Current Issue Article Abstracts

Spring 2023, Vol. 47.1

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“I Call It Rabbi Youtube”: Rabbinic Authority in the Digital Age and The Children of Noah (Bnei Noah) Movement
Rachel Z. Feldman

The rise of the Internet and social media has enabled Jewish teachings to travel far beyond the boundaries of established Jewish communities. New channels for Torah study online have connected rabbis in Israel to non-Jews around the world who are searching for rabbinic mentorship. Tens of thousands of individuals coming from Hebrew Roots Christianity, Seventh-Day Adventism, and Messianic Judaism have converged with Orthodox rabbinic authorities through online platforms, where they negotiate theological questions and their own place within a messianic Zionist vision. In turn, Orthodox rabbis from Israel’s religious right wing are engaging in a new form of Internet proselytizing, offering non-Jews who feel lost in the boundary zone between Christianity and Judaism a concrete solution: they are invited to become Bnei Noah, the Children of Noah, a new Judaic faith and a harbinger of messianic times.

Abraham Ibn Ezra and the Natives: An Ethnic Morphology of Modern Jewish Scholarship
Noah S. Gerber

A bias toward medieval Sephardic Judaism and its early modern Occidental offshoots has accompanied critical Jewish scholarship for two centuries. This essay examines how this bias has structured latter-day Sephardic and Mizrahi involvement in the discipline, with Abraham Ibn Ezra as a case study. While the nineteenth-century textual remapping of Ibn Ezra drew on numerous Mizrahi communal genizot, the early twentieth century witnessed the emergence of an intellectual conversation between European Jewish and Mizrahi savants in tracing the medieval poet’s historical sojourn in non-European lands. Subsequently, a specifically Zionist emphasis on the ingathering of Ibn Ezra lore somewhat reduced Mizrahi agency to the category of folklore, with the primitivism of the tales gathered associated almost exclusively with non-European comprehension of this medieval Sephardic icon. The divide between a veteran “first” Israel versus a “second” Israel helped solidify this ethnic distinction in cultural labor, with the tide reversing itself only recently.

Editorial Material in the Babylonian Talmud and Its Sasanian Context
Simcha Gross

In the study of Jews in late antiquity, scholarship of the past half century has increasingly recognized the significance of the anonymous editors of the Babylonian Talmud. Whereas earlier scholars argued that the Babylonian Talmud was redacted and completed by the last generation or so of the Amoraim, scholars now accept that substantial sections of the anonymous editorial layer(s) postdate the final named Amoraim. However, basic historical questions about these editors and their activities remain unanswered. This paper will offer several case studies that argue that certain anonymous sections in the Talmud refer to known historical events that transpired in the Sasanian Empire in the sixth century, and reveal how the editors were acquainted with, affected by, and participated in broader contemporaneous historical trends. 

From Monumental Histories to a Multiplicity of Histories: The Persistence and Meaning of Master Narratives of Jewish History
Jason Lustig

Histories like Heinrich Graetz’s Geschichte der Juden (1854–1876) may have once been prominent and popular, but more recently this genre has fallen out of favor as scholars generally no longer try to write monumental histories of the Jews. This article traces the turn away from monumental histories and how it represents fundamental changes in how scholars understand Jewish history: Graetz and his contemporaries constructed Jewish history as a unified field, but today some question the notion of “a” Jewish history, instead looking to a multiplicity of histories and narratives. Nevertheless, a cohort of leading scholars and popular writers continue to produce synthetic histories of the Jews, and many still produce linear narratives of Jewish history for introductory Jewish history courses. Consequently, this article brings together historiography and pedagogy to comprehend the persistence and meaning of master narrative frameworks as scholars and the public continue to envision Jewish history. 

The Boundaries of Israel: Polemical Warfare on Behalf of the Holy Land
Uri Zvi Shachar

The Boundaries of the Land of Israel is a late thirteenth-century guidebook that describes several itineraries in the Holy Land. Critics have lauded it as the culmination of late medieval Jewish travel literature, and have noted its sophistication in bringing unusual exegetical depths to the descriptions of holy sites. While questions of its exact dating and authorship have long been debated, its intellectual and literary provenance has been largely taken for granted. Mostly, scholars have overlooked the polemical ambition that underlies the way the author chose to expound upon the Holy Land. Drawing on bellicose messianic traditions that originated with the founders of the Jewish community in Frankish Acre, this treatise, I argue, sought to show how the Land itself makes manifest the meaning of Scripture. Consequently, the Land of Israel is seen not only to reject the rule of Muslims and Christians, but also to disprove their respective interpretive traditions. 

Self-Evident Questions and Their Role in Talmudic Dialectic
Shira Shmidman

Questions and question asking play a central role in talmudic dialectic. While some questions seek to determine the practical Halakhah in a given case, others lead to a theoretical discussion of the principles behind the laws. Scholars have noted that these theoretical questions are often introduced by a tannaitic ruling that is then further examined by the subsequent question. This article will explore a unique rhetorical style with which these tannaitic rulings are introduced, whereby an Amora asks a self-evident question whose answer can be found in a tannaitic source, in order to adduce that source for further inquiry. This style can be found in the questions of Rava and Rami bar Ḥama, who were among the third to fourth generations of Babylonian Amoraim. This article will demonstrate how this questioning style reflects developments in the curriculum of the Babylonian academy during this period. 

North Korea’s Translation of Anne Frank and the Politics of Self-Writing
Dafna Zur

The Diary of Anne Frank was published in North Korea in 2002. Coming in the wake of a devastating famine, the decision to translate this text was likely driven by the need to provide North Korea’s youth with a model of resilience. To appreciate the translator’s interventions, I provide a close reading of the translation and contextualize it historically, and make two assertions. First, that it is productive to understand the diary within North Korea’s writing practices and theories of good literature and translation. Second, I argue that self-writing is less a spontaneous delivery of the true self and more one that is processed through a web of linguistic and social structures, and I offer a consideration of the “politics of self-writing” as a methodological approach. In addition, I show how reception of the diary demonstrates the difficulty of restricting its interpretation, even in North Korea.