Readings in Rabbinic Hebrew
Dr. John C. Reeves
Office hours: R 2:00-3:00; or by appointment
This course provides an introduction to postbiblical Hebrew for those graduate students who are already reasonably conversant with the linguistic structures of biblical Hebrew. We will study the basic features of postbiblical Hebrew grammar, vocabulary, and syntax while simultaneously reading and translating a number of selections drawn from talmudic and midrashic literature.
Miguel Pérez Fernández, An Introductory Grammar of Rabbinic Hebrew (trans. John Elwolde; Leiden: Brill, 1999).
Marcus Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Babli, Yerushalmi and Midrashic Literature (London and New York, 1903; repr., New York: Judaica Press, 1996). This work is also available on-line.
H. L. Strack and G. Stemberger, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (trans. Markus Bockmuehl; Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1992).
Some secondary essays and articles (to be distributed or assigned by the instructor)
Recommended purchases (not available at UNC Charlotte bookstore):
M. H. Segal, A Grammar of Mishnaic Hebrew (Oxford: Clarendon, 1927; repr., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979).
Angel Sáenz-Badillos, A History of the Hebrew Language (trans. John Elwolde; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).
H. N. Bialik and Y. H. Ravnitsky, Sefer ha-Aggadah: Muvhar ha-aggadot shebatalmud uvamidrashim (repr., Tel Aviv: Dvir, 2000).
Reuben Alcalay, Milon ‘ivri-angli shalem/The Complete Hebrew-English Dictionary (Tel Aviv & Jerusalem: Massadah Publishing Co., 1965). Or one of its later revisions and/or reprints; the latest revised edition dates from 2000.
a. Diligent attendance and preparation. Almost perfect attendance is an essential requirement for this course. Each class session builds upon the knowledge gained and skills acquired during previous meetings. Moreover, oral recitation and group study/discussion comprises practically the entirety of every class session. Weekly class meetings will combine oral recitation and English renderings of the exercises contained in Pérez Fernández with a more extensive selection of readings drawn from classical rabbinic sources (both halakhic and aggadic), the Qumranic 4QMMT, H. N. Bialik and Y. H. Ravnitsky’s Sefer ha-Aggadah, and Moses Gaster’s The Exempla of the Rabbis. Some of these latter readings may be keyed to the individual interests of the students. The instructor’s assessment of one’s attendance, class preparation, oral recitation, and verbal contribution to class discussions constitutes 100% of the final course grade.
b. Critical discussions. Almost every week during a portion of the class period students will orally expound and collectively discuss the content of at least one secondary article or essay that has been previously assigned by the instructor. Individual students may be asked to present and guide our discussions. The readings will come from Strack-Stemberger and the language articles listed below. The instructor’s evaluation of the student’s contributions to these assignments will be factored into the class preparation component of the final course grade.
c. Each student is responsible for all lectures, class discussions, assignments, and announcements, whether or not he/she is present when they occur.
a. The grading scale used in this course is as follows:
b. One of the requirements of this course is to complete the work of the course on time. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons for late work—an illness or other emergency. ‘Emergency,’ however, does not include your social involvements, travel plans, job schedule, disk and/or printer failures, the state of your love life, your obligations to other courses, or general malaise over the state of the world. The world has been in a mess as long as anyone can remember, and most of the world’s work is done by people whose lives are a mass of futility and discontent. If you haven’t learned yet, you had better learn now to work under the conditions of the world as it is. Therefore:
1) All assignments are due at their announced dates and times. In other words (and please note well!), there will be NO MAKEUP OPPORTUNITIES scheduled. All missed assignments (these include weekly oral recitations!) will be averaged as a 0 in the computation of the course grade. No exceptions will be considered or granted.
2) Any written homework exercises for which a roman font is used must be typed and double-spaced; apart from Hebrew print or script, no handwritten exercises will be accepted. Written homework exercises are assessed according to the following formulae: √+ = A- (roughly 5 or fewer errors); √ = C+ (roughly 6-20 errors); √- = U (more than 20 errors and/or incomplete work).
3) For accounting purposes, letter grades bear the following values: A=95; A-=92; B=85; C+=78; C=75; U=35.
4) Since your diligent physical participation is critical for the success of this course, attendance at class meetings will be monitored by the instructor. One absence is regrettable; two absences are the limit of tolerability. Three (3) or more absences will result in an automatic U for the course. Please note that the instructor does not distinguish ‘excused’ from ‘unexcused’ absences. Unsanctioned late arrivals and early departures will be tallied as absences.
5) Policy regarding Audits: the instructor expects auditors (whether formally enrolled as such or not) to meet the same attendance, preparation, and oral participation standards as those students who are taking the course for credit. The instructor does not expect auditors to prepare and submit any written assignments.
d. The Cuneiform Studies Laboratory (located in Macy 216) houses a number of lexical and grammatical aids (both print and electronic) for the close study of biblical and postbiblical Hebrew. Please consult with the instructor for access to this learning resource and the regulations regarding its use.
e. Assistance and solicitation of criticism is your right as a member of the class. It is not a privilege to be granted or withheld. Do not hesitate to request it nor wait too late in the course for it to be of help.
Some Required Readings for Assessing the Nature of Rabbinic Hebrew
David H. Aaron, “Judaism’s Holy Language,” in Approaches to Ancient Judaism, New Series: Volume Sixteen (ed. Jacob Neusner; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1999), 49-107.
J. A. Emerton, “The Problem of Vernacular Hebrew in the First Century A.D. and the Language of Jesus,” Journal of Theological Studies n.s. 24 (1973): 1-23.
Jehoshua M. Grintz, “Hebrew as the Spoken and Written Language in the Last Days of the Second Temple,” Journal of Biblical Literature 79 (1960): 32-47.
E. Y. Kutscher, “Hebrew Language, Mishnaic,” Encyclopaedia Judaica (16 vols.; Jerusalem: Keter, 1971), 16:1590-1607.
Elisha Qimron and John Strugnell, “The Language,” in Qumran Cave 4 V: Miqsat Ma‘aśeh ha-Torah (DJD 10; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 65-108.
Chaim Rabin, “The Historical Background of Qumran Hebrew,” Scripta Hierosolymitana 4 (1958): 144-61.
Stefan C. Reif, review of Charles F. Whitley, Koheleth. His Language and Thought. In Vetus Testamentum 31 (1981): 120-26; note also 32 (1982): 346-48.
Seth Schwartz, “Language, Power and Identity in Ancient Palestine,” Past and Present 148 (1995): 3-47.
Moses H. Segal, “Mishnaic Hebrew and its Relation to Biblical Hebrew and to Aramaic,” Jewish Quarterly Review o.s. 20 (1909-10): 647-737.
Abraham Tal, “Is There a Raison d’Être for an Aramaic Targum in a Hebrew-Speaking Society?” Revue des études juives 160 (2001): 357-78.
Edward Ullendorff, “Is Biblical Hebrew a Language?” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 34 (1971): 241-55.
Steve Weitzman, “Why did the Qumran Community Write in Hebrew?” Journal of the American Oriental Society 119 (1999): 35-45.
Some Recommended Readings for the Conceptual Universe of the Sages
Catherine Hezser, “Classical Rabbinic Literature,” in The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies (ed. Martin Goodman; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 115-40.
David Kraemer, The Mind of the Talmud: An Intellectual History of the Bavli (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990).
Jacob Z. Lauterbach, Rabbinic Essays (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1951).
Saul Lieberman, Hellenism in Jewish Palestine: Studies in the Literary Transmission, Beliefs and Manners of Palestine in the I century B.C.E.-IV century C.E. (2d ed.; New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1962).
C. G. Montefiore and H. Loewe, A Rabbinic Anthology (London, 1938; repr., New York: Schocken Books, 1974).
Jacob Neusner, Judaism: The Evidence of the Mishnah (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981).
Jeffrey L. Rubenstein, The Culture of the Babylonian Talmud (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003).
______, Talmudic Stories: Narrative Art, Composition, and Culture (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999).
Solomon Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology: Major Concepts of the Talmud (New York, 1909; repr., New York: Schocken Books, 1961).
Seth Schwartz, Imperialism and Jewish Society, 200 B.C.E. to 640 C.E. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).
Ephraim E. Urbach, The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs (2d ed.; trans. Israel Abrahams; 2 vols.; Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1979).