Mordechai Cohen, associate dean of and professor of Bible at the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, gave a 9-hour course on Jewish Bible interpretation at the Center for Judaic and Inter-Religious Studies at Shandong University in May.
The aim of the course was to introduce key biblical concepts and their interpretation in Jewish tradition, in a way that would be relevant to Chinese students immersed in Confucian tradition. This was a sequel to a similar course Cohen gave at Shandong in June 2016.
Cohen’s Chinese students are pursuing MA and PhD degrees in various areas of Jewish studies.
The Center for Judaic and Inter-Religious studies was founded and is currently directed by Professor Youde Fu, who delivered a lecture on Confucius and the Hebrew Prophets at YU in November 2015.
At that time he also was interviewed by Cohen about the areas of overlap between Confucian and Judaic Studies. Both the lecture and the interview can be seen on the Revel YouTube channel.
Rabbi Boruch Oberlander, a leader of contemporary Hungarian Jewry, discussed a controversy which unfolded in his community in the early twentieth century. A man calling himself Shlomo Yehuda Algazi-Friedlander published manuscripts purported to be the tractates of Seder Kodashim of the Jerusalem Talmud. Though these manuscripts were initially regarded by some great scholars as genuine, there were other scholars who launched severe critiques against Friedlander and his work. These critiques, which began to appear within six months of the publication, revealed the tractates to be a skilled forgery which Friedlander had compiled and composed. Oberlander identified a few different critical methods employed in these critiques. The text-critical approach examined the language of the text and uncovered Friedlander’s textual sources, the rabbinic critique questioned the Talmudic reasoning found in the new tractates, and a personal attack detailed Friedlander’s true biographical information and previous misdeeds, including prior forgeries. Oberlander also noted that Friedlander may have specifically chosen Hungary as the site to disseminate his forged manuscripts for several reasons. Hungarian scholars were interested in manuscripts and critical reading of texts. The insular Hungarian community could allow for Friedlander’s Transylvanian roots to go unnoticed. The new split between the Orthodox and Neolog Jews in Hungary and the stereotype that the Hungarian Rabbinate was foolish were also factors. Within a little over a decade, the manuscripts were generally rejected as forgeries. Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Greenwald reports that Friedlander even admitted his guilt. But there is no historical evidence to support this claim, and there is reason to dispute it.
Rabbi Boruch Oberlanderplayed a leading role in the Hungarian Jewish community for nearly three decades. With a PhD from the University of Debrecen, he has published studies in Hebrew and Hungarian on the application of halakhah to contemporary society, on Jewish liturgy and customs, and on the history of Jewish forgeries. He is co-author of Hasiddur—Mivne veNusach Sidduro shel Harav Miliadi (Monsey 2003); Zsidó jog és etika (Jewish Law and Ethics; Budapest, 2009); and Early Years: The Formative Years of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson (New York 2017).
For information about this event and Dr. Ofer’s bio click here.
R’ Moshe ben Nahman (1194-1270), also known as the Ramban or Nahmanides, was born in Girona, Catalonia in present day Spain. This city is where he spent most of his life, including where he wrote his commentary on the entire Humash. Following his arrival in Eretz Yisrael in 1267 he edited his commentary. After observing the geography of Eretz Yisrael, he realized that some of the assumptions made in his commentary were incorrect. He subsequently edited his commentary with hundreds of new passages in the last three years of his life.
It should be noted that, in order to not cause confusion to the scribes who would copy his commentary, the Ramban would always add the changes to the existing text and would almost never delete anything. Most editions of the Ramban’s commentaries are close to the updated edition, and they have minimal indication of whether a particular passage was added to the original by Ramban at a later stage. Dr. Yosef Ofer (and his colleague Dr. Jonathan Jacobs) were able to find them all using three methods of identification: explicit statement of the Ramban, ‘update lists’ sent from Eretz Yisrael, and finally, a mutual comparison of the manuscripts of Ramban’s commentary, which represent the two phases of its creation. Dr. Ofer focused on the following examples: Hevron, kever Rachel, and the shekel.
Commenting on Genesis 42:9, where Yosef has reached the apex of his career as a servant to Pharaoh and is finally confronted by his brothers, the Ramban asks why he did not inform his father of his whereabouts. He notes that the journey from Egypt to Hevron was a mere six days. This passage was added following his arrival in Eretz Yisrael, clearly reflecting his newfound knowledge of the length of travel from these two points. Similarly, in Numbers 13:2, when Moshe sends the spies, the Ramban initially assumes that the recently-freed Israelites were unfamiliar with the goodness of Eretz Yisrael, and the spies’ mission was to inspire confidence in the people of the land’s greatness. However, the Ramban revises his commentary to say that their mission was to find a good route to enter the land, reflecting his realization of the short distance from Egypt to Hevron (seven days in this passage, a minor discrepancy from Genesis 42:9).
In the case of kever Rachel, Genesis 35:16, regarding Rachel’s death, the verse says she died kivrat ha’aretz far from Ephrata (=Bethlehem). Various opinions differ as to what that phrase means. The Radaq thought that it referred to two- or three- hour journey on foot (about 10 miles). Ramban adopted his commentary, but having discovered that her tomb is one mil from Bethlehem, he revised his commentary. . [Rav Kimhi suggests that the letter kaf is not part of the root of the word kivrat. Its root is b.r.h. which means to eat, found in EIcha 4:10 and Samuel II 13:5]. In another passage (Lev. 18:25) Ramban wrote that Rachel died outside of Eretz Yisrael, and then remanded his commentary.
Finally, when the Ramban was in Akko, he discovered an ancient silver shekel coin. There was writing in ancient Hebrew script on both sides. With the help of the Samaritans, who were familiar with this script, the Ramban wrote that the words “Shekel of shekels” was written on one side, and “Holy Jerusalem” on the other. 300 years later, R’ Azarya de Rossi of Italy found a similar coin, and he wrote that it said “Shekel of Israel” instead of “Shekel of shekels.” According to the late Dr. Ya’akov Meshorer, the Samaritans confused a hey with a yud and a quf with a reish. Ofer thinks the Samaritans read it as Shekel Hashkal, which is why the Ramban was given inaccurate information.
By Jonathan Roytenberg
Jonathan is a student at Yeshiva College and takes classes at the Belz school.
The Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies invites you to a lecture -
by Dr. Yosef Ofer
Nahmanides (1196–1270) wrote his Torah commentary
while still in Spain, but updated it when he came to
the Land of Israel at the end of his life, producing
“Addenda” that were incorporated into later copies
of his commentary. Comparison of medieval
manuscripts of Nahmanides’ commentary enables
us to detect these Addenda, and discern the changes
in his interpretations.This lecture will focus on three
important Addenda that incorporate geographic data
and archaeological discoveries Nahmanides learned
of in Israel, and how he modified his commentaries
on the related biblical passages accordingly.
Dr. Yosef Ofer is Associate Professor in the Bar-Ilan
Bible Department and a member of Israel’s Academy
of the Hebrew Language. His fields of research
are the Masora, medieval Bible exegesis, and the
development of modern Hebrew. His published books
include Nahmanides’ Torah Commentary: Addenda
Written in the Land of Israel (Hebrew, co-authored
with Jonathan Jacobs, Jerusalem 2013) and The
Babylonian Masora of the Pentateuch, its Principles
and Methods (Hebrew, Jerusalem 2001).
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