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Digital Mishnah

April 30th, 2012

Hayyim Lapin has begun work on a “Digital Mishnah.” The website of the project is here. From the project description on the website:
  • The Mishnah, a rabbinic legal text produced about 200 AD/CE, is a foundational document of Jewish life and study. Although widely studied, and published in many editions, there is no modern critical edition of the text. The Digital Mishnah project will provide a digital-born edition that will provide some of the functions of a traditional critical edition while providing dynamic tools that are only available in a digital edition.
  • While the current pilot project for MITH works with only a small sample of the larger text, it will draw on the full range of textual sources for the larger project: manuscripts of the Mishnah; texts of the Mishnah as written in manuscripts of the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds, fragmentary manuscripts (from the Cairo Genizah), citations from the Talmud, and citations from medieval and early modern scholars. Basic functionalities will include:
  • Ability to view a transcription of each witness discretely, in several output formats (“diplomatic,” normalized, print-ready)
  • Ability to view a synoptic edition of all or selected witnesses
  • Ability to produce collated detailed comparisons of all or selected witnesses, output as interlinear tables or as a critical apparatus. (Planned use of CollateX functionalities.)
As the project develops, additional functionalities will include:
  • Ability to pull specifically tagged items (personal names, geographical terms, loanwords) and perform detailed text comparisons (also valuable, for instance, for the history of orthography or phonology).
  • Statistical and modeling tools for stemmatics
  • Data mining.

Max Planck Institute Announces Legal History Post-Doc Posted

April 30th, 2012

The Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, Max Planck Research Group (Sabine Arnaud), has announced one Postdoctoral Fellowship for a scholar in legal history or history of technology. The Institute invites "outstanding junior scholars" to apply. The position lasts for 10 renewable months, starting October 15, 2012 (with the possibility of starting earlier). The fellowship is awarded in conjunction with the research project, “The Writing of Deaf-Muteness and the Construction of Norms.”

Jewish Review of Books: What a Friend We Have in Jesus by Paula Fredriksen

April 30th, 2012

Paula Fredriksen (Boston University) offer her thoughts on three recent books THE JEWISH ANNOTATED NEW TESTAMENT edited by Amy-Jill Levine, Marc Z. Brettler, THE JEWISH GOSPELS: THE STORY OF THE JEWISH CHRIST by Daniel Boyarin, and KOSHER JESUS by Shmuley Boteach,  in her article "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" in the Jewish Review of Books, found here.

Daniel Sperber: Greek in Talmudic Palestine

April 27th, 2012

A new book from Professor Daniel Sperber, Greek in Talmudic Palestine. The following is from the publisher:
  • Some seventy years have passed since Prof. Saul Lieberman first published his seminal Greek in Jewish Palestine (1942), and over a hundred years since the appearance of Samuel Krauss’ great “Lehnwörter”, a dictionary- concordance of Greek and Latin loanwords in rabbinic literature (1899). In the ensuing period a wealth of papyrological and epigraphic material has been discovered, greatly enriching our knowledge of Koine Greek. Furthermore, many classic rabbinic texts are now available in critical editions, and newly discovered tracts have been published revealing additional lexical items, thus broadening the boundaries of our knowledge of rabbinic parlance.This study seeks to continue in the paths laid out by the earlier pioneers, adding lexical entries to Krauss’ work, analyzing morphological changes in the process of loaning from one language to another, examining dialectical characteristics, patterns of corruption, and thus explaining many hitherto misunderstood passages in rabbinic literature

New book: Friedman, The Aleppo Codex

April 27th, 2012

Matti Friedman, a journalist who writes a lot about ancient Judaism has published The Aleppo Codex: The True Story of Obesession, Faith, and the International Pursuit of an Ancient Bible [Hardcover] Algonquin Books (May 15, 2012). From the book abstract:
  • In an age when physical books matter less and less, here is a thrilling story about a book that meant everything. This true-life detective story unveils the journey of a sacred text—the tenth-century annotated bible known as the Aleppo Codex—from its hiding place in a Syrian synagogue to the newly founded state of Israel. Based on Matti Friedman’s independent research, documents kept secret for fifty years, and personal interviews with key players, the book proposes a new theory of what happened when the codex left Aleppo, Syria, in the late 1940s and eventually surfaced in Jerusalem, mysteriously incomplete.
  • The codex provides vital keys to reading biblical texts. By recounting its history, Friedman explores the once vibrant Jewish communities in Islamic lands and follows the thread into the present, uncovering difficult truths about how the manuscript was taken to Israel and how its most important pages went missing. Along the way, he raises critical questions about who owns historical treasures and the role of myth and lege

Oxford, Vatican digitization project

April 17th, 2012

The Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (BAV) said on Thursday they intended to digitize 1.5 million pages of ancient texts and make them freely available online. The libraries said the digitized collections will centre on three subject areas: Greek manuscripts, 15th-century printed books and Hebrew manuscripts and early printed books. More information found here.

Kar on the Origins of Western Law

April 17th, 2012

Robin Bradley Kar (University of Illinois College of Law) has posted, On the Early Eastern Origins of Western Law and Western Civilization: New Arguments for a Changed Understanding of Our Earliest Legal and Cultural Origins, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, a three-part article on SSRN. Here is the abstract for all three parts: Western law and Western civilization are often said to be parts of a distinctive tradition, which differentiates them from their counterparts in the “East” and explains many of their special capacities and characteristics. One common version of this story, as propounded by the influential legal scholar Harold Berman, asserts that Western civilization (including its incipient legal traditions) began in the 11th century AD with a return to the texts of three more primordial traditions: those of ancient Greece, Rome, and Israel. The basic story that Western civilization finds its origins in ancient Greek, Roman, and Hebrew culture is, however, so familiar and so pervasive that it has rarely — until recently — been questioned in the West. This Article develops a novel set of arguments, rooted in recent findings from a broad range of cognate fields, to suggest that this standard story is nevertheless incomplete and even potentially misleading. If we are genuinely interested in understanding our origins in a way that will shed light on why the West has exhibited such distinctive capacities for large-scale human civilization and the rule of law, then the story we commonly tell ourselves starts abruptly in the middle and leaves out some of the most formative (and potentially transformative) dimensions of the truth. Western law and Western civilization are not just the outgrowths of three particularly creative cultures, which straddled the transition from human prehistory into human history and developed in either Southeastern Europe or the Near East. Rather, the West appears to be descended from a much deeper cultural tradition, which extends all the way back to some of our first human forays out of hunter-gatherer modes of subsistence and into settled agricultural living. The tradition in question began not in Greece, Rome, or Israel, however, but rather in and around the Indus Valley — which is a region that spans the Northwestern portions of the Indian subcontinent. From approximately 4500 BC until approximately 1900 BC — and hence long before the rise of ancient Greece, Rome or Israel — the Indus Valley region gave rise to one of the very first large scale civilizations in our natural history as a species: the so-called “Harappan” Civilization. This civilization was also part of a much larger and highly integrated social complex, with strong ties to ancient Bactria and the eastern parts of modern day Iran. In this Article, I argue that this ancient socio-cultural complex is most likely the actual source of a range of important Western traditions. Through an unbroken chain of cultural transmission that has operated through an immense number of generations, we have likely inherited an important set of traditions from this ancient socio-cultural complex, which have specially equipped us to produce and sustain large-scale civilizations with the rule of law. If this is true, then our failure to understand our deep genealogical relationship to this ancient socio-cultural complex has limited our self-understanding in critical respects. It has also prevented us from realizing useful aspects of our traditions — including, in some cases, those aspects that make our current traditions in the West so capable of supporting large-scale human civilizations with the rule of law. We live in an era in which it is, moreover, especially important to decipher the deepest origins of Western law and civilization. Scholars within the emerging “legal origins” tradition (e.g., Rafael La Porta, Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes, Andrei Shleifer, and Robert Vishny) have now produced an impressive body of empirical work, which suggests that we can explain a broad range of features of modern societies in terms of the origins of their laws. This literature suggests that legal origin variables can have strong effects on issues as diverse as corporate governance structure, labor regulations, the robustness of capital markets, and even literacy and infant mortality rates. The present Article argues that this literature may nevertheless be working with legal origin variables that fail to track our deepest and most genuine lines of relevant descent. After developing a special methodology to discern the relevant genealogical facts, I use this methodology to propose a new (and fundamentally changed) account of the most plausible phylogenetic structure of the Indo-European legal family (including the socio-cultural traditions needed to support legal systems, along with the special psychological attitudes that animate these traditions). This novel account traces many of the most important developments of this family of traditions deep into human prehistory. A proper understanding of this new family tree should have important empirical implications: this work can, for example, be used to help explain why certain exportations of Western-style legal institutions have worked so well while others have not. Inquiries of this kind should have special urgency today, given the massive exportations of Western law and Western legal institutions to so many other parts of the world and given the increased pressures toward westernization that are being felt around the globe. The origins story that I develop in this Article should, however, also have broader implications for a much wider range of cognate fields, which have typically presumed a primarily Greco-Roman or Judeo-Christian origin for key developments in the West. The revised origins story that I will be telling should therefore be of more general human concern.

Ancient Perpsectives on the Prospects for Constitution Making Posted

April 17th, 2012

John J. Mulhern, Senior Fellow at the Fels Institute of Government and Adjunct Associate Professor of Classical Studies and Government Administration at the University of Pennsylvania, will lecture at Boston College’s Clough Center on the topic, The Prospects for Constitution Making: Two Ancient Perspectives, on Wednesday, April 25, at 4:30 p.m. in Room 121 of Boston College’s McGuinn Hall.

CFP: Circulating Jews: Mobility, Cultural Transmission, and Representation in Judaic Studies

April 10th, 2012

Call for Papers The Judaic Studies Graduate Program of Yale University is now accepting paper proposals for an Interdisciplinary Graduate Student Conference: Circulating Jews: Mobility, Cultural Transmission, and Representation in Judaic Studies Sunday, Nov 4, 2012 Yale University, New Haven, CT Since biblical times, Judaism has been enacted and created across geographical and conceptual space.  Modern scholarship has begun to understand Jewishness, Judaism and Jews as dynamic entities, moving away from settled notions of stability, insularity and "influence". Throughout all periods of Jewish history, the experience of cultural and physical movement has defined what Jews have thought about themselves, their traditions, and the worlds in which they were located.  Motion, movement and the transmission of ideas, people and images have been central to Jewish life and cultural production. This conference, therefore, engages the movement of Jewish peoples and ideas, both Jewish ideas and ideas about Jews.   We invite papers from graduate students that explore aspects of mobility in the biblical, ancient, medieval and modern periods. The keynote speaker for the conference is Marina Rustow, Charlotte Bloomberg Associate Professor in the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University. Suggested topics include: In what ways has Jewish mobility been circumscribed? In what ways has it been fostered? By whom? - How has awareness of geographic difference and mobility affected the development of Jewish law? - How do language and translation function in and as mobility across cultural boundaries and transitions? - How have ideas about Jews and Judaism been disseminated in majority cultures? How have Jews responded to these conceptualizations? - How have Jewish and non-Jewish ideas been communicated across cultural boundaries? - How has Jewishness been shaped by diaspora? How has the diaspora constructed and been constructed by Jewish movement? - How should we understand the role of messengers and travel within the Jewish world? - How has pilgrimage been instantiated, controlled and subverted? - How should we understand the motion of ideas between Jewish rabbis and thinkers within different parts of the Diaspora, and between the Diaspora and the Land of Israel, and in modern times, the State of Israel? - How has Jewish mobility itself been constructed in modern thought, culture and scholarship? Please submit paper titles and abstracts (750 words or less) to circulatingjews@gmail.com Please include name, institutional and departmental affiliation, as well as a contact email address. SUBMISSION DEADLINE:  April 15, 2012 All proposals will receive a response by mid-May, 2012 The three most exceptional abstracts will be awarded a $150 travel stipend to facilitate attendance. Avenues for publication are being explored.*

Dr. Elka Klein Memorial Travel Grant

April 10th, 2012

Dr. Elka Klein (1965-2005) was passionate about her profession as a historian and a teacher. Her untimely death in the spring of 2005 was a great loss to all who knew her, whether personally or professionally. In her memory, her friends and professional colleagues in the fields of History and Jewish Studies have created a fitting memorial to honor her dedication to and her achievements in her academic life. A cash grant of $1500 will be awarded in Dr. Klein's memory to a doctoral candidate preparing to spend a semester or more of the 2012-13 academic year abroad conducting historical research towards his/her dissertation. The grant recipient will be selected by a panel of scholars based on the relevance and potential contribution of the proposed work to the fields and concerns important to Dr. Klein, such as Sephardic culture, medieval history, gender studies, and Jewish studies. The application deadline is 20 April. Follow the link for full details.