29 May 2011

A Second Introduction to the Stammaim: A Description by Michael Chernick

I have discussed the stam(maim) before and found this fantastic description by Michael Chernick within a pedagogical context:*

Dividing the sugya into its chronological components helps the student see how historical forces may have influenced the development of talmudic law and rabbinic thought, and how talmudic law and rabbinic thought have influenced the history of Jewry and Judaism. The identification of a redactional level in the Talmud also means that we can help the student account for the Talmud’s discourse style—and take control of it—by separating the original material from the redactional matrix into which it has been placed (or forced)

While I have mentioned the redactional level of the Talmud, I have not yet offered a detailed picture of what its redactors did. There are a number of redaction theories, but for clarity’s sake I will present only one. It proposes that originally the “proto-Talmud” consisted of more or less chronological lists of tannaitic and amoraic material closely or loosely connected to the Mishnah. The basic elements of these lists generally had attributions and were formulated in Hebrew. The anonymous redactor(s) (the stam) took the elements of these lists and transformed them into a running argument called in Aramaic sugya. The connectives necessary to create this argument were in Aramaic, which is one of the identifying marks of stammaitic intervention, and were anonymous. Once we remove the redactional “glue” holding together the individual pieces of tannaitic and amoraic material, we restore the original extra-mishnaic tannaitica and amoraic dicta in Hebrew and the basic infrastructure of what became a sugya. This has the effect of showing that the Talmud’s discourse was, without its redactional level, more linear, and therefore more understandable. For those familiar with mishnaic Hebrew, a talmudic passage’s essential content becomes immediately visible. Students not familiar with Hebrew can have a similar experience if we take the time to use separate fonts or colors for the tannaitic, amoraic, and stammaitic strata in a translated sugya.

Once we are in a position to recognize how the Talmud’s redactors created a discursive matrix out of individual tannaitic and amoraic teachings, we can reverse the process and separate those strands of teachings out of the Talmud as a completed product. This allows us to consider what might have been the original meaning of tannaitic or amoraic teachings, independent of the meaning anonymous later interpreters assigned to them. This contributes to a less mythical, more historical understanding of Jewish law and rabbinic thought. Once students see clearly that halakhah and aggadah are developing and changing entities, re-interpreted over and over, teacher and student can consider together the developments in Jewish practice, ethics, and thought that have taken place throughout Jewish history, as well as the paths that Judaism might take today as it tries to navigate between the Jewish past, present, and future.

In pages 9-10 from his "Neusner, Brisk, and the Stam: Significant Methodologies for Meaningful Talmud Teaching and Study" as part of the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education's Initiative on Bridging Scholarship and Pedagogy in Jewish Studies (previously mentioned in January and in March).

09 May 2011

JSpace beta Housewarming for AJWS

On Friday morning, JSpace beta hold a housewarming gathering for its newest member to move in to its office, American Jewish World Service.
Although AJWS' west coast office is in San Francisco, this new space gives them a presence in Southern California.

Shawn Landres, co-director of Jumpstart, welcomed AJWS in with some opening remarks, "For me, this is wonderful, because we look for ways to do good in the world Jewishly. Because being Jewish for us, I think, is not just a noun and it’s not just an adjective, it’s an adverb – it’s a way of being in the world. And AJWS gives us a way of doing in the world that’s very powerful. "
Joshua Avedon, the other co-director of Jumpstart, then remarked on what JSpace beta is, saying that "Jumpstart undertook with a number of partners throughout the LA Jewish community to create a center that would allow emerging non-profits and established non-profits that were working within the Jewish space to find a place to have a hub where they can work together, think together, think creatively, and find new collaborations. "
Then Ruth Messinger, the executive director of AJWS, spoke, remarking that, "With great happiness, we are now building these partnerships by getting in on the ground floor, as it were, of shared space in a Jewish community which is a vibrant Jewish community with lots and lots of interest in social justice." Messinger continued:
As an organization, this is part of our challenge, because, as you all know, our work is thousands and thousands of miles away. And that means we have a tremendous amount to do to decide when a country for an in-country consultant; how often to take donors or supporters to actually visit our extraordinary grassroots, social change partner projects who are, in fact, changing the world. But as we focus energies there, we have this other huge responsibility, which is to grow a sense of global social justice in the Jewish communities of North America. And part of figuring out how to do that is, of course, figuring out where to rely on friends, where to actually put staff, and how to grow ourselves in the United States. And we've tried to do that in a minimalist way, so we save most of our resources for Ghana, Burma, and Peru. But, we have a west coast office in San Francisco. And, since the founding of that office, which has a handful of staff people, the notion was "How can we tackle LA?" The first big piece of that answer came literally with Allison Lee. And we are very happy to say that our commitment to LA means that we are now doubling the size of our LA staff.
But I think, most importantly for us, is not just getting a physical space, but getting a physical space that has meaning, that is about the Jewish commitment to social justice, that is about Jewish commitment to growing our community so that it has a variety of new progressive points, out of which more and highly relevant and pertinent Jewish community for the 21st century will grow.
Messinger finished off by saying "
So we are honored to be here."Rabbi Sharon Brous speaking
Lastly, Rabbi Sharon Brous, the senior rabbi for Ikar, shared a devar Torah, including describing the importance of AJWS' work:
In a world of immense brokenness, of terrible human suffering, and great tragedies that unfold on a daily basis. So it's ultimately completely irresponsible to just thrive in our freedom. And, for many, many years, that's where the Jewish community was in this country: just living in a place of abundant privilege and great pleasure and not really knowing how to connect what was happening, brewing in our hearts when we hear about terrible things with what we could actually do to help make the world a better place.

Following the speeches, everyone in attendance proceeded down the hall to AJWS' new space, where a mezuzah was affixed to its doorpost, followed by singing.

More pictures of the event are here.

04 May 2011

Creating a Poster with which to Protest Neturei Karta

Yesterday, Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss of Neturei Karta came to a campus at which I work and spoke. Yes, that sucks, but fortunately, there weren't too many people there listening to him. Nevertheless, we still protested. Anyways, I knew that once I saw the sign announcing his coming to campus, I had to do something. Although initially I didn't know what to do, I realized we had to at least have signs made up protesting him. After searching around and looking for other peoples' signs - which, by the way, I figured that I wasn't the first person to protest Neturei Karta, and that other people surely had to have prepared signs against them - and coming up with nothing, I did see plenty of pictures of Neturei Karta protesting with signs of their own. Amongst these, I came up with an idea to make my own version of a sign of theirs (pictured here all the way to the left) and put it against the backdrop of an Israeli flag (without the Jewish star). It's simple, gets the point across that Neturei Karta do not represent general Jewish opinion or world Jewry.
Anybody who likes may download the sign and print it out and use it - totally free :)