Category: Scholarship


This boycott continues the anti-Zionist war on academia. Most academics seek intellectual precision — yet calling Israel an apartheid state sloppily makes apartheid mean “apartness,” separation, sanitizing its ugly racial distinctions while falsely making the national conflict between Israelis and Palestinians seem racial. Most scholars recognize the world’s complexity — yet regarding Israel, simplistic sloganeering and one-sided finger pointing prevail. Most intellectuals defend ideas’ permeability — yet boycotts impose harsh borders in what should be a seamless cerebral world. Most teachers applaud diversity, yet boycotts shut down debate. And most professors aspire toward scholarly objectivity, yet targeting Israel — especially given Palestinian terrorism, extremism, and authoritarianism, along with so many other countries’ crimes — reeks of bias and a particular, historic prejudice, anti-Semitism.

I hate making this argument. But how else can we explain this disproportionate, one-sided, pile-on against this one country that is also the world’s only Jewish state?

The boycott call is also politically counter-productive. It emboldens Palestinian rejectionists, enrages the Israeli right, demoralizes the center, and undermines the left. Compromise cannot occur in the lynch mob atmosphere the ASA endorsed.

Gil Troy, “Why I’m Boycotting the American Studies Association”, The Jewish Week (27 December 2013), 20.

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A first conclusion is that the principle of the oral Torah let the rabbis have full control over the transmission and actualization of texts considered important for the community. If the rabbis were not afraid to change the text of the written Torah, if possible, that did not deter them either from expurgating every other text not in agreement with their teaching. Yet, rabbinic Judaism lacked a central authority and an orthodoxy capable of suppressing other opinions. We are facing a most diverse approach by the rabbis to the written and oral Torah, which also explains the ocean of variant readings in the manuscripts and of tractates being interlaced with the most divergent literary forms of transmission down to the period of authored literature in the Middle Ages. The edition of these texts is therefore a truly titanic task for scholars who intend to establish the pure, original text. For the word “origin” is not identical with the idea of a tradition born in the world of authority, and authority can also be a plural attribute of a tradition over the course of the time. And that is, likewise, the premise to understand the contemporary discussion on text redaction.

Giuseppe Veltri, “From The Best Text To The Pragmatic Edition: On Editing Rabbinic Texts”, in The New Testament and Rabbinic Literature, eds. Reimund Bieringer, Florentino García Martínez, Didier Pollefeyt, Peter Tomson (Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2010), 71.

…there has been a change in the history of scholarship on text editing and textual commentary. The principle of searching for, creating or re-creating the best possible text, re-covering it, has been supplanted by the quest for the original text by criticizing, analyzing, and commenting on the manuscript tradition. The “original text”, reconstructed by intuition, reflection, and supposition, became the hypothetical beginning of the tradition andlor of the author’s intention. The search for the original text was also the prime question in the final decades of the 20th century and will doubtless also concern us in the future.

Giuseppe Veltri, “From The Best Text To The Pragmatic Edition: On Editing Rabbinic Texts”, in The New Testament and Rabbinic Literature, eds. Reimund Bieringer, Florentino García Martínez, Didier Pollefeyt, Peter Tomson (Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2010), 64.

Editing a text belongs to the oldest of scholarly activities, since scholarship functions not only through the modality of transmission by memorization, but also by writing down and publishing ideas, traditions and useful texts. This was the activity of ancient libraries, which were privileged centres of learning, teaching and research, academies comparable to modern universities and research centres. The first edition of Homer’s verse in the Alexandrian library offered clear-cut criteria to scholarship in defining what is an author’s reading and what can be deemed spurious text. The same or similar criteria were adopted when producing the Christian edition of the Bible in Origen’s Hexapla and in editions made in Christian medieval centres like abbeys, monasteries and church libraries. The humanist renaissance of ancient literature was nothing but a philological movement of editing and translating texts and commenting on them. Finally, German enlightened research on Greek, Roman, and subsequently “Oriental” literature started by putting together criteria and rules to render ancient texts readable for contemporary audiences.

Giuseppe Veltri, “From The Best Text To The Pragmatic Edition: On Editing Rabbinic Texts”, in The New Testament and Rabbinic Literature, eds. Reimund Bieringer, Florentino García Martínez, Didier Pollefeyt, Peter Tomson (Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2010), 63.

The edition of ancient, medieval, and, on occasion, modern texts is a titanic task. Provided the text was produced by one author, the main question is whether to record all the different versions of the textual creation, if extant, or to single out the “original” text seen either as the absolute beginning of the creative process or its final redaction. In regard to the final redaction by the author, it is necessary to distinguish between his/her former manuscript and the corrections of the text in print and after first print.

Giuseppe Veltri, “From The Best Text To The Pragmatic Edition: On Editing Rabbinic Texts”, in The New Testament and Rabbinic Literature, eds. Reimund Bieringer, Florentino García Martínez, Didier Pollefeyt, Peter Tomson (Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2010), 64.

…the first question a student of philology should answer is whether a manuscript edition can be achieved without interpreting the text itself.

…a second question to be answered by our virtual student of text editing is the following: should we construct/re-construct a text every time after having interpreted it? The question is not so far off the mark as it might seem to be at first glance. Looking at the edition of fragments of lost works, every scholar would agree that every further interpretation presupposes a new edition….

A third question should, therefore, be addressed by the virtual student of text editions: is the original text what we imagine as being such, or, perhaps, rather the beginning of a tradition or, indeed, both?

Giuseppe Veltri, “From The Best Text To The Pragmatic Edition: On Editing Rabbinic Texts”, in The New Testament and Rabbinic Literature, eds. Reimund Bieringer, Florentino García Martínez, Didier Pollefeyt, Peter Tomson (Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2010), 65, 66, 67.

As in the case of synoptic parallels between the gospels, the main purpose of synoptic comparisons of rabbinic texts is to determine which elements are shared and which are different. The differences may either be features of the different pre-redactional versions, or they may be editorial. They are likely to be editorial if they fit – or even replicate – the subject matter, formulation, structure, ideology of the surrounding context into which the tradition was integrated. If there is no neat transition between the tradition and its context, that is, if there is no shared formulation and the purpose and theme of the tradition seem to differ from the context, editorial changes cannot be detected.

Catherine Hezser, “Form-Criticism of Rabbinic Literature”, in The New Testament and Rabbinic Literature, eds. Reimund Bieringer, Florentino García Martinez, Dider Pollefeyt and Peter J. Tomson (Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2010), 105.

In retrospect, it is not misplaced to argue that all the great undertakings in the nineteenth century to write a clear and objective account of Israelite-Jewish history were over-ambitious. At that time, much too little information existed regarding the political, cultural and religious life of the ancient Near East in which the Bible had arisen. The very aim of writing of biblical personalities as flesh and blood characters who had participated in a real history was fraught by the great lack of knowledge about the world in which they lived and its achievements. The very immensity of the range of discovery in the field of biblical archaeology in the present century shows how seriously handicapped all such writers were before this time. Inevitably, the tendency was to use the biblical material that was available and to create a background that was, in no small part, a construction of a sympathetic imagination. The materials simply were not available to do otherwise. All the great pioneer figures, therefore, including Graetz, had largely to work from the Bible itself as their only substantial source. In doing so, it was inevitable that they should portray that background as more primitive, more pagan and more crudely unethical than in reality it appears to have been. Their historical judgement and evaluations, therefore, could serve only partially as a critique and reappraisal of the biblical evidence. More often than not, they simply served to reflect the attitude of the Bible itself. Yet by pioneering the task as they did, all these historians have left us an important legacy of scholarship.

R.E. Clements, “Heinrich Graetz as Biblical Historian and Religious Apologist” in Interpreting the Hebrew Bible: Essays in Honour of E.I.J. Rosenthal, eds. J.A. Emerton and Stefan C. Reif (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 54.

What is significant for orality studies as well as the mutual understanding of the production of the Bavli and Pahlavi legal literature is that the discursive elements of these corpora do not appear to originate in the silence of the scriptorium, rather in the din of the rabbinic house of study and the Hērbedestān – the Zoroastrian school of priestly studies. While scholars have focused on the role of performance or dramatics in their research of oral transmission, this paper suggests that the poetics of the “study-hall” and pedagogy must contribute more to our understanding of orality.

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), 160.

In recent years, the structuralist approach to literary texts has been replaced by the post-modern approach which focuses on intertextuality and indeterminacy. Such approaches have been applied to midrash, but have not been sufficiently exploited in the study of legal texts. In addition, rabbinic legal literature and hermeneutics may be compared with the forms and rhetorics of Graeco-Roman and other Ancient Near Eastern legal traditions in order to determine shared forms and styles.

Catherine Hezser, “Form-Criticism of Rabbinic Literature”, in The New Testament and Rabbinic Literature, eds. Reimund Bieringer, Florentino García Martinez, Dider Pollefeyt and Peter J. Tomson (Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2010), 104.