Broken References in the Epistemic Regime

16 02 2015

Several years ago, I wrote a post in which I ascribed the chief appeal of The Lord of the Rings to the narrative’s “unremarked extension” – a term that I had taken from an essay by Barry Langford. If you have an hour, here is a fabulous lecture by Prof. Michael D.C. Drout in which he makes very similar claims.

He refers to the phenomenon as being one of broken references within the novel’s epistemic regime. He defines the latter term as the informational hierarchy that the text develops, makes use of and presents. Ordinarily, the reader of a novel knows roughly the same amount of information as its characters know. Irony prevails in situations in which the reader is aware of more. In fantasy novels, on the other hand, this hierarchy is reversed: now the characters are in possession of a greater degree of information than the reader is, and the story will typically follow those characters who are most in need of having things explained to them.

Occasionally, however, a reference to something within the world of the text might be “broken”, insofar as it will fail to yield an answer within the confines of the work itself. This may be because it pertains to something that all of the novel’s characters are already familiar with, or to something that those characters who understand it are too reticent to disclose. An example of this from The Lord of the Rings is in the first of the three novels, in which Aragorn declares that Gandalf is surer of finding his way in the dark “than the cats of Queen Berúthiel”.

At the time that The Lord of the Rings was published, neither Queen Berúthiel nor her cats had received mention in any of Tolkien’s work – and nor, for that matter, had a host of other references to names, places and events that either Gandalf, Elrond or Aragorn declined to elaborate upon, or that neither the Hobbits nor Gimli needed to have explained. In remarking upon the quality of a text that features such a large number of broken references, Prof. Drout employs the rather apt metaphor of a ruin. A ruin is, in some respects, “coherent”: it conveys information, and it does so in isolation. And yet in other respects, a ruin is fragmentary: it makes reference to that which had preceded it, and in doing so to its own broken nature.


Ex Libris

6 11 2011

If you live in Sydney and you count yourself something of a bibliophile, go to Berkelouws in Paddington, where much of the late Professor Alan Crown’s library can be found on the third floor. Like a child in a candy store, I actually began to feel rather ill with the sheer amount of books that were there for the purchasing (a feeling that I have not had since the last time I wandered through a second-hand bookshop in Jerusalem), but I wisely limited my acquisitions and kindly left at least some books for the next patron.

I walked away with a mere six books, which is most unlike me, but then my shelves are very heavy and my wallet rather light. The following were the ones that most appealed to me:

• Raphael Posner and Israel Ta-Shema (eds.), The Hebrew Book: An Historical Survey (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, 1975). This handy volume contains a great deal of information on the history of Hebrew publishing, the many faces of Hebrew typography, the evolution of the printed Hebrew book, and the science of bibliography. Large and hardcover, it also features a number of interesting pictures of manuscripts (illuminated and non-illuminated), as well as first pages of important editions. Thanks to these pictures, I now know that Alan Crown’s bookplate features an image of the Gutenberg Press;

• Solomon L. Skoss, Saadia Gaon, The Earliest Hebrew Grammarian (Philadelphia: Dropsie College Press, 1955). Actually, this one was from the library of an R.J. Hosking, and comprises a study of Saadia Gaon’s Hebrew grammar. With the exception of two sections at the back on morphology, and one on the influence of Arabic, the “grammar” in question appears to be a sustained study on orthography and phonology, the latter being determined solely through a study of the former;

• Joseph Weiss, Studies in Eastern European Jewish Mysticism (ed. David Goldstein; London: Oxford University Press, 1985). I was hesitating between this volume and a scholarly biography of the Maharal, but a quick glance through the introduction of this one had me convinced of its superiority. Having read only those twenty pages, I am almost embarrassed to admit that I had never questioned the traditional explanation of the origins of the Hasidic movement: that it arose under the charismatic influence of the Baal Shem Tov, and the leadership of his most celebrated disciple, Rabbi Dov Baer of Mezeritch. Weiss suggests a far more complex reading of its origins, and draws lines of congruence between early Hasidic doctrines and the Sabbatean movement, which I have found most fascinating. I look forward to reading this one soon;

• Hyam Jacoby (ed. and trans.), Judaism on Trial: Jewish-Christian Disputations in the Middle Ages (London: Associated University Presses, 1982). This volume constitutes a fascinating historical analysis of three major disputations: Paris in 1240, Barcelona in 1263 and Tortosa in 1413-14. It also includes translations of, and commentaries on, both the Christian and the Hebrew accounts of all three, together with biographical notes on the chief personages present at the Barcelona disputation, and textual considerations in approaching the Ramban’s version of the event. I have been fascinated by the disputation at Barcelona ever since I first read the Ramban’s Vikuach in 2002, so I think that this one might be next on my reading list;

• Sigmund Mowinckel, The Psalms in Israel’s Worship (2 vols; trans. D.R. Ap-Thomas; Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1962). This one is a classic, and while I have no particular interest in Biblical poetry (leastways, no particular interest in the book of Psalms), Mowinckel’s form-critical considerations are of great value to me in my consideration of Hebrew liturgy: particularly the liturgical sections found within the post-exilic biblical literature.

Speaking of prayer, I recently read a superb review of Rabbi Professor Daniel Sperber’s On Changes in Jewish Liturgy. I have since ordered the book from Amazon, and I eagerly await its arrival! For those of you who are interested in such things, the review can be found here, and is entitled “The Wrong Changes in Jewish Liturgy”. It is the contention of the reviewer (Rabbi Professor Aryeh Frimer) that Sperber is mistaken in his analysis, and that the sorts of egalitarian changes to the liturgy that he recommends are inconsistent with the halakha. It is a sensible and well-reasoned review, and it has inspired me to read more by both authors.

A follow-up to that review, by Rabbi Dr Seth Kadish, is entitled Each River and its Channel: Halakhic Attitudes Toward Liturgy. He disagrees with the first reviewer, although he doesn’t go into specific details about those changes in particular, and it is so erudite an analysis that I was also inspired to purchase his book (Kavvana: Directing the Heart in Jewish Prayer), which I ordered from Barnes and Noble.

Books that have, at last, arrived, are by Professor Raul Hilberg, and concern the academic study of the Shoah: a topic that I have long been interested in, but have shied away from approaching with too much detail. Seeing Prof. Hilberg interviewed on the first disc of Claude Lanzmann’s nine-and-a-half hour documentary, Shoah (1985) inspired me to take the plunge. I ordered, and have received, his monumental three-volume The Destruction of the European Jews: Revised and Definitive Edition (New York: Holmes & Meyer, 1985), and his sober and reflective Sources of Holocaust Research: An Analysis (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2001).

Finally, it remains only to mention the recent acquisition of Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein’s eight-volume Arukh haShulchan he’Atid, which nicely complements my thirteen-volume Arukh haShulchan, by the same author. I wouldn’t be so fastidious, were it not for the fact that he fascinatingly so fit to include rabbinic agricultural law in the volume that otherwise treats only of the halakhot of messianic times, and I have been learning (or trying to learn) Seder Zeraim. It would be nice to do so with a little be’iyyun, as they say, though that’s probably something of a pipe dream at present.

I have more than enough reading to be getting on with, nowhere near close to enough space in order to store the books that I am not in the process of reading, and considerably more than enough to be doing outside of my scratching these itches.

Thesis: write thyself.

In Memoriam

6 11 2011

It has been just over one year since Professor Alan Crown passed away, and I spent a couple of days last week at a Dead Sea Scrolls conference that was organised in his honour by Associate Professor Ian Young and Dr Shani Tzoref. Our keynote speaker was Emeritus Professor Emanuel Tov, whose paper on the pre-Samaritan Qumran scrolls and their relationship to the Samaritan Pentateuch was one of the conference’s highlights. A former editor-in-chief of the Dead Sea Scrolls Publication Project, Professor Tov remains one of the foremost experts in Qumranic scribal practise, the development of the Hebrew Masoretic Text, and the Septuagint. His most recent publication is the third edition of his highly-recommended Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, which I have been assiduously using in its first edition for several years.

We were also very pleased to welcome Dr Shani Tzoref, one of the two conveners of the conference, whose paper on the history of Dead Sea Scrolls research was fascinating. Dividing it into three successive periods, Shani remarked upon the various stages of Qumranic research, and the impact that they have had upon the presentation of the results (not to mention the nature of the results themselves), and their reception by the general scholarly community. Shani is presently involved in the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Dead Sea Scrolls Digitization Project, scanning the fragments using multi-spectral imaging and, in partnership with Google, uploading them to the internet. The five scrolls that they have finished uploading so far are 1QIsaa (“Great Isaiah Scroll”), 1QM (“War Scroll”), 1QpHab (“Pesher Habakkuk”), 11Q19 (“The Temple Scrolla“) and 1QS (“Community Rule”). They can all now be viewed online, and prompt an important question: what does the future hold for the expansion of Qumranic research as an open, inter-disciplinary enterprise?

Other highlights included Ian Young’s “Loose Language in 1QIsaa“, in which he considered the linguistic profile of the Great Isaiah Scroll, a paper on the layout of 1QpHab that was delivered by three Macquarie University students (Stephanie Ng, Alexandra Wrathall and Gareth Wearne), and Prof. William Loader’s paper on eschatology and sexuality in Qumran. Unfortunately, as neither Prof. Loader nor Prof. Albert Baumgarten could be with us (the former stuck in Perth and the latter in Alice Springs – both with tickets to fly Qantas to Sydney), Prof. Loader’s paper was read by Ian and Prof. Baumgarten’s paper was replaced with an opportunity for general discussion.

Alan would have been rather bemused by so many people turning up to an event in his honour, but the papers all dealt with topics that were close to his heart and his expertise was certainly missed.

Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company

12 10 2011

I don’t know why I do it to myself, I really don’t. For some reason, I just can’t leave well enough alone, and succumb repeatedly to the urge to engage stupid people in conversation. Experience has taught me that there are certain forums that are unsuitable to such a discussion (YouTube being the very top of the list), but I am also learning that there are certain people who are likewise unsuitable. Based on the conviction that there is a silent majority who reads threads without engaging in them, and that those are the people to whom I may be addressing my remarks, I have long contributed to online “discussions” that concern the historicity of the Holocaust.

In a nutshell (and I’ve every reason to suppose that, here, I’m preaching to the choir), the following are the characteristics that typify the “historical revisionist”:

• You take all of the evidence that testifies to the nature and scope of Hitler’s war against the Jews: the reams of archival footage, the written documentation, and the sworn testimony of survivors, “bystanders” and perpetrators, and you put it to one side;

• Remove carefully any material that pertains not to the Jews, but to the Third Reich’s malicious genocide of the Romani, or of their murderous treatment of homosexuals, political dissidents and general “undesirables”. You’ll want to keep this material for later;

• Indicate the teetering pile of evidence that confirms in both substance and extent the Shoah and declare it all a forgery. All of it. Some was invented by the Russians, who were eager to make the Germans look cruel. Some was invented by the Allied forces, who needed to make it seem as though Hitler was insane. Most of it, however, was made up by the Jews, who started the war in the first place, who have been funding wars around the globe both before and since, who have utilised this fabricated “Holohoax” to colonise Palestine, and who are disseminating these lies to the world via Hollywood, which they control;

• Next, what you’re going to want to do is get your hands on some material that contradicts the traditional narrative. A favourite in this regard (and something to form the basis of David Irving’s defence) is an obscure piece of evidence known as the Müller Document. Named for a general who is otherwise unknown (the Journal of Historical Review suggests that he was “perhaps a veteran of the International Brigades in Spain”), the document in question purports to be a letter that was sent to a number of different individuals, claiming that the Nazis never used poison gas for the purposes of extermination, and that any testimony to the contrary was obtained under torture. The original missive no longer exists, but don’t worry. Despite bearing all of the hallmarks of an actual forgery, this sort of material is the real evidence;

• In line with the preceding point, what you are now going to want to do is make what real historians call “an argument from silence”. Since you have dismissed all of the actual evidence as forgery, the fact that no evidence for the Shoah exists means that there was no Shoah. If any Jews died, it was due to their having been rounded up for being political dissidents (they did, after all, fund an international war), at which point some of them died from typhus, and others died when the Allied powers bombed the towns in which they were living;

• Are you with me so far? This is where it gets fun! The global Jewish confederacy of scoundrels (the Learned Elders of Zion, as we prefer to be known) is smart enough to be able to hoodwink the entire Western world, but too stupid to fool a small group of fringe academics with links to neo-Nazi movements. In order to silence such people, the Jews have engaged in a global smear campaign, the result of which is that it is actually illegal to deny the Holocaust, and good men like Ernst Zündel have to sit in prison while criminals like Elie Wiesel get to walk free;

• We’re almost done, but to deliver the final coup de grace we’re going to have to be a little bit inconsistent. You don’t mind being inconsistent do you? Excellent news. All of the documentation that we put aside before, testifying to the genocide of Romani (the “Porajmos”) and the murder of other “undesirables”, is going to be useful. Depending on your own personal taste, and how far you’d like to go with it, this material is all more-or-less true. You can refer to it freely now, in the context of lamenting Hollywood’s single-minded fetishisation of the Jewish Holocaust and the media’s unequivocal support for the State of Israel (!?).

They’re a delightful bunch, these “historical revisionists”, and the only reason that I enclose the term in quotation marks is because that’s merely what they claim to be. In actual fact, historical revisionism is the practise of returning to the original sources in order to reassess what they teach us about history, despite whatever popular traditions may have developed. Historical revisionism can be a useful tool. Holocaust denialism, on the other hand, is conducted by abrogating the original sources in an effort to promote a racist agenda. It’s an enterprise conducted by pseudo-historians whose only methodology (if it can be termed a methodology) is to write their conclusions before they have conducted their research.

I know that I am not going to convince anybody of this, and I’ve the ulcers to prove it, but I’ll be damned if I won’t at least try. Which brings me, of course, to the point of this post. is presently selling a number of different books that can only be described as “hate literature”. They are written by people like Michael Hoffman, who brag of having spent years studying the Babylonian Talmud, but who utilised none of that time in an attempt to master the original languages of its composition. I can only imagine what sort of person spends years studying something that makes him angry, but cannot imagine why a reputable company like Amazon wishes to sell the fruits of his labour. Having grown tired of arguing with people on their actual site, I decided to write them a letter and issue a formal complaint. The following is what I wrote to them a fortnight ago:

To whom it may concern,

After browsing through your catalogue of books, I was struck by the fact that you don’t seem to selling anything that accuses Protestants of drinking the blood of children. Not only that, but I can’t find any literature to substantiate the fact that Catholics are running all of the world governments, that Romanian gypsies are flea-ridden vermin, that Hindu immigration is corrupting this country, or that the Armenians fabricated their genocide. And I thought I’d ask why this is so, for I know that such revolting material does exist. It surely cannot be that you find it offensive, for you have a large number of books here that make these very sorts of claims about Jews and Muslims.

In some instances (as with Luther’s “On the Jews and Their Lies”, Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”, or even “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion”), these works have an historical value – slight, in some cases, as it may be – and that value may even persist despite the timbre of their reviews and the discussions that they have generated. In other instances, however (as with Marrs’ “The Conspiracy of the Six-Pointed Star”, Hoffman’s “Judaism Discovered” and Hitchcock’s “The Synagogue of Satan”), no such value exists.

Unless the definition of literature has been extended to include absolutely everything, irrespective of whether it is cogent or informative (or, in the case of Hoffman’s work, even correctly spelled), then I am forced to wonder what such material is doing here in the first place. I have purchased a great many products from Amazon in the past, and will continue to do so in the future. You are providing an excellent service with a fantastic range, and while I applaud the absence of malicious and inciteful hate literature when it comes to certain other groups, I would that this same courtesy were extended to all.

Considering the very real danger that underscores the viciously antisemitic and anti-Muslim material that you are selling, and given the acerbic nature of the discussions that they have engendered, I respectfully suggest that you encourage the uninformed and the mentally ill to purchase their propaganda from a lesser vendor.

With many thanks, and sincerely,
Simon Holloway

After a delay of only one day, the following is the response that I received. As I have not heard back from them since, I will assume that this response is to be considered final. I have emphasised a line in it, for the purpose of drawing attention to the fact that the sloppiness exhibited by Amazon’s customer service representative extended well beyond an inability to read my letter, and that she seems to be struggling with the English language in general:


Thanks for your suggestion about other types of books to be available in I know this may be disappointing that all books is not available in our website, I hope you understand our supply for the books depends with our publishers.

We appreciate the time you have taken to bring this to our attention. Customer feedback like yours is very important in helping us continue to improve our services.

Thanks again for your feedback. We hope to see you again soon.

Best regards,

Melody G.

Your feedback is helping us build Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company.

Book Notes

2 10 2011

Two new acquisitions, discovered at Berkelouw’s this afternoon:

• For only $17.50:
Moses Margoliouth’s The Fundamental Principles of Modern Judaism Investigated; Together with a Memoir of the Author, and an Introduction: to which are appended a List of the Six Hundred and Thirteen Precepts: and Addresses to Jews and Christians (London, 1843);

• For only $12.50:
W.M. Thomson’s The Land and the Book; or, Biblical Illustrations drawn from the Manners and Customs, the Scenes and Scenery of the Holy Land (London, 1868). This 799-page book is replete with fascinating illustrations, and recounts the author’s travels through Palestine in the 19th century. A Christian, he frequently waxes lyrical over those places where once Jesus lived or went, though sometimes berates himself in a more sombre tone and reconsiders the virtue of “hero worship”. He is particularly concerned with what strikes him as the Arabs’ denigration of women, and considers himself superior to the locals in every respect. A highlight, and one that demonstrates his world-view:

Even the women assembled daily at the fountains, performing their ablutions, and going through their genuflections and prostrations beneath the noble walnut-trees which adorn the hill sides of beautiful Jebaah. Nowhere else have I seen Moslem women thus pray in public, and the whole performance is immodest and disgusting. They are a sallow, forlorn, and ill-conditioned generation, every way inferior to the Christian women who dwell by their side. It is religion that makes the difference, even though the Christianity known there is little better than a caricature of the religion of Jesus.
Before leaving these Metawelies, I must call your attention to the remarkable resemblance between them and the Jews. They have the Jewish contour and countenance, and even cultivate their love-locks after the same fashion. They are also alike in one other respect: though both are afraid to associate with you lest you contaminate and pollute them, they are both so intolerably filthy in all their habits and habitations that it is no great trial to avoid and be avoided by them.
– §13, “Tyre” (p192)

Well, indeed! He does go on to remark, somewhat more usefully, upon the extent to which local Jews are observing Levitical dietary law, and his expertise in biblical literature and Semitic languages makes for some excellent reading. Curiously as well, the book plate notes that it was once “Alan and Sadie Crown’s book”. Small world! Or at least, a small sub-section of Sydney’s Inner West that comprises the four blocks between the late professor’s office and Berkelouw’s Books… But I’m still impressed.

Nowhere to Sleep

27 09 2011

As per the title of this post, I have had to start putting books on my bed. This is becoming a problem. And yet, when I walked into shul yesterday afternoon (a kid whose bar-mitzvah is coming up wanted to “interview” me about his parasha, vaYeitze), I couldn’t help but ransack three boxes of old books that were on their way to the Chevra Kadisha for burial. The things that people just throw away.

Because I know how much you like to read about my acquisitions (you do, don’t you?), I have decided to share.

The above box, which is about 32cm in length, sports a depiction of two lions atop two pillars, holding between them a crown. Alongside the crown are the letters כ and ת, for כתר תורה (“Crown of the Torah”). Between the two pillars is a quote from Deuteronomy 4:44 – וזאת התורה אשר שם משה לפני בני ישראל. At the bottom, a declaration that this is the product of an Israeli publishing house called Sinai. What might be inside?

It’s a scroll! As you can see from the picture, the actual scroll itself is only about 25cm in height. It is, of course, machine-printed and on paper, though the paper is quite thick and soft. The garment in which it is clothed is fraying, but the scroll itself appears to have suffered no damage at all. The depiction is of the tablets of the law, numbered from א to י, with a crown above them and, again, the letters כ and ת. The inscription beneath the tablets reads מזכרת ירושלים, meaning “a remembrance of Jerusalem”, in which Jerusalem has been spelt in accordance with rabbinic orthography (ירושלים, not ירושלם). Below is an image of the scroll itself.

As you can see, it is in excellent condition, and entirely legible. I reproduce a somewhat more magnified portion below:

Because I don’t want to fiddle too much with unrolling and rerolling it, I didn’t look through too much of the text. I did check to see whether Leviticus 1:1 featured a small aleph at the end of the first word (it did), and I did confirm that Exodus 15 was typeset as “brickwork”. I would have liked to look at Deuteronomy 32 as well (although I have every reason to suppose that it will be presented in columns), and would especially like to confirm that the ketivim are all written as ketivim, the inverted-nunim are to be found in their appropriate places, and there are dots above the correct letters, etc. Perhaps another time.

In the meantime, this is a most sensational find, and while I am sure that such things can be acquired at (reasonably) minimal expense, I am gobsmacked that it would have been so casually thrown away. Who could simply bury such a thing?

Secondary to the scroll, I also acquired another two siddurim. One beautiful little pocket siddur, titled שפת אמת, was printed in Warsaw in 1927. Another, beautifully ornate and hardcover siddur, printed in London in 1864, features the Hebrew text (נוסח פולין) and a translation into English by Rabbi Abraham Pereira Mendes. Titled “Daily Prayers”, this volume is also replete with halakhic and ritual notations from Rabbi Ya’akov Lorberbaum‘s דרך החיים.

On the subject of law, I nabbed an English translation of the קיצור שלחן ערוך (Kitzur Shulchan Arukh). I have two copies of the Kitzur in my room: one with glosses from the Shulchan Arukh haRav, and one with glosses from the Mishne Berurah. This translation dates from 1927, and was composed by Hyman Goldin, in New York.

Likewise, on the subject of historical curios (if these volumes count as historical curios), I grabbed three works by celebrated historians and social critics:

• Heinrich Graetz, History of the Jews: Vol. I. This volume spans from the patriarchs until the death of Simon the Maccabee (c.135 BCE), and was printed in 1891, the year of Graetz’s death. It was translated by Bella Löwy;

• Hilaire Belloc, The Jews. There are many fly spots on this volume (which is a first edition, published 1922), but the pages are of cloth, as all pages should be. Belloc was infamous at times for having possibly been an antisemite (that word, it seems, was no less frequently bandied about before the Shoah), though there appears to be little within this particular text that could possibly substantitate that. His seventh chapter, “The Anti-Semite”, when one considers the year of publication, is frighteningly prescient;

• Max Margolis and Alexander Marx, A History of the Jewish People. Spanning from the patriarchs until the opening of the Hebrew University in 1925, and despite occasional moments of silliness as when the authors remark upon the development of the “Cabala” with no real understanding of the kabbalistic literature (I blame them not; the world was different before Gershom Scholem’s Major Trends), their breadth of knowledge is inspiring. Nonetheless, despite concluding with a mention of the publication of the infamous Protocols, and the fact that people in Germany and Austria are beginning to unite “with the swastika as their badge”, the sanguine tone with which they conclude their volume is frighteningly unprescient.

And speaking of the Shoah, as I very nearly was, somebody else (whose name is in the front of it, but whom I won’t embarrass by mentioning) threw away a beautiful and heartbreaking book, entitled “The Children We Remember”. The author is Chana Byers Abells, and the photographs therein are all from the archives at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem. A children’s book, if you can believe it, this volume features photographs of European Jewish children in the years immediately prior to the Shoah, as well as in the ghettos and in Christian homes, in hiding. In one instance there is even a (somewhat famous) photo of a woman clutching her baby in the moments before an officer with a rifle took off their heads. Do people really show these things to their children? I thought that my education was explicit.

To happier things! I also took three other volumes of pictures – two of photographs, and one by illustration:

• Franz Hubmann, The Jewish Family Album: Yesterday’s World in Old Photographs. After an introduction, pages 17-79 are of the ghettos and the shtetls in the years before the Shoah; pages 79-225 are of “the emancipated” (with photos from Vienna, Prague, Paris, London, Amsterdam and Berlin, as well as of the Rothschilds and “the world of film”); pages 225-271 are of “the New World”; and pages 271-317 are of Palestine before and under the British Mandate;

• Published by the Old Yishuv Court Museum in Jerusalem, חצר הישוב הישן: Old Yishuv Court is a lovely collection of photographs of Palestinian Jews of Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Mizrachi descent (the musta’arabim), as well as some interesting pictures of Palestinian synagogues from before the state;

• Gustave Doré, תנ”ך בתמונות: The Bible in Pictures. With 140 illustrations taken from books of the Tanakh (as well as, most interestingly, I Maccabees, II Maccabees, Judith and Susanna!), this is another wonderful volume in excellent condition that should really never be thrown away. For a sample of Doré’s beautiful work, the Wikipedia article has some lovely selections. The copy that I have is hardcover, embossed with an image of Moses descending the mountain with the tablets of law in his hand, and was published in 1954 by Sinai.

It is a curious fact of Jewish life that nobody really knows, nor ever has really known, which books can be discarded and which must be buried. I can understand somebody deciding that they no longer want a particular text, but to assume (for no other reason than the fact that its content touches somehow upon Judaism or Jewish history) that it should go to the Chevra for burial is absurd. Not that I am complaining, of course. Were people more in the know, the vast bulk of the Cairo Geniza would have disappeared centuries ago, and my room would have more walking space in it today. For “academic” purposes (although, of what precise benefit these texts will be, I don’t know), I also took the following items, only one of which possibly falls into the category of “sacred literature”:

• William Foxwell Albright, The Archaeology of Palestine (London, 1960);

• Yigael Yadin, The Message of the Scrolls (London, 1959);

• Fritz Reuter, Warmaisa: 1000 Jahre Juden in Worms (Worms, 1984). It was my growing interest in mediaeval Ashkenaz which inspired me to take this one, and it will hopefully be my growing interest in mediaeval Ashkenaz that sees me able to read it before too long;

• חגי ישראל: חלק א. The first volume of a two-part series by an Israeli organisation that neither wanted to disclose their name, the place in which they published it, nor the year in which they saw fit to do so. This volume deals with the laws of Shabbat, Rosh haShana, Yom haKippurim, Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Chanukka and Tu biShevat.

It remains for me now only to mention what appears to be a tremendously entertaining read, written by (Rabbi) John S. Levi and George F.J. Bergman, entitled Australian Genesis: Jewish Convicts and Settlers, 1788-1850. I had the very good pleasure of listening to Rabbi Levi last year, when he presented a lecture in Sydney on the history of non-Orthodox Judaism in Australia. The first “home-grown” Australian rabbi, he impressed me with his breadth of knowledge no less than his wit. The history of Australian Judaism is not something for which I usually care, although I found myself intrigued with his presentation and look forward to reading his book. Chapter headings include “The Honest Jew of Parramatta”, “The Man They Couldn’t Hang”, “The Redemption of Sydney Sam” and “The Jewboy Bushranger and Family”. I love a good yarn.

And if I had to choose between these sixteen acquisitions and a place to rest my head? I can always sleep on the couch.

Tractates of the Mishna

26 08 2011

In preparation for the second week of a course that I am currently teaching (“A Comprehensive Introduction to the Rabbinic Literature”), I have put together a handout on the Mishna. In this handout, I have listed every tractate of the Mishna, numbered both in accordance with its place within each order and its place within the corpus as a whole, together with a translation of its title into English and a brief description of its contents. I have also included mention of the number of chapters in each tractate, and a footnote for each that presents every relevant verse within the biblical literature. While I have included on the tenth page the titles of the three texts that were of assistance to me in compiling this data, there may be errors within it that are my own. Likewise, any errors of omission are most certainly mine, as anybody familiar with the first two items in the bibliography will appreciate.

Interested? Feel free to do with it as you please:

Tractates of the Mishna“.