The Holy Junk Heap: In 1896, a cache of manuscripts -- mostly fragments -- was discovered in the storeroom ("genizah") at the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo. The collection outlines a 1,000-year continuum (870 CE to the 19th century) of Jewish Middle-Eastern and North African history and comprises the largest and most diverse collection of medieval manuscripts in the world, including Jewish religious texts such as Biblical, Talmudic and later Rabbinic works (some in the original hands of the authors), "letters, wills, bills of lading, prayers, marriage contracts and writs of divorce, Bibles, money orders, court depositions, business inventories, leases, magic charms and receipts" which give a detailed picture of the economic and cultural life of the North African and Eastern Mediterranean regions, especially during the 10th to 13th centuries. [more inside]
On Talmudic and fundamentalist approaches to continuity in the Star Trek franchise. Just as St. Paul didn't realize he was founding a religion, D.C. Fontana [writer of several episodes for Star Trek: TOS] didn't know she was setting up 50 subsequent episodes in each script.
"Every new member of Israel’s Knesset gives a debut speech, and this year, with 48 rookies, the docket was full, with parliamentarians introducing their résumés, their proposed policies, and their hopes for the coming four-year term. One decided to ignore convention altogether. This member of Knesset used the allotted time to teach Talmud. A full third of the 19th Knesset are observant Jews, but it wasn’t any of them. It was a woman named Ruth Calderon, a Talmud scholar and the founder of two Jewish houses of study. She was elected to Knesset as No. 13 on the list of Yesh Atid, a new party headed by former journalist Yair Lapid that swept the recent elections, earning 19 seats on a promise to bring about a more equal Israel..." [more inside]
"Trading Faith for Wonder: On Judaism's Literary Legacy". The LARB reviews Jews And Words, by Amos Oz and Fania Oz-Salzberger. [more inside]
The Babylonian Talmud was composed in the historical region of Palestine and in (not surprisingly) Babylonia (modern-day Iraq) between ~70 C.E. and ~700 C.E. Many centuries later, it turns out that "there are more South Koreans with Talmud sets in their homes than Jews in Israel." (Hebrew original) [more inside]
My April 1st spidey sense was tingling like crazy, but I guess it's true if it was in Time Magazine, that bastion of serious journalism, where Time 100 nominee LeBron James nominated Ohio businessman Jay Schottenstein for the next Time 100 because he, "supported the translation and elucidation of the Talmud Bavli into English, Hebrew and French." Now if only Jews could play basketball...
A rabbi, some snails, the color purple, and a 1,500 year old mystery. By puzzling through various sources, a group of researchers and religious scholars think they have found in the mollusk Murex trunculus the source of a purplish dye that was used in ancient Jewish ceremonies over a millennia and a half ago. Murex has been used for the last 3,600 years to make Imperial or Tyrian Purple, a key color in the ancient world. There are many other pigments with their own interesting stories as well.
Co-winner of the Nobel prize in economics Robert Aumann of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem gave a very interesting interview about how he became interested in economics, math, and the "topology of bagels." How he applied logic from the Talmud to bankruptcy and other economic events was described nicely at Slate here.
Raiders of the Lost Ark Dr. Vendyl Jones, the famed archaeologist, the inspiration for the “Indiana Jones” movie series, has spent most of his life searching for the Ark of the Covenant. The ark was the resting place of the Ten Commandments, given to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, and was hidden just before the destruction of the First Temple. The Talmud says the Ark is hidden in a secret passage under the Temple Mount. Dr. Vendyl Jones says that the tunnel actually continues 18 miles southward, and that the Ark was brought through the tunnel to its current resting place in the Judean Desert. Apparently he is about to find it this summer.
Today is the last day of Hanukkah. "The Festival of Lights" commemorates ... well, that's the question now, isn't it? It's a minor holiday, not found in the Torah (alleged allusions notwithstanding). The story about the candles is first found in the Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 21b), which was written over five centuries after the fact. More contemporaneous sources paint it as a fairly typical Greek-style victory celebration, and the national holiday of the Second Commonwealth. [More inside...]