, ,

The problem of reconciling the ideal justice of God with the sufferings of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked in the world was forced inescapably on the attention of the Rabbis

The problem, frequently mooted in the Bible, of reconciling the ideal justice of God with the sufferings of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked in the world, was forced inescapably on the attention of the Rabbis by the downfall of the monotheistic Jewish State and the triumph of heathen Rome. They solved it by assigning capital importance to a factor which in the Bible is only vaguely and obscurely hinted at – the hereafter or future world. It became an article of faith with them that the righteous suffer only in this world, the reward for their good deeds being reserved for them in the hereafter, while the wicked receive all their rewards in the present world for their few good deeds, and await their punishment in the future world. The spheres of the righteous and wicked in the next world are designated the ‘Garden of Eden’ and ‘Gehinnom’ respectively. This view was first clearly stated by Rabbi Akiba, who finds in the biblical ascription ‘A God of Truth’ (Deut. xxxii, 4), a categorical affirmation of divine justice. God is very particular with both the righteous and the wicked. For He exacts payment for the few evils which the absolute righteous perform in this world, in order to give them a goodly reward in the future. Likewise, He gives abundant peace to the absolute wicked and pays them for the few good deeds they perform in this world, in order to punish them in the future.’ Similarly, when Rabbi Ishmael was being led out to execution together with Rabbi Simon b. Gamliel, he ascribed the latter’s fate to the offence which he had committed in delaying justice, implying that he, himself, too was about to suffer in this world for his sins.

A. Melinek, “The Doctrine of Reward and Punishment in Biblical and Early Rabbinic Writings,” in Essays Presented to Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday, ed. H.J. Zimmels, J. Rabbinowitz, & I. Finestein (London: The Soncino Press Limited, 1967), 284-285.

, ,

Talmud study has engendered a remarkable series of innovations by dint of the cascade of new media in the past century

One of the most venerable of Jewish book practices—Talmud study— has engendered a remarkable series of innovations by dint of the cascade of new media of the past century. These recent developments rest on a much longer history of practices centered on this core text of rabbinic Judaism. As scholars of the early modern period have noted, printed folios of the Talmud, first published in the late fifteenth century, expanded the engagement in rabbinic text study among jewish boys and men throughout the diaspora. beginning at the turn of the twentieth century, photo-offset reproductions of the 1880–1886 “Vilna Romm Shas” not only canonized this edition as definitive but also presented scholars with a daf of unprecedented standardization in both content and form. (The value invested in fixing the format of the daf is implicit in the “pin test,” in which yeshiva students are challenged to identify the words through which a pin, stuck into a page of the Talmud at random, passes on subsequent pages, a skill that relies on memorization of the text as well as knowing its placement on the page.) The standardized daf also facilitated the institution of Daf Yomi—inaugurated by Rabbi Meir Shapiro at the First World Congress of the World Agudath Israel, held in Vienna in 1923—as an international practice that both promotes and regulates Talmud study within a modular rubric.

Jeffrey Shandler, “The Jewish Book and Beyond in Modern Times,” AJS Review 34, No. 2 (November 2010), 382.

, ,

The study of the Pentateuch with the view of indicating the re-attachment of halachoth to the written law was known as middoth

The study of the Pentateuch with the view of indicating the re-attachment of halachoth to the written law was known as middoth (modes, measures) or, in its Aramaic equivalent, mekilatha. Thus, we read: ‘Better is he who studies halachoth and is conversant with them, than he who studies halachoth and middoth and is not conversant with them, but – it is his ambition to be acclaimed a student of mekilan.’ The term ‘middoth’ and its Aramaic translation ‘mekilatha’ had also the meaning of a scroll or a set of rules. It may thus refer to a set collection of Beraithoth.

S.K. Mirsky, “The Schools of Hillel, R. Ishmael and R. Akiba in Pentateuchal Interpretation,” in Essays Presented to Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday, ed. H.J. Zimmels, J. Rabbinowitz, & I. Finestein (London: The Soncino Press Limited, 1967), 297.

, , , ,

The renewed activity of re-attaching halakhot to the written Torah in Hillel’s time are due to the struggles of the times

The circumstances which brought about renewed activity in re-attaching halachoth to the written Torah at the time of Hillel are undoubtedly to be sought in the struggle of the Pharisees with the Sadducees, and in turn these circumstances necessitated the establishment of schools – the houses of Shammai and Hillel – who came occasionally together for academic discussions.

S.K. Mirsky, “The Schools of Hillel, R. Ishmael and R. Akiba in Pentateuchal Interpretation,” in Essays Presented to Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday, ed. H.J. Zimmels, J. Rabbinowitz, & I. Finestein (London: The Soncino Press Limited, 1967), 295.

“…the Mishnah should still remain an important source for the legal, social and intellectual history of the first two centuries of Roman Palestine”

In light of the creative dimension of the Mishnah’s redaction and a critical refusal to accept on faith the reliability of attributions to Sages in the Mishnah, the Mishnah is sometimes excluded from historical studies of first- and second-century Palestine. this is a shame because even Jacob Neusner, the scholar most identified with a highly sceptical approach to attributions, argues that many mishnaic statements with attributions truly cite positions which stem from the generation of their attributed tanna. While Neusner believes that we cannot verify whether a sage actually said or held the position attributed to him (and therefore rabbinic biographies cannot be written), he believes that we can verify if an attribution stems from the generation to which it is attributed. After applying his verification method, Neusner concluded that many an attribution may be dated roughly to the generation of its attributed tanna, a find of great significance for historians. Furthermore, the existence of a great number of mishnaic statements whose early dating cannot be verified (by Neusner’s verification method or by source criticism) or falsified are probably reliably dates as well. Although we cannot test the reliability of the attributions in these materials, I believe that we still dealing with levels of certainty common in the study of ancient history. In short, despite the strong redaction of the Mishnah, the Mishnah should still remain an important source for the legal, social and intellectual history of the first two centuries of Roman Palestine.

Amram Tropper, “The State of Mishnah Studies,” Rabbinic Texts and the History of Late-Roman Palestine, ed. Martin Goodman & Philip Alexander (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 103-104.

“today there is a broad consensus that the Mishnah should be viewed as a tightly edited composition”

At times, the redactor preserved his sources as he inherited them, at times, he mildly altered them, and, at times, he significantly shaped them. How to find the precise balance between the conservative and creative dimensions of this editorial process is still unclear, but today there is a broad consensus that the Mishnah should be viewed as a tightly edited composition (see Wald 2007a). Even if the editorial process may have been limited at times to the selection and arrangement of earlier materials, these editorial judgements are of major significance since they reflect the concerns and goals of the Mishnah’s redactor/anthologist. In short, the Mishnah is now viewed not merely as a conduit through which earlier tannaitic literary materials were preserved, but also as composition it its own right.

Amram Tropper, “The State of Mishnah Studies,” Rabbinic Texts and the History of Late-Roman Palestine, ed. Martin Goodman & Philip Alexander (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 103.