Previous Issue Article Abstracts
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.