Then and Now
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Did You Need a Ticket for Kol Nidre in Ancient Alexandria?

A tidbit from the ancient Jewish philosopher Philo (Special Laws 1.186-187): (186) On the tenth day the fast takes place which they take seriously–not only those who are zealous about piety and holiness, but even those who do nothing religious the rest of the time. For all are astounded, overcome with the sacredness of it;...

Biblical Books in the Bavli (Continued)

I received several excellent comments to the last post.  I do not have the data to respond to most of them; to assemble just  the data – which often requires expert judgment on each of the over 13,000 instances in the dataset – would be a worthy project but one that would require many resources...

Bible in the Bavli: The Bavli’s Citation of Biblical Books

  This last year, in an effort to better understand the citation patterns in the Babylonian Talmud (Bavli) and the ways in which the Bavli knew and used the Bible, I developed a spreadsheet that contains each biblical citation in the Bavli(described in more detail here).  In my first attempt to analyze this data quantitatively,...

Our Taxing Forefathers

This was the purpose of the forced labor (devar ha-mas) which Solomon imposed:  It was to bild the House of the Lord, his own palace, the Millo, and the wall of Jerusalem… (1 Kings 9:15) According to the Bible, Solomon depended on this forced labor – mas in Hebrew – to realize his many glorious...

The Joy of Being Wrong

There comes a time most afternoons when I run out of steam.  Tired and bored or frustrated, I have to get away from what I’ve been working on all day, my “real work”.  This often happens, as it is now, around 3:30-4 PM.  My bus, however, doesn’t come for another 45 minutes or so.  This...

Humanists and Books

I am now on sabbatical and have been working recently in the Judaic Studies Reading Room at the Jewish and National University Library at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  The room could use some renovating and it gets a little crowded and stuffy, but I had forgotten what a pleasure it is to work there.  About...

Word by Word…

When I was a teenager I discovered the existence of Rashi, the famous medieval Jewish commentator on the Bible (among other books).  Lacking the Hebrew skills necessary to read him, I acquired the only English translation I could find, an edition of the Pentateuch that contained an interlinear translation of Rashi.  I liked the idea...

Between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv

The other day I travelled from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv.  I sp’end most of the day at Tel Aviv University meeting with colleagues, researching, and getting organized for the fall semester that I will spend as part of this intellectual community (although I will not be teaching).  Despite the punishing heat, it was delightful.  Then...

Israel: The Cost of Groceries

 The recent demonstrations in Tel Aviv highlighted two economic issues in Israel.  The first is the increasing economic stratification.  The second is the cost of living: younger Israelis are concerned that it simply costs so damn much to live in Israel. Personally, I have never understood how middle class Israelis manage to get by financially. ...

To Be a Man

Many Several years ago, I wrote an essay on ancient rabbinic understandings of masculinity.  In that paper, I argued that the rabbis understood all human beings – men and women, Jews and Gentiles – to have an “evil inclination” that drove their appetites.  For these rabbis, though, only Torah-true, well-disciplined, Jewish men really had the...

How to Write a Dissertation Prospectus

I have read countless dissertation proposals and few of them are, well, good.  That’s a shame, and not only because I often find the experience aggravating.  After all the hoops of courses, languages, and exams that you’ve jumped through, the dissertation proposal is your first real introduction to academia.  The dissertation proposal not only lays...

Homo Economicus

Traditionally, much economic theory assumes that humans are perfectly rational economic actors – we do things that are in our economic self-interest and avoid things that aren’t.  More recently, economists have increasingly come to recognize that actual people aren’t always as predictable as the models predict.  Despite the growth of behavioral economics (which does try...