The article’s point of departure is a debate that took place in about 1290 between Zeraḥyah b. Isaac Ḥen and Hillel b. Samuel, two Jewish-Italian thinkers, that presents us with a surprisingly great variety of Arab, Jewish, and Latin-Christian exegetical and cosmological approaches regarding angelic nature. Zeraḥyah, following the dominant attitude among Arab, Muslim, and Jewish philosophers, strives to interpret the biblical angel-figure either naturalistically or allegorically. Conversely, Hillel cleaves more closely to Christian scholastic conceptions, adhering to the biblical narrative in the literal sense. The struggle between Jacob and the angel (Gen 32) posed one of the most challenging cases, presenting the interpreter with a situation in which an angel did not only appear but was also engaged in bodily contact. In the case of Hillel, his dual commitment as a Jewish Maimonidean heavily influenced by Latin Scholasticism led to the development of a highly unique solution.
The Fifth Passover Cup is mentioned in a textual variant of a baraita in Tractate Pesaḥim of the Babylonian Talmud (118a), attributed to Rabbi Ṭarfon and another anonymous Palestinian tanna. Scholars have demonstrated that the variant is primary in talmudic manuscripts and among the Babylonian Geonim. Following a nineteenth-century proposition of Isaac Baer Levinsohn, it is argued that the fifth cup was instituted in Babylonia due to concern for magical evil spirits aroused by even-numbered events [zugot]. Objections to Levinsohn’s theory can be allayed by critical source analysis: the Talmud’s attribution of the fifth cup to the Palestinian tanna Rabbi Ṭarfon in a baraita is pseudoepigraphic, based upon Rabbi Ṭarfon’s teaching regarding the recitation of Hallel ha-Gadol in Mishnah Ta‘anit 3:9. A special appendix is devoted to Levinsohn’s separate study on zugot in the ancient and medieval world.
As a minority within a minority, the Dublin Jewish Progressive Congregation (DJPC) barely features in the history of either Irish Jewry or Britain’s Liberal Judaism (LJ) movement. Any discussions of the congregation have been superficial; it is dismissed as religiously lax in the orthodox-led, largely anecdotal Irish Jewish historiography, but as conservative in the LJ context. This article critically examines the DJPC in its own right and “from within” for the first time, drawing on local memory and a range of material, personal and archival. I begin by querying exactly what the synagogue’s founders were seeking to achieve in establishing an Irish outpost of Jewish reform. The incremental development of a distinctive Irish brand of progressive Judaism is then investigated through the formative influence of the DJPC’s primary institutional relationships: that with the local orthodox community, and that with the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues (ULPS) in London.
There is no doubt that “new Jewish politics” flourished in interwar Poland. Youth movements played a very important part in that phenomenon. All of them were attuned to the Zeitgeist of the time, being convinced that Jews needed to be transformed in order to create a better future. Tsukunft, the youth movement associated with the Bund, was not unique in this regard. However, it offered a vision of the new man and woman which was slightly different than its Zionist counterparts. This paper focuses on the politics of memory of this Jewish socialist movement. Furthermore, the article illustrates that the Tsukunfist lexicon of myths was drawn not from Jewish cultural tradition but from an already developed socialist tradition of iconography and ideological education.
This article discusses the phenomenon of dynasties of Jewish physicians in the Late Middle Ages in Egypt and Syria. Based on Muslim Arabic historiographical literature on the one hand, and Jewish sources such as Genizah documents on the other, this paper reconstructs fourteen dynasties of Jewish physicians that were active in the Mamluk Sultanate (1250–1517). Examination of the families reveals that the most distinguished dynasties of court physicians were of Jewish origin, and had to convert to Islam during the Mamluk period. Moreover, the office of the “Head of the Physicians” was occupied mainly by members of these convert Jewish dynasties. This situation stands in stark contrast to the pre-Mamluk period, in which dynasties of unconverted Jewish court physicians flourished. However, Jewish sources reveal that dynasties of doctors who were also communal leaders continued to be active also during the Mamluk period.
This essay is a case study in the modern emergence of the “supernatural.” I argue that pre-modern understandings of the evil eye were predominantly naturalistic, based on extramissionist, haptic concepts of vision. The need to believe in the evil eye first arises when sight becomes universally understood as the result of light entering rather than emerging from the eyes. In the Jewish context, rabbis then begin to develop alternative explanations for its existence and efficacy. These novel etiologies were, for the first time, supernatural. Furthermore, an under-appreciated consequence of the emergence of the modern category of the supernatural is here revealed: rather than signifying the opprobrium of rejected knowledge, for certain religious communities, its embrace has come to represent spiritual conviction.
The current article discusses the origins and formation of the Jewish custom of hanging ostrich eggs in the synagogue. This habit has been more common in specific countries such as Yemen, and in cities in the land of Israel, such as Safed, Meron, and Jerusalem. The initial reason given for hanging the eggs was that they might arouse one to concentrate on prayers, as like eggs, prayers are fruitful when accompanied by concentration and true intent. This explanation is based on the “miraculous power” of the ostrich’s sense of sight, capable of warming the eggs and causing them to hatch.
This article proposes a new reading of the opening scene of Joseph Ben Meir Ibn Zabara’s twelfth century (at the latest: 1209) The Book of Delight. This reading derives from the hypothesis that this art of storytelling is based on a poetic principle of uncertainty, and is therefore associated with the various forms of the ambiguous and the ambivalent (the grotesque, the uncanny, the ironic, etc.). As I have argued elsewhere about other rhymed Hebrew stories, this approach is appropriate, in my view, to the character of some of the most fascinating rhymed stories produced in medieval Hebrew literature. In the present study I suggest yet another demonstration of the poetic benefit that can accrue from the adoption of this approach.