21 December 2009

Day #1 of AJS Conference 2009

Yesterday (Sunday), I attended the first day of the 41st annual conference of the Association for Jewish Studies which happened to be conveniently located nearby, in LA. Instead of attending the first session, I skipped it to have coffee with the same friends’ of whose wedding I attended last year instead of going the first day of the conference.Marzena Zawanowska speaking For the second session, I attended one on Issues in Genesis and Its Interpretation. The first presenter, Marzena Bogna Zawanowska, spoke on the same author as she had last year, albeit on a different topic: “Between the Holy Text and Its Unholy Context: Polemical Overtones in Yefet ben ‘Eli’s Commentary on the Book of Genesis”. In her paper, she pointed out where he writes polemically: he writes against the Rabbanites (namely, Rabbi Sa’adia Gaon), other Karaite scholars, only twice mentioning Christian thought, and barely mentioning Islam (he even mentions the Badriyyah and the Sadducees, but doesn’t write against them, since they no longer existed). Dr. Zawanowska pointed out that he seemed to not bother with, for the most part, Islam and Christianity since they did not have the same beliefs in God or the Bible as did the Jews, so he mostly wrote against fellow Karaites as well as Rabbanites (and, obviously the Badriyyah and the Sadducees were not around, so they were irrelevant). Tzemah Yoreh speaking
The next paper, “The Death of Isaac,” was presented by Tzemah Yoreh, wherein he discussed the binding of Isaac and his seeming death that occurred. He pointed out that “fear” is a common occurrence regarding Abraham…. He said that the juxtaposition at the end of Genesis 20 of closing up the wombs in the house of Avimelekh with Sarah becoming pregnant at the beginning of chapter 21 may seem to give the sense that she became pregnant through him and not Avraham and that, due to the "doth protesteth too much" principle about the text saying that Isaac is the son of Avraham multiple times, maybe that isn't the case (he didn't say that that was necessarily the case, just that the text might hint at that). Yoreh also mentioned that, after the binding of Isaac in the E texts, Isaac is no longer mentioned, and that, in the E text, it stands as a faith model (Bilaam, as well). Whether or not I found what he said convincing, Yoreh hewed closely to the texts, which was good.
The next presente
r was Charlotte Katzoff, who spoke on “Abraham: A God-fearing Man or a Knight of Faith”, which dealt with the problem with promise to Abraham and God’s command, which explored a person’s evidence and belief and she tried to show a convincing picture of Abraham's cogniti
ve state. She was saying this was a larger story about his faith and that, in this story, justice is not at stake – God not presenting this as tit-for-tat. Following the paper, there was a meta-discussion on morality of the akedah and so forth with regard to reading into the text, etc.
Session 2: The Dead Sea Scrolls in Context
Lawrence Schiffman was unable to be there, but his paper, “Purity as Separation: Comparing the Dead Sea
Scrolls, Rabbinic Literature, and the New Testament” was read by Alex Jassen
Mentioned in Mark and Matthew and then in Acts and Apostles (later texts), set aside are purity issues
Rabbis – food purity discontinued due to lack of the Temple
Paula Fredrickson responded by saying that this issue is more complicated with NT texts, since there’s also the issue of sexual stuff.

Ron H. Feldman “Taming the Wild and Wilding the Tame: The Shifting Relationships between Humans, God, and Nature in the Qumran and Rabbinic Calendars”He was presenting on how different ways time is understood – studying the different calendars as texts for understanding the ways in which is understood. The lunisolar calendar is something we know from rabbinic texts and the 364-day calendar is known from Jubilees, 1 Enoch, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. There are similarities and differences between the two: both of them evolve from the Babylonian calendar. The rabbinic calendar favored ר"ח over שבת, while the 364-day calendar favored the opposite.
It seems that they reflect wild and tame notions of time: wild notion of time is reflected in the lunar calendar, since the moon was created before man and since it needs to be recognized by men to be announced; while the tame notion of time is reflected in the 364-day calendar, since it is שבת-based, which was created after man and is very regular.Interesting that שבת is the only time that is referred to as קדש in the Bible, whereas ר"ח is not
Jubilees is not just polemical against the lunisolar calendar, but also against the other 364-day calendars, as well.
The lunisolar calendar in the mishnah is observational
The key divine marker temporal marker is ר"ח and, therefore, one can break שבת to testify.
Wild time – uncertainty at center
Response to dysfunctionality of 364-day calendar
Second stage – observation began to wane and movement to control it but subtle – effort to assert control over wild time
Two ways of relating to time and cosmos

Alex P. Jassen “Connecting the Dots in the History of Halakhah: The Restriction on Thinking about Labor on the Sabbath in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jubilees, and Rabbinic Literature”Presented various texts from the DSS and rabbinic literature (nothing in Jubilees) on the topic of the problem of going out to one’s field on the Sabbath.

Robert R. Cargill “The Current State of the Archaeological Debate at Qumran”
I had previously seen him on a show on the History Channel, where he spoke on the same topic, which was interesting. He opened up by saying just as there is a State of the Union address, he was going to give a State of the Archaeological Debate at Qumran, basically considering why is this topic so contentious? For me, this was incredibly helpful, since I have been to the ** at the Israel Museum and had seen some stuff, but never knew what was so contentious about the study of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Cargill said that Qumran was well-documented in the mid-19th century, before the discovery of the DSS located nearby and that the discovery of the DSS radically changed the understanding of archaeology of Qumran in 1949. Initially, it was considered to have been either a Roman or a Hasmonean fort, but after the discovery of the DSS, a Qumran-Essene Hypothesis was advanced, perhaps that Qumran was established by sectarian Jews.
The discovery of the DSS then influenced scholars looking at the archaeological site (which warranted a comment that good archaeologists should examine the site first and then afterward consider other data).
The site appears to have been established as a highly defensive site with an excellent view of the crossroads, but had been expanded into less of a defensive building.
Cargill said he believes it to have initially been built in 140-130 bce as a Hasmonean fortress, which was abandoned, but then reoccupied and settled by sectarian Jews, who then expanded the building.
He said the debate will go on and his nice four-minute conclusion may be seen here.

Session 3: Narrative Voice in the Redaction of Rabbinic Texts
Aaron Amit speakingFirst up was Aaron Neale Amit “’This Mishnah was taught in the days of Rabbi’: On the Development of the Terms Mishnah and Talmud in the Bavli and Yerushalmi”, who discussed a particular beraita in the Babylonian Talmud and showed how it was originally found elsewhere in the Yerushalmi. Yonatan Feintuch speaking
Yonatan Feintuch spoke on “The Role of the ‘One Hasid’ Stories in Halakhic Contexts in the Babylonian Talmud” - The term חסיד אחד appears seven times in the Bavli, four of which appear in closed literary halakhic סוגיות and three of which are mentioned merely in passing; it was on the former upon which Feintuch focused.
The first instance is found on Berakhot 32a-b (mentioned previously on my blog), which appears to possibly be a reworking of a Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai story on Berakhot 26a, here seemingly replacing a named character for an unnamed character. The second instance is on Bava Kamma 80a, which is very similar to a story found in Tosefta Bava Kamma 8.13 involving Rabbi Yehudah ben Bava.
The third instance is found on Shabbat 150b. The fourth instance is found on Bava Kamma 50b.
While Bavli wanted greater leniency, redactors showed a way to be stringent using anonymity of a sage to demonstrate.Binyamin Katzoff speaking
Binyamin Katzoff “A Story in Three Contexts: On the Relation of Halakhic and Non-Halakhic Material in the Redaction of Rabbinic Works” - His main point was that, when reading the Tosefta, it should be done as a text on its own and not as a text dependent upon the Mishnah. This was a simple yet important point for anyone studying the Tosefta.
Kris Lindbeck was not there, but Natalie Polzer read her “Humor, Violence, and Resignation: Elijah Tries to Bring the Messiah”Natalie Polzen speaking
Story from Bava Metzia 85b and tried to promote the need for utilizing oral formulaic studies in understanding rabbinic stories since it helps identify stories by similar formulae, also for discovering motifs which were widely distributed and how they were meant to be used/understood, and it increases sensitivity to linguistic similarities and also how stories fit with a formula but then can be overturned. Elijah is often in disguise to do good, while other supernatural visitors appear in disguise to do bad.

20 December 2009

Association of Jewish Studies Conference #41: I'm There

Just as I attended last year's Association of Jewish Studies conference (albeit only the second day and the third day), I am at this year's AJS conference. Granted, it's a lot easier to get to, since I'm about a half-hour's drive or so from where we are living.
I hope to be able to type up what's been going on, because it's good stuff. In the meantime, you can enjoy this four-minute video of the conclusion to Richard Cargill's very informative paper on "The Current State of the Archaeological Debate at Qumran", wherein he sums up the importance of the DSS and Qumran studies:

16 December 2009

Orthodox American Rabbis Visit Desecrated Mosque in Kfar Yasuf (Press Release)

Rabbi Avi Weiss with Mahmoud Abu Salah, former head of the west bank village Yusuf, condemning the attack on the vilage's mosque
Orthodox American Rabbis Visit Desecrated Mosque in Kfar Yasuf

Kfar Yasuf, Israel - December 15, 2009 On Tuesday, rabbis representing Open Orthodox communities in the United States and Israel visited the community of Yasuf, expressing shared pain and condemnation for the desecration of the Yasuf Community mosque, allegedly committed by Jewish extremists.

Wearing their kippot, Rabbi Avi Weiss, founder of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, and Rabbi Yair Silverman, formerly of Beth Israel of Berkley CA and now rabbi of Moed in the Zichron Yaakov community in Israel, told a crowd outside the mosque: "We come in peace to express deep pain for what occurred. We condemn it with all our hearts and souls. As a people that has experienced such desecration, we come to reach out to you in the spirit of brotherhood."

The visit was conducted without press or military escort. "Just this morning, I looked in the papers and said, 'Wow, [the vandalism] was unacceptable,' and I felt it was very critical to reach out, human to human" said Rabbi Weiss. "There needs to be a strong voice of Torah protest against this."

At first, the visit created tension. "When we first arrived, people were confused why we were there. They were also angry. The pain of the community was palatable," said Rabbi Silverman. "But we needed to bear witness to the pain acknowledge that any desecration of one's religious worship is unacceptable."

When the rabbis initially extended their hands the community did not return the gesture. After some sign language and the help of an Arab interpreter, the mood changed. Eyad, a driver for the rabbis, said "I told the people that these rabbis have put their lives in danger to come and be by your side, to help as Jews. Listen to what they have to say."

The rabbis offered support to the rebuilding efforts and met with Munnir Abushi, local governor. "We joined them as brothers to share in their effort to rebuild, as we celebrate the hanukah message together that a bit of light can chase away the deepest darkness."
" said Rabbi Silverman. By the end of the visit, the two groups reached an air of respect and understanding and the rabbis departed to handshakes and warm wishes.

When asked about the outcome of the encounter, Rabbi Weiss said "In spiritual activism, I measure the success of an action by its purity- is it right or is it wrong. To come here today was the right thing to do. It's what the Torah is all about."

Ari Hart