Archive for October, 2011


The Stammaim created the sugya, a semi-independent, sustained, multi-tiered “give and take.” They redacted the Gemara from incomplete and truncated traditions. This explains the many almost incomprehensible instances where the argumentational proceeds along lines that seem to us totally unnecessary, and seems to make assumptions that are not warranted by the material at hand. This material could have been organized in a much simpler, more poignant way than the one proposed by the redactors. The redactors apparently had bits of tradition whose original context they did not quite know. They drafted these bits onto the material at hand, organizing their material not in accordance with its natural inclination but in a manner that would make it more assimilative of the stranded bits of tradition.

David Weiss Halivni, Midrash, Mishnah, and Gemara: The Jewish Predilection for Justified Law (Camridge, MA & London, UK: Harvard University Press, 1986), 79.

On the one side stood the Hazon Ish and those who followed in his path, who would coalesce into a group wielding decisive influence on religious life in Israel, as the ultra-Orthodox “society of scholars” grew and became institutionalized. On the other were the guardians of tradition, especially those belonging to the Yishuv ha-yashan (the old Yishuv, the veteran Jewish community) in Jerusalem. The main spokesman of the latter group, who bore the brunt of the controversy, was Rabbi Abraham Hayyim Na’eh (1890-1954). As I noted elsewhere, this was a controversy between unequal contestants. At that time, the Yishuv ha-yashan was in decline, while the Hazon Ish was the spiritual leader of a young and radical ultra-Orthodoxy that found itself liberated, to a great degree, from the bonds of tradition. Moreover, following the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel, the latter was given the opportunity to establish a new ultra-Orthodox society, “the society of scholars,” as a stringent and selective society. This could not have been realized in the past, due both to economic restraints and (perhaps mainly) to the cultural and social restrictions that found expression in the living tradition and structure of the traditional Jewish community. This traditional community, by its very nature and essence, by being defined on the basis of its geographical bounds (in the sense that dwelling within it are members subject to the authority of its leadership), was a nonselective society that had to take into account its heterogenous character and its commitment to the tradition of past generations. It, therefore, could not agree either to deviations in the direction of leniency or to the adoption of stringent norms by a portion of its members.

Menachem Friedman, “Halachic Rabbinic Authority in the Modern Open Society,” in <i>Jewish Religious Leadership: Image and Reality</i>, vol. 2, ed. Jack Wertheimer (New York: The Jewish Theological Seminary, 2004), 760-761.

The task of the Stammaim was to complete what was missing (usually through conjectural restoration) and to integrate the whole into a flowing discourse. They reserved for themselves the right to preface, conclude, and even interpolate the words of the Amoraim; otherwise, they could not have integrated and reconstructed them. The state of some of the argumentational material that survived was such that it required the intervention of the Stammaim at almost every turn. As a result, it is often very difficult to distinguish between what belonged to the Amora and what was added by the Stammaim, since the two are often interwoven. I did not exaggerate, therefore, when I said elsewhere that between us and the Amoraim stand the Stammaim.

David Weiss Halivni, Midrash, Mishnah, and Gemara: The Jewish Predilection for Justified Law (Camridge, MA & London, UK: Harvard University Press, 1986), 77.

The term mipenei darkhei shalom was the most commonly used term within Tannaitic literature, appearing in twelve mishnahs and toseftas. There is no one categorization of the way that mipenei darkhei shalom was used in Tannaitic literature. Below are the functions of the term that I found in both the Mishnah and Tosefta.
1. Where no clear legal conclusion or ruling already existed, mipenei darkhei shalom was used to justify a position that would promote better relations between groups of people within Jewish society or between Jews and non-Jews.
2. Where the question was not necessarily one of law, mipenei darkhei shalom was used to justify actions that would promote better relations between Jews and other Jews and between Jews and non-Jews.
3. In situations where there was a fear that the law was going to cause enmity, mipenei darkhei shalom was used to justify a lenient ruling whose purpose was to prevent enmity and ill-will from forming. In these instances, mipenei darkhei shalom was sometimes used to justify overturning a legal norm.
That these different functions were all found within Tannaitic literature is evidence that there was no single definition and understanding of how the term mipenei darkhei shalom should be used. It was used in a number of circumstances and the common thread through all of them was a concern for the effect that behavior based upon Jewish law might have on relations between different groups, whether they be within Jewish society, or between Jews and non-Jews.

Michael Pitkowsky, ”Mipenei Darkhei Shalom (Because of the Paths of Peace) and Related Terms: A Case Study of How Early Concepts and Terminology Developed From Tannaitic to Talmudic Literature” (PhD. diss., Jewish Theological Seminary, 2011), 169-170.

At the opposite pole to the Rashbam’s exegesis stands the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides (died 1204). Judging by his introduction and from hints culled from his letters, it appears that he wanted to reduce all of the Torah to practical halakhah, leaving the rest of his time for the study of other disciplines, principally philosophy, which to him was an integral part of Jewish learning and worship (not for its own sake, but as an instrument for the cultivation of proper belief). No wonder Maimonides’ attitude toward the anonymous sections of the Talmud, which consist primarily of the argumentational, was less than benign; indeed, he often ignored them. Many a so-called “difficult Rambam” would be less puzzling if one realized that Maimonides did not always reckon with the stam.

David Weiss Halivni, Midrash, Mishnah, and Gemara: The Jewish Predilection for Justified Law (Camridge, MA & London, UK: Harvard University Press, 1986), 111.

Pan American established a Pacific Division in January 1935 with headquarters at Alameda, California, across the bay from San Francisco. By December, an organization of 221 employees had converted Alameda’s land-based facility into a seaplane harbor to serve as the eastern terminus of Pan American’s Pacific route system. To build bases at Honolulu, Midway, Wake, Guam, and Manila, the 15,000-ton steamer ship North Haven was chartered and docked at at Pier 22 in San Francisco. The ship sailed on March 27, 1935, carefully loaded in sequence with two pre-fabricated villages, five air bases, a quarter million gallons of fuel, motor launches, barges, tractors, generators, and fifty-foot timbers to build radio timbers. On board were forty-four airline technicians and seventy-four construction engineers. The unloading, particularly at Midway and Wake, was dangerous and difficult. While surveying and construction parties remained on the islands to complete the installations, the North Haven was reloaded in Manila for the return voyage and sailed back through the Golden Gate on June 30th. A second North Haven expedition in January 1936 built hotels on the islands for overnight passenger accommodations and delivered station managers, hotel superintendents, and other Pan American personnel who took up residence on the new mid-Pacific bases.

“Airway to Asia” poster at The San Francisco Airport Commission Louis A. Turpen Aviation Museum

YCT has, to date, consistently and, perhaps, fanatically adhered to the Maimonidean rule forbidding responding negatively toward others. YCT’s curriculum is not only a course of professional study; the quality, quantity, subject selection, and orientations of its instructors provide the discerning reader with a quantifiable and unified ideological self-definition of the kind of Orthodox Judaism that it fosters and offers. As a self-consciously modern (YCT prefers the adjective “Open”) Orthodox Yeshiva, it requires commitment to Jewish law in both theory and practice as a pre-condition for acceptance as a student. But, as an Open Orthodox institution, YCT is open to the insights of non-Orthodox rabbis who can make what it believes to be serious contributions. Academic Talmud is taught by an observant Orthodox rabbi who happens also to teach at the Jewish Theological Seminary, revealing an openness that violates no rule in the classical canon but does deviate from the insular political discipline demanded by Haredi religion. Critical methodology actually empowers the student with the tools to make an autonomous reading of the canon. Since, in Haredi religion, the communal rabbi is authorized only to echo the views of the official “rabbonim and poskim” but not to render an autonomous opinion, however reasoned or defensible within the canons of talmudic hermeneutics, the democratization of independent learning is fraught with danger and is, therefore, off-limits to all but the Haredi gedolim elite. For this reason, academic Talmud undermines “the sanctity of Torah,” precisely because it affords its practitioners the power to render defensible readings and judgments – the original sense of “criticism” – of the canon with unfettered autonomy. Furthermore, Haredi rabbis are, by habit, conditioning, and education, disinclined to speak to the concerns of Conservative synagogues. By founding an institution that trains virtuosi who do not regard the Haredi elite as the ultimate source of rabbinic authority, YCT cannot be deemed to be legitimate to the Haredi elite.

Rabbi Alan J. Yuter, “The Two Contemporary Varieties of Orthodox Judaism,” in Mishpetei Shalom: A Jubilee Volume In Honor of Rabbi Saul (Shalom) Berman, ed. Rabbi Yamin Levy (New York: Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, 2010), 583-585.

In order to maximize the possibility of gaining as clear a picture as possible of the development of Jewish law, a scholar must use a number of different sources for his or her research. The researcher must not limit him or herself to Talmudic literature and halakhic codes, rather, he or she must also examine the responsa literature, commentaries, and communal enactments (takkanot). Any source that will help us to understand the intellectual and social background of the law is important.

Michael Pitkowsky, ”Mipenei Darkhei Shalom (Because of the Paths of Peace) and Related Terms: A Case Study of How Early Concepts and Terminology Developed From Tannaitic to Talmudic Literature” (PhD. diss., Jewish Theological Seminary, 2011), 25.

Scholars of Jewish law must incorporate the findings of modern Talmud scholarship in order to present a clearer picture of the development of law as found in the Talmuds. It is not sufficient to vaguely identify the origins of a certain law, institution, or term, as simply “Talmudic.” It is incumbent upon the researcher to be specific when describing material found in the Talmuds and to apply modern standards of redactional criteria. Is the source Tannaitic, Amoraic, or anonymous? If it is Amoraic, from what generation and from where? If a parallel source exists, what is the relationship between these parallel sources?

Michael Pitkowsky, ”Mipenei Darkhei Shalom (Because of the Paths of Peace) and Related Terms: A Case Study of How Early Concepts and Terminology Developed From Tannaitic to Talmudic Literature” (PhD. diss., Jewish Theological Seminary, 2011), 12.

…the very idea that Judaism is a religion is a distinctly modern invention. Prior to Jewish modernity — most clearly defined as the acquisition of citizenship rights for Jews, a long process that began in Europe in the late-18th century — Judaism was neither solely a religion, nor simply a matter of culture or nationality. Rather, Judaism and Jewishness were all of these at once: religion, culture and nationality.

The basic framework of organized Jewish life in the medieval and early modern periods was the local Jewish community. While a Jewish community’s existence depended on the whim of others (usually the nobility or royalty), pre-modern Jewish communities were unique in that they had a tremendous amount of political autonomy.

Each community had its own set of bylaws administered by laypersons who, among other things, elected a rabbi for the community. Rabbis in turn had jurisdiction over ritual law and also gave credence to the laws of the community as a whole.

Each community also had its own courts, as well as its own educational, health, economic and social services systems. Outside rulers gave the Jewish community responsibility to maintain law and order, and the right to punish its members in a variety of ways, including exacting fines, imprisonment and corporal punishment.

For all these reasons, it simply was not possible in a pre-modern context to conceive of Jewish religion, nationality, and what we now call culture as distinct from one another. A Jew’s religious life was defined by, though not limited to, Jewish law, which was simultaneously religious, political and cultural in nature.

It was only in the modern period that the corporate Jewish community dissolved, and with that, political agency shifted to the individual Jew, giving him the freedom to define his identity for himself.

Leora Batnitzky, “Is Judaism A Religion Or A Culture?” The Jewish Week (2 September 2011), 24.