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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News February 2011

February 15, 2011

Talmud and Jewish Law

This is the second in a series of major reports which document the Foundation's contributions to the various disciplines within Jewish studies. An earlier report, distributed to the Board of Trustees on September 1, 2010 covered the Bible. The current one will deal with Talmud and Jewish law.

Like the Bible, the Talmud, the composite of our religious oral tradition, is one of the major cornerstones of our faith and culture. As a result of the scholarship, fellowship and institutional programs of the Foundation, hundreds of volumes, monographs and studies dealing with all aspects of Talmud and Jewish law from a variety of religious and ideological perspectives have been supported by the Foundation. Hundreds of young Torah scholars have also been awarded scholarships in a program initiated by Nahum Goldmann in 1972 to regenerate the cultural elite in the field of Talmudic studies who were decimated during the Holocaust in Europe.

Our goal here is not to list or describe all the projects we have supported but to highlight some major ones, which already have, or will have, a major impact on Jewish culture in our times. The projects we will be covering deal with traditional, academic, legal and semi-popular publications intended to foster the most serious Talmudic and Jewish legal scholarship and the dissemination and comprehension of Talmudic texts and Jewish law.

In this report I will focus on areas which reflect the emerging importance of Talmud. These projects also shed light on how the support of the Foundation fashions and shapes the impact of Talmudic and Jewish legal scholarship on Jewish civilization in the post-Holocaust era.

The Critical Edition of the Talmud and the Encyclopedia Talmudit

Both these monumental projects were conceived by Rabbi Meir Bar Ilan. During World War II. Rabbi Meir Bar Ilan became deeply concerned with the extermination of the East European Jewish community and the possible extinction of traditional Jewish scholarship. What a perfect combination of faith and vision Rabbi Meir Berlin demonstrated in conceiving these two monumental projects!

His original intention for the Encyclopedia Talmudit, for which he recruited Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin, was to create a team of outstanding Talmudic scholars to assemble and print in an encyclopedic fashion all the written Torah texts from the Revelation forward. After five years, Rabbis Berlin and Zevin developed instead the format of the Talmudic Encyclopedia as it currently exists, a comprehensive presentation of all halachic subjects dealt with in the Talmud and in post-Talmudic literature from the Gaonic period to contemporary times. As in most encyclopedias, the halachic topics are arranged in alphabetical order.

In 1942 he also established an institution, the Complete Israeli Talmud Institute, to prepare and publish a scientific edition of the entire Mishna and Talmud which would preserve all the variant texts. The Institute would gather all the variant readings from manuscripts, Geniza fragments and from quotations of the Mishna and Talmud found in Gaonic and early Rabbinic literature. He organized teams of Talmudic scholars to meticulously copy variant passages from the various sources. Thousands of photocopies of manuscripts, early printed editions and Geniza fragments were collected for this purpose. The variants were then published for each tractate beneath the text of the Vilna edition of the Talmud, with three accompanying sections. The first, lists the parallels in the rabbinic literature to the line in the text from the Talmud; the second, the parallels quoted in the writings of the Rishonim; and finally, the Shinuyei Hanuschaot, which lists all the variant readings the research teams discovered, followed by references that explain the provenance of the readings, and the logical and practical implications of the changes in the text.

The Foundation has awarded grants to the Encyclopedia Talmudit since the Foundation's inception in 1965, to support the preparation and publication of volumes 12-28. We have also supported a two-volume index. Volumes 29-32 are currently in preparation.

The Foundation also funded the Critical Edition of the Talmud since 1974, supporting the research and publication of the following tractates: Sota, Yevamot I, II, III and IV, Nedarim I and II, Nazir I and II (in preparation), Kiddushin I, II, III (in preparation), Gittin I, II, III, IV (in preparation) and Moed I and II (in preparation).

Both these projects have become standard reference works for both religious and secular institutions of higher Jewish learning worldwide.

The Steinsaltz Talmud

In the 1500 years since the Talmud has been completed, there were no translations of it into other languages until the modern period. In the nineteenth century, two translations were undertaken in German by Dr. Efraim Moshe Pinner and Dr. Lazarus Goldschmidt. The first English translation was done in the U.S. in 1896 by Michael Levi Rudkinson; a second translation, in English, the Soncino edition, was completed in the United Kingdom by Dr. Isadore Epstein. A third translation most recently undertaken in the United States was the Art Scroll edition.

In 1967 Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz began the monumental project of translating the Babylonian Talmud into Hebrew. What motivated Steinsaltz was his desire to make the Talmud accessible to Hebrew speakers, including the secular Israeli public in the State of Israel. While speakers of Modern Hebrew can read the Torah, the Talmud is difficult for them to navigate. Written in an arcane Aramaic Hebrew, it is also daunting for those not trained in its ways of dialectal argument.

Steinsaltz, now 73, who was raised by secular non-observant parents, began his career as an educator. At age 27 he initiated his life-long project in a most audacious manner. Braving the ire of some traditionalists, he inserted vowel marks and punctuation within the text. He also partially redesigned the format of the traditional text, translated the Aramaic text into Modern Hebrew and added his own commentary which appears alongside the traditional ones. He also provided a wealth of explanatory notes. Twelve typefaces are used to help the readers sort out the various categories of material.

Steinsaltz completed the last volume of the Talmud, volume 46, in November of last year to worldwide acclaim. For his translation of the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz received the Israel Prize in 1988.

The Foundation has supported the preparation and publication of his work almost from its inception until 2001, including the preparation and publication of the following sixteen volumes: Berachos, Shabbat Vol. I and II, Pesachim Vol. II, Sanhedrin Vol. I, Sanhedrin Vol. II, Yoma, Succah, Baba Metziah, Ketubot Vol. I, Kiddushin, Sotah, Nedarim, Nazir, Avoda Zara, Shavuot.

If Steinsaltz's life's mission has been to give Jewish texts and learning back to the Jewish people, based on his conviction that the fundamental texts of our heritage belong to all the Jewish people, he has certainly succeeded. We are pleased to be able to assist in this historic achievement.

Mishpat Ivri

Mishpat Ivri, unlike Halakhah which encompasses the entire religious tradition, focuses on the Jewish legal tradition based on our Scriptures as interpreted in the Talmud and as applied by the rabbinic courts throughout the Middle Ages up until the breakdown of the organized Jewish communities in modern times.

For the past forty years, the leader of the movement promoting the introduction of Jewish legal elements and Talmudic principles into the legal system of Israel has been Professor Menachem Elon. As Professor of Jewish Law at the Hebrew University Law School, founder of the Institute for Research in Jewish Law there and at New York University's School of Law, Elon spearheaded study of halakhic texts, responsa literature and Jewish history for that purpose. Moreover, as Deputy President of the Supreme Court of Israel, Justice Elon led the struggle for the application of Jewish legal principles to Israeli law.

The Foundation supported Prof. Elon's pioneering work in Mishpat Ivri with institutional grants in 1973, 1979, 1984 and 1985. Prof. Elon was awarded the Israel Prize for his work in Mishpat Ivri in 1979.

The Knesset of the State of Israel has, as a result of Prof. Elon's efforts and that of his students, incorporated the values, decisions and legal traditions of Mishpat Ivri into its legislation in numerous areas, (for example, criminal and copyright law and privacy and workers' rights). Prof. Nahum Rakover, a student of Professor Elon, who has also been awarded the Israel Prize for his work in Mishpat Irvi, has assembled hundreds of decisions taken by Israeli courts based on Mishpat Ivri in his two-volume work, Modern Applications of Israeli Law (1992).

Prof. Elon's contribution to the field of Mishpat Ivri goes far beyond his own research and publication. He is responsible for raising a whole generation of young scholars and lawyers dedicated to the formulation of traditional legal practice and insights in modern terms and to their presentation as relevant to the enrichment of Israeli law and its legal profession — bench and bar.

The Foundation has awarded scholarships and fellowships to a generation of Prof. Elon's students who carry forward his pioneering work in Jewish law. We received the list of members of the Jewish Legal Heritage Society, the body of scholars and lawyers engaged professionally in Mishpat Ivri. Of the 55 Israeli members, 24, or 43% of the group were Prof. Elon's students — lawyers and academics — and others who were inspired by his work to make careers in this field. They received a total of 63 doctoral scholarships and fellowships from the Foundation for their work in this field, a remarkable statistic. Their names, constitute a who's who in the field of Mishpat Ivri today: Hanina Ben-Menachem, Stuart Cohen, Michael Corinaldi, Arieh Edreia, David Elgavish, Yossef Fleishman, Aviad Hacohen, Yehiel Kaplan, Ranon Katzoff, Aaron Kirshenbaum, Shalom Lerner, Yair Lorberbaum, Lieb Moscovitz, Benny Porat, Mordechai Rabello, Amihai Radzyner, Nahum Rakover, Yossef Rivlin, Avinoam Rosenak, Aaron Shemesh, Shmuel Shilo, Eliav Shochetman, Daniel Sinclair and Itamar Warhaftig.

As a result of these grants and others in this field, the Foundation is responsible for the blossoming of studies that cover the entire gamut of Jewish legal thought and practice. This cadre of scholars, with Foundation support both during their University studies and subsequently in their careers, have been engaged in the Judaization of the Israeli legal system of the future without religious coercion, but rather through research and education.

The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 was preceded by the rebirth of the Hebrew language. It was followed by the "Ingathering of the Exiles". These three monumental accomplishments, unparalleled in world history, inspired this group of legal scholars to aspire to a fourth "miracle": nothing less than the renaissance of the indigenous Jewish legal heritage, Mishpat Ivri. The Foundation is exceedingly proud to be associated with, and to support, this effort.

The Society for the Interpretation of the Talmud

The Society for the Interpretation of the Talmud, established by Prof. Shamma Friedman, Prof. of Talmud at Bar-Ilan University, emphasizes an intellectual approach to the study of the Talmud, combining academic, textual and literary disciplines that elucidate halachic and rabbinic thought and their historical development. According to Prof. Friedman, many contemporary approaches to the Talmud entertain agendas that go beyond the Talmud itself, addressing derivative subjects like applied Halacha or religion and ethical values, which lend their own dialectic to the study of the Talmudic text. The Society for the Interpretation of the Talmud is focused on understanding the text itself and the ideas it contains.

What the Society seeks to accomplish is to join two worlds, the heirs of Judische Wissenschaft and traditional Talmudic studies, especially represented in the Rishonim and Acharonim whose approaches are compatible with academic disciplines and are precursors of critical methodology.

The Memorial Foundation has supported the publication of the first five volumes of publications of the Society for the Interpretation of the Talmud, including: Five Sugyot from the Babylonian Talmud: Toward an Edition of the Talmud with Original Commentary; Talmud Ha-Igud, Berakhot, Chapter I; Talmud Ha-Igud, Shabbat, Chapter VII; Talmud Ha-Igud, Eruvin, Chapter X; and Talmud Ha-Igud, Pesachim, Chapter IV.

Women Scholars in Talmud and Rabbinics

In recent years, the Foundation has given special attention to supporting women scholars in a multitude of disciplines. A surprising and most profound development has been the Foundation's role in developing the next (and new) generation of women scholars in the area of Talmud and Rabbinics, who are not only outstanding students but also extraordinary personalities. I am listing below a selected list of the scholars we have supported who have received either Urbach Fellowships or Special Doctoral Scholarships, the most prestigious grants we offer:

One of the first of our women recipients in the field of Talmud was Dr. Vered Noam who is a Professor of Talmud at Tel-Aviv University, now on leave, serving as the Horace Goldsmith Visiting Professor of Judaic Studies at Yale University.

Dr. Vered Noam, after receiving her Ph.D., with distinction, from the Hebrew University for her research on Megillat Ta'anit, was awarded the Memorial Foundation's prestigious Ephraim Urbach Post-Doctoral Fellowship, which helped her publish her doctoral dissertation, Megillat Ta'anit: Versions, Interpretations, History (Yad Ben Zvi, Jerusalem, 2003, in Hebrew), to enormous critical acclaim. She has recently published From Qumran to the Rabbinic Revolution: Conceptions of Impurity (Yad ben Zvi, Jerusalem 2010).

Sarah Benmoshe, who received a Doctoral Scholarship in 2007 and a Special Doctoral grant in 2009, is preparing her doctoral dissertation in Talmud and Rabbinics at Bar-Ilan University, School of Jewish Studies.

Ms. Benmoshe's doctoral dissertation, "A Scholar's Commentary Edition to Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot, Chapter Four," under the supervision of Prof. Shamma Friedman, focuses on the development of the halachot dealing with a father's rights in relationship to his daughter, and a husband's rights in relationship to his wife, as well as his obligations with regard to both. She will examine the development of these laws and how they differ in the Israeli and Babylonian traditions, using all existing Jewish and non-Jewish textual sources.

Ayelet Segal, who received a Special Doctoral Scholarship in 2009, completed her doctorate in Talmud at Bar-Ilan University this year. Ms. Segal was the first woman to receive a B.A. in the Talmud Department at Bar-Ilan University in an accelerated degree program geared to students of unusual excellence who have studied Talmud more than five years in post-secondary educational institutions. Upon completion of her B.A., she was accepted directly into the Ph.D. program in Talmud, receiving a Fellowship from the university's prestigious President's Fellowship Program for Outstanding Doctoral Students. Prior to her doctoral work at Bar-Ilan University, Ms. Segal received certification as a To'enet Rabbani from the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, qualified to serve as an advocate in the rabbinic court system where she served on issues of divorce and agunah.

The topic of Ms. Segal's doctoral thesis was "Prenuptial Agreements in Jewish Law." Her academic advisors advised us that her dissertation will have major practical and public policy implications in crucial aspects of Jewish family law in Israel, especially the difficult and sometimes tragic situation of women who are refused a divorce by their husbands and, hence, become agunot.

Aliza Bazak, who received a Doctoral Scholarship in 2009 and a Special Doctoral grant in 2010, is pursuing her doctoral studies at Bar-Ilan University. She was also certified by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel as a To'enet Rabbani, qualifying to serve as an advocate in the rabbinic court system and since 1996, has served as a rabbinic advocate in the rabbinical courts on behalf of plaintiffs in divorce proceedings.

Ms. Bazak's doctoral dissertation, "The Tav LeMeitav Presumption in Modern Halakhic Discourse," examines the development of the parameters, rules and assumptions that restrict the ability of a woman to obtain a Jewish divorce. She made a marvelous presentation on her doctoral research and its implications for Jewish law and family life in Israel at the most recent meeting of the Foundation's Board of Trustees last June in Jerusalem.

We are certain that these women scholars and their colleagues will, through their scholarship, enlarge our understanding of rabbinic law and make a difference, a real difference, in Jewish cultural life, not via polemics or politics, but via their ideas and ideals, rooted in Jewish texts.

We are enormously proud of the pioneering and critical role we are playing in all these areas.

With warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President