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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.

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Education at any level is not concerned with progress in a limited area, but in the general intellectual development of a student

…classes should reflect concern with texts but also concern for people’s feelings. Education at any level is not concerned with progress in a limited area, but in the general intellectual development of a student. Students cannot develop properly if they bear hostility toward a subject area, a particular professor, or themselves. The cultivation of proper attitudes in the student, towards his/her own self, colleagues and teachers, and the discipline as a whole is what we mean by good education. A congenial atmosphere, a pleasant emotional climate in the classroom, and the mutual respect of achievements is necessary to promote high standards and excellence without resentment. It is amazing what students will do if they want to and what they will not do if they do not want to.

Herbert W. Basser, “Approaching the Text: The Study of Midrash,” in Methodology in the Academic Teaching of Judaism, ed. Zev Garber (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1986), 128-129.

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At some time in the history of Israel, the belief in a perfectly retributive providence began to be shaken

This doctrine of a rigid correspondence between merit and reward, and between sin and punishment, however, is not propounded by every one of the biblical writers. At some time in the history of Israel, the belief in a perfectly retributive providence began to be shaken. It is difficult to say what were the causes of this. All that one can see is that, in course of time, men began to be perplexed by an apparent inconsistency in the administration of God’s justice. For while the righteous suffered the most grievous hardships, the wicked enjoyed great prosperity. These problems could not be lightly set aside. Some attempt had to be made to answer the questions which disturbed the righteous who suffered. So it was suggested that these afflictions were sent as a test of character. This approach to the problem is clearly developed in the book of Job, which was an attempt to answer the dilemma of those who believed that suffering is a sign of divine displeasure and presupposed sin on the part of the sufferer.

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), 278.

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For Jews, one might posit that the composition of texts in manuscript never disappeared from Jewish culture.

In his Print, Manuscript, and the Search for Order, David McKitterick characterizes the relationship between print and manuscript in the early modern period as a long divorce. For Jews, one might posit that the divorce was never finalized: the composition of texts in manuscript never disappeared from Jewish culture. The writing of a Torah scroll, the composition of a mezuzah, and other such sacred objects continues uninterrupted. Even beyond these basic ritual functions, manuscript writing continued to play a crucial role in Jewish societies for centuries after the invention of printing, and manuscripts continue to exist in persistent tension with printed books.

Yaacob Dweck, “What Is a Jewish Book?,” AJS Review 34, No. 2 (November 2010), 371.

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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.

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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.

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The legal device is introduced to preserve the principle and the purpose for which the law was ordained

The legal device is introduced to preserve the principle and the purpose for which the law was ordained. In Jewish law, likewise, the legal device was instituted not to circumvent the law, but to serve as a guard against the threatened neglect of a Biblical precept. It is scarcely necessary to stress that, as in the case of the Jewish people, changes, political, social and economic, have often taken place, the Jewish legislators felt impelled to contrive some legal instrument in order to preserve the idea and concept underlying a given precept. Such a device would help to maintain the Law and thus prove valuable in furthering the welfare of the individual, the group and the community.

M.S. Lew, “The Humanity of the Halachah,” 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), 244.

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Embracing the whole domain of existence, the halachah, far from taking no account of particular situations, has paid due regard to the humanities of life

The halachah has been ridiculed for its preoccupation with texts and hair-splitting minutiae even as criticism has often been levelled against Judaism for its arid legalism. In disparaging the halachah as a system cold, rigid, and impersonal, the critics overlooked or failed to see the ideas and concepts of humanity, sympathy and compassion that are embedded in the Jewish legal system and its literature. Embracing the whole domain of existence, the halachah, far from taking no account of particular situations, has paid due regard to the humanities of life. Indeed, like Biblical teaching, rabbinic legislation has been guided by the highest moral principles, social criteria, and considerations of human welfare.

M.S. Lew, “The Humanity of the Halachah,” 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), 243.

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People have learned not to rule out any cultural experience in advance

The general understanding of what’s profound and what’s shallow, proper and improper, cool and uncool will change, but the faculty of critical discrimination is never going to go away. Still, some of the edge has come off those distinctions. There has been a levelling of taste in both directions, down and up – a kind of Unibrowism. People have learned not to rule out any cultural experience in advance. They don’t have a problem with the idea that a television series might be as dramatically involving as a grand opera. It’s not that they think that these cultural forms are equally worthy as art, but they respond with less inhibition to the avant-garde.

Louis Menand, “Browbeaten,” The New Yorker (5 September 2011), 76.

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Rejecting Judaism means not only rejecting traditional theologies, but also rejecting this core part of your self-identity

When a group of people share such a rich set of experiences and history, it really doesn’t matter whether or not they all believe the same things about God. The role of Jewish tradition in shaping our beliefs is so powerful, so primal, that it transcends the question of theology and becomes a simple fact about who we are. I can lose my faith in God, but I can’t change the fact that I’m Jewish anymore than I can change the fact that I was born American. Being Jewish is a principal part of what makes me “me.” Rejecting Judaism means not only rejecting traditional theologies, but also rejecting this core part of your self-identity, choosing to turn your back on a tradition that’s shaped your whole life to this date.

Zack Beauchamp, “Judaism Without God,” Tablet (25 June 2012) {http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/104444/judaism-without-god}