Revel Associate Dean Mordechai Cohen gave a mini-course at the University of Shandong in the Chinese city of Jinan in early June. As described in the program below, his 3-lecture series on the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible focused on the books of Job, the Song of Songs, and the Pentateuch, as understood by Jewish interpreters from ancient to modern times. Dr. Cohen also addressed the ways in which the Hebrew Bible was interpreted by Christians and Muslims by way of comparison, The subject of his recently published volume by Cambridge University press, Interpreting Scriptures in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Dr. Cohen was invited to Shandong by Professor Youde Fu, Director of the Institute for advanced Judaic and comparative religious studies, who had come to Revel in October 2015 to deliver a lecture on Confucius and the Hebrew prophets. (Click here to view the complete lecture on the Revel YouTube channel.) At the time, Dr. Fu and Dr. Cohen saw the potential for further comparative work of the two traditions. (Click here to view a conversation between Dr. Fu and Dr. Cohen on our YouTube channel.)

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This past Thursday evening, May 26th 2016, the BRGS community gathered together to celebrate the class of 2016 and welcome incoming students. It was a well attended event, bringing in just over 100 people. The graduates and their families enjoyed a light reception followed by this program:

 

GREETINGS

Dean David Berger

RECOGNIZING OUR GRADUATES

President Richard M. Joel

Presentation to the Graduates

MINI-LECTURE

Dr. Jess Olson Associate Professor of Jewish History

YEAR IN REVIEW

Malka Lebovic Alweis

Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies Class of 2016

CLASS REPRESENTATIVE PRESENTATION

Mark Glass

Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies and Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary Class of 2016

BUILDING THE REVEL STUDENT AND ALUMNI COMMUNITY

Rona Steinerman

Director of Admissions and Student Affairs

 

Congrats to our graduating class. Pictures from the event can be viewed on our Facebook Page.

 

Read about “The 50th Annual Mickey Marcus Memorial Service at West Point” Published by Revel board member Mr. Len Grunstein.

 

 

Pious Women in Midrashic and Aggadic Narratives

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Dr. Tamar Meir (right) presenting at BRGS

 

A special visiting lecture, “The Image of the Wives of the Pious in Midrashic and Aggadic Narratives” was presented by Dr Tamar Meir on Tuesday evening May 17 to an audience that filled the Revel lounge. A distinguished scholar of midrashic literature in Israel, Dr. Meir analyzed the number of rabbinic sources—both from Eretz Yisrael and Babylonia—that speak of pious men (hasidim) and their wives. While in most instances little is known about the latter, there are some remarkable cases in which the rabbis discuss the behavior and characteristics of these pious women. Dr Meir noted that scholarship was, generally speaking, not available to women in the ancient period. With rare exceptions, the wives of the rabbinic sages were not learned. But the sort of fervent devotion to, and special connection with, God manifested by the hasidim was not dependent on scholarship. Both men and women could therefore participate equally in this realm of Jewish spiritual achievement. Indeed, while it was completely possible for a great rabbinic sage to be married to an ignorant woman, a hasid could not normally maintain his piety unless he had an equally devout partner—termed hasidah in one rabbinic source cited by Dr. Meir.

Although Dr. Meir kept her academic presentation focused on the ancient rabbinic sources from Talmud and midrash, during the question-and-answer period that followed her lecture she addressed some of the modern implications of her research. In response to one question, e.g., she noted that in the modern Orthodox community today men and women can be equally learned, and so the partnership between the hasid and hasidah attested in the ancient sources can perhaps serve as a model for husbands and wives who both dedicate themselves to the study and teaching of Torah scholarship. Exemplifying this sort of partnership herself, Dr. Meir noted that her husband is a Talmud scholar—whom she thanked for caring for their six children, enabling her to come to the United States to lecture in the areas of her scholarship.

Dr Meir is director of the Literature Department at Givat Washington College and teaches Aggadah in the Masters program in Efrata College. She teaches and researches Midrash, Aggadah, Piyut and Prayer, Chassidic stories, and Modern Hebrew Literature. Dr. Meir is also founder and director of the women’s communal Bet Midrash “Kulanu” in Givat Shmuel, and teaches in the Midrasha at Bar Ilan University. Her book, Tradition Versus Innovation: Redactional Orientations and Deep Structures in Ruth Rabbah, is in press.

Written by Dr. Mordechai Cohen, Associate Dean and Professor of Bible at BRGS

 

The Ark and the Cherubim: Cultic Practice and Ancient Near Eastern Iconography

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Raanan Eichler, an Israeli scholar who was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University this year, delivered a guest lecture at Revel that took the audience on a journey through time to uncover the secrets of the Ark of the Covenant. Adducing examples of art and cultic objects throughout the Ancient Near East to situate the Ark in its original cultural context, Dr Eichler explored how it looked, the nature of its iconography, and its cultural and cultic functions.

 

The basic construction of the Ark has been subject to debate over the centuries, but illuminated in modern times by archaeology. For example, medieval Jewish commentators took the expression “its four pa‘amot” (Exod 25:1) to refer to the four corners of the Ark, even though the word pa‘am usually connotes a foot. But when looking at examples from Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Levant, it quickly becomes obvious that most chests were indeed raised off the ground with four feet, one at each corner. Even the hieroglyph for “box” or “chest” shows a box raised off the ground on feet!

 

Scholars have argued that the Ark and the Kaporet – its lid – served as a throne for G-d, much as how other chests around the Near East and Mediterranean depicted deities seated on chests or thrones of similar construction. But the Ark depicted in the Torah has no image enthroned upon it—a symbolic way of indicating that the God of Israel has no physical form.

 

The cherubim on the Kaporet are of particular interest. In the Torah, they are described as pure gold figures atop the Kaporet, and we see similar size cultic figures on other arks in the Near East. Eichler pointed to a golden ark from Egypt with an Anubis figurine atop it as an example. In I Kings, the cherubim in the Temple are described as olive wood gilded with a golden overlay, and ten cubits high, with their wings outspread ten cubits so that their inner wing tips touched each other and their outer wings touched the walls of the Inner Sanctuary, the Holy of Holies. This too is not unusual. We see similar outsize sculpture of divine and mythical creatures in Mesopotamia and Assyria, as well as liberal use of gilding.

 

Commentators have debated for millenia what the cherubim looked like. Some say they were birds, others that they were winged children, and yet others say they were winged adults. The notion that they were winged children, first appearing in the Talmud, seems to be influences from Herodian-era Roman iconography (which was actually much later than the Ark as depicted in Exodus). The eighteenth-century discovery of Ancient Near Eastern winged oxen statues led some to posit that the cherubim resembled their form. Similar creatures are depicted in Assyria in the palace of Nimrud, guardian creatures called lamassu, revealed in archaeological excavations in the nineteenth century. Others said they were griffins, a different mythical winged creature attested in Near Eastern and Mediterranean iconography, based on the theory that the root K-R-V is akin to Greek G-R-P, from which the word “griffin” originates. Yet others suggested a winged sphinx, citing the various deities in Egypt and Mesopotamia pictures sitting upon such creatures as a living throne.

 

Eichler favors the theory that cherubim were winged adults, based on depictions of such creatures on cylinder seals both from ancient Israel and elsewhere in the Near East. In Egypt such winged figures shelter images of the gods. For example, on one war chest there are winged figures sheltering the name of the pharaoh Ramses. But the cherubim on the Kaporet are sheltering an empty space, symbolically sheltering the Presence of a Divine being that is incorporeal. The Ark is thus like an empty divine throne. It is uniquely and purposefully abstract to deliberately prevent physical representations of divinity so common to the region at the time, to point to this empty space and say “this is where you don’t see G-d.”

 

Written by B. Lana Guggenheim.

B. Lana Guggenheim studied archaeology and political science at Hunter College CUNY and international conflict at LSE.