The Boastings of a Bookish Braggart

25 06 2010

The last month-and-a-half, since I last added anything to this blog, has witnessed the purchase of a number of books. Most of them have been fairly minor purchases, although some have set me back considerably. The most expensive set was a new twenty-five volume set of the Babylonian Talmud, published by Oz V’Hadar and replete with just about every major commentary that you can poke a stick at. Runner-up to that prestigious prize would be a new eight volume set of the Palestinian Talmud, published by the same. I have now virtually just about every major midrash that there is, having recently also purchased Mekhilta d’Rebi Ishmael, Sifra and Sifrei, but having also previously acquired a full set of Midrash Rabba, Tana d’Bei Eliyahu, Pirqei d’Rebi Eliezer, Tanhuma, Yalqut Shimoni, Pesiqta d’Rav Kahana and Pesiqta Rabbati. So long as my Primary Literature shelf continues to resist gravity, it is beginning to look very impressive.

To the general collection, I have also added the Sheiltot of Rav Ahai Gaon (the only other example of Gaonic literature that I own being the Iggeret of Rav Sherira Gaon), a three volume Zohar al-haTorah, a twenty-two volume Zohar with Hebrew translation (including Tikkunei HaZohar and Zohar Chadash), Isaiah Tishby’s marvellous three volume commentary on the Zohar (one friend jokes that I am becoming a Hassid), and the Kuzari. I have also accumulated a smattering of academic literature, mostly on the Talmud, the history of Sephardi and Mizrahi Judaism, and the “Brisker Method” of Reb Hayyim Soloveitchik. A student gifted me with a 19th century book of Judah Leib Gordon’s Hebrew poetry, and a friend invited me over to ransack her husband’s grandfather’s books. From those I acquired a comprehensive verse-by-verse index of the Hebrew Bible, with references to all of the early rabbinic literature, an old copy of Sefer Raziel HaMalakh (a 13th century work of pre-Zoharic Kabbala), a Kabbalistic siddur, and the Noam Elimelekh: the scriptural observations of Rabbi Elimelekh of Lizhensk, disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch.

While it might not bear mentioning in this context, I am roughly three-quarters of my way into Audrey Niffeneger’s The Time-Traveller’s Wife, and the following books on my fiction list are Christos Tsiolkas’ Dead Europe and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Unrelated non-fiction that demands my intention includes a recently-purchased introduction to Logic, which will logically remain unopened for a while, and some books on Structural Linguistics, Reader/Response Theory and Semiotics. I am, however, halfway through Joseph Blenkinsopp’s very relevant The First Phase: The Place of Ezra and Nehemiah in the Origins of Judaism and I still don’t have much of a social life. But I’m working on it.

In the meantime, I have (for the first time since 2007) a very clear idea about the direction of my research and am actually excited about it for a change. I am particularly interested in the origins of Judaism, as the title of Blenkinsopp’s book reveals. I have been feeding my brain with Theophile James Meek’s Hebrew Origins, Shlomo Sand’s controversial The Invention of the Jewish People, and Shaye Cohen’s not-at-all-controversial The Beginnings of Jewishness. I have also been arguing (enjoyably, although completely in vain) with all manner of moronic historical revisionists whom I have found online. That, of course, is more of a hobby.

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