This article examines the mishnaic rule that women are exempt from all timebound, positive commandments. It argues that the rule does not offer clear evidence concerning rabbinic views of women. The common reading of the rule regards it a statement of normative law that accommodates how women typically use their time. By way of contrast, this article proposes that the key terms of the rule (“timebound, positive commandments from which women are exempt”) were formulated as a summary of exegetical exercises concerning tefillin. Only later in the transmissional history of the rule did it come to be regarded as normative law. The article reconstructs the long-forgotten exegetical roots of the rule.
A second task of this article is to set the observations about the exegetical roots of the rule in the context of recent scholarly discussions about the schools of R. Ishmael and R. Akiba. It has been proposed that the school of R. Ishmael presents halakhah in a way that makes it roots in scripture clear. By way of contrast, the school of R. Akiba presents halakhah as a teaching received from earlier generations of authoritative teachers. This article argues that one reason the exegetical roots of the rule have gone un-noticed for so long is that the rule reaches us primarily in the form of the mishnaic formulation from the school of R. Akiba, which de-emphasizes halakhah’s scriptural roots. The article examines the rich evidence of sources from the school of R. Ishmael to fill in the gaps.
The present study discusses the Hebrew chronicle Divre Yosef by the seventeenth-century Egyptian Jewish author Joseph Sambari. This chronicle, a history of the Jews in the Islamic world, is prefaced by a lengthy introduction to the origins of Islam in which Sambari employs biblical allusions and midrashim that result in a subversive subtext designed to be decoded solely by a Jewish audience trained in that tradition. Sambari makes polemical use of biblical exegesis, which serves as a mode of constructing a Jewish religious identity vis-à-vis a competing tradition—Islam. As part of his project, Sambari satirizes Islamic legends about the life of Muhammad.
Jacobs's thesis is that Sambari not only concealed an anti-Islamic polemic within the complex textual allusions of his work but that he also adhered to an anti-Sabbatean agenda. He argues that Sambari’s jibes against Islam can be understood as a response to the failure of the messianic movement around Sabbatai Sevi after the messianic candidate and some of his followers had converted to Islam. This religious crisis had blurred the boundaries between Judaism and Islam; and a desire to redraw these lines of difference motivated Sambari—in all likelihood an ex-Sabbatean himself—to compose his chronicle. In addition, the article argues that Sambari’s work echoes a puritanical tendency in seventeenth-century Ottoman Islam that was inspired by the preachers of the Kadizadeli movement and which—while originally directed against certain Islamic Sufi orders—may have conditioned the Ottoman response to the Jewish messianic movement.
This article suggests that the Apocryphal “rewritten” Bible known as “Pseudo-Philo” had a significant impact – heretofore unacknowledged - on Amos Oz’s early story, Ish Pere [Wild Man, 1966]. I argue that four decades ago the young Oz fortuitously stumbled on a Hebrew rendition of a small fragment of “Pseudo-Philo,” which had been published without any attribution. Oz was obviously unaware of the problematically marginal source of this text. Yet it was precisely its marginality, or perhaps liminality, that offered him a different vantage point, an “extraneous” perspective, from which he could re-envision the two troubling sacrificial narratives of the Hebraic [and Zionist] canon: The Binding of Isaac, and the Sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter.
The particular sacrificial amalgam created by Oz was greatly facilitated by one of Pseudo-Philo’s celebrated narrative extravagancies: his magnification of the role of Jephthah’s daughter, whom he named for the first time ever, and whom he daringly made identify -- self consciously and enthusiastically -- with Isaac as a willing sacrifice. This move was to be later embraced by Christianity but severely criticized by Rabbinic Judaism. It was this proto-Christian blending, I suggest, that inspired Oz’s unobtrusive anticipation of both the feminist critique of the daughter’s sacrifice and the Israeli psycho-political assault on the son’s binding-qua-sacrifice, commonly traced to the impact of the 1967-1973 Wars.