Is the “Portion of Balaam” Mentioned in the Talmud a Lost Mosaic Book?

According to a talmudic discussion of the authorship of the various books of the Hebrew Bible, Moses composed not only the Pentateuch but also the book of Job and “the portion of Balaam” (parashat Bilam). The identity of the last item has puzzled scholars for centuries: if it refers to Numbers 22-24, which describe the attempt by King Balak of Moab to hire the prophet Balaam to curse Israel, and the divine blessings that Balaam utter instead, why does the Talmud distinguish between this passage and the rest of the Pentateuch? And if it refers to something other than this passage in Numbers, does it refer to a book no longer extant? Shlomo Zuckier discusses the possible explanations floated by rabbinic commentators throughout the ages:

The 17th-century sage Isaiah Halevi Horowitz, [citing earlier authorities], asserts: . . . “the portion of Balaam” must be a short book written by Moses, one lost due to the travails of exile. . . . The discovery of an ancient text in Deir ‘Alla, Jordan, in 1967 set off a flurry of publications on the matter. The text explicitly refers to one “Balaam son of Beor” and also contains significant thematic parallels to the biblical Balaam story, albeit with some differences. On this basis, some have suggested that this document, or something very much like it, may be what the [Talmud] refers to. . . .

However, several commentators point to some fundamental difference in nature between the passage in the Torah about Balaam and the rest of the Torah that might account for [our talmudic passage giving special treatment to the former]. There are several versions to this approach. A first angle is that this material, while it appears in the Torah, is in some sense inferior or tangential to the rest of the Torah. . . .

[Conversely, one ancient rabbinic work] notes that while “no prophet arose in Israel like Moses” (Deuteronomy 34), such a prophet did arise among the Gentiles, namely Balaam. Rabbi Tsadok Rabinowitz of Lublin (1823-1900) explains this to mean that Balaam’s prophecy was of a unique nature, a type that only Moses possessed. . . . Moses and Balaam prophesied by having God, as it were, speak through their mouths. Thus . . . the prophecies of Balaam themselves are exceptional, as they represent the unmediated word of God spurting forth from his mouth. . . . If so, Balaam’s prophecies are exceptional because their inclusion within the Torah is on account not of their Mosaic authorship but of their divine construction. Thus, they belong in a category all their own, and the Talmud appropriately separates them from the rest of the Torah.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Moses, Numbers, Prophecy, Religion & Holidays, Talmud

Hamas Wants a Renewed Ceasefire, but Doesn’t Understand Israel’s Changed Attitude

Yohanan Tzoreff, writing yesterday, believes that Hamas still wishes to return to the truce that it ended Friday morning with renewed rocket attacks on Israel, but hopes it can do so on better terms—raising the price, so to speak, of each hostage released. Examining recent statements from the terrorist group’s leaders, he tries to make sense of what it is thinking:

These [Hamas] senior officials do not reflect any awareness of the changed attitude in Israel toward Hamas following the October 7 massacre carried out by the organization in the western Negev communities. They continue to estimate that as before, Israel will be willing to pay high prices for its people and that time is working in their favor. In their opinion, Israel’s interest in the release of its people, the pressure of the hostages’ families, and the public’s broad support for these families will ultimately be decisive in favor of a deal that will meet the new conditions set by Hamas.

In other words, the culture of summud (steadfastness), still guides Hamas. Its [rhetoric] does not show at all that it has internalized or recognized the change in the attitude of the Israeli public toward it—which makes it clear that Israel still has a lot of work to do.

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli Security