Yesterday, after waking up (having slept in a bed (at a friend of my sister's house) (yay)), I went over to daven at Kesher Israel, which was only a block away from where I was staying. I then returned to the friend's house, where I retrieved my bags and headed back for day 3 of the annual conference of the Association for Jewish Studies (although it was my second day, having only attended the previous day's sessions).
I arrived just in time for the beginning of the first session of the day, where I attended "Ethnography of Jewish Ritual". The first presenter was Seth Ward, who spoke on "The Rise of Tu B'Shevat as a 'Jewish Arbor and Ecology Day': Balancing Themes of Land of Israel, Modern Israeli State, Ecology, and Mysticism", which primarily went through the spurious textual basis for this day and the rise of rituals associated with the day. He said that, "despite all the hoopla," it's not that widespread in synagogue, except for programming for kids or for the ecologically-minded. He also spoke of "inpraxation" - new practices for verses. The next presenter was Vanessa Ochs, who spoke on "The Traditional Commitment Ceremony", which was about contemporary homosexual commitment ceremonies (also known as civil unions, same-sex weddings, etc.) and how, when performing these rituals, base these new rituals off of customs. The next paper, "Rethinking Ritual Theory in Anthropology and Jewish Studies: Levinas, Geertz, and the Problem of Meaning", was presented by Don Seeman, who, at the outset, said that, at Jewish studies conferences, people are there and are interested primarily in the content. When at anthropology conferences, people are not necessarily interested in the content, but, rather, the methodologies and ideas. So, when he presents, sometimes people are kind of interested in the content, but he is now trying out talking about theory at a Jewish studies conference. (He also mentioned that hearing the phrase "We do this because..." in a church or a synagogue is a post-Reformation phenomenon, which was interesting.) the last speaker, Irit Koren, spoke on "The Discourse about the Wedding Ritual: Hierarchies of Gender, Knowledge, and Authority". This last paper was on how traditional Jewish feminists who've gotten married in the last ten years (having lived as single women in the UWS-like neighborhoods of Jerusalem) think about their weddings, who deploy various interpretive strategies in order to not feel oppressed at their weddings. These women stop with the obvious, normal ways of thinking about the Jewish wedding because they have an ambivalence about it and feel a need and wish to change the ceremony. Furthermore, they take on a role as active subjects in they are engaging in creating alternative discourses.
The next session I attended was a Talmud session: "Rabbinic Terms and Their Terms". The first presenter was Michael Chernick, who gave a paper on "'Af-Al Pi Še'en R'aiah La-Davar: The Hermeneutic, Its Characteristics, and Their Implications", which was absolutely excellent. The term upon which Chernick spoke, אף על פי שאין ראיה לדבר זכר לדבר, was something about which I've been curious, but have never really invested the time. But beyond just exploring the term, Chernick showed how noth only was this term not used by anyone after the tannaitic period, but that there are implications for how the early amoraim and then, subsequently later amoraim and stammaim interpret Biblical texts and then Mishnaic texts (there was much more in his presentation and I am doing so little justice to it). Next up was Herbert Basser, someone of whom I've never heard, but I found to be clever and hilarious, who presented on "Legal Implications in the Mechanics of 'Kulah Rabbi...'", which he said could alternatively be entitled "Extreme Makeover" (I would add "Talmud Edition"). He spoke, among other things on the Obama-ization of the stammaim, taking a tannaitic text in which it is not permissive of a certain action, but then reworking it (through חסורי מחסרא והכי קתני) to actually being permissive of some things (hence, "Yes we can"). The last paper of the session was "The 'Treyf' Pot: How Utensils Came to Require Kashering", presented by David Brodsky, who showed how the Babylonian Talmud came up with the idea of pots being treyfed up by food (or, in other words, there is no such thing as treyfing up a pot until the Bavli came along).
There was then a break for lunch, which I used for schmoozing with peers.
Then the last session of the day and the conference began, for which I attended "Medieval Rabbinic Leadership and Thought". The first paper presented was by Elisha Russ-Fishbane on "Contrasting Leadership Styles: Moses and Abraham Maimonides" (Russ-Fishbane did mention that although, properly, the name Maimonides refers specifically to Rambam, nevertheless, earlier scholars understood it to refer to a family surname, so, for simplicity's sake, he's using it here to also use it with his son, as well). Russ-Fishbane contrasted Rambam's more laissez-faire style of dealing with problematic local liturgical customs (although Rambam went after more serious issues), whereas his son was more proactive in abolishing problematic local liturgical practices. The next presenter, Tirzah Meacham, presented on "Sex for Clarification: Rabbinic Approaches to Anomalous Legal Situations in Medieval Codes and Commentaries", wherein she spoke upon issues of yibum. The last paper delivered was by Marzena Bogna Zawanowska on "The Holy Writ and Its Authorship in Medieval Karaite Commentaries on the Pentateuch", describing the following: Moses as earthly recorder of the entire Torah, God as the heavenly author of the entire Torah, Moses as selective co-author: omitting as well as adding, compiler-editor other than Moses, Moses an earthly co-author of the Torah, and a scribe-recorder other than Moses.
Following the session, I had a nice and fruitful conversation with Meacham on a topic on which she has written and upon which I've been wanting to write for over two years (I think I need to just sit down and start writing some of the papers I've been wanting to write).
On my way out, I was then asked and acceded to a request to join a minhah minyan, following which I departed in a car, getting a ride and then stopping into Eli's to pick up some food and then we hit the road, although there was a fair amount of traffic and we didn't return to the city until late.