Shulhan Arukh’s Audience and Sizes, Initially

The earlier editions were addressed to young men. They were issued in various sizes, some of which could be carried around with ease, and were designed to be used anywhere, not only in the synagogue or in the study hall. Like the editions of the Greek and Latin classics that had appeared at Aldus Manutius’ press in Venice earlier in the century, the work contained a preface but offered little commentary. Furthermore, in some printings Karo’s Shulhan ‘arukh was not one book, but four, as each volume of Jacob ben Asher’s Tur to which it served as a précis was packaged as its own volume. The early editions hardly looked or felt like the weighty law code it would eventually become.

Yaacob Dweck, “What is a Jewish Book?” AJS Review 34:2 (November 2010), 369.

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One of the successes of literary-critical scholarship on the midrashic literature

One of the successes of literary-critical scholarship on the midrashic literature has been the determination of a plausible relative chronology of the documents, based strictly on internal literary criteria (e.g., use of Hebrew vs. Palestinian Aramaic; amount of Greek and Latin employed; nature and frequency of attributions; dependence on, or literary affinity with, other documents). Documents deemed to be earlier bear stylistic affinities with the Palestinian Talmud, use a fair amount of Galilean Aramaic and Greek and tend to attribute materials to a variety of Palestinian Amoraim mentioned in the Palestinian Talmud. Documents deemed to be later are mostly in Hebrew, use little Aramaic and Greek, and contain fewer attributions (many of which are suspect).

Richard S. Sarason, “Toward a New Agendum for the Study of Rabbinic Midrashic Literature” in Studies in Aggadah, Targum and Jewish Literature in Memory of Joseph Heinemann, eds. Jakob J. Petuchowski and Ezra Fleischer (Jerusalem & Cincinnati: The Magnes Press, The Hebrew University and Hebrew Union College Press, 1981), 59, n.12.

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Heinrich Graetz’s work appears to have been quite peculiarly and unfairly ignored by Christian scholars

…the work of Heinrich Graetz appears to have been quite peculiarly and unfairly ignored by Christian scholars, and not taken into account in the effort to attain some balanced assessment of the gains and losses of the historical movement in the study of biblical history. He must surely be rescued from the unjust accusation of being “uncritical”. From a Christian perspective, he appears rather in the nature of a Jewish apologist, but against this must certainly be set the fact that the school of historical interpretation that took its lead from Wellhausen has appeared to be decidedly anti-Jewish. On this score alone, it is obviously of the greatest importance to scholarship to avoid any confusion between historiographic method and theological evaluation.

R.E. Clements, “Heinrich Graetz as Biblical Historian and Religious Apologist” in Interpreting the Hebrew Bible: Essays in Honour of E.I.J. Rosenthal, eds. J.A. Emerton and Stefan C. Reif (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 53.

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The term Halakhah

The term Halakhah does not occur in the Bible; it is found only in tannaitic and amoraic literature and not even in other literary sources of the Second Temple period. In its form, Halakhah is an Aramaic noun and the verb (halak = “to walk” or “to go”) from which it is derived, serves in its various forms, to denote a person who observes the Lord’s Torah and fulfils its commandments. Thus, one “walks” not only in “the ways of the Lord” (Exodus 18:20), but also “in His statutes” (Leviticus 26:3), “in His judgments” (Ezekiel 37:24) and “in His Torah” (Exodus 16:4). Walking is parallel to observing. Just as one walks along known roads but the act of walking also lays new paths, so too, although one observes the commandments in established ways, the act of observance itself creates new forms.
The definition given by Nathan b. Jehiel of Rome, the 11th century author of the Talmudic dictionary, Arukh, which describes Halakhah as “something which came from ancient days and [will last] to the end [of time], or [alternatively] something according to which Israel goes,” accurately reflects the double meaning of the term: 1. A tradition followed throughout generations, and 2. A way accepted by the people as a whole. This definition also implies that the Halakhah is not explicit in the Bible and that, unlike the Biblical commandments, its source is not in direct revelation. The term, nevertheless, does carry the connotation of authority which is in no way inferior to that of the commandments of the Torah itself. Indeed, the parameters of the Biblical commandments – such as the place and time of their observance and who is obliged to perform them – are fixed by the Halakhah.

Ephraim E. Urbach, The Halakhah: Its Sources and Development, trans. Raphael Posner (Ramat Gan: Massada; Jerusalem: Yad la-Talmud, 1986), 2-3.

Geography has not changed much in the Middle East over the past several thousand years

Geography has not changed much in the Middle East over the past several thousand years. Modern Israel remains at the crossroads of the Middle East and in the crosshairs of potential regional and extra-regional great power rivalries. Egypt is certain once again to emerge as a strong regional force; so too, for that matter, will powerful states to the north, be they Iraq or its successor state, Iran/Persia, or Turkey. The dilemma of whom to choose as an ally, if anyone, and how to resist predations by external powers will never be far from the thoughts of future Israeli policymakers, just as they were for those of the rulers of the ancient Jewish kingdoms.

Dov S. Zakheim, “The Geopolitics of Scripture,” The American Interest (July/August 2012), 12.

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No phenomenon more accurately reflects the life and character of the Jewish people than the Halakhah

Nothing has made its influence more profoundly felt on the course of the history of the Jewish people, shaping its way of life and giving it form and substance, than the Halakhah. There is, therefore, no phenomenon that more accurately reflects the life and character of the people than the Halakhah.

Ephraim E. Urbach, The Halakhah: Its Sources and Development, trans. Raphael Posner (Ramat Gan: Massada; Jerusalem: Yad la-Talmud, 1986), 1.

The Sacred texts in the Christian tradition most prone to sacrilegious use are those that deal with the suffering (passion) and death of Jesus

The Sacred texts in the Christian tradition most prone to sacrilegious use are those that deal with the suffering (passion) and death of Jesus. These texts, the “passion narratives,” give rise to a narrative that is fundamental to Christian identity; collectively, they give rise to a story as elemental to Christianity as the Exodus is to Judaism. Yet, they have been used in ways that I can only call sacrilegious in their disparagement and vilification of Jews and Judaism. The charge, initially leveled in the New Testament, developed with considerable rhetorical effect in early church writings, and a common staple of church teaching for nearly two millenia, constitutes the theological core of anti-Judaism. In short, the passion narratives seem to be a case study in problem texts precisely because they are both deadly and life-giving. All depends on the telling.

Mary C. Boys, “Redeeming Sacred Texts From Their Sacrilegious Uses,” in May Smith Lecture on Post-Holocaust Christian/Jewish Dialogue: March 10, 2008 (Boca Raton, FL: Florida Atlantic University, 2008), 2.

Sometimes, Jews feel as they are in PR for their people

…many of our friends in Okinawa don’t know what to make of our Judaism. If they’ve met Jews before, they’ve certainly never had an opportunity to have an honest and open exchange with someone of our faith. (Sometimes, I feel as though I work in public relations for the Jewish people.)

Leora Skolnik, “From The West Side To The Far East,” The Jewish Week (24 May 2013), 50.

Experiential education for Emerging Adults vs. Formal

Experiential education, which partakes of certain characteristics of formal education but rejects others, aligns with one of the key realities of emerging adults: They are ambivalent about institutions. On the one hand, they rightly sense that legacy institutions frequently are more motivated by concerns about institutional self-preservation than mission or innovation. This leads to suspicion of institutional life. On the other, they are adept at navigating the institutional demands of large institutions (most notably universities and often large corporations), and some easily identify with institutional life.

Rabbi Josh Feigelson, “Emerging Adulthood: Finding One’s Place as Jewish Educators”, eJewish Philanthropy (21 May 2013).

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The Goal of a Jewish Educator…

The goal of a Jewish educator should not be to remain in the sublime, deeply personal experience…, but to build upon it, recognizing that only by facilitating a community comprised of individuals of rich, meaningful experience will Jewish communities be compelling enough to want to join.

Dr. Stephen Hazan Arnoff, “Jewish Peoplehood and the Biblical Landscape”, eJewish Philanthropy (21 May 2013).