Tags: academic

shiny jen


NY Times:

Is bibliophilia a religious impulse? You can’t walk into Sotheby’s exhibition space in Manhattan right now and not sense the devotion...

...The collection’s geographical scale is matched by its temporal breadth, which extends over a millennium...These are all books written in Hebrew or using Hebrew script, many of them rare or even unique. Most come from the earliest centuries of Hebrew printing in their places of origins and thus map out a history of the flourishing of Jewish communities around the world...

...There are extraordinary items on display here, including a Hebrew Bible handwritten in England in 1189 — the only dated Hebrew text from England before King Edward I expelled the Jews in 1290.

...There is also an exquisitely preserved edition of the Babylonian Talmud (1519-23) made by the Christian printer Daniel Bomberg in Venice, an edition created with the advice of a panel of scholars that codified many aspects of how the Talmud is displayed and printed...

...There is also a 12th-century scroll of the Hebrew Pentateuch that came from the Samaritans...

It's on display at Sotheby’s, 1334 York Avenue, at 72nd Street, Manhattan, until Thursday.

They're open 9-5.30 during the week.

I've been Horribly Sick all this week and don't anticipate being especially steady on my feet tomorrow. However, I plan to be in Manhattan on Tuesday; York Ave is RIGHT over on the East side about as far as you can go, and I ought to be there by 11.45.

Who's coming?
shiny jen

(no subject)

My teacher for Funky Manuscripts class manages quite happily without digital aids - he doesn't type, doesn't print stuff, doesn't use email. Well, today the class got to talking about advances in technology, such as the invention of the printing press (this is Manuscripts class, remember), and someone says "You know, Professor, you should really get email." And he replies "Oh...well...I don't have email, so I don't have to go to any faculty meetings, baruch haShem..."

The rest of class was pretty cool - one part had to do with what people printed first. Printers didn't want to do the holy books on their own,* so they printed commentaries, and eventually they got brave enough to print the commentaries with the texts they were commenting on. These days we buy Chumash with Rashi - did you know that there were ten printed editions of Rashi before an edition of Rashi with Chumash came out?

ETA: See also lethargic_man's post on this subject.

* perhaps because they thought everyone knew the basics already, or at least had written copies, or perhaps they felt a bit delicate about printing the core texts in an oral tradition
shiny jen

(no subject)

Bad writing day. My ink was all blobby and I don't know why. Watering it didn't help; heating it didn't help; chilling it didn't help; thickening it with more from the bottle didn't help (what else are you supposed to do? alcohol, maybe?). And I was stupid, and tried to keep writing, and it just got worse and worse. If I'd had any sense I would have gone down to YU and worked at papers in the library, but apparently I have no sense. BLAH.

Class was kind of fun - we were talking about those times when the gemara uses spelling games to derive halacha (you know? The sort of thing where some word in a passage about domestic relations is spelt without a vav and they use that to learn something random about alimony, those ones). The problem comes when the gemara talks about a spelling, and says that's how we get the halacha, and then you look at the sefer Torah and uh-oh, it isn't actually spelled like the gemara says it is. Oops. So the Rashba says that if the gemara is deriving halacha from a spelling, you should make sure your Torah has that spelling. We mostly don't do that, apparently, which is rather sad.

It raises questions - how on earth can we derive halacha from spellings when we don't know what the spelling ought to be? Perhaps, we say, they of old knew what the spelling ought to be - but there are instances of later generations admitting on the one hand that no-one really knows how to spell the Torah any more, and on the other hand playing spelling games for psak. The easiest thing to do is say that they're repeating a tradition from back when they did know the spelling - you just have to hope that the spelling-game tradition they're repeating didn't get as messed up as the spelling itself did.

A thoughtful and intelligent post discussing this concept and arriving at a plausible yet comforting and theologically sound conclusion would be nice here, wouldn't it, but that is left as an exercise for the reader.
shiny jen

Gems from class

On pedagogy: "...when you go to school and you are starting to learn chumash, the question is where do you start...we are divided by geography...on that side of the river in Boro Park they start with Vayikra...on this side of the river they start with Bereshit...if somebody would start with Lekh Lekha now that would be interesting..."

And on archaeology in Jerusalem: "Everyone is looking for things...they have found the coat of the cohen gadol and Indiana Jones is looking for the ketoret ha-samim..."
shiny jen

(no subject)

Devastation strikes again. After two-and-a-half hours' work, OpenOffice crashed, and its fancy-pants built-in disaster-recovery mechanism conspicuously failed to retrieve anything at all.

I like OpenOffice a whole lot, but this is getting ridiculous. I still haven't re-done all the work from the last incident. What is so hard about having an autosave feature?
shiny jen

(no subject)

Phone rings.

"Had you forgotten I owe you $500?"

Yes, I had.


An hour later, the doorbell rings. It's a DHS courier with a large padded envelope. I am not expecting any large padded envelopes. What is it?

Turns out to be the research grant I got awarded back in December.

So far today, that's $2500 completely unexpectedly.
shiny jen

(no subject)

Yay me! I've been awarded a grant to research niddah (non-holy body state caused by menstruation) as it relates to sofrut (work requiring maximal holiness). I am rather pleased.
shiny jen

(no subject)

What's the verb one applies to get superscript? I mean, if I write x2, what have I done to the 2? The rabbinic Hebrew translates more or less as "hang" or possibly "suspend," neither of which is good English. "Superscribe" doesn't seem sensible.
shiny jen

(no subject)

I learned an interesting thing today about Zoroastrianism in late antiquity. It needs a bit of background.

Menstrual taboos in the rabbinic Jewish tradition have included, amongst prohibitions on sex and general bodily contact, the concept of tumah. Tumah is a delicate word; it means unclean, but not in the sense of physically dirty, as it was once explained to me, no, it means spiritually dirty.* It's essentially a visceral concept; anything which makes people go "ewww!" probably has tumah involved somewhere. Creepy-crawlies, dead bodies, genital discharges of various kinds - all spread tumah by contact, and so do menstruant women.** Certain household items can pick up tumah - things like food and chairs, although not things like bathwater. Therefore, menstruant women (and dead bodies, and people with STDs) aren't supposed to go around touching things too much because they'll make them tameh.

These days, we don't bother too much about most of these - unofficially because it's jolly impractical, and officially because we can't do some of the purification rituals and also because we don't have a temple, which is where tumah becomes really incredibly bad news. But we still impose a whole bunch of restrictions on menstruant women, because even though we've more or less got over the whole bugs-are-ick thing, we haven't got over the whole women-are-ick thing.

Anyway, purification rituals - crockery you have to smash up (remember I said impractical), some things you can dunk in water, some things you have to use the ashes of a red cow sacrificed in the appropriate way (ditto). Women you dunk in water after you're quite, quite sure they're not icky any more.***

So much for rabbinic Judaism. You thought that was bad? Zoroastrians, quoth my lecturer, thought that a menstruating woman could make things tameh even just by looking at them, never mind touching them. We thought the rabbis were frightened of women's bodies - they're positively lions compared to Zoroastrians.

And women could make anything tameh - not only some kinds of utensils, as the Jews, but absolutely anything. Of course, this poses a problem when you come to purification time, because she makes water tameh: as soon as she touches the water (even with her glance) it's tameh too, so dunking in it won't help her.

Fortunately, there's one substance which even the Zoroastrians don't think is affected by contact with a menstruant. Urine. To purify herself, the ex-menstruant must stand in a bowl of pee and wash her entire body with it. Shall we go over that again? Not only has this woman effectively destroyed everything she has come into contact with over the past week or so (and imagine if she'd accidentally caught sight of the new food processor), and not only has she had to restrict her movements considerably so as not to make the entire locality spiritually undesirable, but she has also had to remember to collect pee, - and now she has to stand in a bowl of stale pee and wash her entire body with it. Surfaces, crevices, inside and out.

To me, all this smacks of a fear of women's bodies made official by religious law and taken to its logical extreme; if a woman's body is shown to be truly disgusting, it is legitimate to fear it. I'm told that if I was on a higher spiritual plane, I would see the whole process for the beautiful thing it is, and even those hankies would be a divine experience.

I don't think the flight's leaving any time soon.

* So that's all right then.
** Because they're icky.
*** We're so concerned about the ickiness that we make them shove hankies up where the sun don't shine for an entire week after they've stopped menstruating, the idea being that if you poke the hanky around hard enough and for long enough you can eventually be sure there's no ick left in there. Likewise we make them wash, take off their makeup, pick off their scabs, blow their noses, clean their ears...because women's bodies are icky. Men never have to blow their noses, after all.
shiny jen


I was not so happy yesterday. I was at YU. I needed the loo. I found lots of men's loos, and only one women's loo. It had a combination lock on the door. Was it a staff-only loo, I wondered? I asked. No, it's not a staff-only one, I must ask the security guard to let me in. The security guard would not give me the combination, but got up and opened the toilet door himself.

That is to say, I had to ask permission from a security guard to pee.