In late Second Temple times, a person would take an oath by verbally invoking the Torah. Over time, with the emergence of the Torah as a sacred object for Jews and Christians alike, Torah scrolls began to be used in court-administered oaths.
Dr. Moshe Blidstein Continue reading Taking an Oath While Holding a Torah Scroll
To illustrate the body and soul’s responsibility for sin, an early midrash presents the parable of the blind and lame watchmen. Curiously, this parable later shows up in Piyyut and in a Christian text. What might this teach us about the spread of rabbinic texts and ideas in late antiquity?
Prof. Ophir Münz-Manor Continue reading Body or Soul: Which is Responsible for Committing Sins?
M. Sanhedrin 10:1 is considered to be the most important statement of rabbinic heresiology in tannaitic literature. However, a close examination of this text’s development suggests that it is not a straightforward expression of c. 200 C.E. rabbinic doctrine at all, but a reworked tradition from an earlier sectarian milieu.
Dr. David M. Grossberg Continue reading Is there a Doctrine of Heresy in Rabbinic Literature?
Talmudic manuscripts reveal the existence of a forgotten, fifth cup of wine at the Passover Seder.
Dr. Menachem Katz Continue reading Five Cups of Wine at the Seder?
The accumulation of liturgical layers, songs, and discussion that adorn the traditional Seder can obscure its original, primary purpose. By closely analyzing the Seder’s artful oration in light of classical rhetoric, a sharper picture emerges of a Roman symposium-like gathering whose aim is to help its members appreciate and celebrate the freedom God granted through the Exodus.
Dr. Rabbi Richard Hidary
Continue reading How Is the Passover Seder Different from All Other Symposia?
Tracing the meaning and motifs of Rosh Hodesh (the new moon festival) from the biblical through the talmudic periods reveals a day of two different meanings.
Prof. Michael L. Satlow Continue reading What Does Rosh Hodesh Celebrate?
The relative absence of Chanukah from rabbinic literature has been seen by many scholars as evidence that late antique Jews were ambivalent about the holiday and its Hasmonean founders. However, the highly suggestive evidence of piyyut (liturgical poetry), which extensively and creatively thematizes Chanukah and the Hasmoneans, suggests that this apparent ambivalence was not shared across late antique Jewish society.
Prof. Ophir Münz-Manor Continue reading In Praise of the Hasmoneans: Chanukah Beyond Rabbinic Literature
A talmudic discussion about why God no longer makes miracles ends with a surprising comedy of errors. What message is the Talmud trying to convey? And how is this story used in a 20th century halakhic responsum about women’s pants? Continue reading From Theology to Comedy: The Story of R. Adda bar Ahavah and Matun
“Tzedakah” in the sense of communal charity, civic benefaction, and an individual form of giving came into being during the tannaitic period, with the help of the Greeks and a little-known king named Munbaz.
Prof. Gregg E. Gardner Continue reading How Tzedakah Became Charity
In their discussion of King Herod’s reconstruction of the Second Temple, Talmudic storytellers emphasize themes of sight, blindness, and illegitimate rule. They also make a surprising suggestion about who really should get credit for this renovation.
Prof. Jeffrey L. Rubenstein Continue reading Herod’s Renovation of the Temple – The Talmudic Version
A short history of how the Mah Nishtana changed: From three to four to five questions
Prof. Joseph Tabory Continue reading How Many Questions in the “Four Questions”?
A striking talmudic passage asserts that it is biblically permitted to eat the ḥametz of a non-Jew on Passover. How are we to explain this strange claim? What might this development teach us about the dynamics of rabbinic texts? Continue reading Hametz Owned by a Non-Jew May be Eaten on Passover?!
The Bavli’s editors noted the conclusion of some tractates with an edifying message. For tractates Bava Metzia and Avodah Zarah, they placed stories about Sasanian king Shapur I. In this way, they connected their rabbinic milieu to the Sasanian world in which they operated, and imagined Sasanian authority and approval of rabbinic law.
Dr. Jason Mokhtarian Continue reading Concluding a Tractate with King Shapur’s Praise and Practice of Rabbinic Law
A New Approach to the Story of Abaye, Rava and the Dream Interpreter Bar Hedya (b. Berakhot 55b-56a). Continue reading “All Dreams Follow the Interpretation” – Even for the Rabbis!