All posts by Editors

The blind and the lame, by Johann Theodor de Bry, 1596. Rijksmuseum

Body or Soul: Which is Responsible for Committing Sins? 

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? 

Detail from the beginning of the chapter on Sanhedrin in Pisqei Rabbi Yeshayah Aharon. Italy 1374. The British Library

Is there a Doctrine of Heresy in Rabbinic Literature?

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.1

Dr. David M. Grossberg Continue reading Is there a Doctrine of Heresy in Rabbinic Literature?

  1. This article is based on material from my recent book, David M. Grossberg, Heresy and the Formation of the Rabbinic Community (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2017). Readers are encouraged to consult the book for a more detailed discussion of these matters and additional bibliography.
The seder scene in a Passover Haggadah, with German translation p. 42. (copied by Eliezer Sussman Mezeritsch, decorated by Charlotte von Rothschild · 1842 ) Zürich, Braginsky Collection, B314, e-codices.ch

How Is the Passover Seder Different from All Other Symposia?

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.1

Dr. Rabbi Richard Hidary

Continue reading How Is the Passover Seder Different from All Other Symposia?

  1. This article is a reworked excerpt from Richard Hidary, Rabbis and Classical Rhetoric: Sophistic Education and Oratory in the Talmud and Midrash (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 68-73.
An illustration of a man lighting the Hanukkah lamp with a congregation behind him from the Forli Siddur, Italy 1383. British Library

In Praise of the Hasmoneans: Chanukah Beyond Rabbinic Literature

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

Talmudist 1925 by Yehuda Pen (1854–1937)

From Theology to Comedy: The Story of R. Adda bar Ahavah and Matun

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

Model of Herod's Temple (a renovation of the Second Temple) in the Israel Museum

Herod’s Renovation of the Temple – The Talmudic Version

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

The Colossal Statue of Shapur I, (239–270 CE ), the second king of the Sasanian Empire, stands in a cave located about 6 km from the ancient city of Bishapur in the south of Iran. Its height of about 6.7 m and breadth across the shoulders of more than 2 m make it one of the most impressive sculptures from the Sasanian period. Wikimedia

Concluding a Tractate with King Shapur’s Praise and Practice of Rabbinic Law

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

Image taken from page 12 of "A journey from London to Persepolis; including wanderings in Daghestan, Georgia, Armenia, Kurdistan, Mesopotamia, and Persia." Author: John. Shelfmark: "British Library HMNTS 10076.g.6."

The Development of the Chanukah Oil Miracle in Context of Zoroastrian Fire Veneration

The Ancient Fire that Fueled the Chanukah Story

Dr. Shai Secunda Continue reading The Development of the Chanukah Oil Miracle in Context of Zoroastrian Fire Veneration