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?
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?
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
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?!
During the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur two concluding blessing formulas are switched to refer to God as a judge What is the meaning of this change? What can talmudic manuscripts teach us about this liturgical practice?
Prof. Joseph Tabory Continue reading The Changes to the Amidah Blessings during the Ten Days of Penitence
How the Mishnah’s version of a tannaitic homily advances a more active human role in divine deliverance. Continue reading Directing the Heart to God: Moses’ Hands, Brass Serpents, and the Shofar
In recent years, a growing consensus has emerged that the Bar Kokhba revolt should be connected to Rome’s establishment of the city of Aelia Capitolina on the ruins of Jerusalem. A new interpretation of Rabbi Akiva’s famous consolation upon seeing a fox emerge from the Holy of Holies (Sifre Deuteronomy 43) suggests that this homily can actually be read as a call to arms against Rome.
Dr. Meir Ben-Shahar
Continue reading Rabbi Akiva’s Laugh: The Hidden Call for the Bar Kokhba Revolt
In the wake of the destruction of Jerusalem, rabbinic literature’s presentation of mothers donating their children’s weight in gold to the Temple – following the rabbinic interpretation of ‘Arakhin – comes to exemplify both piety and tragedy. Continue reading Memorializing the Temple through the Maternal Practice of ‘Arakhin
Dr. Shai Secunda
The end of the first chapter of b. Megillah preserves the only complete Babylonian midrash on an entire biblical book. Continue reading Why and How a Complete Midrash on Esther was Preserved in the Babylonian Talmud
Excessive drinking on Purim is recommended by the amora Rabbah, in a rare Aramaic ruling that is followed by a strange account of a drunk Rabbah slaughtering his colleague, R. Zeira, at a Purim feast. What are we to make of this shocking law and story, and what do can they teach us about the unique, carnivalesque quality of Purim?
Dr. Barry Wimpfheimer
Continue reading Purim: A Day Beyond Full Rabbinic Control
How and why the Bavli reworked the tale and turned the Sadducee into an inglorious martyr
Dr. Yonatan Feintuch Continue reading The Tale of the Sadducee who Incorrectly Prepared the Yom Kippur Ketoret
The Mishnah states there are four Rosh Hoshanah’s and periods of Judgment. How is the 1st of Tishre different?
Dr. Rabbi Avraham Walfish Continue reading Composing Rosh Hashanah as a Day of Judgment