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Current Issue Article Abstracts

Fall 2018, Vol. 108.4

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Rabbinic Universalism Reconsidered: The Roman Context of some Rabbinic Traditions Pertaining to the Revelation of the Torah in Different Languages

Katell Berthelot

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.


Deconstructing "the Cairo Genizah": A Fresh Look at Genizah Manuscript Discoveries in Cairo before 1897

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.


Solomon Schechter's Art of Hasidism: Tradition, Parody, and Transmission

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.


Deceptive Intentions: Forgeries, Falsehoods and the Study of Ancient Judaism

Jonathan Klawans

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.


The Temple Archive Used for the Fabrication of 1 Maccabees 10.25b–45

Matan Orian

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.


Editor's Introduction: The Commemorative Moment of 2017

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: The Year of Jewish Revolutions?

Derek Jonathan Penslar

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.


1917: The Ambivalence of Empire

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.


1947: What We Forget When We Remember the 29th of November

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. 


1967: An Elegy of Conquest

Seth Anziska

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.


1977: The Mahapakh: Its Causes and Implications for Contemporary Israeli Politics

Avi Shilon

"LADIES AND GENTLEMENmahapakh!" 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.


Pleasurable Perplexity: Reflecting the Holy City

Lawrence Nees

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. 


Jerusalem at the Met

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.