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Studying the Talmud


Something I have been thinking about for a long time, and which I have promised to per video but simply never can make myself get around, is to do a study of the Talmud, if not all the Talmud (that is going to take some time, maybe also too much time), then at least some. And not only in order to study it or to talk about it, but also to study the reasoning of the Talmud, especially the different ways of discussions in the Mishnah and the Gemarrah.

But before we get there an introduction is in its place.

First off, there are two Talmuds: The Talmud Bavli and the Talmud Yerushalmi. Why there are two and which one I will be relating to will be explained a little later. The structure of the two Talmuds are very alike, they consist of a textual body with commentaries being written around them, elucidating the text. The textual body consist of two parts, the mishnaic text, which is the foundation, and the text of the Gemarrah, which takes the most space by far. The reason for this is that the mishnaic text is the actual body being commented on by the Gemarrah.

The Mishnah:

In Judaism (that is, Rabbinic Judaism, which from now on in this context simply will be called Judaism for convenience) there are two bodies of holy Scriptures, the Bible (called TaNaCh) and the Mishnah. The Bible is structured in three parts, the Torah, the Nevi’im (Prophetical Books), and the Ketuvim (the Scriptures), thereby forming the word T-N-K (pronounced TaNaCh). The Torah, which is the five Books of Moshe Rabenu, A”S, is the Holy Book in Judaism, being the foundation for every commandment and principle deduced by the Sages. It is known by other names as well, describing its nature in comparison with the other Jewish Scriptures, namely Torah she’bichtiv, the Written Torah, and Humash, the name being based on the number of books (the number five in Hebrew is hemesh). That the Torah, the Humash, is written is important in relation to that part of the Torah, which is believed to have been given Oral, namely the Oral Tradition or Torah she’be’al-Peh (the Torah which is in the mouth), which has been transferred orally from generation to generation, from Moshe Rabenu, A”S, until R. Yehuda HaNasi, Z”L, who saw the need to write down the Oral Tradition in the beginning of the third century CE.

The Mishnah is organized in six “Sedarim,” from the word ‘seder,’ which means ‘order.’ These Sedarim are organized in massechot, tractates, which each has a number of chapters, which each has a number of ‘mishnayot.’ The term “mishnah” with a small ‘m’ is the decisions brought down through the ages, though not all are going back to Sinai. In differing between the Mishnah in its total and the single mishnah, I will write it with capital m and without.

The six Sedarim are as follows:

Seder Zera’im, which deals with agriculture, though the first tractate, Massechet B’rachot, which we will be dealing with in the beginning, is concerned with prayers and blessings. It has eleven tractates in it.

Seder  Mo’ed, which deals with the festivals, and which has twelve tractates.

Seder Nashim, which deals with issues concerning women, such as the various forms of marriage, divorce, female impurity and so on. It has seven tractates.

Seder Nezikin, which deals with civil law and the structure of the courts, as well as punishments, idol worship and witnesses. Here we also find the ethical tractate, Pirqei Avot. It has ten tractates, though the three first, Bava Kamma, Bava Metzia, and Bava Batra, originally was one tractate.

Seder Qodashim, which deals with issues related to holiness. It has eleven tractates.

Seder Tehorot, which deals with purities. It has twelve tractates.

There are other mishnaic materials besides the Mishnah. When R. Yehudah HaNasi, Z”L, had organized the Mishnah there was still mishnaic material left. This material was collected by his disciples in a work called Tosefta, which means ‘addition,’ a work which is being referred to by various rabbis in the discussions of the Gemarrah as proof-text, in their attempts to strengthen or attack a position. But in comparison to the mishniyot of the Mishnah they have lesser authority.

The Mishnah is written in what is called “mishnaic Hebrew,” a form of Hebrew being slightly simpler than the Biblical Hebrew, showing its traces of being a spoken more than a written language. It has some differences from Modern Hebrew, such as the suffixes in the plural, but any Hebrew speaker should be able to read and understand the mishnaic text without any noteworthy troubles.

The Gemarrah

Not long after the death of R. Yehudah HaNasi, Z”L, the compilation of the Mishnah, and the gathering of the Tosefta, the need to explain the mishniyot in the Mishnah appeared, both because the Jews found themselves under new situation as well as the Mishnah being presented in a very straightforward language, which leaves many details unexplained, something I believe will appear from the beginning of our study.

Therefore the rabbis of the religious centers, found in two geographical areas, namely in Eretz Yisrael, what constitutes the Galilee, Judea, and surroundings, and Babylon, began to comment on the Mishnah.  Their comments, which were written in the spoken language of their time, Aramaic, show proof of their geographical background, such as local features being used in their examples and discussions. There are other differences as well, such as the type of Aramaic, the Babylonian Gemarrah being written in Eastern Aramaic, and the Palestinian Gemarrah in Western Aramaic. Also the elements differ, the Babylonian having a lot of Persian and Babylonian mythical elements incorporated.

The Babylonian Gemarrah is the most extensive of the two, having a century more to be edited and worked upon, finished most likely around 550 CE, though there has been proved later editing, conducted by the anonymous group of rabbis called Savoraim.

The Palestinian Gemarrah was never finished, being disrupted around 425 CE caused by anti-Jewish pogroms by the Christian emperor Theodosius II, and therefore lack a lot of material as well as organization. It does hold material which the Babylonian Gemarrah doesn’t cover, especially in context of agriculture, since that issue was important for the Jews in Eretz Yisrael, while not for the Jews in Babylon, having the commandments only being connected to the Land of Israel. Therefore the Babylonian Gemarrah is considered the more authoritative of the two, except on issues where it doesn’t mention anything.

From this we find one Mishnah and two Gemarrot, one Babylonian Gemarrah, which together with the Mishnah is called the Babylonian Talmud or Talmud Bavli, and one Palestinian Gemarrah, which together with the Mishnah is called the Palestinian Talmud or Talmud Yerushalmi.

Mentioning the Mishnah in this context one thing has to be pointed out, namely that there are some smaller differences on the mishnaic text in the two Talmuds. I have dealt with this issue in some earlier posts, which you can read here, here and here. This might have been caused by the Mishnah being transferred orally in the Land of Israel even at the time of the disruption of the Palestinian Gemarrah, causing the changes in language as will always appear through time, while the mishnaic text most likely was considered holy in its written form from the beginning in Babylon.

Regarding the Sages. We will see that a lot of Sages will be mentioned by names, and I will try to explain when and where they lived. But sometimes the Gemarrah talks about ‘Tanna.’ This is the title for the Sages living in the Mishnaic times, that is, from the time before the compilation of the Mishnah. The Sages of the Gemarrah are called Amoraim.

With this said (or written) I feel that we are ready to begin the study of the Talmud.

Why Law and Religion – The Attempt to Define Identity


I have earlier talked a little about why I chose to study religion, but the other day I was asked why I chose to focus on law in religion. What is it about law, which triggers me, makes me aware, makes me want to understand the finesses and theories, which by others would be considered way too boring or abstract to even begin considering it? Well, it’s a little complicated to explain, but I will give a try anyway. But first I need to correct something I wrote in the before mentioned post on why I chose to study Comparative Religion. There I wrote that I would be focusing on the role of the woman in Israel, something which has changed. Or actually, I returned to my first focus though I at the time wasn’t so sure that that was my focus. What I want to say is that my focus is going to be on the mutual attitudes between Jews and Muslims, especially in the context of religion in Israel.

But there’s more to it than that. During my under-graduate studies I took my minor in cultural studies, where identity and the thought on identity preoccupied my quite a lot. It still does. The whole question of how we identify ourselves and what influences this really talks to me, I find it fascinating. Not only that, how do we relate to each other based on that, is also something which, I think, is of crucial importance.

Law and religion is two very strong identity markers, each in its own way. Religion as deciding on identity is obvious, people normally identify themselves according to what they believe, in some cases according to what they think they believe, as well as relating themselves to those who share their beliefs. Law is different; law is more of a deciding factor in how you are identified by those deciding the law. Law doesn’t care much about feelings, only facts (true, those deciding the laws might pay attention to feelings, but they will still have to establish a structured defining system, otherwise making the law too vague to decide anything). But law can also be influenced by those following it or relating to it, by whether they accept it at all (or have to be forced to it) or choose to relate to another system of laws instead. And what will happen in that case?

I’ve downloaded the introduction to a book called “Law and Identity in Mandate Palestine,” written by Assaf Likhovski, which deals a lot with what I’m focusing on, though not so much from the perspective of religion. Likhovski writes about his book that it “is a book about the role of law in defining the self and the collective, in balancing tradition and modernity, Western and non-Western norms. Every non-Western culture confronts this problem, which also constitutes one of the main issues in the momentous conflict between Islam and the West that is now unfolding before our eyes. In this battle, law plays an important role. It serves as a banner under which combatants fight, a weapon for overcoming enemies, a middle ground for meeting them. Law also defines the nature of the participants in the conflict.

Law is definitely defining for identity, especially in relation to who is among “us” and who isn’t. Everyone the law grants rights and citizenship is per definition one of “us,” everybody isn’t granted this is not. And law is used in this perspective as a weapon, everybody with just the faintest knowledge of the right of return here in Israel, should be aware about that.

Likhovski later relates to the status of the whole matter of identity in then Palestine, and how it was without any clear form:

“Another singular aspect of the country was the unstable identity of its inhabitants. Many twentieth-century societies witnessed a process of identity transformation— the rejection of traditional identities based on religious or tribal loyalty and their replacement by modern national identities. But in mandate Palestine, the process of identity transformation was especially evident. Here Muslim and Christian politicians were engaged in constructing a new Arab identity following the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. Zionist Jews were busy creating a novel “Hebrew” self, purged of the marks of the Jewish exile. Even British rulers were occupied with reexamining the foundations of their imperialism in response to the challenges posed by the interwar era.”

I believe we still struggle with the problem down here even today. I can point to a couple of examples on the struggle between identities, for example Israeli vs. Jewish, Palestinian vs. Israeli, Arab vs. Palestinian, all being dealt with in extensive discussions. For example, according to the law on Right of Return every Jew, descendant of a Jew, or spouse of a Jew, has the right of return to Israel, becoming a “Oleh Hadash.” There are some exceptions and details influencing the final decision on whether one is allowed in or not, but all in all the law is rather clear. Or actually it isn’t. The problem is who is a “Jew,” a question which has been discussed for millennia (just see the Biblical account on the ‘Yehudim’ vs. the Samarians in the Book of Ezra and Nehamyah), and today is the cause of great fights between various Jewish groups, particular between the Reform movement in the States and Orthodox Rabbinate in Israel. Here a secular law is suddenly being caught up in the discussion of a religious law and how it should be deciding in favor to or against a defined group of participants. The problem is not so much on those descendants from Jews, being for sure Jews, but rather those who convert within the Reform movement and as such will not be recognized as Jews by the Orthodox Rabbinate.

Another example, to stay here in Israel, is the one of being Palestinian and/or Israeli. How are Palestinians defining themselves here in Israel? The vast majority of them do define themselves as Palestinian, though some refuse to define themselves this way, but rather prefer to describe themselves as Israeli Arabs. Some define themselves as Israeli Palestinians, but still, most define themselves as Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, or so it is my experience. But it doesn’t stop there, this is only a question of nationality and belonging to either or both nationalities (Palestinian and Israeli), another question appears when we deal with religion, having most Palestinians in Israel being Muslim, but a large majority being Christian, and the religious definition is important, and can be of crucial matter, also in comparison on whether one first define him or herself as Muslim or Palestinian. This is a matter which can cause conflict between the Islamic movements and the nationalist movements. Take an example as Hizb ut-Tahrir, which calls for a Caliphate, not a Palestinian state (since that would be a national state based on Western ideas and as such against Islam), and how their expectations would clash with the nationalist expectations of the more secular Palestinian movements (or maybe even other Islamist movements not sharing the same expectations).

In the meeting between religion and the secular society, especially in the question of law, insights and understandings of how identity is defined, as well as the flexibility and demands of the religion is extremely important. Does the religion demand total loyalty, denying any acceptance of other authorities besides its own authority? How does it allow to rule on behalf of it? How are we dealing with conflicting identities and definitions of identities? Those questions are among the questions I hope to deal with, because in a country like Israel these questions are important to answer, in order to understand the relations and mutual attitudes between Jews and Muslims of today. And that is why I’m focusing on law in the two religions. Among some other reason as well.



Tomorrow it’s the 15th of May 2012. This day marks the 64th year after what is known as yom an-Nakba among Palestinians. Nakba is Arabic for ‘catastrophe’ and relates to the several hundred of thousands of Palestinians, who had to leave their homes when the war between the Arab alliance and Israel broke out, a war which was the result of Israel’s independence just the day before. It is a day which marks the tragic destiny for more than 700,000 Palestinians, and a day which coincides with a day, which for the majority of the Israelis, is a day of joy, namely the Israeli Independence Day, Yom Ha’Atzmaut.[1]

In Israel Yom Ha’Atzmaut is celebrated all over the nation with barbeques, parties, and concerts. Yom an-Nakba is not, it shouldn’t be, it’s a day of mourning, but it’s not even commemorated. Okay, one could understand that, it’s part of the Palestinian narrative, not the Israeli, but the Israeli Palestinians are not even allowed to commemorate the day. I find it criticizable.

I am a Zionist, a Jew, married to an Israeli, and living in Israel. I do celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut, as well as I commemorate the fallen Israeli soldier, who gave their lives protecting the country. I do doubt some versions of what happened during the independence war with the Arab armies, but I know that at least part of the Palestinians leaving their homes were forced to do it by Israeli soldiers, that is – or should be – beyond doubt. There are a lot of discussions surrounding the war. Who were really the evil ones, who did the greatest atrocities, did the Palestinians leave freely, and so on. But those are for the historians to discuss, and while many people choose to be one-sided, only relying on those historians who give the account which fits their narrative, I try to be objective, or at least as objective as I can.

That aside, discussion aside, no matter how big a role Israel played in this, no matter how many Palestinians left of their own will, we still witness the consequences of the war (and the later war in 1967), having millions of Palestinians still living in refugee camps, under terrible conditions. True, some camps are more reminding of cities today, but that doesn’t go for all of them, probably only few of them. I wouldn’t like to live in them, and I bet that most would agree with me that no one deserves to live in them. I don’t blame Israel for this, at least not alone or totally. Many refugee camps are either found in Lebanon, Syria, or Jordan, and while Jordanese Palestinians, I think, have somewhat normal lives, that’s not the situation for the Lebanese or Syrian Palestinians. It actually doesn’t matter much who is to blame, that won’t change their situation.

I can’t do anything personally, besides raise awareness of the situation millions of people are living in. I can do that without blaming people, I can do that in order to change that situation for the better. True, there are people out there who live even worse lives, but the Palestinians are part of my destiny, as a Jew living in Israel. And – again – though I do celebrate the day Israel came into existence, no matter how much or little I might agree or disagree with various Israeli policies, I do mourn the sacrifices which had to be given for this. I do mourn that we, 64 years after the establishment of Israel, still have to live and experience the consequences of war.

I can’t change their situation, but I can raise awareness of it. And I won’t tell Israel to solve it, not alone at least, nor to take blame, not all at least. But at least allow people to mourn. At least that.

[1] These days rarely fall next after each other today, since Israel is following the Jewish calendar, which is a lunar calendar, whereas the date for the Nakba-day follow the Western solar calendar.

Comparative study on the law schools and overall structure of Islam and Judaism – Defining the Schisms



Considering finding the comparison of the evolution of the Jewish maḍhab, I think there are some things that need to be in place, before we can begin the comparison. First off, one of the reasons the various maḍâhib appeared was the internal split as well as the geographical distance between the centers. People became more focused on their local center than on the overall center. When do we see the same in Judaism? Another thing which needs to be in place, is the acknowledgment of the same basic sources. When talking about Islam the split in the legal sources is the Sunnah and the Imams, where the Shi’as don’t acknowledge the Sunni compilations of Hadith, so the Sunnis don’t acknowledge the Shi’a ditto as well as the status of the Imams. Within the Sunni maḍâhib the basic sources where agreed upon, as they were, I believe, in the case of the Shi’a maḍâhib.

So we have two levels of comparison here. One is in the schism of disagreement on basic sources, that is, the sources considered holy and thus basic for further understanding of Allah’s will, the other the schisms within the major movements, where it is a question more about different principles in the interpretation of these sources, than the sources themselves.

When I think of examples on the first schism in Judaism, I find many and from various periods of time. During the Biblical times the obvious example is that of the Samarians and the Judeans. During the time of the Second Temple there are the schisms between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the Essenes and the other Jewish groups (in regards to the status of the Temple as well as the priesthood of the Essenes), and later on between the Rabbinic Jews and the Karaites. Today we might even talk about the schism between the Orthodox on the one hand and the Reform on the other (with the Conservative movement somewhere in between). What is worthwhile to notice here is that we are talking about schisms, which emphasis the struggle on who are the right ones to define what “true Judaism” is, that is, where do we put the limits. That is also the case in the Islamic schism between the Sunnis and the Shi’as. Of course, which I dare say is obvious, it doesn’t mean that the two parts in each schism, whether Jewish or Muslim, denies the other side’s right to leave an imprint on the religion, as well as the case can be that sometimes the one part denies the other side’s right, while the other side acknowledge the right of the first side.

The schisms which I believe cannot be placed within this category of schisms, let’s call it the Schism of Who is Right, are those of the Ashkenazim and Sfaradim, and that of the Talmuds Yerushalmi and Bavli, simply because we have two sides, in both cases, agreeing on the basic sources.

This leaves me though with maybe even more work. First off, which groups should I focus on? It is clear that I need to decide on whether I focus on the Rabbinical Jews, the Sadducees, the Reform, the Sunni, or the Shi’as, for the sake of focus. Second off, I also need to establish whether we can find examples on the maḍâhib in all cases. Maybe I find it among the, let’s say, Karaites, but it doesn’t mean that it exists in the case of the Sadducees. I need to define my approach, my focus, and be able to explain why I chose that focus.


Some recommended reading:


“Studies in Usul al-Fiqh,” Iyad Hilal, can be found at www.islamic-truth.fsnet.co.uk

“Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence,” M. H. Kamali, can easily be found by search on Google.

“Hadith : Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World,” Jonathan A. C. Brown. Oneworld Publication, 2009.

“The Most Learned of the Shi’a: The Institution of the Marja’ Taqlid,” edited by Linda S. Walbridge. Oxford University Press, 2001.

“Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law,” Ignaz Goldziher (translated by Andras and Ruth Hamori). Princeton University Press, 1981.

“Halakha in the Making: The Development of Jewish Law from Qumran to the Rabbis,” Aharon Shemesh. University of California Press, 2009.

“The Talmud: A Selection,” Edited by Norman Solomon. Penguin Books Ltd, 2009.

“Who Owns Judaism? Public Religion and Private Faith in America and Israel,” edited by Eli Lederhendler. Oxford University Press, 2001.

“For the Love of God and People: A Philosophy on Jewish Law,” Elliot N. Dorff. The Jewish Publication Society, 2007.

“An Introduction to the History and Sources of Jewish Law,” edited by N. S. Hecht, B. S. Jackson, S. M. Passamaneck, D. Piatelli, and A. M. Rabello. Oxford University Press, 1996.

“The Sages,” R. Ephraim Urbach. The Magnes Press, 1987.

“The Halakhah: Its Sources and Development,” R. Ephraim Urbach. Modan Ltd, 1996.

Preferences and Racism


Nadiha, over at “the fatal feminist,” presents us for a quote from “The Question of Fetishization” by Natalie Reed, which reacts on people feeling “attracted” on what I think would be termed “a concept of race,” more than on the person him- or herself. While I do agree with certain points in the article, for example the focus on the race rather than the person, I don’t agree in the use of “Racism,” though this understanding of the term seems to be rather predominant in our days.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m trying to excuse various forms of discrimination or the like, but rather that I prefer a more correct and direct usage of terms, and when it comes to the term “Racism” as well as the term “Antisemitism,”[1] then I’m a follower of the late historian Gavin I. Langmuir, whom I have mentioned in other connections earlier.

In his book “Towards a Definition of Antisemitism,” Langmuir presents us for a theory on what he calls “enmity” between two groups (the ingroup towards the outgroup – the “us and the other”), which can be found in three different forms, the “realistic assertion,” the “the xenophobic assertion,” and the “chimerical assertion.” These three forms are described as follows:

Realistic assertions about outgroups are propositions that utilize the information available about an outgroup and are based on the same assumptions about the nature of groups and the effect of membership on individuals as those used to understand the ingroup and its reference groups and their members.

Xenophobic assertions are propositions that grammatically attribute a socially menacing conduct to an outgroup and all its members but are empirically based only on the conduct of a historical minority of the members; they neglect other, unthreatening, characteristics of the outgroup; and they do not acknowledge that there are great differences between the individuals who compose the outgroup as there are between the individuals who compose the ingroup.

Chimerical assertions are propositions that grammatically attribute with certitude to an outgroup and all its members characteristics that have never been empirically observed.

(Towards a Defintion of Antisemitism, chapter 14, pp. 328)

These three groups of assertion are presented in the context of enmity or hatred from the ingroup towards the outgroup, but I expect that it also can be used in the positive approach.

What he presents here are three different forms of attitude. The first, the realistic, is not dealing differently with one’s own group as with the other group, knowing that just as there are differences among individuals in one’s own group, so there are in the “other” group. To use an example, in my study of Judaism and Islam, I’m not dealing any different with Islam as I am dealing with Judaism, or – more correctly – I’m not dealing (at least I shouldn’t) any different with Muslims from Jews. Just as there are differences among the individuals of the groups called “Jews,” so there are among the individuals of the group called “Muslims.”

The second assertion, the xenophobic assertion, takes the actions or characteristics of few individuals or a/more minority group/s and let that be assertive for the whole outgroup. Let’s use the Israeli settlers as an example here. We have the “price tag group,” extremist (and mostly young) religious settlers burning mosques, attacking innocent, and other stupid acts, in order to “revenge” what they feel have been “unjust” attacks on them or “theirs.” Their motive is not the subject though, but the way some people are taking their actions or characteristics, and let that be defining for the whole group called “settlers,” is. A Palestinian, knowing full well that there are extremist among his own “group,” who act in the same way, but would react strongly against people letting these individuals or minority group being the definition for the whole group called “Palestinians,” but yet do the exact same when it comes to the group called “settlers” or the group called “Israelis,” is an example on the xenophobic assertion. To be sure, we could have used a member from the “settlers,” the “Israelis,” or even the “Jews” as well.

The Xenophobic assertion is when a person or a group takes “examples” on actions or characteristics never been empirically proved to be true, and let them be defining for the whole outgroup. Langmuir uses the example of Jews drinking the blood of Christian children himself, which I also think is a very precise example. It can also be used in the “positive”[2] form about Jews, as Jews being overly good with money, though it never have been proved that Jews should be better with money than others. Jews have not had that much of a choice when it came to business careers, and thus mostly had to work with money. There is no genetic or culturally inherent in the “Jewish culture,” which would prove that Jews are better than money with others (I can say for one that I’m terrible with money).

Langmuir reacts to the term “Racism,” arguing that it doesn’t really give meaning to use that term anymore, since it connotes the understanding that humankind is found in various races (such as with dogs), which is pretty normal knowledge not to be true. Of course, as he explains, it is always possible to find individuals who deny this knowledge and insists on believing what cannot be proven empirically, but it still doesn’t change the fact that it has been proved and accepted today that whether we are talking about “Caucasian,” “African,” “Asian,” “Arabic,” or something else, then it’s all the same race. Should we point to another human race, then the Neanderthals would be a good example.

When it comes to “Antisemitism,” or here “Anti-Semitism,” then the same goes, since the idea of a “Semitic race” should be dead by now (it’s not as dead as one would wish it was, but nevertheless). You cannot be more “anti Semite,” than you can be “anti Smurf” or “anti unicorn.” That is, you certainly can be anti all three examples, but just as the Smurfs and unicorns haven’t been proven to exist empirically, so hasn’t the Semitic race been. Of course, one could argue that the idea about the three examples certainly exists, but then – so far as one would be anti any of the three ideas of these examples – being anti this, would be anti-ideaaboutsmurfs, and what does that really mean? That one is against how Smurfs are portrayed and believed to be? About the idea that there are Smurfs? Or something else?

Nevertheless, Langmuir does accept that there are examples when it would give meaning to use the terms “Racism” and “Antisemitism,” but then it would only be in the case of the xenophobic assertion, when we are prescribing something not realistic, not real, to a whole group. As such the idea that “Jews are drinking the blood of small Christian children” would certainly be racist or antisemitic.

I hope that you can forgive me going to length about this, but I felt it necessary in order to explain my thoughts on Racism (and Antisemitism), before I could give my reaction to Nahida’s quote.

I certainly agree with her agreement that it seems wrong to attribute a certain positive (or negative) attribute to a certain group, for example in the example when we go from “I think long, dark, straight hair and smaller than average breasts are sexy”  to “I’m into Asian girls”, but I wouldn’t call it Racism. These characteristics seem to be more predominant among Asians than other groups, but it is not something imagined, therefore this would more be put under the xenophobic assertion than the chimerical, and thus – according to Langmuir – not being Racism or based on this. This would probably not be more different than saying that you’re into Scandinavians, because you like blond hair and blue eyes, though you might as well find many Baltic people with the same characteristics. Or to use another example in the same line, is it racist when people believe, even insist, that I have to be Russian, just because I – according to them – look Russian? In Denmark I can walk around and be viewed as perfectly Danish, while here in Israel I’m most certain Russian.

Hence my reaction is not that I believe that it’s perfectly okay to deny any non-Asian the chance of partnership, if one is into long, dark, straight hair and smaller than average breasts. I don’t. I do find it somehow ignorant, but not racist. I’m reacting against the very prevalent usage of the term “Racism,” which more removes any clear understanding of the term, than it helps battling discrimination.

[1] The reader might notice that I use the form “Antisemitism” instead of “Anti-Semitism.”

[2] Positive in quotation since this form also has been used as an attack on Jews historically.

Abraham as an Early Monotheist



Yet another post on Avraham Avinu, A”S. I know it, I’m going crazy, but there’s a reason. As you know, I’ve been writing that I’m doing an assignment on him for one of my exams, and where the other courses haven’t been so extensive or focused on one theme, it has been easier (or just more compelling) to go really deep with my studies on Avraham Avinu, A”S.

I will be going on with my posts on him for a little more time, but there will also be presentations of other exams I’m doing, for example in Early Christianity and Approaching Classical Jewish Texts. The exam in the course in Early Islamic Texts has been given, orally, and didn’t take so much, since the course continues into next semester. The same is the case with the course in Early Christianity, which does have a shorter written assignment on some six to eight pages. I’ll present that within a couple of days, there are some interesting things there. I still haven’t received that questions for Approaching Classical Jewish Texts, so I can’t share my thoughts on that one with you yet.


Anyway. I’ve made a habit of making a working paper when I have to deal with assignments, and this is also the case with this assignment. Sometimes they are given as presentation to the teacher or incorporated in the introduction for the assignment itself. This one is mostly for my own though, so I don’t feel bad about sharing it with you, so you can see what I will be focusing on in my assignment.

When I studied on University of Copenhagen, I usually put my assignments up after evaluation, but I’m not sure I’m allowed to do that now though I don’t see how it should be a problem. If there won’t be any problems in it, I will share my assignments with you, as soon as they have been evaluated.

Here’s my working paper – feel free to comment:


Abraham as an Early Monotheist


Abraham plays a very central role both in Judaism and Islam. Many examples on this can be mentioned, but just to mention two examples, one from Judaism, one from Islam, then we can think of the Jewish convert receiving the title of “ben Avraham” (son of Abraham), or the way he is described in Quran as Hanif and being the only one called “Khalilat Allah” (friend of Allah). Abraham is a role model in both religions, one being emphasized in attempts to console and bringing Arabs and Jews together, focusing on his role as forefather for both people. Therefore it could be interesting to see how he is described as a faithful role model for the two people.

What I found interesting in this relation is to find out how he is described in early Islamic literature, and then see if we can find Jewish sources for these descriptions, or whether he is described in a genuine Islamic way. Where we find Jewish sources, it could be interesting to see how far back they are depicted, and whether there has been any evolution in them. This is to see if it is the same Abraham the Muslims and the Jews are focusing on as a role model at all, or whether there are related to two different forefathers.

The questions I will attempt to answer are to be presented as:

What are the main points presented about Abraham in early Islamic literature in regards to him being an early monotheist? Are there any examples of these representations of him in pre-Islamic Jewish sources, and if there are, do we find any evolution in these?


My approach will thus be to find accounts in early Islamic literature, depicting Abraham as a monotheist, then to see if I can find any similar accounts in earlier Jewish literature, starting with later Jewish literature and then working my way back, to end with Biblical account of Abraham.

What I will not be dealing with, are the questions on whether there has been later Islamic influence on Jewish thoughts on Abraham, since part of my approach is to find examples on Jewish thoughts in Islamic presentation of Abraham, as well as examples being purely Islamic.

I will do this by doing comparative analysis between the texts, but in order to get to a better understanding of the meaning applied to certain terms, as well as finding elements which can be said to be similar or where they differ from each other. This point is also important in order to determine whether Ibrahim is depicted as Avraham from an earlier or later stage of Jewish literature.

It will be done in various stages, starting by finding the Quranic meaning of Abraham as a Hanif, finding Quranic accounts relating to this meaning, comparing this with later similar Islamic representations, and then working backwards through Jewish literature, to see if and where those representations can be found and when they can be found. When this is done, I believe it will possible to determine how Abraham is described in early Islamic literature, where we can speculate on Jewish influence, when the Jewish representations have first evolved, and finally what can be said to be pure Islamic description of Abraham.

What I will not be doing here, is relating to Christian sources, unless it is needed, so when I state that I will find “pure Islamic descriptions of Abraham,” it is with the reservation that this can be found in Christian sources, rather than being “purely Islamic.” Also in this, even if not found in Christian sources, it might be found in pre-Islamic Arabic legends on Abraham.

I will be using a number of sources, a list of which can be found in the end of the assignment, the primary sources being found among following literature:

The Quran – Yusufali’s translation unless otherwise stated.

 Ahadith – Here only Sahih Bukhari and Muslim.

Sirat al-Nabawiyya – Here only Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari’s History.


The Talmud – Primarily the Babylonian Talmud.

Midrashim – Primarily Bereshit Rabbah.

Targumim – here only Targum Onkelos and Targum Jonathan.

Rewritten bibles – here only book of Jubilees, Josephus’ “Antiquities,” and Philo’s “On Abraham.”

The Bible – The JPS 1999 translation unless otherwise stated.

A third way(?)


I know that I’ve said earlier that I’m not going to focus much on politics, and I’m intending to keep those words, though only to a certain extent.

The thing is, I live in Israel, in what is popular known as a “settlement”. If you wonder why I’m putting settlement in quotation-marks, then it’s because that the “settlement” I’m living in is basically a city (Ma’aleh Adumim), with more than 35,000 citizens, among them some few Palestinians (yes, you read correctly).

Anyway, I don’t live here based on any kind of ideological motives, especially not that the Palestinians don’t have any rights to live here. I simply live here, because that’s where I’m ended up (more or less, my wife lived here when we got married, and our budget is not to finding an apartment big enough for four people and a dog in Jerusalem or anywhere near Jerusalem – not that I would’ve moved would we have the money, maybe, maybe not).

That said, what bothers me to a certain extent is how Jews and Palestinians in general are being portrayed in relation to each other. Either Jews as evil imperial or colonial settlers, harassing and beating up innocent Palestinians, or Palestinians as fanatic religious extremist with the sole purpose in life being to blow themselves up in the middle of Jewish civilians. Or simply that we hate each other and want each other dead.

There is some truth in the above description, but it is far from the general picture you’ll get when living here. Sure, there are people who want to do everything they can in order to make you believe that, but they are not telling the whole truth, namely that most people here just live, and live together. It has to be added though that it’s not always harmonious or that we hang out together, but it’s not the opposite either.

Anyway, in order to challenge the stereotype presentation of Israel/Palestine, I will once in a while write posts on incidents, groups, organisations, something else, which shows that Jews and Palestinians actually can and in some extent also do live and share lives together. Not only in Tel Aviv or Haifa, but also on the West Bank (or as it is known in Hebrew, Shomron and Yehudah). As far as possible these representations will be nonpolitical, in that sense that it will deal more with the general lives than political discussions. And, if possible, I will invite friends to write posts about their lives here, Jews as well as Palestinians.

The first two incidents I will present is dealing with the Gush Etzion bloc, which is just south-west of Jerusalem, next to Bethlehem. The first is a video presenting the initiative for dialog between Palestinians and settlers in the area (the settlers belonging to R. Froman’s, shelita, group, a group of religious settlers struggling for promoting mutual understanding, acceptance and coexistence.

The other a recent happening, in connection to Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish New Year for the trees, just being celebrated, where Jews and Palestinians planted trees together.

But before we get to it then a short word to all of you guys out there only focusing on the negative in the other, and being pessimistic. Yes, Jews can be evil, Palestinians as well, no group of humans has patent on that one. And maybe we don’t see Jews and Palestinians flocking on the street to jump into each other’s arms, wanting peace, but we won’t get peace, if we don’t believe in it.

Enough talk, here you are:

Settlers for Peace on Youtube

Jews, Palestinians Plant Trees Together in West Bank

Note: All opinions expressed in the material is not necessarily the same as my opinions. Nor am I attempting to promote any political opinion, or saying who is right or wrong.

The Death of Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi



Thought I wanted to share this short written assignment I did for my class in Classical Jewish texts, which also can be seen in context of my comparative studies of the Talmud.

I am thinking about expanding it and adding parts of the analysis I didn’t find room for in the assignment, if anybody would be interested. Let me know.


The death of Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi – as it appears in Talmud Bavli, Ketubot 104a and in Talmud Yerushalmi, Kilayim 9:3



The death of an authority like R. Yehudah HaNasi certainly would not happen without some attention, which is reflected in the two accounts presented for us in the Babylonian and Palestine Talmud. Both accounts give an interesting understanding of how the news of his death was accepted (or not accepted), his role and significance among the Jews of his time, as well as how later authorities viewed him, since though the accounts are prescribed his immediate surroundings, I would expect the written and presented accounts to be much later, and thus have changed in some regards, though these might not be so obvious.

Since I do not wish to make too an extensive an analysis, caused by the lack of space and time, I will only attempt to deal with the most obviously similarities and differences in the two accounts.




First and most obvious, both accounts deal with the death of the great compiler of the Mishnah, Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, as his title is in Hebrew[1]. Both accounts have reactions to his death, which show people taking the news rather bad, having people stating that whoever tells of his death, would be killed. Both accounts have Bar Qappara involved as the one giving the news, though he denies answering the question of R. Yehudah haNasi’s death directly. Both accounts have Bar Qappara telling about his death in a parable, mentioning the struggle between the “ones below” and those who “fly on high” for either the tablets of the commandments (the two Luhot haBrit, as they are called in Hebrew), or the Holy Ark (the Aron haQodesh), the two of them clearly symbolizing R. Yehudah HaNasi, and the “ones below” the living world, while those who “fly on high” would be the angels, which hints at his struggling with the illness he died with, having to give up his breath in the end.




There are differences both in length and content. Even though both accounts have the overarching theme in similarity, the account as it is told differs strongly, and would not have a hard time telling which account is told, should he be told it. The account of the Palestinian Talmud is much more concise, only telling of the “people of Zipori” not wanting to accept the death of R. Yehudah HaNasi, then having Bar Qappara visiting them, already having his head covered and clothes rent[2], giving them the parable of the “ones below” and the ones who “fly on high” fighting for the tablets, with the latter winning this one, to which the people of Zipori ask whether Rebbe[3] has died. Knowing well the danger involved by giving news of his death, Bar Qappara answers “you said it,”[4] making them accept the news, and then mourn over him, a mourning powerful enough to be heard in Pepta three miles away.

The account in the Babylonian Talmud is much longer, double the length, introduced with the information that R. Yehudah HaNasi was ill, and therefore the scholars declared a fast “to ask for mercy,” while in the same time stating that everyone telling of his death, will be “stabbed with a sword”. It further adds an account of R. Yehudah haNasi’s maidservant going to the roof, stating that the “ones above and the “ones below” are asking for him, and that may it be the will of God to listen to the ones below, but when seeing how he suffers, she asks that the “ones above” may win, so he would be relieved from his sufferings. From there we jump to the Sages, who were continuous praying for his recovering, which – understood from the context – would be them engaged in the struggle to keep him alive, making them the “ones below,” until a vessel certainly was taken up and dropped, disturbing them enough to interfere their prayer, and letting R. Yehudah HaNasi give up his breath. They then send Bar Qappara to investigate his state, who finds out that he had died, and then we return to the account of Bar Qappara giving news of his death, still with the difference that here he turned his cloak around so it would not appear what had happened. Also in this account we are not told how they react from the news, ending with Bar Qappara’s indirect answer.


Seeing how the Babylonian account have so much extra material interwoven, I would imagine that this account is a later than the Palestinian, wanting to tell what the Palestinian account is leaving out and explain what was going on. The parable about the “ones below” and the “ones above” becomes much more concrete in the Babylonian account, while the question on why God would let him die, when righteous men are praying for him also is being answered. R. Yehudah HaNasi is also elevated to a higher status in the Babylonian account that in the Palestinian one, concluded on the context of the narratives, though the Palestinian account in no way gives the impression that it was “just a rabbi” who died here, highlighted by the response to the news of his death.


What I have not focused on so much here, is the style of the accounts, nor the elements, only going through the accounts as they are told, and by that comparing them. I have mentioned the latter indirectly though, pointing out material that is added in the Babylonian account, but more could be said about that.

[1] His name –  being the son of Rabbi Shim’on ben Gamliel – would be Yehudah ben Shim’on.

[2] A sign of mourning.

[3] R. Yehudah HaNasi.

[4] Taking him to court it would be impossible for them to claim that he said that R. Yehudah HaNasi was death, since he never claimed that, but they would still understand what had happened.

A Different Mishnah?



Okay, it has been some time, too long time, but the studies and work have simply been too big a bite for me to also write on a regular basis. At least for now. I’m not giving up though, and now I found something interesting enough, that I really wanted to share it with all of my readers out there.

But I have to warn, this might be a little geeky, somehow technical, so please forgive me if this isn’t going to be the great inspirational post. Not that I believe so many of my posts are, but anyway, I do believe that it’s going to be interesting.


Now, I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the Mishnah, or on which level you are familiar with it. Explained in short, Mishnah is the compilation of what in Judaism is considered the Oral Law, given to Moshe Rabenu, A”S, and handed down through the generations until it was written down in the time of R. Yehudah HaNasi, Z”L, around the year 200 CE. There is one Mishnah, which became the basis for later commentaries, called Gemarrot (in plural, singular it’s Gemarrah), and the two, Mishnah and Gemarrah, are compiled in what we call Talmud (which later on had a lot of commentaries added, but that’s another story).


The problem: We are supposed to have on Mishnah, not two. So with that in mind, I would expect that whether I read the Talmud Bavli (the Babylonian Talmud) or the Talmud Yerushalmi (the Palestinian Talmud) the same Mishnah would appear. But it doesn’t. Or, it does, but with textual variances.

Let me clarify before I continue, what we have is not a different Mishnah, it is the same, and the text is basically the same. Some words differ, some ways of spelling, and some suffixes and prefixes exist in the one Mishnah, but not in the other. I will give an example, from the first Mishnah in the first tractate in the first order (Seder Zera’im, Masechet B’rachot, Mishnah Alef), which talks about from when we can recite the Qriyat Shma’ in the evening. The translation goes, whether the one form or the other:


“From when do we recite the Shma’ in the evenings? From the time that the Kohanim enter in order to eat their T’rumah until the end of the first shift, words of R. Eliezer. And the Sages say until midnight. Rabban Gamliel says until the dawn rises.

It happened: And his sons came from the drinking house, they said to him: We did not recite the Shma’, he said to them: If the dawn still has not risen, you are obliged to recite.

And not this alone did they say but all that the Sages said until midnight are we commanded until the dawn rises the incenses, the fats, and the limbs. And (we) are commanded until the dawn rises in all the eating on one day.

If that is so, why did the Sages say until midnight? In order to keep man from the sin.”


Note: My translation has been kept pretty strict to the Hebrew text, unless where I had to change in order to give meaning.

The thing is, there are differences, which – since the Mishnah was written down, long time before the Talmuds (either one) was written – should not be there. Let me present the Hebrew text.

The following are the result of comparing and combining the Mishnah from the two Talmuds. Everything written in black, is the common text, which is found in both versions. The blue text is as it is found in the Bavli, and the red as it is found in the Yerushalmi.

משנה א:

מאימתי קורין את שמע בערבין. משעה שהכהנים נכנסין\ם לוכל\לאכול בתרומתן, עד סוף האשמורת\ה הראשונה, דברי ר’ אליעזר. וחכמים אומרים עד חצות. רבן גמליאל אומר עד שיעלה עמוד השחר. מעשה, ובאו בניו מבית המשתה ואמרו לו, לא קרינו את שמע, אמר להן\ם, אם לא עלה עמוד השחר חייבין אתם לקרות. ולא זו בלבד אמרו, אלא כל מה שאמרו חכמים עד חצות מצותן עד שיעלה עמוד השחר. הקטר חלבים ואיברים מצותן עד שיעלה עמוד השחר. כל הנאכלין\ם ליום אחד מצותן עד שיעלה עמוד השחר. אם כן, למה אמרו חכמים עד חצות. כדי להרחיק את האדם מן העבירה

There are four types of differences, type of suffix (the nun-soffit instead of the mem-soffit), prefixes appearing in one version but not the other, letters being part of the spelling in one version but not the other (the yod in eyvarim), and words being different and/or only appearing in one version but not the other (luchal/le’echol, and et ha in the last line).

Exactly why this is the case I can’t say, at least not yet. But it’s certainly a subject I’m going to put more focus on, so don’t be surprised if you’re going to hear more from this front.

All the best