The study discusses two passages from the early rabbinic corpus that describe encounters between sages and philosophers. Many of the classical and modern interpreters of these passages have understood them as embodying a tension between the Jewish world and the world of pagan philosophy. The present study suggests that though there is a clearly polemic aspect to these encounters, it is a more sophisticated polemic than has been previously recognized, one that assumes a high level of familiarity with philosophy on the part of the rabbinic sage. Indeed, the rabbi and the philosopher may be seen to share an anxiety concerning the proper representation of God, based on a series of shared assumptions regarding divine incorporeality. The interpretation offered here raises broader questions regarding the interrelations between (certain strata of) rabbinic society and pagan philosophy.
Legal Aspects from a Cairo Geniza Responsum on the Islamic Law of the Sea: Practice and Theory [Access article in PDF] Subject Headings:
Maritime law (Islamic law)
The Cairo Geniza continues to bring to light an ever more comprehensive picture of the social, political and economic life of medieval Muslims and Jews. Though the document under discussion — Bodl. MS Heb. a3 (Cat. 2873), f. 9 — has been published three times, many aspects of it treated in this paper have been largely if not entirely overlooked. Albeit the subject matter of the responsum focuses on the testimonial oath as established by Jewish law and an individual's right to collect his own portion of the goods, the responsum contains various aspects on the Islamic law of the sea namely commercial transactions, taxation, funeral practices, the captain's jurisdiction, adjudication processes, relationships between dhimmis and Muslims, and the legal status of cargoes owned by a dhimmi juvenile. The article proves that the legal issues addressed in Islamic jurisprudential sources were not theoretical, as a segment of contemporary scholars assumes. The scope of legal inquiries cited in Islamic jurisprudence was far more diverse than believed and the issues jurists treated and decided represented actual incidents.
The article proposes a new reading of Gershom Scholems writings. Especially the diaries of the young Scholem should less be interpreted as a metaphysical or even kabbalistic speculations, but as a specific writing in the making. For Scholem's texts do not only speak about Zionism, Judaism, tradition etc., but actually perform a very complex relationship towards them by different rhetorical and literary techniques. Three close readings of Scholem's esoteric texts from different periods of his life show 1) how he relates himself to traditional Jewish writing on which he reflects and which he imitates, albeit with an ironical twist, thus claiming to be part of tradition and stands outside of it at the same time; 2) how he uses the poetical techniques of overdertermination, self-referentiality, and ambiguity to describe his research on Kabbalah as standing in-between historicist relativism and the continuation of tradition; 3) how Scholem, by semantic condensation and the interplay of metaphors produce texts which seem to be paradox and self evident at the same time - texts which attract the interest of readers who were thus lead to a deeper occupation with Kabbala and Scholem's major historiographic works. More generally, the article pleads for the use of literary categories in modern Jewish intellectual history, since those categories are especially apt to describe and analyze the complex and ambivalent relation of modern Jews towards tradition.