Category Archives: Judaica

Jews in the Nineteenth Century

Some remarkable circumstances attest, without a prolonged detail of their miseries, that they have been a people everywhere peculiarly oppressed. The first unequivocal attempt at legislation in France was an ordinance against the Jews. And towards them alone one of the noblest charters of liberty on earth — Magna Charta, the Briton’s boast — legalized an act of injustice (Articles xii, xiii). For many ages after their dispersion, they found no resting-place in Europe, Asia, or Africa, but penetrated, in search of one, to the extremities of the world. In Mahometan countries they have ever been subject to persecution, contempt, and every abuse. They are in general confined to one particular quarter of every city, (as they formerly were to old Jewry in London) ; they are restricted to a peculiar dress ; and in many places are shut up at stated hours. In Hamadan, as in all parts of Persia, “they are an abject race, and support themselves by driving a peddling trade ;—they live in a state of great miser, pay a monthly tax to the government, and are not permitted to cultivate the ground, or to have landed possessions” (Morier’s Travels in Persia, p. 379). They cannot appear in public, much less perform their religious ceremonies, without being treated with scorn and contempt (Sir J. Malcolm’s History of Persia, vol. ii, p. 425). The revenues of the prince of Bohara are derived from a tribute paid by five hundred families of Jews, who are assessed according to the means of each. In Zante they exist in miserable indigence, and are exposed to considerable oppression (Hughes’ Travels, vol. i. p. 150). At Tripolit, when any criminal is condemned to death, the first Jew who happens to be at hand is compelled to become the executioner ; a degradation to the children of Israel to which no Moor is ever subjected (Lyon’s Travels, p. 16). In Egypt they are despised and persecuted incessantly (Denon’s Travels in Egypt, vol. i. p. 213). In Arabia they are treated with more contempt than in Turkey (Niebuhr’s Travels, vol. i. p. 408). The remark is common to the most recent travellers both in Asia and Africa (Morier’s Travels in Persia, p. 266. Lyon’s Travels in Africa, p. 32), that the Jews themselves are astonished, and the natives indignant, at any act of kindness, or even of justice, that is performed towards any of this “despised nation” and persecuted people.

Rev Alexander Keith, 1854

Posted in Judaica | 2 Comments

Neusner on Sale

If anyone is interested in picking up an inexpensive copy of Jacob Neusner’s Theology of the Oral Torah, I’ve just seen that several copies are available at Powell’s Bookstore in Chicago. The volume is rather expensive new.

Posted in Judaica | 2 Comments

Notes on Pharisees

As you may’ve noticed, I’ve been reading the volume edited by Jacob Neusner and Bruce Chilton, In Quest of the Historical Pharisees (Baylor University Press, 2007). If anyone is interested in what can be known about the Pharisees, this is the book to read. I found it a much more satisfying reading experience than even the relatively recent and excellent Anthony Saldarini’s Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees in Palestinian Society (Eerdmans, 2001), with nearly every chapter presenting a new and more convincing reading of the data.

The first five chapters already lead to something of a consensus. Steve Mason in “Josephus’s Pharisees: The Narratives” and “Josephus’s Pharisees: The Philosophy” covers very well indeed all the mentions of the Pharisees in Josephus’ works, the two chapters dealing with narrative and with the passages wherein the Pharisees are described as one of several Judean philosophies. Martin Pickup covers “Matthew’s and Mark’s Pharisees,” Amy-Jill Levine describes “Luke’s Pharisees,” and “John’s Pharisees” are covered by Raimo Hakola and Adele Reinhartz. The indication through these (with Luke being somewhat equivocal and hard to pin down, which makes Levine’s chapter somewhat less fun, that way) is that the Pharisees were a voluntary association of some sort with a focus on religious-social law (or halakhah, to be somewhat anachronistic), who did not in themselves comprise the ruling class (though some members did belong to it), but they exerted continuing influence over the leadership due to their influence over and popularity with the general population, an influence beginning in the middle-Hasmonean period and continuing until the Great Revolt (and beyond, in the Pharisees transformation/appropriation as the forerunners of the Rabbis). Details of their organization, membership requirements and numbers, even a precis of their standard beliefs, however, are all lost to us. But we do have some very interesting remnants preserved in the rabbinic canon, particularly several pericopes in the Mishnah and Tosefta, which Jack Lightstone describes in “The Pharisees and the Sadducees in the Earliest Rabbinic Documents”, and Neusner describes in “The Rabbinic Traditions about the Pharisees before 70 CE: An Overview”, and “The Pharisaic Agenda: Laws Attributed in the Mishnah and the Tosefta to Pre-70 Pharisees,” and “The Pre-70 Pharisees after 70 and after 140.” The potential recovery of such material is only possible with careful attention to the form of the pericopes. Where the form is unusual, this needs to be investigated. Neusner shows that this yields interesting possibilities indeed in the Pharisee/Sadducee dispute material and in the “domestic” narratives regarding Hillel’s family. In both cases, parts of the pericopes have not been “digested” by the editors of the pre-Mishnaic sources or by the editors of the Mishnah and Tosefta themselves into the standard format for such materials, so the likelihood is high that these are earlier sources incorporated into the texts as we have them. It’s unfortunate that there are so few! It’s also fascinating just how very blurred the line is between “Pharisees” on the one side and “Rabbis” or “Sages” on the other in the Tannaitic documents; there appears to be no real distinction, in fact. Additional interesting chapters include that of Bruce Chilton, “Paul and the Pharisees,” Chilton and Neusner with “Paul and Gamaliel,” James VanderKam’s “The Pharisees and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” and James Strange’s “Archaeology and the Pharisees.”

There are some chapters following the above on The Pharisees in Modern Theology: Susannah Heschel’s “The German Theological Tradition,” and two by Neusner “The Anglo-American Theological Tradition” and “The Debate with E. P. Saunders since 1970.” There is then also a concluding chapter by William Scott Green, “What Do We Really Know about the Pharisees, and How Do We Know It?”

One of the most interesting and beneficial results of this book would be the attention it draws to how one particular reading of the Gospel evidence, rather than the sum of the available evidence itself, and even a more generous reading of the Gospel evidence, has generated nearly two millennia of misreadings of the other materials regarding the Pharisees, too. I’ll cover some of those misreadings here, later. In the meantime, I recommend In Quest of the Historical Pharisees to everyone interested in the subject.

Posted in Judaica | 5 Comments

On the Oral Torah

The sages in these proportionate, balanced, and measured components revealed a world of rules and exposed a realm of justice and therefore rational explanation. It was the kingdom of Heaven, so the sages called it, meaning the kingdom of God. For that Eden, in the abstraction of natural history that was invented by philosophy, corresponds to the conception of the world and its perfection set forth by the theology of the sages. They accordingly conceived of a philosophical Eden out of Scripture’s account—its authorized history of the world from Eden to the return to Zion. What the observed facts of nature taught philosophers, the revealed facts of Scripture taught our sages of blessed memory. Therein theology differs from philosophy—but, in the Oral Torah in particular, the difference is there and there alone and nowhere else.

Jacob Neusner, The Theology of the Oral Torah, 17

Posted in Judaica | Leave a comment

Mishnah Comparison Chart

I’ve just posted a comparison chart detailing the coverage of the tractates of the Mishnah in the Tosefta, the Talmud Yerushalmi, and the Talmud Bavli. It should prove useful as a general reference.

As one can see in the chart, the Tosefta gives the widest coverage, with the Yerushalmi and Bavli providing coverage of roughly two-thirds of the Mishnaic tractates, and different ones at that, though they do both cover a number of tractates. The only tractates to have no presence in Tosefta and the Talmuds are Abot, Middot, and Qinnim. In the case of Abot, this is likely because it was added to the Mishnah some time later than its original compilation. Middot and Qinnim were likely excluded due to their subject matter, being the measurements of the Temple precincts, and complications related to bird sacrifices, respectively.

As always, suggestions for improvement are welcome.

Posted in Judaica | Leave a comment

Neusner Talmud Bavli update

I’ve corrected a few errors in the file I created with hyperlinks to the individual chapter files of the Hendrickson Publishing and Ages Software edition of Jacob Neusner’s The Babylonian Talmud: Translation and Commentary.

Here is a basic file, with default colors.

This file is the same file, with a black background and colored text, which I find easier on my eyes.

If you own the Neusner Babylonian Talmud CD, you’ll need to have the files installed to your hard drive, and you’ll need to place the above file(s) in the directory in which the pdfs of the chapters are installed. Either that, or you can edit the paths in the html. The corrections involved some of the folio numbers which my too hasty copying/pasting reduplicated in tractates Shabbat and Eruvin.

Posted in Judaica | 2 Comments

Random Acts of Aggadah

“Take heed of the heavens” (Deut 32.1). The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: Say to them, to Israel: Gaze at the heavens, which I created to serve you. Have they perhaps changed their ways? Does the orb of the sun perchance not rise out of the east and light up the entire world, all of it? The fact is: the sun rejoices in its commission to do My will, for Scripture says, “The sun . . . is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run his course” (Ps 19.6).

“And let the earth be heard” (Deut 32.1). Gaze at the earth, which I created to serve you. Has it perhaps changed its ways? Have you perchance sown seed and it has not sprouted? Or have you sown wheat and it brought forth barley? Or did the heifer perhaps say, “I will not plow,” “I will not thresh”? Or did the ass say, “I will bear no burden,” “I will not move”?

Likewise, the sea. “I . . . have placed the sand for the bound of the sea (Jer 5.22). Has it perhaps changed its ways and, rising, flooded the world?

Is this not a matter to be argued a fortiori? The heavens, the earth, and the sea were created to receive neither reward nor penalty. If they earn merit, they receive no reward; if they go astray, they are subjected to no penalty. They need not be concerned about their sons and daughters. Yet they have not changed their ways. You—who receive reward when you earn merit and receive punishment when you sin, who are concerned about your sons and daughters—how much more and more by far should you not change your ways.

The Book of Legends 7.492
(a translation by William Braude of the classic Sefer ha-Aggadah, edited by Hayim Bialik and Yehoshua Ravnitzky)

Posted in Judaica | 2 Comments