Guide The Sea of Talmud: A Brief and Personal Introduction

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The act of partial inscription makes sense within a primarily oral culture that utilizes secondary written adjuncts in non-declamatory settings. Unexplicated cues appear to preserve an early stage of the writing of highly-condensed oral structures, and their solutions contrary to most such cases in the Bavli were never inscribed — and were either kept as solely oral geonic traditions or lost.

This dissertation looks at the ways in which the Tannaitic Sages portrayed and discussed non-Jewish ritual. In fact, the Sages did not consider worship of avodah zarah, as it is called in this text, as something which was wholly different from their own ritual. The Tannaitic Sages conceived of non-Jewish ritual and Jewish ritual to be part of a single category of ritual. This category ultimately derived from the ritual practices of the Jerusalem Temple, which meant that rituals which were performed outside of that context were sacrilege and an affront to the God of Israel.

It was precisely the similarities, rather than the differences, between Jewish and non-Jewish ritual which gave the Tannaitic Sages pause. These similarities, however, also gave the Sages tools for controlling non-Jewish ritual. They did this through a quest for plausible contexts for non-Jewish ritual behavior.

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Through establishing these contexts, the Tannaitic Sages are able to control what does and does not qualify as the worship of avodah zarah. Established as a compilation of aggadic literature from 4 th and 5 th century Palestine, Leviticus Rabbah reflects the social construction of the community of that geo-cultural setting. Divorced from the halakhic -legal strata, Leviticus Rabbah presents us with a glimpse of rabbinic community and gender construction that substantially differ from the picture painted in the legal corpus.

These lexical preferences are compared to other recurring metaphors within the rabbinic corpus, as well as with appearances of the same metaphors in rabbinic, Greco-Roman and Early Christian traditions. Reading rabbinic literature as the interaction of the rabbis with the Biblical text in light of their individual experiences, we expose Leviticus Rabbah as a porthole through which we might glimpse the views of a particular community at a given historical era, conveying a rhetorical reality and socio-cultural ideologies rather than traditional historical fact.

A close reading of chapter 14 deconstructs the workings of rabbinic ideology, revealing the prevailing cultural assumptions while shedding light on tensions and struggles regarding concepts of gender within rabbinic society as it encountered its broader milieu. This reading sheds light on competing discourse regarding the female body which existed within rabbinic thought.

This project seeks to understand how the rabbinic impurity legislation of the male genital emissions of shikhvat zera mildly-defiling, potentially-procreative emission and zivah strongly defiling non-procreative emission contribute to the construction of gender. The work begins by delineating how Leviticus 15 describes these two male genital emissions in terms of their definition and defilement properties: they seem to be categorized by two different taxonomies.

One of these taxonomies focuses upon the manner in which each emission is exuded and its concomitant impurity level. The other taxonomy involves the ability or lack of ability of each emission to facilitate procreation. While both shikhvat zera and zivah were ritual impurities, zivah, the stronger defiler, shared a particular characteristic with moral impurities—the ability to defile the Temple from afar. The study next examines whether rabbinic legislation maintained or departed from biblical legislation.


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It concludes that although the rabbinic impurity laws use the same taxonomies as the biblical ones, they redefine the emissions and the ways in which the emissions are understood to defile. On the one hand, in rabbinic legislation the distinctly separate characters of shikhvat zera and zivah show signs of blurring; on the other hand, each category itself is more thoroughly elaborated.

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The importance of shikhvat zera—the mildly-defiling, potentially-procreative emission—increases as its relationship to sexuality is increasingly emphasized. As part of this process the emission acquires a new type of impurity that is moral. These developments are evident in the representation of semen in metaphors that illuminate or complement legal discussions.

In a parallel development, zivah—the strongly-defiling, non-procreative emission—is understood as not precipitated by stimuli that usually impact the body, such as food or drink, physical exertion or sexual thoughts or visual experiences. Zivah will be used as a least common denominator of maleness: even a questionably male person is marked by his ability to be subject to zivah.

A complementary part of the project demonstrates that female emissions and their power of defilement were not necessarily sites of more rabbinic legal innovation than male emissions and their power of defilement. It acknowledges that distinct hierarchies of male and female prerogative and privilege undoubtedly existed in terms of the practical implications of the purity laws, hierarchies that advantaged men and excluded women. However, contrary to previous scholarship—which asserts that rabbinic use of metaphors to describe female impurity and rabbinic law concerning female impurity were motivated by a desire to objectify and exclude women—this study proposes that metaphorization, objectification, and the introduction of some external supervision served to further nuance the laws and thus consolidate the power of the rabbis.

The study reveals that male emissions were also metaphorized, and that the male body was also objectified as a consequence. Rabbinic treatment of emissions reveals a gender bias only in that men were less subject to supervision than were women. This dissertation argues that, contrary to popular conceptions and the current scholarly consensus, rabbinic Jewry did not become a people of the book, or even the people of the Book, until the high middle ages.

In place of this promiscuous and easily misunderstood written record of the covenant, a less threatening iteration of the biblical tradition took on the mantle of revelation in many early rabbinic circles, a memorized oral formula of the Hebrew Bible—to which intangible object rabbinic thinkers attributed all the qualities of transcendence, comprehensiveness, and multiplicity that they associated with the divine and found lacking in the bald written transcript of revelation.

Chapter 1 examines early rabbinic descriptions of late antique literacy practices and concludes that many rabbinic authorities viewed sight reading for information as an alien mode of engaging with written signs practiced by non-Jews and heretics. This mode of engaging with the biblical text required two distinct transcripts of the biblical tradition to circulate in classical rabbinic circles: a memorized oral formula and a written consonantal transcript. Chapter 2 argues that classical rabbinic thinkers came to conceive of these two transcripts as independent, and even conflicting, witnesses to the biblical revelation.

This chapter suggests that many early rabbinic authorities came to see the memorized oral transcript of the Hebrew Bible as a more authentic record of the biblical revelation than the written consonantal text. Chapters 3 and 4 compare rabbinic descriptions of childhood literacy education with narrative and material evidence concerning late antique reading education in the Greek and Roman Mediterranean.

These chapters argue that rabbinic practitioners were taught to engage with the written text of the Bible using a cross-cultural pedagogical system that cultivated a combination of highly circumscribed phonetic literacy and extensive literary memorization. Chapters 5 and 6 track the growth of classical rabbinic ambivalence towards the biblical text as a reaction to Christian claims on that document.

This study investigates the effect of access to a visual outline of the text structure of a Talmudic passage on comprehension of that passage. A system for defining the text structure of Talmudic passages was designed by merging and simplifying earlier text structure systems described for Talmudic passages, following principles taken from research on text structure. Comprehension of two passages were compared for students who did traditional reading of a Talmudic passage the passages had punctuation added, and a list of difficult words and their meanings was appended the control condition , and students who read the passage with these same materials as well as with an outline of the text structure of that passage the experimental condition.

Seventy-two 10th and 11th graders participated. After a brief training on text structure, students were randomly assigned to the control or experimental condition for Passage 1. All students took a comprehension exam on Passage 1. In the next session, all students who read Passage 1 in the control condition read Passage 2 in the experimental condition, and all students who read Passage 2 in the experimental condition read Passage 2 in the control condition.

Students then took a comprehension exam for Passage 2. The results provide evidence that awareness of the text structure of a Talmudic passage helps readers when the passage is concrete and somewhat well organized. Stuart S.

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The book under review here, Stuart S. Most of it is on ritual baths and bathing in the archeology of Palestine and in Palestinian rabbinic texts, but there are a number of long excurses: a chapter on P. Oxy , a Christian text dated to sometime in the first four centuries which seems to describe a mikveh , a chapter on stone vessels, and a chapter on priests and purities.

In the introduction, Miller outlines the trajectory of the study of the or so ritual baths excavated in Hellenistic and Roman Palestine, especially focusing on and acknowledging the work of Ronny Reich and Yonatan Adler. Rather, as purity rituals always had a double focus, on the temple and on the household, the destruction of the temple only knocked out one of these, while the other continued and was perhaps even enhanced. The second negative argument, made in chapters , 6 and 9, is that ritual baths found in excavations have been overdetermined and overinterpreted. In parallel, the Mishna and Tosefta and even the Yerushalmi rarely discuss specific structures but rather different types of water, and people who bathe in them in various ways.

The overlap between artifact and text is therefore rather slim, leading to the seemingly somber conclusion that the texts do not say exactly who used the artifacts or how they used them, and the artifacts do not provide information on the degree of observation of the regulations of the texts. These negative observations, however, do not show that archeology and text cannot inform each other, but rather that the questions they can answer must be carefully formulated and their respective domains clearly demarcated.

What role did these facilities play in certain periods and places relative to others? What type of water did they use? However, they cannot answer questions such as — what meaning did people assign to bathing? What was their identity? Therefore, the discussion has to start with the archeological finds, interpreted as minimally as possible in light of the general cultural context, and not in light of the details of contemporary prescriptive texts. Second, these contemporary texts must be read against the grain in order to locate the common assumptions and customs of the society that produced them, rather than the specific opinions and idiosyncrasies of their authors.

Only then can they be integrated with the results of the archeological investigations. These methodological observations are not new, but their systematic application to the purity rituals of the inhabitants of the Roman Galilee is novel. The positive results are as follows: Ritual baths are found in Palestine but hardly at all in the diaspora starting in the second century BCE and into the sixth century CE, in Jerusalem, Galilee, and the Hebron Mountains.

Most of them are from the two last centuries of the second temple, but many are much later, and they are found in diverse domestic contexts. Interpreting these findings on the background of the biblical purification requirements and Near Eastern perceptions of water ch. Returning in chapter eight to rabbinic texts especially y. Together, the rituals baths and the texts testify to traditional customs of purification in water, dependent neither on the temple nor on the Rabbis but on the domestic sphere of Jews who were not clearly part of any sect or movement in Palestinian Jewish society of the Roman period.

I think it is unfortunate that this call was not developed to a greater extent, in order to provide a robust theoretical alternative to the flawed methods criticized rightly, in my opinion by Miller in the first chapters. One criticism from the comparative perspective: Concerning popular purity practices, I thought Miller may not have gone far enough.


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  7. Additional evidence for the purity habitus of the non-Jewish Roman East may have been relevant here: Jews, Christians and Jewish Christians were not the only ones immersing and sprinkling in water for the sake of purity, ritual or other Porphyry, On Abstinence Book 4 is probably the longest repository of evidence in this direction, with all the problems of its philosophical ideology. Neither are they the only ones who built purpose-made basins for this purpose, though the other examples are in temples, not domestic contexts — e.

    Another case in point is washing in Asclepius shrines, as found, for example, in the medico-religious account of Aelius Aristides: here washing clearly had several dimensions. Turning to Jewish-Christians, witness the multiple types of washing in the Ps-Clementine Homilies and Recognitions — daily washing upon waking, washing after and before sexual relations, both side-by-side with one-time baptism. If Yair Furstenberg is right and netilat yaddaim originated in Greco-Roman eating practices p.

    Although Miller acknowledges general Greco-Roman perceptions of pollution pp. Furthermore, if popular Jewish purity habitus was part of Greco-Roman culture in the East, perhaps it was not based only, or even primarily, on the bible, as is often claimed here? Thus in one of the stories in y.

    After menstruation? Notwithstanding these criticisms, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. The long and sometimes winding tour is full of insights and leads to follow; I felt part of a lively and thoughtful seminar, in which all participants are treated with respect and intellectual honesty. The careful assessment of the evidence, together with the hesitation to identify artifacts with social groups known from the texts, instills confidence in the conclusions. Miller provides a solid foundation on what is actually known about Jewish purity practices in this period, upon which the more speculatively inclined textual exegetes can build their edifices.

    His main research area is rituals and ritual discourse in the religions of the Roman Empire. The field of academic Talmud study has its share of myths and legends, including works of research that were thought lost to the world. We thank Prof. Nazir, which is in many ways an atypical tractate in its literary form as well as its transmission, since it was not studied during the period of the Geonim, as is well known, presents particular textual problems. The Aramaic of Nazir and its fellows is a more literary Aramaic, apparently less close to the spoken forms of Babylonian Aramaic that we find in the other Tractates.

    All this suggests that the Stamma of Nazir and its fellow tractates belong to a different redactorial group set of stammaim?? What is most fascinating, however, and what animated the dissertation that you can read here desperately needing updating after forty years! This is, of course, true to a certain extent with all the Talmud but with Nazir we palpably see the text being formed before our eyes, as it were; that is, I suggest that we see with Nazir something like the textual processes that formed the main body of the talmudic text hundreds of years earlier, of the final form, so to speak, of the text being formed in the discussions of commentators.

    It was the discovery of this aspect of the text, aside from the fascinating content of the Tractate and the excitement of studying a new dialect of Aramaic that animated my work on the dissertation, lo those decades ago. One of my philosophy professors once advised us on how to read an academic text: first, have a question in mind and try to see how each sentence in the text addresses it. When you read the text for the second time, he said, have a specific question that is based on your first reading.

    This, he suggested, is the beginning of your own research. Nobody likes their hard work criticized, but in this case it is not my hard work that was criticized; Matthew Morgenstern misrepresented what I wrote and criticized that misrepresentation. I would like here to set the record straight, and note just a few examples of this dynamic of which, apparently, my books is not the only victim.

    It seems, surprisingly, that his review is a response not to my book but to another paper of mine, which raises serious methodological questions reflected in his own work. I will argue that instead of seriously grappling with these questions, Morgenstern only chooses to restate his opinion. Morgenstern does not give any reference to the book for the claim, and I could not find it in my book or in my articles. The main point that I make throughout the book and articles contra Morgenstern is that it is impossible in most cases to evaluate what the origin and character of a given form is.

    In contrast with the view that Morgenstern ascribes to me, that the Talmud was written in a high register, the model that I propound in fact suggests that, as is usually the case with old texts, we may posit two historical stages—stage A: composition of the texts in the context of diglossia, with differences between the written and spoken languages; stage B: transmission of the texts—and assume that various sorts of changes occurred in stage B during the transmission of the texts adaptations to the spoken language; adaptations to grammars of both higher and lower registers; misunderstandings of the original language; and mistakes.

    I also stress that when a feature appears to reflect the spoken language, it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine whether the feature is a manifestation of diglossia in stage A, or of changes in stage B. I do not argue strenuously or otherwise that we must assume a higher register; I claim only that this is an option that must be considered. This is the same claim that I made in the book.

    Indeed, if this were what I was saying, Morgenstern would be completely correct. Morgenstern was quoting nothing more than an intellectual exercise, meant to show that two alternative solutions are possible, and thus that neither can be assumed to be true. I have a distinct feeling that Morgenstern read little more than some of the introduction, and probably took a quick look at some tables with forms.

    He clearly did not even have the patience to read the notes following these tables, or to read the entire paragraph. For example in n. Had he continued a few lines later on page 67 in my book, he would have read the discussion as to whether it is a token of an assimilation or of an elision. Similarly, Morgenstern ridicules my claim that I find myself in agreement with the conclusions of Margolis and Levias , taking this as evidence of the backwardness of my approach to manuscript variation. Had he actually read the book, he would have realized that all the topics on which I agree with Margolis and Levias deal with syntactic analysis, and specifically in cases where there are no significant variations between the manuscripts.

    I am afraid that instead of dealing with the theoretical problems that I raised in that paper, Morgenstern chose to set up a straw man and argue against it. Morgenstern has employed similar tactics before, against authors greater than myself see e. Yet, perhaps Morgenstern did not understand me correctly? In his mind, perhaps, whoever disagrees with him must take the other side in the dichotomy. Unfortunately for him, I have actually never participated in this debate or accepted this dichotomy. According to the methodology that I actually used, we must document all forms and try to understand their origin.

    Once we have a clear picture of the nature of the texts and their transmission, it is very often impossible to provide a simple answer, but we can, and should, only tell competing stories. A clear, accessible guide to reading and understanding the Talmud. This book offers a unique introduction to the study of the Talmud and suggest ways to apply its messages and values to contemporary life.

    Imaginatively conceived, this volume is recommended for both individuals and group study sessions. Table of Contents. Cover Download Save.

    The Sea of Talmud: A Brief and Personal Introduction | D&R - Kültür, Sanat ve Eğlence Dünyası

    Title Page Download Save. Bialik is cited once, which may be the exception that proves the rule. For Rabbi Lichtenstein, the turn to literature, especially English poetry, even if it is overtly Christian, emerges from a worldview in which this material can foster universal values that are indeed religious values of the first rank. As he writes in the same series of essays:. Thus, our specific Jewish commitment rests on our universal commitment, and one cannot address oneself only to the specific elements while totally ignoring the general and the universal ones.

    Therefore, in delineating what a ben-Torah should be striving for, the initial level of aspiration is a general one: to be a mensch , to hold basic universal values, to meet normative universal demands What he thought must be done—namely, exposing his students to a rich cultural world with substantial religious meaning, even if that world is not Jewish—he did, without hesitation or compunction, even in the context of his discourses as a Rosh Yeshiva.

    Over the years, Rabbi Lichtenstein articulated his view on the relationship between Torah and general knowledge on several occasions. If, in his philosophical and didactic essays, he occasionally relates to academic Jewish studies with a passing reference, when it comes to his Talmudic writings such references simply do not exist. Rabbi Lichtenstein delivered thousands of lectures and wrote thousands of pages of novellae on Tanakh and Talmud, and yet he does not relate at all to the academic study of Talmud; he seems to have avoided it entirely.

    The accomplishments of academic Talmud study, built atop the legacy of philological-historical study, which is in turn influenced by fields both proximate and distant, such as history, literature, and comparative religion in addition to geography, philosophy, hermeneutics, legal history, psychology, and other disciplines, has made very significant strides in recent generations. Our ability to properly understand our sacred sources—Mishnah, Bavli, Yerushalmi, Geonic Literature, Rishonim , and Aharonim —hinges on their textual, linguistic, and contextual examination in addition to their comparative study alongside proximal counterparts from cultures that neighbor them temporally and geographically and in their social and religious contexts.

    So that this discussion does not remain too abstract, I will illustrate with a brief example that Rabbi Lichtenstein was familiar with, as is evident from one of his articles. The three berakhot that praise God for what He has not made us, and only they, have their source in Tosefta Berakhot There is no doubt that a comparison of these sources can explain the original—and current—meaning of these three berakhot. Epstein, the founding fathers of modern academic Talmud study whose work forms the basis of the entire field.

    To my mind, the central question remains: How could Rabbi Lichtenstein, with his great mind and greatness of spirit, who possessed so much Torah and wisdom, simply not pay attention to them? But how could they endure without any attempt to understand that which as most precious to him—the Talmud and its world, the halakhah and its concepts, the medieval commentators and their formulations—without the academic tools that were developed using the same methods, and in almost the same settings, as the humanities that are so important in other facets of his religious and intellectual life?

    Once he arrived at the conclusion that something is spiritually correct and important, it became a priority for him, and he worked to advance it, at the expense of other matters. His belief in the power of this interpretive methodology, its substantive and aesthetic advantages, and its religious meaning led him, we can suggest, not to engage in anything that required the investment of time or other resources in this field. As mentioned, he likewise barely mentioned modern Hebrew thought and literature.

    He also completely ignored the world of Kabbalah. There were other fields of knowledge in which he chose not to engage, based on his view that they could not advance his major life-goal: serving God by studying and teaching Talmud according to the traditional Brisker method. Nevertheless, this explanation does not seem exhaustive. It was not only that Rabbi Lichtenstein did not engage in this form of study; he fundamentally opposed it. To bolster this claim, let us return to Yeshivat Har Etzion in the early s.

    In , Prof. Its title indicates its contents, and I deem it to be the best and most comprehensive article on the proper method for academic study of a Talmudic sugya. It was a revelation; the experience was one of discovering a primal truth for the first time.

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    The next summer, in issue 88 of Alon Shevut , the student journal of Yeshivat Har Etzion, an article by Aharon Mishnayot, a member of this study group, appeared. One who attempts to locate this issue will not be successful; at the instruction of the heads of the yeshiva, copies of the issue were recalled and hidden away because of the aforementioned article. Aharon Mishnayot wrote to me about this episode:. Rabbi Lichtenstein spoke with me in his inimitable style—without anger, and even with a bit of bashfulness.

    I was surprised that his main criticism was against my claim that the Yerushalmi tends toward straightforward explanations more than the Bavli does. Rabbi Lichtenstein explained that the halakhic tradition accords with the Bavli, whereas the implication of my words is that the Yerushalmi is to be preferred, in opposition to the said tradition. I was doubly astonished: by the severity that Rabbi Lichtenstein attributed to it and primarily by the fact that Rabbi Lichtenstein never addressed the content of the claim. His disregard for the truth-claims in my article did not comport, to my mind, with his uncompromising intellectual integrity.

    I was simply amazed. Six months later, in the winter of , a group of students from the Netiv Meir yeshiva high school came to spend a trial week at Yeshivat Har Etzion.

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    As usual, yeshiva students were asked to give classes to their younger guests. One such student, Moshe Meir, gave a class based on an understanding of the Mishnah as it is, not on the basis of how the two Talmuds interpreted it. Word of this class and its contents reached the heads of the yeshiva. Moshe later recollected:.