The Meteorologist-Turned-Professor Who Discovered the Parallels between Talmudic and Zoroastrian Law

Aug. 22 2018

For the first century-and-a-half of academic Jewish studies, scholars approached the Talmud armed primarily with knowledge of Judaism and of Greco-Roman antiquity. Such knowledge is undoubtedly necessary for studying the Mishnah (the older stratum of the Talmud) and the Jerusalem Talmud, both of which were produced in Roman-ruled Palestine. But the far more significant Babylonian Talmud reflects the teaching of rabbis who lived in Persian-ruled Mesopotamia during the 3rd through 6th centuries, a place where the dominant religion was Zoroastrianism and the literary language Persian. The late Yaakov Elman, an Orthodox Jew who had been a meteorologist, bookseller, and publisher before turning to fulltime scholarship, rought knowledge of this period in Iranian history to the study of Talmud. Shai Secunda reminisces about Elman, who died last month at the age of seventy-four:

While [Elman’s] early work was strictly philological and focused on topics such as the relationship between the early rabbinic compilation known as the Tosefta and the Babylonian Talmud, he moved on ingeniously to combine Iranian and talmudic studies in a hybrid that became known as Irano-Talmudica. Elman was the not the first scholar to realize that studying Babylonian Jewry’s Persian context could illuminate the Babylonian Talmud, but he is the one who built it into a real movement of flesh-and-blood people from different fields. . . .

Yaakov began this Irano-Talmudic stage of his career at age fifty, on a fellowship at Harvard. There he befriended professor Oktor Skjærvø, a tall, wry Norwegian master of Indo-Iranian languages. Oktor and Yaakov . . . soon became inseparable, spending many hours each day studying Middle Persian in Skjærvø’s large, book-lined office. Occasionally attending faculty parties in the evening, they appeared as the ultimate odd couple. . . .

Traveling the world for Jewish and Iranian studies conferences, Yaakov became a tireless evangelist for reading the Talmud alongside Middle Persian texts, regularly launching into detailed discussions of Zoroastrian law and describing it, to the astonishment of many, as “halakhic,” “rabbinic,” and “strikingly parallel” to Jewish law. . . . The tiny field of Old Iranian studies, which had been languishing due to lack of interest, gained tremendously from the sudden, unexpected infusion of these Talmud scholars.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Ancient Persia, Babylonian Jewry, History & Ideas, Jewish studies, Talmud

Is the Attempt on Salman Rushdie’s Life Part of a Broader Iranian Strategy?

Aug. 18 2022

While there is not yet any definitive evidence that Hadi Matar, the man who repeatedly stabbed the novelist Salman Rushdie at a public talk last week, was acting on direct orders from Iranian authorities, he has made clear that he was inspired by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s call for Rushdie’s murder, and his social-media accounts express admiration for the Islamic Republic. The attack also follows on the heels of other Iranian attempts on the lives of Americans, including the dissident activist Masih Alinejad, the former national security advisor John Bolton, and the former secretary of state Mike Pompeo. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who was held hostage by the mullahs for over two years, sees a deliberate effort at play:

It is no coincidence this flurry of Iranian activity comes at a crucial moment for the hitherto-moribund [nuclear] negotiations. Iranian hardliners have long opposed reviving the 2015 deal, and the Iranians have made a series of unrealistic and seemingly ever-shifting demands which has led many to conclude that they are not negotiating in good faith. Among these is requiring the U.S. to delist the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in its entirety from the State Department’s list of terror organizations.

The Biden administration and its European partners’ willingness to make concessions are viewed in Tehran as signals of weakness. The lack of a firm response in the shocking attack on Salman Rushdie will similarly indicate to Tehran that there is little to be lost and much to be gained in pursuing dissidents like Alinejad or so-called blasphemers like Sir Salman on U.S. soil.

If we don’t stand up for our values when under attack we can hardly blame our adversaries for assuming that we have none. Likewise, if we don’t erect and maintain firm red lines in negotiations our adversaries will perhaps also assume that we have none.

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Read more at iNews

More about: Iran, Terrorism, U.S. Foreign policy