Archive for October, 2013

…modern redaction-criticism of Talmudic attributions relies on the notion that scholars can successfully localize earlier tannaitic and amoraic texts within a Talmudic passage, and that these sources, for the most part, retain their distinct identity. It is this ability that allows Talmudists to access not only amoraic culture, but also the world of the Stam.

Shai Secunda, “The Sasanian ‘<i>Stam</i>’: Orality and the Composition of Babylonian Rabbinic and Zoroastrian Legal Literature” in <i>The Talmud in Its Iranian Context</i>, eds. Carol Bakhos and M. Rahim Shayegan (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010), 141-142, n. 6.


The rabbinic agenda, at least as expressed in the Talmudic literature at hand, embraced scriptural interpretation, legal explication and instruction coupled with the inculcation of moral values. If reference to the past could contribute to these categories, the rabbis were not averse to making such reference, for in so doing the past was rendered relevant. The use of מאי דהוה הוה – the anonymous Talmudic redactors might thus be considered a literary device, employed when the rabbinic discourse entered unfamiliar territory, albeit within the larger context of the accepted rabbinic agenda.

Isaiah Gafni, “Concepts of Periodization and Causality in Talmudic Literature”, Jewish History, Vol. 10, No. 1 (Spring, 1996), 31-32.

He was less concerned with the problems of anti-Semitism and discrimination than with building positive values in the minds of the young people of the country.

Maurice Bisgyer, “Henry Monsky: His Work”, in Mrs. Henry Monsky and Maurice Bisgyer, Henry Monsky: The Man and His Work (New York: Crown Publishers, 1947), 75.

In his Print, Manuscript, and the Search for Order, David McKitterick characterizes the relationship between print and manuscript in the early modern period as a long divorce. For Jews, one might posit that the divorce was never finalized: The composition of texts in manuscript never disappeared from Jewish culture. The writing of a Torah scroll, the composition of a mezuzah, and other such sacred objects continues uninterrupted. Even beyond these basic ritual functions, manuscript writing continued to play a crucial role in Jewish societies for centuries after the invention of printing, and manuscripts continue to exist in persistent tension with printed books. One could write an entire work on manuscript culture among early modern Jewry along the lines of Brian Richardson’s recent study. Such a book would unearth a range of intellectual activities that have either been studied in isolation from one another or not studied at all. Here, too, the history of the Shulhan ‘arukh proves particularly instructive. In his discussion of the Ashkenazic tradition of glossing the Shulhan ‘arukh, Elchanan Reiner concluded: “The Ashkenazi halakhic book at the beginning of the modern era retained certain features inherited from the medieval scribal tradition of knowledge transmission. In certain respects it was a kind of printed manuscript, that is, a text which, in the way it took shape, rejected the new communicative values of print culture and created a text with esoteric components, thus protecting its elitist position.” Reiner’s concept of a “printed manuscript” neatly dissolves the distinction between print and manuscript so beloved by historians fixated on rupture. It should also serve as the point of departure for the study of several aspects of early modern Jewish culture: the spread of kabbalistic books, the development of Jewish reference works, the study of marginal annotations, and the history of collections to name only a few.

Yaacob Dweck, “What is a Jewish Book?”, AJS Review 34:2 (November 2010), 371-372.

The era of the religious Right is over. Its collapse is part of a larger decline of a style of ideological conservatism that reached high points in 1980 and 1994 but suffered a series of decisive – and I believe fatal – setbacks during George W. Bush’s second term. The end of the religious Right does not signal a decline in evangelical Christianity. On the contrary, it is a sign of a new reformation among Christians – Warren and Cizik are representative figures – who are disentangling their great movement from a political machine. This will require liberals and conservatives alike to abandon their sometimes narrow views of who evangelicals are and what they believe.

E.J. Dionne Jr., Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith & Politics After the Religious Right (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2008), 4-5.

Peshat is always of paramount importance, and derash is always accountable to the peshat. Nevertheless, the dividing line between them is not always clear, and so long as we keep within the limits imposed by the peshat may we not explore rabbinic texts as the rabbis explored the biblical text-as literature capable of multifaceted meaning?

Raphael Jospe, “Hillel’s Rule,” The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 81, No. 1/2 (July-October, 1990), 56.

Let’s not claim that we don’t have the money. We find the money for what we prioritize as a community. If you do not provide people with meaning, it is very hard to raise money successfully in the long-term. Knowledge is the glue of peoplehood. And we can’t leave Jewish adult education to individuals. It has to be a burning institutional concern.

We also use the term shtark to mean learned. We all need a shtarker image.

Erica Brown, “The Shtarker Image”, The Jewish Week (6 September 2013), 70.

If Jewish identity is seen only through the lens of freedom, and unbridled freedom is the value you crave, then who needs Judaism when you already have Americanism?

It’s only when you expand the terrain of values that Judaism comes alive. There are at least three examples I can think of where Judaism contributes to Americanism by placing a higher emphasis on certain values.

One, while Americanism celebrates the individual, Judaism celebrates community. Two, while Americanism enshrines the pursuit of happiness, Judaism enshrines the pursuit of meaning. And three, while Americanism places a premium on human rights, Judaism places a premium on human obligations.

Three solid American values, three even higher Jewish ideals. In striving to balance them all, the Jewish way is not to downplay values but to err on the side of ideals. Even the value of freedom in Judaism is very much defined by its ideal — the freedom to seek meaning and do good deeds.

David Suissa, “An Oasis of Ideals”, Jewish Journal (25-31 October 2013), 8.

As a form of disposable entertainment, the apocalypse market is booming. The question is why. The obvious answer is that these narratives tap into anxieties, conscious and otherwise, about the damage we’re doing to our species and to the planet. They allow us to safely fantasize about what might be required of us to survive.

Of course, people have been running around screaming about the end of the world for as long as we’ve been around to take notes. But in the past, the purpose of these stories was essentially prophetic. They were intended to bring man into accord with the will of God, or at least his own conscience.

The newest wave of apocalyptic visions, whether they’re intended to make us laugh or shriek, are nearly all driven by acts of sadistic violence. Rather than inspiring audiences to reckon with the sources of our potential planetary ruin, they proceed from the notion that the apocalypse will usher in an era of sanctified Darwinism: survival of the most weaponized.

There’s a deep cynicism at work here, one that stands in stark contrast to the voices of even a generation ago. And this cynicism has, I fear, become the default setting of a culture that lurches about within the shadow of its own extinction yet lacks the moral imagination to change its destiny.

Steve Almond, “‘A Culture That Lurches About Within the Shadow of Its Own Extinction'” The New York Times Magazine (29 September 2013), 48.

[T]he real problem is that Jewish organizations have largely let go of the Jewish learning renaissance that was all the “rage” about a decade ago. Jewish study franchise programs are diminishing in attendance, recruiting for synagogue classes has become burdensome and there is hardly anyone in classes under 50 anymore.

Our larger culture extols posts, tweets and sound-bytes making comprehensive study much harder. Learning takes personal and institutional commitment. We have not given the message that leadership of federations, JCCs and social service institutions should involve the Jewish self-confidence that comes with literacy. We have high general educational expectations of ourselves and our children, but we are too often infants in our Jewish lives, and it matters too little.

Erica Brown, “The Shtarker Image”, The Jewish Week (6 September 2013), 70.