What Talmudic Manuscripts Tell Us

The Talmud and its commentaries and related texts are famously difficult to understand. Adding to the difficulty are the multiplicity of versions: the oldest part of the Talmud, known as the Mishnah (from the early 3rd century CE) is mirrored by a parallel text, probably composed about a century later, called the Tosefta, which contains much identical material and a host of variations. Then there is the Jerusalem Talmud (or Yerushalmi), compiled around 400 CE and later largely supplanted by the 7th-century Babylonian Talmud. And each of these texts stems from manuscripts that themselves vary. Tamar Marvin provides an introduction to the subject:

There is something astounding about coming to know that the texts we take for granted, that we tend to see as stable and fixed, have a history of being handed down that is intimately connected to the lives of individual humans. We often don’t have much information to color our understanding of these individuals, but their handwriting serves as testimony to their presence and efforts. In most cases, the textual histories of even foundational texts hangs on a thread, resting on a small number of textual witness. (Textual witnesses are just what they sound like: manuscripts that serve as early evidence for the modern printed texts, or postmodern digital texts, that we see before us.)

There are, of course, plentiful manuscripts as a whole of such texts, but most are copies of each other (or of similar texts, no longer extant). In other words, there are few early exemplars that serve as “witnesses” to the version of the text coming out of antiquity, often, as for the Mishnah and Tosefta, out of orality and into textuality.

Read more at Stories from Jewish History

More about: Manuscripts, Mishnah, Talmud


Israel’s Covert War on Iran’s Nuclear Program Is Impressive. But Is It Successful?

Sept. 26 2023

The Mossad’s heist of a vast Iranian nuclear archive in 2018 provided abundant evidence that Tehran was not adhering to its commitments; it also provided an enormous amount of actionable intelligence. Two years later, Israel responded to international inspectors’ condemnation of the Islamic Republic’s violations by using this intelligence to launch a spectacular campaign of sabotage—a campaign that is the subject of Target Tehran, by Yonah Jeremy Bob and Ilan Evyatar. David Adesnik writes:

The question that remains open at the conclusion of Target Tehran is whether the Mossad’s tactical wizardry adds up to strategic success in the shadow war with Iran. The authors give a very respectful hearing to skeptics—such as the former Mossad director Tamir Pardo—who believe the country should have embraced the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Bob and Evyatar reject that position, arguing that covert action has proven itself the best way to slow down the nuclear program. They acknowledge, however, that the clerical regime remains fully determined to reach the nuclear threshold. “The Mossad’s secret war, in other words, is not over. Indeed, it may never end,” they write.

Which brings us back to Joe Biden. The clerical regime was headed over a financial cliff when Biden took office, thanks to the reimposition of sanctions after Washington withdrew from the nuclear deal. The billions flowing into Iran on Biden’s watch have made it that much easier for the regime to rebuild whatever Mossad destroys in addition to weathering nationwide protests on behalf of women, life, and freedom. Until Washington and Jerusalem get on the same page—and stay there—Tehran’s nuclear ambitions will remain an affordable luxury for a dictatorship at war with its citizens.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, Mossad, U.S. Foreign policy