Magic Bowls: A Key to the World of the Talmud?

The Babylonian Talmud contains a vast wealth of information about the Jewish society that, from the 3rd to 7th century, produced it, but historians have been confounded in their quest to find evidence outside the Talmud itself. The sole exception consists of inscriptions found on bowls containing “precise, technical formulations to bind demonic forces magically and prevent them from inflicting harm.” Scholars have now published the first of a projected multivolume series of annotated translations of these inscriptions. Meanwhile, Shai Secunda writes, the novelist Maggie Anton has released the first two volumes of a projected three-part work of historical fiction (free registration required):

By imagining the female relatives of prominent talmudic sages publicly producing magic bowls and other sorceries, Anton locates the magical arts at the very center of classical Jewish life. Unlike historical romances in which sex is breathlessly subversive and sorcery shocks, Anton keeps her sex scenes light and playful and marries traditional rabbinic piety with ancient sorcery. This is what makes [her novel] Rav Hisda’s Daughter so surprising and, one might argue, so compelling. The relentlessly undramatic nature of the series is its genius.

The resurfacing of the magic bowls in contemporary popular culture is a phenomenon worthy of note, not just for book-of-the-month clubs and avant-garde artists. Scholars ought to take heed. Anton is on to something. Rav Hisda’s Daughter raises fascinating questions about what [academic scholars of the Talmud] mean when speaking of “elite” in rabbinic culture, how rabbinic homes functioned simultaneously as both yeshivas and boisterous family estates, and how women and men actually interacted in these close spaces.

Set alongside the [the scholarly volume] Aramaic Bowl Spells, Anton’s forthrightly middlebrow novel proves to be an unexpected invitation to think about these questions. Most surprisingly, it suggests a way of re-conceiving the relationship between the Talmud and the magic bowls, and the lost Babylonian world that gave birth to Judaism.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: ancient Judaism, Ancient Persia, Babylonian Jewry, Jewish fiction, Magic, Talmud

As Hamas’s Reign of Terror Endures, the International Community Remains Obsessed with Jews Living in the Wrong Places

On Thursday, foreign ministers of the G-7—the U.S., Canada, Japan, Britain, France, Germany, and Italy—along with the EU, made an official “statement on the situation in the West Bank,” an area where they are very concerned, it appears, that too many Jews are dwelling. In particular, the G-7 condemned Israel’s decision to grant municipal status to five ad-hoc villages built without proper permits. Elliott Abrams comments:

I can see “condemning” murder, terror, kidnapping, and “rejecting” that legalization. Indeed in the next sentence they “reject the decision by the government of Israel to declare over 1,270 hectares of land in the West Bank as ‘state lands.’” Building houses should not be treated with language usually reserved for murder.

The statement then added complaints about the Israeli settlement program more generally, and about Israel’s decision to withhold some tax revenues it collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Why does Israel ever withhold such funds? Sometimes it is in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack. Sometimes it’s domestic politics. But it’s worth remembering something else: the Taylor Force Act, which became law in 2018 and stated that the “Palestinian Authority’s practice of paying salaries to terrorists serving in Israeli prisons, as well as to the families of deceased terrorists, is an incentive to commit acts of terror.” Until those payments cease, most forms of aid from the U.S. government to the Palestinian Authority may not be made. The payments continue. It is not clear if the State Department is pressuring the Palestinian Authority to end them.

Such moral considerations are entirely absent from the G-7 statement. The statement may be correct when it says, “maintaining economic stability in the West Bank is critical for regional security.” But it should be obvious that ending the pay-for-slay program and rewards for terrorism is even more critical for regional security. It’s a pity the G-7 did not find time to mention that.

The statement, it’s worth noting, appeared on the U.S. State Department website.

Read more at Pressure Points

More about: Europe and Israel, Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror, U.S. Foreign policy, West Bank