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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Rabbi Leonard S. Kravitz and Dr. Kerry M. Olitzky wrote “The Book of Esther: A Modern Commentary," published by the URJ Press.  From the authors of classic commentaries on Lamentations, Jonah, Ruth, the Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and Pirke Avot comes this new volume on the Book of Esther. Rabbis Kravitz and Olitzky shed new light on this familiar story by combining traditional rabbinic views and contemporary literary criticism to create a readable and relevant commentary. More than the centerpiece of Purim celebrations, Esther is unique in the biblical canon, and raises as many questions as it reveals answers. It is a rich source for text study, at Purim and throughout the year.  The volume is number nine in the series and it completes five megillot.


Michael Chernick’s book “A Great Voice That Did Not Cease:  The Growth of the Rabbinic Canon and Its Interpretation” (Hebrew Union College Press, 2009) was reviewed in both the Winter 5769/2009 edition of Jewish Book World and the publication Shofar.

The Jewish Book World wrote:
“Despite the colorful painting on the cover, this book is not a light read.  It is a dense monograph, tracking subtle shifts in the methods used by the rabbis to interpret texts.  Chernick uses some of the new technologies now available to Talmudists, including databases with transcribed Talmudic manuscripts and advanced search engines, to lay the groundwork for his survey.  Focusing  on four hermeneutical methods of Rabbinic interpretation, Chernick endeavors to show how each method was used in slightly different ways by the Tannaim—the rabbis of the Mishnah—and their successors, the Amoraim.  Wading into a raging academic debate, Chernick locates some of the most profound changes in the post-Amoraic period that may have been responsible for the anonymous discussions in the Babylonian Talmud.

The book’s title points to the conclusion that Chernick tries to draw from his investigation—that at the outset of the Rabbinic period, the canon was limited to the Torah itself, while by the end of the Amoraic period it had expanded to include not only the rest of Tanakh, but also the works of the Rabbis themselves.  The later rabbis saw the Mishnah itself as being a work of Divine revelation.  One of the most important English-language contributions to the academic field of Talmud in recent years, this book also makes some current developments in the field accessible to a wider audience.”

Jacob Neusner wrote in Shofar:
“Michael Chernick, who teaches Talmud and Rabbinics at HUC-JIR/New York, here explains the meaning and implications of certain fixed interpretative rhetorical formulas that recur in the analytical discussions of late antique Rabbinic literature, with stress on the hermeneutics of the law of the Talmud of Babylonia.  The formulas guide the formation of the law on the foundation of scriptural interpretation.  For example, take the formula, “Though there is no solid biblical proof for the matter under consideration, there is less than solid support for it in the biblical text.”  Chernick explains, “By saying this, the interpreters tell us that we are dealing with something they are not able to derive in any direct sense from the authoritative word of God.”

Other rhetorical formulas are as follows: harmonization in “two contradictory verses expositions;” “if the biblical rule under discussion is inapplicable to subject A, apply it to subject B” (a huge chapter); “two scriptural passages that come to teach a single principle do not teach anything.”  The conclusions are these: “The Tannaim considered the Pentateuch their sole source of authority for Halakhah, while the Amoraim considered the entire Tanakh as a source for their legislation”; “the Tannaim…had no tolerance for contradictions in the Pentateuch”; redundancy and illogical were not tolerated.  The research answers the question, “If the rabbinic theology of canon and revelation changed, what made that happen?”

The analysis of rhetoric and of analytical presuppositions does not depend on attributions but on the detailed evidence of the sources and on their governing usage and logic.  Most of the book is reliable on the face of the matter and yields fine outcomes for interpreting the language and meaning of the rabbinic literature.  The elaborate analysis of linguistic formulas and their usages and their meanings, yielding sensitive and compelling conclusions on the meaning of exegetical formulas in the Rabbinic canon, form the heart of the matter and produce well constructed expositions of formulaic language.

What he (Chernick) has accomplished in this important and exemplary work is the presentation of elaborate models of what a dictionary of the language of Talmudic and Rabbinic hermeneutics would look like if it covered more than the approximately dozen cases treated so elaborately here.  Chernick has written a series of elaborate encyclopedic entries and has definitively solved the problem of explaining their meaning and use.  His book deserves a place in every library of Talmudic study with special reference to hermeneutics and is a model of how to spell out the meaning and message of the interpretive processes of the ancient Rabbinic canon."

Dr. Amira Meir,
a member of the HUC-JIR/Jerusalem faculty, participated in the International Conference in Jewish Studies about “The Heritage of Italian Jewry.” The conference took place at the University of Palermo in Lecce and the Pontifical Gregorian Università in Rome.  Dr. Meir chaired the opening session in Rome where the Magnifico Rettore of the Gregoriana, Prof. Father Gianfranco Ghirlanda, and the Head of the Bea center for Judaic Studies in the Gregoriana, Prof. Father Thomas Casey, participated.  They are both great supporters of promoting Jewish Studies in Rome, and emphasized it in their warm welcoming words.  The subject of Dr. Meir’s presentation was "'And there are none to say restore: Sforno's Commentary to the Pentateuchal Poetry."

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.