Previous Issue Article Abstracts


Spring 2019, Vol. 109.2

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Ab hostibus captus et a latronibus captus:
The Impact of the Roman Model of Citizenship on Rabbinic Law

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.

Selfness and Kinship in Medieval Karaite Incest Laws

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.


Spatial Perceptions and Geographic Imagination in Benjamin of Tudela's Book of Travels

Martin Jacobs

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.


A Grass Widow in Odessa:
Gender and Jewish Law on the Russian Frontier

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?

On the Dissemination of the Babylonian Talmud and the Origins of Ashkenazi Jewry

Robert Brody

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.


On the Third Yeshivah of Bavel:

A Response to Robert Brody

Haym Soloveitchik

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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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 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.


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.



Summer 2018, Vol. 108.3

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Prophetic Authority in the Legal Thought of Saadia Gaon

Marc Herman

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.


Attitudes toward Science in the Karaite Community of Istanbul: The Case of Joseph Beghi

Ofer Elior

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.


Crossing Borders: Safe Conducts and Jews in Early Modern Germany

Debra Kaplan

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.


On the Scholarship of Elliott Horowitz

The Editors

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.


Jewish History in a New Key

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. 


"The Cut of One's Jacket": In Memory of an Oxonian Yeshiva Bocher

Stuart Schoffman

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.


The Unexpected in Early Modern Jewish Life

Francesca Bregoli

"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.


"Light at the End of the Tunnel": A Jewish Confraternity, Dowries, and Charity

Javier Castaño

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.


Against the Odds: The Jew in the Medieval Mind

Frank Felsenstein

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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The Temple Scroll in the Context of Hellenistic and Graeco-Roman Scholarly Texts

Francis Borchardt

pp. 139-158

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.


The Kitsur shulḥan ‘arukh, Hasidic Tale, and Maskilic Literature as Exemplars of Ashkenazic Hebrew

Lily Okalani Kahn

pp. 159-193

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.


“Your Father’s Interests”: The Business of Kinship in a Trans-Mediterranean Jewish Merchant Family, 1776–1790

Francesca Bregoli

pp. 194-224

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.

Oppression of Religious Minority Groups in Times of Great Upheaval in Late Qajar Iran: The 1892 Persecution of Jews and Baha’is of Jewish Origin in Hamadan Based on Two Newly Discovered Letters

Soli Shahvar

pp. 225-251

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.


Is Critique Jewish?

Martin Kavka




Winter 2017, Volume 108 Numer 1 

"The Daughters of Israel": An Analysis of the Term in Late Ancient Jewish Sources

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.


Meditations on a Monkey-Face:
Monsters, Transgressed Boundaries, and Contested Hierarchies in a Yiddish Eulenspiegel

Iris Idelson-Shein 

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.


The Mortara Case and the Literary Imagination:
Jewish Melodrama and the Pleasures of Victimhood

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.



People of the Epistle: Letters in Jewish Intellectual Life, Part II
Editor's Introduction

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

Resuming Contact after World War I: Epistolary Networks of the Wissenschaft des Judentums
Mirjam Thulin

"One of Hitler's Professors": Max Weinreich and Solomon Birnbaum confront Franz Beranek
Kalman Weiser


Review Essay

Recovering Judaism from Religion and Modernity
Jeffrey A. Bernstein


Fall 2017, Vol. 107.4

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 Socrates and Socratic Philosophy in Judah Halevi's Kuzari

From Messianic Apologetics to Missionary Counterattack in the Sabbatian Sacred Romancero

Messianic Expectations in Hungarian Orthodox Theology before and during the Second World War: A Comparative Study

In this article, I discuss a disagreement between two rabbis associated with Hungarian Orthodoxy in the interwar period and during the Holocaust regarding the theological role of Zionism in the messianic drama. The two rabbis are Chaim Elazar Shapira ("the Munkacser Rebbe," 1871-1937) and Yissachar Shlomo Teichtel (1885-1945), the chief justice of the rabbinical court (av beit din) and chief rabbi of Pishtian (Piešťany) in Slovakia. I present the rabbis' arguments for and against Zionism and show that the two apparently polarized opinions are rooted in the same assumption that the End Times are drawing near, and that the Jews must prepare accordingly. The article highlights the importance of messianic expectations among Hungarian Orthodoxy prior and during the Holocaust. The differences of opinion on spiritual questions would have tragic practical ramifications.

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.

Review Essays

Reading the Bible

Three New Perspectives on the Holocaust




Winter 2017, Vol. 107.1

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“Those Who Descend upon the Sea Told Me . . .”: Myth and Tall Tale in Baba Batra 73a–74b

Daniel J. Frim

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.

God and His Son: Christian Affinities in the Shaping of the Sava and Yanuka Figures in the Zohar

Jonatan M. Benarroch

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 Nationalization of Holy Sites: Yishuv-Era Visual Representations of the Western Wall and Rachel’s Tomb

Kobi Cohen-Hattab, Ayelet Kohn

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.

The PLO’s Rabbi: Palestinian Nationalism and Reform Judaism

Jonathan Marc Gribetz

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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On Gerson Cohen’s “Blessing of Assimilation” a Half Century Later: Editor’s Introduction

David N. Myers

A View from Late Antiquity Onward

Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert

On Jewish Languages, Names, and Distinctiveness

Sarah Bunin Benor 

Arnold Eisen

The Blessing of Gerson D. Cohen

David B. Ruderman  


Sexual Serpents and Perpetual Virginity: Marian Rejectionism in the Babylonian Talmud

Michael Rosenberg 

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.

Fish Eats Lion Eats Man: Saadia Gaon, Syriac Christianity, and the Resurrection of the Dead

Yonatan Moss

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.

A Portrait of the Kabbalist as a Young Man: Count Joseph Carl Emmanuel Waldstein and His Retinue

Paweł Maciejko

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


Prefatory Verse and the Reception of the Guide of the Perplexed

Maud Kozodoy 

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.

War and Religion; or, How the First World War Changed Hasidism

Marcin Wodziński 

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. 

Enlightening and Enlighteners: German Jews and Education in the Maskilic Age and Beyond: Editor’s Introduction

David N. Myers 

Michah Gottlieb  

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.

Gaming the System: The Jewish Community Council, the Temple, and the Struggle over the Rabbinate in Mid–Nineteenth-Century Lemberg

Rachel Manekin  

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.


The Beginning of the End: Jews, Children, and Enlightenment Pedagogy

Iris Idelson-Shein  

Adam, Eve, and Jewish Children: Rewriting the Creation of Eve for the Jewish Young at the Beginning of Jewish Modernization

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.

A Success Story?: Prussia’s Jewish Educational Policy in the Aftermath of the Emancipation Edict (1812–1870)

Andreas Brämer

Bildungs Romance: East European Jews and the Desire for Education

Eliyana R. Adler

Spring 2016 Vol. 106.2

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On Muses and Mystics: Some Essays on Some Essays by Solomon Schechter: Editor’s Introduction

Elliott Horowitz 

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.

Saving Knowledge

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.” 

Reclaiming His Past

Arthur Green 

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.

Eliyahu Stern 

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.

Rocks versus Gravel, or: Schechter on Modern Jewish Excellence

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.

The Saint in the Drawing Room

Abraham Socher 

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.

Asceticism, Mysticism, and Messianism: A Reappraisal of Schechter’s Portrait of Sixteenth-Century Safed

Elliot R. Wolfson 

 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 “Evil Inclination” of the Jews: The Syriac Yatsra in Narsai’s Metrical Homilies for Lent

Adam H. Becker

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.

Review Forum

Irano-Talmudica: The New Parallelomania?

Robert Brody

“This, but Also That”: Historical, Methodological, and Theoretical Reflections on Irano-Talmudica

Shai Secunda

The Bavli, the Roman East, and Mesopotamian Christianity

Richard Kalmin

Irano-Talmudica and Beyond: Next Steps in the Contextualization of the Babylonian Talmud

Simcha M. Gross

Winter 2016 Vol. 106.1

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‘‘Cities Surrounded by a Wall from the Time of Joshua Son of Nun’’ as a Rabbinic Response to the Roman Pomerium

Eyal Ben-Eliyahu

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.

Jewish Medieval Traditions concerning the Origins of the Kabbalah

Oded Yisraeli

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.

Rabbi David Oppenheim on Trial: Turks, Titles, and Tribute in Counter-Reformation Prague

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.

Wreaking Judgment on Mount Esau: Christianity in R. Kook’s Thought

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.

Bibliographical Essay 

A Century of Hebraica at the Library of Congress

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.