A Rare Translation of the Mishnah into Judeo-Arabic

Among the manuscripts found in the Cairo Genizah are fragments of a translation of the Mishnah—the older stratum of the Talmud, compiled around 200 CE—into Judeo-Arabic. This dialect, which is Arabic written in Hebrew characters, was the everyday tongue of Jews in North Africa and parts of Spain and the Middle East for much of the last millennium. David Wasserstein describes the fragments and their significance:

Translations of the Bible into the vernacular . . . are widely known and preserved in hundreds, if not thousands, of manuscript copies [in the Genizah]. Less well-known, and less frequently found, are translations of important rabbinic texts. . . . Jacob N. Epstein published this and another related fragment [of the Mishnah] in 1950. As he pointed out, the translation demonstrates that the Mishnah was being studied by people who needed a version in their daily language. The format reminds us of modern-day Loeb editions of Greek and Latin texts, with Greek or Latin on the left-hand pages facing English versions on the right. . . .

Since then, however, several more fragments from what seems to be the same manuscript have turned up in the Genizah. . . . The spread of passages, from six tractates in all, across three of the six orders in the Mishnah provides additional support for Epstein’s belief that the entire Mishnah was included in this manuscript.

These are not the only fragments of Judeo-Arabic versions of mishnaic tractates, but they all come from a single manuscript and for that reason may have much more to tell us than we might learn from isolated fragments of other manuscripts. On the basis of the pages we have, we can . . . compute that the entire Mishnah, with its translation, in this single manuscript must have filled nearly 6,000 pages, making for an enormous and, in view of the thickness of the paper, unwieldy, multivolume copy of the text. . . .

Epstein [dated] it to the 10th or 11th century, suggesting that it was copied in North Africa or Spain, with what looked like a preference for Spain reflecting the magnificence of the Golden Age. More recently, however, Edna Engel . . . has suggested a later date, and that in its turn may hint rather at a North African provenance.

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Read more at Taylor-Schechter Genizah

More about: Cairo Geniza, History & Ideas, Jewish language, Mishnah, Translation

Don’t Let Iran Go Nuclear

Sept. 29 2022

In an interview on Sunday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated that the Biden administration remains committed to nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic, even as it pursues its brutal crackdown on the protests that have swept the country. Robert Satloff argues not only that it is foolish to pursue the renewal of the 2015 nuclear deal, but also that the White House’s current approach is failing on its own terms:

[The] nuclear threat is much worse today than it was when President Biden took office. Oddly, Washington hasn’t really done much about it. On the diplomatic front, the administration has sweetened its offer to entice Iran into a new nuclear deal. While it quite rightly held firm on Iran’s demand to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from an official list of “foreign terrorist organizations,” Washington has given ground on many other items.

On the nuclear side of the agreement, the United States has purportedly agreed to allow Iran to keep, in storage, thousands of advanced centrifuges it has made contrary to the terms of the original deal. . . . And on economic matters, the new deal purportedly gives Iran immediate access to a certain amount of blocked assets, before it even exports most of its massive stockpile of enriched uranium for safekeeping in a third country. . . . Even with these added incentives, Iran is still holding out on an agreement. Indeed, according to the most recent reports, Tehran has actually hardened its position.

Regardless of the exact reason why, the menacing reality is that Iran’s nuclear program is galloping ahead—and the United States is doing very little about it. . . . The result has been a stunning passivity in U.S. policy toward the Iran nuclear issue.

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Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Iran nuclear deal, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy