Studying the Scrolls

Leading Scholars Present their Work at YU’s Inaugural Dead Sea Scrolls Conference

Yeshiva University hosted its first annual Dead Sea Scrolls Seminar at the Wilf Campus on Sunday, May 19, showcasing the work of four Dead Sea Scrolls scholars from YU and beyond.

Dr. Moshe Bernstein offers opening remarks at YU’s inaugural Dead Sea Scrolls Conference.
Dr. Moshe Bernstein offers opening remarks at YU’s inaugural Dead Sea Scrolls Conference.

“The Dead Sea Scrolls is one of those things that people hear about and talk about, and it’s important that people’s talking about it should be based on real knowledge, rather than rumors and misconceptions,” said Dr. Moshe Bernstein, David A. and Fannie M. Denenberg Chair in Biblical Studies, who organized the seminar along with Dr. Lawrence Schiffman, vice provost for undergraduate education and professor of Judaic studies at YU.

Comprised of 972 documents found in the Qumran area from 1947 through 1956, the Dead Sea Scrolls include over 200 non-biblical texts that shed light on Jewish beliefs and practices during the Second Temple period.

Schiffman’s lecture, “Sacrifice in the Dead Sea Scrolls,” posited that the “Temple Scroll” (ca. 120 B.C.E.) was an unspoken, innovative, sectarian polemic—likely Sadducee—against the Pharisaic Temple ritual of the day. Among other things, Pharisaic practice was considered insufficiently strict regarding ritual purity. As long as religious standards were not up to par, “sectarians prohibited Temple sacrifices and saw themselves as a replacement,” said Schiffman. “There was no sacrifice at Qumran; prayer replaced it.”

Thus, the sectarians ultimately “helped pioneer a method of worship that took over after the cessation of Temple sacrifice,” said Schiffman.

Dr. Hidary, Dr. Fraade, Dr. Schiffman, Dr. Bernstein, Mr. Zachter and Dr. Frisch.
Dr. Hidary, Dr. Fraade, Dr. Schiffman, Dr. Bernstein, Mr. Zachter and Dr. Frisch.

In his presentation, Dr. Steven Fraade, Yale University’s Mark Taper Professor of the History of Judaism, compared Deuteronomy’s concept of juridical authority to that in the Temple Scroll and Sifre Devarim. “The surprisingly autonomous and authoritative court of Deuteronomy elicited different responses in the Temple Scroll and Sifre Devarim,” said Fraade. While the Temple Scroll “curtailed power,” the latter “transformed the high court into something even more audaciously autonomous… even though they originate from and are nourished from the same exegetical text.”

Dr. Alexandria Frisch, Ursinus College’s visiting assistant professor in Jewish studies, and Dr. Richard Hidary, assistant professor of Jewish studies at YU, also presented.

Frisch’s paper, “Heaven and Earth, Past and Future: Empire in the War Scroll,” studied the War Scroll’s perception of empire and its collapsing of Greece, Rome and other powers into one destructive, monolithic entity that would ultimately experience grand defeat.

Hidary’s paper, “Playing Musical Instruments on the Sabbath: Qumranic Prohibition or Rabbinic Safeguard?”, emphasized rabbinic literature as an invaluable resource for reconstructing the world of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but advised methodological caution to prevent imposing one’s understanding of rabbinic literature onto Qumranic texts and vice versa.

Dr. Steven Fraade
Dr. Steven Fraade

“The speakers were simultaneously able to engage in topics that were diverse and deep while making them accessible to a general audience,” said Matthew Goldstone, a doctoral candidate in Talmudic studies at New York University.

The event was made possible by a generous grant from YU alumni Debra and Jay Zachter. “I think it’s exciting for YU to be at the center of this discussion,” said Mr. Zachter, who has always been interested in the Dead Sea Scrolls and archaeology. “Of all places, it should be happening at YU.”


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