Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Articles on Jewish Prayers


Where can I find articles about the history of weekday shaharit prayers? I have identified many articles published since the mid-1960's in RAMBI, but I would also like to find articles published earlier in the 20th century.


Joseph Tabory's magnificent bibliography Jewish Prayer and the Yearly Cycle רשימת מאמרים בענייני תפילה ומועדים , published as a Supplement to volume 64 of Kiryat Sefer (The Jewish National and University Library, 1993) is a comprehensive listing of articles, in Hebrew and European languages, published from the mid-1800's up to the 1990's.

It covers not only individual prayers and prayer services, but also historical aspects of Jewish prayer, prayer in specific geographic and ethnic communities, Shabbat and the holidays, the reading the Torah, the language of prayer, concepts expressed in the liturgy, and more.

Tabory has compiled corrections and additions to this bibliography, published with his facsimile edition of the 1628 Siddur Hanau סידור הנאו שפ"ח : מהדורה פקסימילית : עם פרקי מבוא ונספח ביבליוגרפי (Bar Ilan University, 1994). Reference BM 656 S5

Jewish Prayer and the Yearly Cycle is located in the JTS Library’s Reference collection at Z6371.L5 T3 1993

Do you recognize this story?

The following question was received at the library’s reference email:

I have been searching for a Hanukkah short story for several years. I heard it on NPR 15 years ago, got it out of the library and read it aloud to my family. But I have lost track of the name. It concerns a young cheder boy who gambles everything, including his prized siddur at dreidle. He is humiliated. Years later he is causally told that the winner's dreidle had a gimmel on all four sides. Can you help me learn the title and author?

The librarians here have, so far, been unable to answer this question. We would like to put this question to all the readers of this blog in the hope that someone may have the needed information. Is there anyone out there who can identify the title and author of the referenced story?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Second Temple Literature and Historical Events

Question: Please direct me to a chronology of Second Temple literature, including Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Answer: This Timeline , developed by Dr. Charles Ess of Drury University in Missouri, provides a chronology of selected Second Temple literature in its historical context--both by date, by political event, and by milestone in the development of early Judaism.

Two of the resources described in the December 10 posting include selected apocrypha, pseudepigrapha and Dead Sea Scrolls in their historical context. The Timetables of Jewish History: a Chronology of the Most Important People and Events in Jewish History by Judah Gribetz (Simon & Schuster, 1993) is best used for Second Temple writings via its index. Look up the title of the ancient book you are researching; you will be referred to the relevant listing by date and column. A Timeline of Jewish Texts also includes a few Second Temple compositions.

The Chronology of Jewish Literature provides a dated listing of selected Biblical and post-Biblical books, with dates of composition, co-related to major historical events. This website was created by a Dutch historian, Jona Lendering.

More comprehensive information about the dating and historical background of Second Temple literature can be found in individual articles in standard encyclopedias such as the Encyclopedia Judaica, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, the Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Cambridge History of Judaism:

-- The "Apocyrpha and Pseudepigrapha" article in the Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Oxford University Press, 2000) indicates which of these texts are represented among the Dead Sea Scrolls, along with a probable date for these particular copies. This encyclopedia is an excellent resource for an overview on each Dead Sea text and on the genres found in the Judean Desert -- for example, see these articles: "The Damascus Document" , "Hodayot", "Psalms, Hymns, and Prayers" and "Rules" .

--The "Apocrypha" article in The Anchor Bible Dictionary (Doubleday, 1992) lists the main texts along with probable dates of composition.

--The Table of Contents of James Charlesworth's The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2 volumes (Doubleday, 1983) clearly lists the title of each document, along with a range of dates for its probably composition. The introduction to each chapter goes into much more detail about the composition dates, including different dates for different parts of each text.

--A "Chronological Table" listing concurrent events in Palestine, Rome/Italy, Egypt and other parts of the ancient Near East is in the back (or front) of volumes 1, 2 and 3 of the Cambridge History of Judaism (Cambridge University Press, 1984-2006). These tables focus on political and military events, merely providing the historical background, without mentioning any texts.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Brothers of Alter Rebbe

I believe that I may be descended from one of the brothers of the first HaBaD Rebbe. Would you help me find out what their names were?

The first HaBaD rebbe was Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Lyady (1745-1813). He is often referred to as the “Alter (elder) Rebbe”. The famous Hasidic movement known as Lubavitch belongs to the HaBaD tradition. According to the work The Rebbeim : the life of the Alter Rebbe, compiled by Rabbi Sholom D. Avtzon (Brooklyn, NY : S.D. Avtzon, 2005), Rabbi Shneur Zalman had three brothers (see p.253-254). Their names were:
- Rabbi Yehudah Leib of Yanovitch (often referred to as the MaHaRYL, author of the work She'erit Yehudah)
- Rabbi Mordechai (served as rabbi of the town of Orsha)
- Rabbi Moshe (served as rabbi of the town of Bayov)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Can an unborn child learn?

Is there any source in the Talmud for the concept that an unborn child has awareness and can learn during the gestation period?

In the Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Nidah, p.30b, s.v. darash Rabi Simlai) there is an extensive description of the state of the fetus in its mother's womb. The Talmud teaches that the unborn child is taught the entire Torah while in the womb. When the fetus exits the womb in order to be born an angel comes, strikes it on its mouth, and makes it forget everything it has studied. It will be necessary for the newborn to relearn the Torah during its lifetime. The Talmud (ibid.) records many other fascinating teachings about the life of the unborn child during the months of gestation.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rabbinic Texts and Historical Events

Question: Where can I find a graphic historical overview of the eras when the classic Rabbinic texts (Mishna, Talmud, Midrash, Biblical commentaries, legal codes, etc) were written and edited?

Answer: I suggest you look at one of these Jewish history timelines:

Codex Judaica: Chronological Index of Jewish History by Mattis Kantor (Zichron Press, 2005) covers Creation to the 2000’s with an emphasis on the eras of the Bible, Talmud, Rishonim and Ahronim. This volume is especially useful because it allows the reader to choose from 4 levels of detail. Timeline 1 is a simple 1-page summary. Timelines 2 and 3 (8-page and 14-page charts) position major Rabbinic texts in the context of major Jewish historical events. Timeline 4 (the bulk of the book) provides year-by-year details on Rabbinic writings and Jewish history. (REFERENCE OVERSIZE DS 114 K34 2005)

A Timeline of Jewish Texts is a 1-page chart highlighting the major Rabbinic accomplishments in each century in the last 2300+ years. The texts are classified by category: Bible (commentaries and translations); Mishna, Talmud and commentaries; Law Codes, Liturgy, Thought and Ethics, Mysticism, and History.

The Timetables of Jewish History: a Chronology of the Most Important People and Events in Jewish History by Judah Gribetz (Simon & Schuster, 1993) covers Jewish history from the events of Genesis up to the 1990’s, year by year or decade by decade. For each time period, this volume provides 5 parallel columns showing
1) Jewish cultural milestones including Rabbinic and literary accomplishments,
what was happening to 2) the Jews of Europe,
3)the Jews in the Middle East, and
4) Jews in the Americas, and
5) what was happening in the secular world.
The juxtaposition is quite striking—for example, in the year 1135 “Samuel ben Meir… authors a commentary on the Torah that supplements that of his grandfather and teacher, Rashi” and “Henry I of England conquers Normandy back from his brother Robert” (p. 113) (REFERENCE OVERSIZE DS 114 G74 1993)

Timelines for the History of Judaism This easy-to-use set of charts emphasizes history. Hypertext links provide details about selected Rabbinic texts.

Dor L’Dor: A Year-By-Year Graphic Timeline of Jewish History From Creation to the Present by Ephraim Waxman (Feldheim, 2006) is a full-color 60-page fold-out chart. This volume emphasizes Rabbinic personalities and the writing of Rabbinic texts, against the background of Jewish history and world events. The graphic format makes this volume useful for teenage students (ERC OVERSIZE DS 114 W38 2006)

“The Generations of the Tannaim andthe Amoraim”, a chapter in Adin Steinsaltz’s The Talmud: The Steinsaltz Edition: A Reference Guide (Israeli Institute for Talmudic Publications, 1989) provides charts listing Tannaim and Amoroaim by name, date, and generation—juxtaposed with concurrent Eretz Israel and Babylonian historial events/personalities and world events. (REFERENCE OVERSIZE BM 503.5 s652 1989)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Naming children after Alexander the Great

Question: What is the source of the legend that during the Second Temple era the Jews promised Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.E.) that they would name their children after him?

Answer: The earliest source for this legend that I could locate is the work Sefer Yosipon. According to Encyclopedia Judaica [2007 ed., v.11, p.461-462] Sefer Yosipon (also known as Josippon) is an anonymous history of the Second Temple era that was composed in Hebrew during the 10th century in southern Italy. During the Middle Ages the work was mistakenly ascribed to the Jewish historian Josephus Flavius (c.37 – after 100 C.E.) and became known as Yosipon (a Jewish-Greek form of Josephus). In the scholarly edition of Sefer Yosipon edited by David Flusser [Yerushalayim, Mosad Byalik, 1978-1980] the story is found in v.1, p.56-57, lines 37-45. Alexander is visiting the Temple in Jerusalem. After proclaiming his belief in the God of the Jews, Alexander asks the Jewish High Priest to create a memorial for Alexander in the Temple. Alexander will donate gold which will be crafted into a statue in his likeness. The statue will remain in the Temple to honor Alexander. The High Priest replied that it was forbidden to maintain a statue in the Temple but that Alexander’s memory would not be forgotten. All the priestly children born that year in Judea and Jerusalem would be named Alexander. Eventually, these children would serve in the Temple, thereby providing a memorial for Alexander. Flusser comments (ibid., p.56, note to line 41) that a similar story was recorded by the German poet Rudolf von Ems (c.1200-1254) in his work Alexanderroman. In von Ems’ version no mention is made of Alexander requesting a statue. Out of gratitude to Alexander’s kindness to them, the Jews spontaneously make the offer that henceforth one member of the Levitical house will always bear the name Alexander. Flusser thinks it likely that in recording their slightly different versions of the legend, both Yosipon and von Ems were drawing on a shared source that is at present lost to us.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

How To Access the Bar Ilan Responsa Database

Question: How can I access the Bar Ilan database from campus and from home?

Answer: JTS Campus Access: The Bar Ilan database, sometimes called the Responsa database, is available as a web-based resource from the Available Online section of the JTS Library’s website. Click on E-books or E-Reference. Then click on Bar Ilan Responsa Project

This database is also available as a CD-ROM in the Reference section of the JTS Library, at selected computers.

Off-Campus Access (JTS students, faculty and staff): The web-based version of the Bar Ilan database is also available via the “Remote Access” link on the JTS Library’s website. Input the same username and password that you use for your JTS email. The next page will give you access to all The Library’s subscription databases; click on “Responsa” for the Bar Ilan database.