How, and Why, the Talmud Got Its Distinctive Look

The Talmud has a famously distinctive page layout: the text itself resides in the center, and it is flanked by the medieval commentary of Rabbi Isaac ben Solomon (Rashi) on one side and that of his disciples (known as Tosafot) on the other, with various reference apparatuses in the margins, and then other commentaries in the outer margins. Introduced by Gentile printers of Judaica in 16th-century Italy, this format has been followed with minimal variation in almost every subsequent edition.

Yoel Finkelman delves into the origins of this format, and argues that its durability is rooted in unique features of Talmud study and pedagogy:

Rabbinic literature is layered. The entire discourse is dependent on this layered authority, in which earlier textual layers are formally more authoritative than later ones. Who is conceptually in an earlier layer than whom is central to understanding everything about how the Talmud serves as a grounding for later Jewish law. [The Talmud’s early stratum], the Mishnah, authored by tanna’im, is the foundational text, the bedrock. The Gemara, [the later stratum], is structured as a commentary on the Mishnah and is based on the principle that the post-mishnaic authorities, the amora’im, may not disagree with the earlier authorities. At most, amora’im can choose to agree with one tanna over another, . . . but structurally they do not argue with those who are in the layer above them on the hierarchy.

The same holds true regarding later commentators. Medieval rabbis don’t argue with the Gemara; they explain it. Both Rashi and Tosafot work with the assumption that the Talmud is the authoritative groundwork of their understanding. Their task is to explain it. . . . Placing Rashi and Tosafot on opposite sides visually matches the regular and consistent disagreements between the commentaries, both about specific readings and about their reading strategies and methods. Having these texts and commentaries on the same page allow not only for multiple texts and commentaries, but represent a dialogue that is occurring over real, chronological time and over conceptual, layered time.

Read more at Tradition

More about: Books, Rashi, Talmud

Israel Just Sent Iran a Clear Message

Early Friday morning, Israel attacked military installations near the Iranian cities of Isfahan and nearby Natanz, the latter being one of the hubs of the country’s nuclear program. Jerusalem is not taking credit for the attack, and none of the details are too certain, but it seems that the attack involved multiple drones, likely launched from within Iran, as well as one or more missiles fired from Syrian or Iraqi airspace. Strikes on Syrian radar systems shortly beforehand probably helped make the attack possible, and there were reportedly strikes on Iraq as well.

Iran itself is downplaying the attack, but the S-300 air-defense batteries in Isfahan appear to have been destroyed or damaged. This is a sophisticated Russian-made system positioned to protect the Natanz nuclear installation. In other words, Israel has demonstrated that Iran’s best technology can’t protect the country’s skies from the IDF. As Yossi Kuperwasser puts it, the attack, combined with the response to the assault on April 13,

clarified to the Iranians that whereas we [Israelis] are not as vulnerable as they thought, they are more vulnerable than they thought. They have difficulty hitting us, but we have no difficulty hitting them.

Nobody knows exactly how the operation was carried out. . . . It is good that a question mark hovers over . . . what exactly Israel did. Let’s keep them wondering. It is good for deniability and good for keeping the enemy uncertain.

The fact that we chose targets that were in the vicinity of a major nuclear facility but were linked to the Iranian missile and air forces was a good message. It communicated that we can reach other targets as well but, as we don’t want escalation, we chose targets nearby that were involved in the attack against Israel. I think it sends the message that if we want to, we can send a stronger message. Israel is not seeking escalation at the moment.

Read more at Jewish Chronicle

More about: Iran, Israeli Security