, Alexander I Balas, to win the support of the Jews in Judea. Verses 25b-45 quote a letter, allegedly sent by the king, containing numerous overwhelming promises. Following an accepted view in research, which regards the letter as a fake, this paper raises the possibility that it was written as an ironic text, the irony being at times evident and at others more covert. The article suggests that in the composition of this array of promises, its author consulted, collected, and borrowed elements, even entire clauses from several other, authentic, Seleucid letters sent to the Jews in Judea. Of these letters, the resemblance in content between the text in question and two letters of Antiochus III, quoted by Josephus in book 12 of his Antiquity of the Jews, is especially striking. The apparent reliance on such authentic Seleucid documents, which are not quoted in I Maccabees, indicates that the author of the letter and the author of I Maccabees used the same official Temple archive, and quite likely, are the same person.
David N. Myers
COMMEMORATIVE YEARS ARE, in a purely logical sense, artifices, no more consequential than the preceding or following year. And yet, they assume lives of their own through the symbolic and affective meanings that we ascribe to them, granting them a presence that is real and full of impact, and projecting an organizing or reorienting focus onto the past. Of course, commemorative years also afford us an opportunity to reflect on the import of past events and the ways in which they continue to inform the present.
1897 MARKED THE BEGINNING of twin Jewish revolutions, one national and one social, that started out separately but took on aspects of each other as they drew closer together over time. The one was embodied in the Zionist Organization, which held its first congress in Basel in August of that year. The other was promoted by the General Jewish Labor Bund in Russia and Poland, which was founded in Vilna in October.
Liora R. Halperin
WHEN THE BALFOUR DECLARATION was first published on November 2, 1917, as Britain was jockeying for its position in the Levant, the significance of this nonbinding and highly vague document was unclear. It was somewhat clarified—though by no means fully so—in 1922 after Britain took control of Palestine and the Declaration was integrated into the language of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, which also included a statement of Britain's obligation to facilitate Jewish immigration. Observers in the Yishuv attached near-messianic significance to the stated British imperial commitment to the Jewish national project, despite mixed messages from the British about the extent to which the mandatory government would indeed promote immigration, given the likelihood that a Jewish influx would inflame local conflict.
Zvi Ben-Dor Benite
THE DATE OF UN SECURITY COUNCIL RESOLUTION 181, which ended the British Mandate in Palestine/Erets Yisra'el and enabled the creation of a Jewish sovereign state, occupies a special place on Israel's calendar. It is special not because Israelis mark the day in an exceptional way. In the past, it was a holiday of sorts, observed mainly in schools, and many Israelis grew up on stories of people listening to the radio broadcasting the UN vote on that day and counting the ayes and nays, and later dancing in the streets. They also memorized the note in Ben-Gurion's diary for that day: "People are dancing in the streets," he wrote, "but I am worried, we must prepare for war." Recently, since relations between the United Nations and Israel have soured, the day is hardly marked as it used to be. Nevertheless, the date is still special because, unlike any other date on the Israeli calendar, its name is a Jewish/non-Jewish hybrid.
SHORTLY AFTER ISRAEL'S LIGHTNING VICTORY in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, the leading Jewish philosopher and Israeli public intellectual Yeshayahu Leibowitz published his reflections on the territorial conquests that had brought the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights under the state's control.
"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, mahapakh!" announced the television anchor Haim Yavin the moment he was informed of the Likud victory in the Israeli elections of May 1977. The exclamation of mahapakh(political upheaval) expressed astonishment as well as anticipation of dramatic change in the political system: for the first time in the annals of Zionism and Israel, the Likud party, the political incarnation of the Revisionist Zionist movement founded in 1925 and now under the leadership of Menachem Begin, had taken over the government. Indeed, the Mahapakh, as these events came to be called in general parlance, deeply affected Israel's political trajectory but must not be understood as surprising or unforeseen. It was the outcome of historical, sociological, and political developments that unfolded over an extended period. I will address briefly the main reasons for the Mahapakh, focusing chiefly on its ethnic underpinning, and conclude with a discussion of its ramifications in current Israeli political life.
THE EXHIBITION Jerusalem 1000–1400: Every People under Heaven, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York September 26, 2016, to January 8, 2017, was a remarkable achievement. Organized by Barbara Drake Boehm and Melanie Holcomb, it brought together 149 items (many with multiple individual objects) from fifty-seven different collections, including major public museums, libraries, church treasuries, other institutions (notably the Armenian and Greek Patriarchates and the Israel Antiquities Authority), and a number of private collections in the United States and many other countries.
Cathleen A. Fleck
JERUSALEM 1000–1400: Every People under Heaven names an impressive exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that ran from September 26, 2016 to January 8, 2017; it was organized by Barbara Boehm and Melanie Holcomb. The fact that so many people have made art that relates to this city holy to the three Abrahamic faiths—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—testifies to its draw and the reasons for which such an exhibition is not just important but essential to educate the world on its traditions. The colorful illustrated catalogue is a sumptuous record of the format of the exhibition and the wealth of objects included.
Summer 2018, Vol. 108.3
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Building on medieval claims, modern scholars have long asserted that Saadia ben Joseph Gaon depicted the Oral Torah and extra-biblical institutions as rooted in divine authority primarily, if not exclusively, in order to parry Karaite claims. This essay argues that focus on Karaism obscures a cross-cultural factor that helped shape Saadia's claims, namely, that Muslim jurists prior to and contemporaneous with Saadia likewise jettisoned non-prophetic elements of religious law and attempted to root Islamic law solely in prophetic dictates. This article traces Saadia's emphasis on prophetic authority in his claims about the scope of revelation, his depiction of the role of the rabbis, and his portrayal of extra-biblical institutions. It underscores that contemporary Islamic depictions of religious law were decisive in Saadia's presentations of the sources of Jewish law.
The paper summarizes the current scholarship on how scholars in Jewish Istanbul from the mid-fifteenth century to early sixteenth-century—and specifically Karaite sages—viewed the legitimacy and aims of scientific studies. In addition, the paper discusses a hitherto unexplored testimony by Joseph Beghi, a Karaite scholar active in this milieu, about his own ideas regarding science. The paper demonstrates that Beghi was an enthusiastic advocate of the study of science. It further illustrates the profound influence his teachers as well as Karaite and Rabbanite works he read had on his attitudes towards science studies.
During the early modern period, travelers who crossed borders were required to carry safe conducts. This article examines the use of safe conducts by Jews in the Electoral Palatinate. It examines the use of these documents by individual travelers, and discusses the extensive communal organization that developed in order to regulate the payment, sale, and distribution of these documents. This system comprised both local intracommunal as well as regional intercommunal mechanisms, and included loans, agreements, and record keeping developed as part of this system. The management of the safe conduct and the tax that was associated with it in the Electoral Palatinate highlights the complex and entwined relationship between political authorities and the Jewish community on both the local and regional levels. It also demonstrates the deep impact that paperwork had upon a minority population in early modern Europe, in both an individual and communal level.
More than a year after his untimely passing, the memory of Elliott Horowitz z"l is strong. His unique and iconoclastic brilliance informed every page of our journal, whether through his distinctive editorial hand (which often lengthened, rather than shortened, essays) or his inventive rethinking of the form and content of scholarship. Elliott exemplified the very essence of what we sought to create in the Jewish Quarterly Review when we took it over in 2003: a mix of old and new, at once harking back to the polymathic, bibliophilic, and antiquarian cast of the old, London-based JQR and yet always seeking out important new trends and talent in the field of Jewish studies. No one was better than Elliott Horowitz in balancing those two missions. It is what lent our journal its character; and we seek to perpetuate it, in his wake.
Natalie Zemon Davis
Elliott Horowitz first entered my life with his characteristic brilliance and brio at the 1980 meeting of the Association of Jewish Studies. Mark Cohen, Theodore Rabb, and I were presenting our Princeton course on the Jews in Early Modern Europe, into which we had introduced topics from the new social history within a comparative European perspective. A distinguished elder scholar from Jerusalem rose from the audience to state that the course disfigured Jewish history and, eyeing me, that the field did not need contributions from outsiders. Whereupon a student from the Yale doctoral program came forward and defended our course as the wave of the future. Elliott Horowitz saved the day for us, as many of the younger listeners took copies of our syllabus.
My friend Elliott Horowitz reveled in irreverence. We first met early in the century, when I was a columnist at the Jerusalem Report and he was completing Reckless Rites, his masterwork on Purim and Jewish violence. As Yale-trained yeshivah boys from Queens and Brooklyn and fellow "Anglo-Saxon" immigrants to Israel, we had much in common. We shared a fascination with Jewish history, he as a polished and prolific scholar and I as a fellow traveler. Every second Friday, we would meet for breakfast at a café in the German Colony, or else at Carousela, a student hangout near Elliott's book-stuffed home on Rehov Molcho. He was a solid Orthodox Jew. He wore a knitted kippah, prayed thrice daily (in a minyan if possible), and drank only kosher wine. But he favored Carousela, meatless and closed on Shabbat, because its kashrut certificate was not authorized by the Chief Rabbinate.
"There is a danger that the history of coffee lead us astray. The anecdotal, the picturesque, and the unreliable play an enormous part in it." In his celebrated essay on coffee, coffeehouses, and early modern Jewish nocturnal rituals, Elliott Horowitz quoted these words by Fernand Braudel as "a warning and an invitation."1 Elliott's pioneering work on what he dubbed "the social history of piety" indeed opened vistas on the unexpected in early modern Jewish life, though his prodigious erudition and rigorous scholarship always kept him away from the purely anecdotal.
Before reaching his mid-thirties, about the age when, according to the societies of the past, individuals were considered to have reached maturity,2 Elimelekh Horowitz published an essay in Tarbiz that signified a leap forward in the study of dowry and marriage in early modern Jewish societies.3 Its point of departure was the analysis of an unpublished manuscript of the Hasi Betulot (dowering of brides) confraternity established in 1576 in Venice among Ashkenazi and Italian Jews, predating the one established by their Ponentine brethren by more than three decades. The essay's subtitle is a nod to Jacob Katz's work but alerts the reader of the author's aim to go farther. In his analysis of the evolution of the commandment of assisting marriageable brides (hakhnasat kalah), Elimelekh placed it in the context of demographic restoration as well as of coeval Catholic institutions, as a way to better understand its historical meaning without diminishing the institution's Jewish pedigree.
Beatrice Groves. The Destruction of Jerusalem in Early Modern English Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
Sara Lipton. Dark Mirror: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Jewish Iconography. New York: Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt and Company, 2014.
Kenneth S. Jackson. Shakespeare and Abraham. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2015.
Kathy Lavezzo. The Accommodated Jew: English Antisemitism from Bede to Milton. Ithaca, N.Y. and London: Cornell University Press, 2016.
Howard Jacobson. Shylock Is My Name: The Merchant of Venice Retold. London and New York: Hogarth Shakespeare, 2016. Pp. 275.
The writing of this review coincided approximately with the three-week period of lamentation leading to Tisha B'Av, the Jewish fast in joint remembrance of the destruction of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.E. and of the Second Temple by the Romans under Titus in 70 C.E. Whether directly or obliquely, all five of the books under review here make reference to the historical experience of sanctuary destruction and collective suffering as telling factors in delineating the experience of living the daily life of a Jew. Central to the main thesis of her book, Beatrice Groves describes the second iteration of the Temple's destruction as "arguably the most important world event attested in detail by both scriptural and nonscriptural texts".
Spring 2018, Vol. 108.2
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This article examines the language of three distinct prominent Eastern European Hebrew textual corpora, namely the Kitsur shul@han ‘arukh, the Hasidic hagiographic tale, and Maskilic fiction. It demonstrates that despite their authors’ divergent ideological and religio- cultural stances, each of the three corpora exhibits striking similarities in their use of particular morphosyntactic features which are regarded as non-standard vis-à-vis earlier canonical forms of the language. These features include the use of prepositions in conjunction with the definite article; non-standard noun gender; definite construct nouns; doubly definite construct chains; avoidance of the dual in conjunction with time words and numerals; and feminine numerals modifying masculine nouns. These similarities suggest that the the Kitsur shul@han ‘arukh, Hasidic tale, and Maskilic fiction are all constituents of a more widespread Ashkenazic form of the language with shared grammatical characteristics which have not yet been systematically documented. By highlighting these shared features and placing them within their broader linguistic context, the article seeks to contribute to a clearer understanding of Ashkenazic Hebrew and redress the scholarly inattention to this important form of the language.
This article examines the language of three distinct prominent Eastern European Hebrew textual corpora, namely the Kitsur shul@han ‘arukh, the Hasidic hagiographic tale, and Maskilic fiction. It demonstrates that despite their authors’ divergent ideological and religio- cultural stances, each of the three corpora exhibits striking similarities in their use of particular morphosyntactic features which are regarded as non-standard vis-à-vis earlier canonical forms of the language. These features include the use of prepositions in conjunction with the definite article; non-standard noun gender; definite construct nouns; doubly definite construct chains; avoidance of the dual in conjunction with time words and numerals; and feminine numerals modifying masculine nouns. These similarities suggest that the the Kitsur shul@han ‘arukh, Hasidic tale, and Maskilic fiction are all constituents of a more widespread Ashkenazic form of the language with shared grammatical characteristics which have not yet been systematically documented. By highlighting these shared features and placing them within their broader linguistic context, the article seeks to contribute to a clearer understanding of Ashkenazic Hebrew and redress the scholarly inattention to this important form of the language.
Although kinship ties are understood to have been crucial for the functioning of Jewish diasporic trade, familiarity and affective bonds are the very elements that are strained by diasporic separation: how did merchant households maintain a sense of ongoing familiarity and obligation once family members were physically separated? Attention to the emotional discourse found in merchant letters can reorient our thinking on how Jewish family ties were preserved and restructured over time and on the strategies that traders used to supervise distant relatives. This article, based primarily on the correspondence (1776-1790) of Tunis-based Italian Jewish merchant Joseph Franchetti, traces the strategies through which a father and head partner in a trading company attempted to educate, socialize, and monitor his sons stationed in Livorno and Smyrna. Three main themes are discussed: values of mercantile masculinity and the reliance on surrogate Jewish father and brother figures to monitor young men’s behaviors; the ideal role of Judaism in promoting economic success and attendant anxieties concerning moral and financial ruin; and the overlap between love and material interests that shaped ideas of legitimate kinship.
1892 witnessed great upheavals in Iran, such as the widespread protests against the Tobacco Concession and one of the worst plagues that inflicted the country during the 19th century. In that year also a persecution of the communities of Jews and Baha’is of Jewish origin took place in Hamadan. This persecution, led by a certain Shi‘i cleric by the name of Mulla ‘Abdullah Burujirdi, involved not only arrests and beatings of the leaders of those communities, but also forced conversion as well as the revival of some harsh measures from the Safavid period against the Jews. Based on a number of related documents in English, Persian, and Judeo-Persian, the article not only sheds some new light on the causes and dynamics of this persecution, but also reveals an example of the weakness of the central and local authorities, the power and influence of the Shi‘i clerics, and the helplessness of the religious minorities. The essays shows the relevance of Jewish and Baha’i sources not only for the study of each other, but also for those of the local and national history of Iran.
Winter 2017, Volume 108 Numer 1
Mika Ahuvia, Sarit Kattan Gribetz
This article recovers the history of the term "the daughters of Israel" (b'not yisrael) from its earliest usage in biblical passages and second temple sources to its appearance in late antique Jewish texts, focusing specifically on the term's connotations in rabbinic sources and ritual texts. Rather than taking the term at face-value as denoting women's subordinate status, we argue that this term may have a buried history, and that uncovering the history of the term "daughters of Israel" offers a fascinating entry-point into the role of women in establishing and transforming—rather than merely observing—Jewish law and ritual. Extending Mieke Bal's notion of feminist philology to the investigation of rabbinic and other late antique Jewish sources, we make the case that in rabbinic literature from late antiquity, the Hebrew term "daughters of Israel" appears in sites of contestation, sometimes deployed in discussions about women's innovation in ritual practice in ways that evoke women's ritual agency from narrative biblical sources. In late antique incantations bowls, the Aramaic term for "daughters of Israel" (b'not yisrael) evokes the legal language of second temple marriage contracts that explicitly includes women and may have served to highlight their particular agency as well. Thus in both sets of sources, the term often signals moments when women act as subjects (rather than objects) of ritual and legal discourse.
This paper discusses an early-eighteenth-century Yiddish translation of the famous early modern Schwankroman (jest-novel), Eulenspiegel. The uniqueness of the translation lies in its incorporation of five distinct tales, which do not appear in any other extant Jewish or non-Jewish edition. Four of these original tales feature monstrous creatures, such as cynocephali (dog-headed men), strong, venomous women, and monkey-faced men. The article offers a close reading of these monstrous creatures, revealing how they serve to unpack concerns surrounding problems of transgressed borders and confused hierarchies, which were shared by many of the unnamed Yiddish translator's Jewish and non-Jewish contemporaries. I offer a review of these anxieties, locating them against their wider cultural background, and tracing their unique manifestations within the Jewish—and particularly Yiddish—literary realm. I argue that there was something special about writing monstrosity in Yiddish, and particularly in a Yiddish translation of a German work. A hybrid genre, formed by the unnatural coupling of separate tongues, literature, cultures, classes, and genders—Yiddish literature was a monstrous creation in its own right; an almost natural breeding ground for monsters.
Jonathan M. Hess
The 1858 kidnapping of six-year-old Edgardo Mortara by officials of the Papal States in Bologna unleashed a media frenzy across Europe and North America, giving voice to widespread expressions of outrage over the overreach of the Catholic church and the anachronism of Papal rule. Jews in the German-speaking world did not just follow the sensationalized reporting on the fate of this Italian Jewish boy baptized by his Catholic nurse. They also produced a body of melodramatic fiction and drama that took the Mortara case as its inspiration. This literature, written by rabbis and those with close ties to rabbinical leadership, responded to the Mortara affair by creating narratives with happy endings where Jewish children taken into custody by the church inevitably return to their parents and embrace Jewish tradition. Discussing literary texts by Salomon Formstecher, Leopold Stein, Abraham Treu, and Sara Hirsch Guggenheim, this article explores how German-Jewish writers self-consciously transformed the Mortara affair into melodramatic literature designed for the purposes of entertainment. Melodrama hardly marked a withdrawal from the arena of political protest, however. Studying how these texts functioned to entertain their readers, this article explores how this body of literature drew its energy from an interplay of fantasies of Jewish power and vicarious experiences of Jewish victimhood. In doing so, the analysis reflects on the social function of melodrama in nineteenth-century Jewish life, bringing to light the mechanisms that Mortara fiction used to produce pleasurable feelings of self-righteousness in its Jewish readers.
Natalie B. Dohrmann
This two-part forum was compiled and edited by our colleague Elliott Horowitz, z"l. The first cluster of essays appeared in last summer's issue of JQR (volume 107, number 3), where Elliott's lengthy introduction can be found (pp. 379–96). Though remaining in the penumbra of Germanophone Jewish culture, this second installment of essays extends the scope beyond the case studies of Gershom Scholem and his fraught epistolary networks to feature three essays exploring a range of encounters between academics and the world around them. Letters once again surprise us by bringing to the forefront the human emotion and historical urgency that animate such tame pursuits as historical philology and linguistics. In Daniel Schwartz's essay, Philipp Jaffé, a brilliant medievalist whose isolation and scholarly obsession seem to have led him finally to take his own life in 1870, reveals himself to be a man connected to and deeply loved by a warm family. In the other two pieces in this forum we see letters as a microcosm of Jewish history as it faces the fallout from the two world wars. Mirjam Thulin shows the Wissenschaft des Judentums scholar Markus Brann (1849–1920) reaching out from the economic and cultural collapse of post–World War I Breslau to the hale and wealthy American diaspora.
Philipp Jaffé and His Stepmother, 1855: Three Letters
Daniel R. Schwartz
Recovering Judaism from Religion and Modernity
Jeffrey A. Bernstein
Fall 2017, Vol. 107.4
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This articles examines two of Franz Kafka's lesser-known fragments in light of the Prague Golem legend and its popularity in the early twentieth century: a brief story about a rabbi's attempt to make a clay man in his house and the tale of a mysterious animal that lives in a provincial synagogue. By tracing threads of narrative continuity between these fragments, which are the only explicitly Jewish tales in Kafka's corpus, and with earlier versions of the Golem tradition that were available to Kafka, the article illuminates his deep engagement with Jewish storytelling traditions. At the same time, the complex textual history of the fragments is shown to be integral to their interpretation.
Winter 2017, Vol. 107.1
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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.
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 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.
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.
Fall 2016 Vol. 106.4
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David N. Myers
Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert
Sarah Bunin Benor
David B. Ruderman
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.
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.
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.
Summer 2016 Vol. 106.3
This article presents, first, an overview of medieval Hebrew prefatory poems to prose texts, tracing changes in the genre and considering how these poems functioned with respect to the text and to manuscript production and use. In early prefatory verse from Golden Age al-Andalus, poets often imported individual formal elements of the Arabic prose preface. With the shifting of Jewish cultural production to Christian Europe in the twelfth century, Hebrew prefatory verse tends to shed these elements. Instead, the type of prefatory verse that flourishes in the later period usually addresses the reader directly; names the book and its author; praises the work; and alludes to its formative aims. Within this framework, the article focuses on poetry that appears in manuscripts of Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed. This includes Maimonides’ own poems for the Guide, poems written by two thirteenth-century commentators on the Guide, Shem Tov Ibn Falaquera (c. 1225–1295) and Zera@hyah ben Isaac ben Shealtiel @Hen (d. after 1291), and brief, anonymous verses copied by later readers or owners into their manuscript copies of the Guide.
What were the effects of the Great War on religious life of East European Jews, as exemplified by its most visible, Hasidic section? What was unique in Hasidic experience of the Great War? This essay discusses the human and material losses suffered by the Hasidic movement, changes in the movement’s geography, ideological and political transformations surrounding and within Hasidism, and—most importantly—the specific changes in Hasidism caused by these transformations. It agues that Hasidism after 1918 found itself in a radically new situation, and despite the fact that many of its institutions were, on the face of it, working more or less as they had done before the war, the movement experienced a profound transformation of its geography, social roles, institutional bonds, and, often, identification with Hasidism. In this regard, the First World War was a key accelerator of the processes which transformed the Hasidic movement during the interwar period, and eventually to a significant extend shaped its resurrection and renaissance after the Holocaust.
David N. Myers
Classical Protestant theology distinguishes between the dead letter of Judaism and the living spirit of Christianity. German Judaism has been seen as adopting these Protestant categories by portraying the Bible as the “spirit of authentic Judaism” and denigrating the Talmud as dead letter. I demonstrate that view is mistaken as both the leading figure of the Berlin Haskalah, Moses Mendelssohn, and the “founding father” of Reform, Abraham Geiger saw the Talmud as expressing the living spirit of the biblical letter. I further argue that in his early work, the architect of German Neo-Orthodoxy, Samson Raphael Hirsch followed this approach. But with the massive growth of Reform in the 1840s, Hirsch changed his view developing an entirely novel account of the Talmud’s relation of the Bible, which broke free of the Protestant dichotomy between dead letter and living spirit. Instead, Hirsch cast the Talmud as the oral letter and the Bible as written trace. I further argue that Hirsch presented these new concepts in the form of a Bible translation and commentary, in order to counter the enormously popular Reform Philippson Bible.
This article discusses the struggle over rabbinical positions in the largely traditional Jewish community of Lemberg in the mid-nineteenth century. Special attention is given to the legal and administrative system, imperial and local, within which this struggle was shaped. The article explains the reasons for the appointments of the Bohemian born Rabbi Abraham Kohn to rabbinic positions in Lemberg, showing that what made those appointments possible was the omission of the mandatory elections for the post, because of lack of eligible voters. Based on unexamined archival documents, the article discusses the growing orthodox frustration as a result of this, especially after the failed bid of Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Chajes for the position of district rabbinate of Lemberg. It also shows that while the Austrian legislature kept raising the educational bar for eligible candidates for the rabbinate, the different Austrian authorities relied on the Jewish community council’s recommendation in their final approval of candidates.
Dorothea M. Salzer
At the end of the 18th century, the Jewish enlighteners invented the Genre of Jewish German Children’s Bibles in their aim to reform the Jewish education system in German speaking areas. This paper initially provides a short introduction to some of the main features of the genre. Subsequently, the story of Eve’s creation as it appears in two of its earliest representatives, Peter Beer’s Sefer toledot yisra’el (1796) and Immanuel Moritz Neumann’s Sefer torat ha-elohim (1816), is analyzed and compared, exploring the literary and interpretative strategies of the two authors in their respective contemporary contexts. Finally, the paper illustrates some of the contributions of Jewish Children’s Bibles to our understanding of the Haskala and the early stages of Jewish modernization.
Eliyana R. Adler
Spring 2016 Vol. 106.2
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In early April 1896, after the first volume of his Studies in Judaism had already appeared in England, Solomon Schechter wrote to Mayer Sulzberger in Philadelphia, thanking him for his help in arranging to have the volume published in America by the newly established Jewish Publication Society, of which Sulzberger had been one of the founders. “I hope you will like the book,” wrote Schechter from Cambridge, adding that “the English was thoroughly reviewed by my friends [James] Frazer [of The Golden Bough] and [John] Sutherland Black [the translator of Wellhausen].” Both Scotsmen had been closely associated with their late countryman, the noted Orientalist William Robertson Smith, who had been Schechter’s colleague at Christ’s College. As Frazer’s biographer has noted, the Romanian-born rabbinic scholar became his “closest friend in the years following Smith’s death in 1894.” As we will see, the early readers and reviewers of Studies in Judaism, both in England and the United States (to which Schechter would relocate in 1902), constitute a network of Jews and gentiles, both in and out of the academy, reflecting the core audience for whom the book was intended—and for whom JQR was launched in London several years earlier.
Lawrence J. Kaplan
Solomon Schechter’s sensitively and vigorously written portrait, “Nachman Krochmal and the ‘Perplexities of the Time’ “ (1887), places Krochmal in two different contexts and views him from two quite different perspectives. Since we possess only a few more primary sources for Krochmal’s life and work than did Schechter, the essay has not lost its value.
The piece may be divided into an introduction and three parts. The first briefly sketches Krochmal’s life, drawing from “the accounts of [Leopold] Zunz, [Solomon J.] Rapoport, and [Meir] Letteris,” supplemented by various letters. The second part, an overview of that “grand and deep book,” Krochmal’s unfinished and posthumously published magnum opus, Guide of the Perplexed of the Time, is the essay’s weakest part, even containing outright errors. Thus, Schechter states that Krochmal discusses “the ideal gifts bestowed on the various ancient nations” and “the ideal gifts of Israel” in two different chapters. But he discusses both in chapter 7. Schechter views chapters 11 through 15 as an excursus to the history of the Jewish people found in chapters 8 through 10. But this is true only of chapter 11. Chapters 12 to 15, to which chapter 17 should be added, stand on their own as surveys of different facets of Jewish literary creativity. The third and most important part examines “the importance of Krochmal’s treatise . . . its significance in the region of Jewish science . . . [as well as] the general tendency of the whole work.”
In the history of Western Jewish treatments of Hasidism, Solomon Schechter’s 1887 essay “The Chassidim” has a unique place. It stands at a firm distance from the great disdain for Hasidism evinced by Heinrich Graetz and other key figures in the German-centered Wissenschaft des Judentums, in which Schechter himself was regarded a key figure, indeed its leading proponent in the English-speaking world. It is also not yet the romantic recreation of Hasidism to be undertaken by Martin Buber, Y. L. Peretz, and others a decade later. Schechter is writing contemporaneously with the early studies by Simon Dubnov, the first historian to examine the Hasidic movement with a dispassionate scholarly eye. But Dubnov saw Hasidism primarily as a social movement and had little interest in the specifics of its teachings.
What is the place of rabbinics in Western thought, and what is its importance to English-speaking peoples? These still-pressing questions were perhaps first addressed in 1896 by Solomon Schechter in his groundbreaking Studies in Judaism. “The purpose” of this work, he explained, “was . . . to bring under notice of the English public the type of men produced by the Synagogue of the Eastern Jews.” Accomplishing this task, however, was no simple matter; Schechter acknowledged that some of his readers probably found “that Synagogue” and its rabbinic representatives “repulsive.” Still, he was undeterred, for in the Eastern Synagogue one encountered a unique set of “intellectual forces” that were not to be found in the “practical tendencies” of those residing closer to the Atlantic.
Irene E. Zwiep
It is “the duty of every great religion to produce great men.” Thus spoke Solomon Schechter in an address delivered in New York at the dedication of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America building, in April 1903. His address was later published in a volume that appeared in 1915, the year of his death. Schechter’s words were a deliberate correction of the American poet-diplomat James Russell Lowell’s view that generating greatness was the responsibility of all great nations. For Schechter, whose commitment to diasporic Jewry outweighed his pragmatic sympathy for Zionist nationalism, it was Judaism as religion, not polity, that should supply the world with Great Jewish Men.
Sometime around 1903 Solomon Schechter was provoked by a woman, whom he somewhat archly described as “a lady of the Jewish persuasion, of high culture and wide reading.” She had remarked that:
Judaism is the only one among the great religions which has never produced a saint, and that there is, indeed, no room in it for that element of saintliness which, in other creeds, forms the goal the true believer endeavors to reach.
That, at least, is the conceit with which he opened his essay “Saints and Saintliness,” originally delivered as a public lecture at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1905.
Let us grant the conceit. After all, Schechter probably had such a conversation, if not in New York, then perhaps earlier in London or Cambridge. Whether it happened or not, Schechter presents his interlocutor as here as a social-intellectual type, a devotee of what he elsewhere calls the “shallow Enlightenment.” The “great virtue” of her Judaism, Schechter went on to say, was “in its elasticity.” It was:
adaptable to the latest result of the latest reconstruction of the Bible, and . . . compatible with any system of philosophy ever advanced,—provided of course that the system in question was the subject of languid conversation in fashionable drawing rooms.
goes with out saying that the fields of Jewish mysticism and intellectual history have greatly evolved since the time that Solomon Schechter wrote “Safed in the Sixteenth Century: A City of Legists and Mystics,” first published in 1908.1 We now have a more nuanced understanding of the relationship of law and mysticism as it was expressed by kabbalists and pietists through the centuries and especially in the sixteenth century. We have a better grasp of the complexity of the Lurianic Kabbalah and the difficulty of establishing with certainty the contours of both the oral and the written dimensions of this phenomenon. Our understanding of the historical connection between the expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula at the end of the fifteenth century and the proliferation of kabbalistic activity in the Jewish diaspora of the sixteenth century, especially in the city of Safed, is far more sophisticated today than it was when Schechter wrote his essay. These qualifications notwithstanding, the pathos and intellectual vigor of Schechter’s masterful portrayal of sixteenth-century Safed have stood the test of time. In this brief essay, I would like to draw attention to some of the themes that run through his study, themes that still have the capacity to illumine essential features of the mystical piety that crystalized in the upper Galilee at that time.
The World of the Talmud: Article
The yetser ha-ra‘ (“the evil inclination”) has become a standard part of traditional Jewish psychology. This rabbinic expression has its roots in the Second Temple period but ultimately derives from certain passages in the Hebrew Bible. Until now the comparable Christian Aramaic evidence for this term has general been ignored. The fifth-century Syriac author, Narsai, develops a theory of the “evil inclination” (yatsra bisha) in his homilies on moral rebuke, particularly those addressed to his audience during Lent. For Narsai the unruliness of the yatsra derives from envy, a vice which is the fundamental characteristic of Satan, the socially divisive “hater of the human being.” This article describes the origins of the Syriac term, yatsra, from the Hebrew yetser and then examines Narsai’s understanding of the yatsra, setting it within its cultural context and then relating it to the notion of the yetser ha-ra‘ within the Babylonian Talmud.
Simcha M. Gross
Winter 2016 Vol. 106.1
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This paper examines a manifestation of the Jewish perception of space against the backdrop of the Roman conquest, the destruction of the Temple, and the conversion of Jerusalem into the Roman colonia, Aelia Capitolina. I suggest that the rabbinic notion of cities “surrounded by walls,” and their attribution to Joshua, reflects a Jewish reaction to the Roman presence in the land of Israel and the Roman appropriation of the legacy of the cities they subjugated. A consideration of Roman law sheds light on the puzzling attribution of walls to the time of Joshua son of Nun in two rabbinic halakhot: the sale of a house in a walled city and the celebration of Purim and the reading of the scroll of Esther on 15 Adar in walled cities. I suggest that the rabbis introduced the features of a boundary and founding by an ancient figure in order to voice their opposition to the appropriation of Jerusalem by Hadrian and additional Roman emperors, which they marked by founding a pomerium. In addition to the polemical use of the concept of “walled cities from the time of Joshua,” we also find what appears to be application of features of the sanctity of the pomerium to laws of walled cities. This proposed model of polemic, on the one hand, and dialogue, on the other, exemplifies the diverse response by Jews in the land of Israel, and later the province Syria–Palestine, to Roman culture and religion.
The questions where the Kabbalah came from, how it appears, and under what circumstances, bothered the scholars of the Kabbalah, but no less the Kabbalists themselves in the Middle Ages. This article is concentrated on identifying and signifying three types of traditions in thirteenth-century Kabbalah, each of which reflects a unique stance concerning this topic. The first stance attributes the emergence of the Kabbalah to mystical revelation of Elijah to the ancestors of the first Kabbalistic circles in Provence. Another sees the Kabbalistic truths as part of the Torah of Moses and therefore as a national heritage. A third tradition, however, attributes the Kabbalah to Adam, the first person and the ancestor of mankind at whole. The article points out the self-consciousness behind each myth, the differences between them, and the hidden discourse between these traditions regarding the notion of the Kabbalah as universal wisdom and its cultural context in general.
Michael Laurence Miller
In the midst of a larger dispute with Prague’s first coffee-boiler, Rabbi David Oppenheim was accused of overseeing the transfer of money from the Habsburg Empire to Jewish communities in the Land of Israel (which was under Ottoman rule). In the fraught atmosphere of the Counter-Reformation and the Ottoman-Habsburg wars, this Jewish practice was cast as treasonous; it not only drained money from state coffers but also transferred it to an enemy land. This article examines the trial against Oppenheim, exploring intimations of Jewish-Turkish collusion and paying particular attention to the “Jewish money-transfer affair” and its repercussions. This article also explores subsequent debates and controversies about the collection of funds in the Habsburg Empire for distribution in the Land of Israel.
Karma Ben Johanan
The critique of Christianity is a central theme in R. Kook’s writings; more central than is usually perceived. R. Kook’s anti-Christian sentiment is nourished both by the traditional contempt toward Christianity prevalent in the Kabbalistic literature and by the critique of Christianity raised by modern German philosophers, in particular Hegel and Nietzsche. These bodies of literature are synthesized by R. Kook to produce his own systematic attack on Christianity. At the core of R. Kook’s critique of Christianity stands the notion that the “spirit” of Christianity is, in essence, a negation of Israel and all that it stands for. Christianity, per R. Kook, constantly strives to disrupt the divine plan of salvation by impeding the people of Israel from fulfilling their universal role. While history is seen by R. Kook as constantly marching towards salvation, Christianity is presented as an historical deterioration, even a deviation from the divine plan. The idea that Christianity embodies the negation of Israel lends it special stature in R. Kook’s philosophy. As such, Christianity cannot be elevated and purified like any other phenomenon, but is rather worthy of total rejection. Therefore, even if the Christian religious institution could somehow be refined--as R. Kook suggests in several places--the anti-Israel idea behind the Christian religion should ultimately be blotted out. Essentially, I will argue, R. Kook treats Christianity as something that exceeds the boundaries of his universalism and is worthy of the strongest loathing.
Brad Sabin Hill
The Hebraic Section of the Library of Congress in Washington comprises the youngest of the world’s great Hebrew collections. That it should rate so highly is nothing short of remarkable. After all, the old European libraries had been gathering Hebrew books for centuries before the decision in 1800 to establish a congressional library in the new American capital. When the Bibliothèque de France was still the Bibliothèque du Roi, it already held Hebrew manuscripts from the libraries of Catherine de Medici and Cardinal Richelieu. The state libraries of Munich and Berlin similarly incorporated Hebrew books from royal, ducal, or patrician collections from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. University and state libraries in Hamburg, Leipzig, Leiden, and Basel held collections assembled by Christian Hebraists of earlier centuries. The Vatican and Milan’s Biblioteca Ambrosiana had much Hebraica by the early seventeenth century, the royal library in Turin and the Medici library in Florence had large collections by the mid-eighteenth, and a collection assembled before the century’s end by an abbot in Parma soon made its Palatina one of Europe’s richest repositories of Hebrew.