A Detached Kiddushin
In antiquity, marriage by Jews and non-Jews alike was a natural process, not defined solely by a single legal moment. Through the requirement of kiddushin, the rabbis revived an ancient institution known in the bible as Erusin (אירוסין), imbuing it with a binding legal significance despite apparent public disinterest. How should we understand the rise of rabbinic kiddushin? What exactly did the rabbis have to gain in its establishment?
The Modern Study of Mishna: Rabbi Dr. David Zvi Hoffmann’s Approach
Rabbi Dr. David Zvi Hoffman (1843-1921), a pioneering scholar of rabbinic literature and a committed Orthodox Jew, did not shy away from applying academic methods to the study of rabbinic texts. His work on the Mishnah posits an early, uniform, undisputed, and therefore authoritative collection of the Oral Law which he called the First Mishnah. In the intervening years new critical methods and approaches have contributed even more convincing insights into the sources, growth, and history of “our” Mishnah. Nevertheless, Hoffman remains an intellectual father of contemporary rabbinic scholarship.
The Epistle of R. Sherira Gaon: A Point of Departure for the Academic Study of the Mishnah
The most important early source for the history of the development of rabbinic literature is the Epistle (Iggeret) of R. Sherira Gaon. What prompted him to write this history? What periods does it cover, and what were his sources? Was he really the “father of the modern critical historical” study of rabbinic literature as many claim, or was he a creative traditionalist narrator defending the authority of the rabbinic tradition?
The Narrative of the Narcissistic Nazirite
The aggadah of Simeon the Righteous and the shepherd from the south is explored here in light of two literary precursors, one Greek and one biblical. Striking similarities between the aggadah and the precursors suggest that the aggadah’s author drew inspiration from these earlier stories, fusing together some of their distinctive elements in his own original literary creation.
The Sotah Spectacle
The apparent goal of tractate Sotah is to delineate the biblical ritual of the suspected adulteress. While the text indeed largely follows the order laid out in the book of Numbers, a careful examination reveals that the rabbinic ritual has been dramatically changed from an individual, priestly process undertaken before God, to a public, largely rabbinic spectacle performed before a live audience.
Rabbinic Battery Law in Light of Roman Rule
The rabbinic laws of personal injury differ markedly from those in the Torah. They are, however, substantially similar to the laws of personal injury that guided Roman courts in Palestine in the second century CE. Reading m. Bava Kamma 8 alongside Roman law codes reveals the influence that Roman law had on rabbinic law and the rejection of a strict “eye for an eye” law, the calculation of נזק by valuing the victim as a slave, and the idea that an assailant could be liable for payments for בושת.
Directing the Heart to God: Moses’ Hands, Brass Serpents, and the Shofar
"Did the hands of Moses make the battle or did his hands break the battle? Rather, as long as Israel gazed upward, and directed their hearts to their Father in Heaven, they prevailed; but when not, they fell." — M. Rosh Hashanah 3:8
The Tale of the Sadducee who Incorrectly Prepared the Yom Kippur Ketoret
What is the significance of the contentious debate between the Pharisees and the Sadducees on where the Ketoret (incense) should be burnt? The Talmud tells the story of a Sadduccean High Priest who prepared the Yom Kippur ketoret according to the Sadducean rite and died a gruesome death. Comparing the Talmud’s version of this story with parallels elsewhere in rabbinic literature illuminates the Talmud’s understanding of the meaning of this vital Yom Kippur Avodah (ritual).
Enoch’s Walk with God Ends Badly in Babylonia
In Genesis, Enoch is said to have walked with God and ultimately to have been “taken” by him. Second Temple mystical traditions identify him as the angel Metatron, who sits on his own celestial throne and is referred to as the “lesser YHWH.” This tradition can be better understood in light of a similar Zoroastrian tale regarding an ancient king named Yima.
Why and How a Complete Midrash on Esther was Preserved in the Babylonian Talmud
When Babylonian rabbis produced and preserve midrashic discussions, they compiled them into relatively short, oral collections, using the mishnaic structure underlying the Bavli as a bibliographic “storage system.” Why did the Babylonian rabbis compile and preserve a complete midrash on Esther if this was not their regular working method? What technique did they use to preserve and store this midrash?
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.
The Changes to the Amidah Blessings during the Ten Days of Penitence
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?
Memorializing the Temple through the Maternal Practice of ‘Arakhin
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.
Herod’s Renovation of the Temple – Uncovering the Talmud’s Persian Influences
In “Herod’s Renovation of the Temple – The Talmudic Version”, I explored the Bavli’s account of how the first century BCE king, Herod, rose to power, violently solidified his rule, and rebuilt the Temple. I demonstrated how the rabbis thematized issues of sight and blindness in their telling of the tale in order to explain how a wicked king ended up building the holy Temple. In this piece, I look at the Persian sources of the story, which provide a further layer of understanding.