Ira Robinson

title.none: de Lange, ed., Hebrew Scholarship and the Medieval World (Ira Robinson)

identifier.other: baj9928.0210.006 02.10.06

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Ira Robinson, Concordia University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: de Lange, Nicholas, ed. Hebrew Scholarship and the Medieval World. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Pp. i, 247. ISBN: 0-512-78116-7.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.10.06

de Lange, Nicholas, ed. Hebrew Scholarship and the Medieval World. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Pp. i, 247. ISBN: 0-512-78116-7.

Reviewed by:

Ira Robinson
Concordia University

This collection of articles was assembled in honor of the eightieth birthday of Raphael Loewe, the "doyen of medieval Hebrew studies in Britain" (xi). It thus somewhat takes on the nature of a festschrift, and includes a select bibliography of Loewe's works (240-245).

The articles which make up the volume are largely, though not entirely, devoted to aspects of the history of the Hebrew language in medieval times. They encompass liturgical and literary uses of Hebrew within the Jewish community, as well as the role of Hebrew learning in the relations between Christian Hebraists and their Jewish teachers. They represent the work of scholars from all three major centers of contemporary scholarship in Hebrew studies: North America, Western Europe and Israel. The geographical distribution of authors is, however, heavily weighted in favor of Europe.

Part I of the volume is devoted to articles on the status quaestionis of a number of key issues. Daniel Frank deals with current trends in the study of Karaism, that branch of Judaic thought which rejected the rabbinic tradition. The major event in this field (as well as for other articles included in this volume) in the last decade has been the opening to Judaic scholars of the Firkovich collection of manuscripts in St. Petersburg, which was not accessible until after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The beginnings of the utilization of these manuscripts, by Judaic scholars, as well as greater utilization of previously accessible sources has led to advances in our understanding of Karaite origins, their study of the Bible, religious philosophy and other topics. An excellent bibliography makes this article an essential jumping-off point for anyone who wishes to be au courant in this field.

Much the same could be said of Nicholas de Lange's article on "Hebrew Scholarship in Byzantium." Byzantine Hebrew scholarship has been generally a neglected area for those investigating medieval Hebrew. De Lange shows why this relative neglect is undeserved. Lately much evidence has come to light that demonstrates the Byzantine provenance of hitherto "unlocalized or badly identified material" (26). The article and its accompanying bibliography constitute an invitation to participate in the "challenging and interesting opportunities" of a field in its infancy (34).

Angel Saenz-Badillos speaks in his article of the state of our knowledge of the study of Hebrew philology in medieval Spain. In this area as well, much is to be learned from manuscripts newly accessible in Russia (39). Saenz-Badillos criticizes much of the previous work done on medieval Hebrew philological manuscripts, comparing it less than favorably with the critical editions of ancient Latin and Greek authors (39). His thorough survey of the literature in this field once again concludes with a most useful bibliography.

"Recent Developments in the Study of Medieval Hebrew Liturgy" gives Stefan C. Reif the opportunity to extensively praise the work of Naphtali Wieder, whose writings have, in his opinion, not been sufficiently appreciated (61). It also gives him the opportunity to state that "the close study of medieval halakhic and liturgical texts currently being done in North America does not generally match its equivalent in Israel," though, curiously, the only such work specifically mentioned by Reif, that of Ruth Langer, is said to be an "exception to this rule" and "of a higher standard" (71). Praise indeed, though more muted than Reif's praise of Weider. This chapter might have been improved with the inclusion of a bibliographic section at the end, as in the previous chapters.

Part II of the volume commences with Geoffrey Khan's essay on "The Early Eastern Traditions of Hebrew Grammar". In this article, which complements in many ways that of Saenz-Badillos, we are led to understand that the study of medieval Hebrew grammar, largely based upon the study of Spanish grammarians, needs to be enriched by insights gained through the study of the grammatical teachings of Jews in Iraq and the Land of Israel. Once again, it is the opening of the Hebrew manuscripts of St. Petersburg to scholarship that has served to advance this study, which has particular importance for the Tiberian pronunciation of Hebrew, which is critical in the study of the Massoretic tradition of the Hebrew Bible.

In "Banner, Miracle, Trial?: Medieval Hebrew Lexicography Between Facts and Faith," Albert van der Heide traces the treatment of the Hebrew verb "nissa" by medieval Jewish grammarians and exegetes as a way of tracing the development of their understanding of the Bible's exact meaning. A parallel effort on the part of Christian clerics is detailed in Judith Olszowy- Schlanger's "The Knowledge and Practice of Hebrew Grammar Among Christian Scholars in Pre- Expusion England: the Evidence of 'Bilingual' Hebrew-Latin Manuscripts." The author begins with the problem that, despite Christian interest in the Hebraica veritas, there apparently existed "virtually no pedagogical aids or manuals" in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries designed to help Christians master Hebrew (107). This dearth is only partially to be explained by the availablility of Jewish teachers. The authors concludes that the teaching of Hebrew was essentially oral in nature (126).

Section III, "Prayer and Poetry" includes Michael Weizman's speculations on "The Origin of the Qaddish" and its Sitz im leben in late antiquity. It continues with Joseph Yahalom's "The Journey Inward: Judah Halevi Between Christians and Muslims in Spain, Egypt and Palestine." In this article, Yahalom situates Halevi's poems in the context of his travels from Christian to Muslim Spain, and his journey thence toward Jerusalem. Among the many interesting biographical details noted by the author is a recently discovered fragment of a letter of Halevi's (again from a St. Petersburg manuscript!) which states that he sought, in his pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to bring about the conditions which would result in a revelation of the Divine Presence (Shekhina) (147).

Masha Itzhaki, in "Abraham ibn Ezra as a Harbinger of Changes in Secular Hebrew Poetry," seeks to rekindle interest in this aspect of ibn Ezra's oeuvre, which she claims is relatively neglected by scholarship (149). She notes ibn Ezra's avoidance of hitherto typical themes of secular Hebrew poetry (love, passion and wine), and highlights his innovation of the "dispute" poem. Wout van Bekkum seeks to rescue from near oblivion the poetry of Spanish Jews in the last century prior to their Expulsion in his "O Seville! Ah Castile!: Spanish-Hebrew Dirges From the Fifteenth Century." The anti-Jewish riots of 1391 are echoed in much of this literature, which has also been enriched by new material from the St. Petersburg archive.

Adena Tanenbaum, in her "On Translating Medieval Hebrew Poetry," emphasizes the difficulties inherent in translating such highly nuanced and culturally-complex verse, and examines different approaches that have been taken in its translation over the past century.

The articles contained in Part IV, "The World Outside," attempt to deal in various ways with the interplay between Jews and Christians in the Middle Ages. William Horbury's "Medieval Hebrew Polemical Literature" examines the purposes and audience of medieval Jewish polemics against Christianity. He concludes that, in their literary form, their purpose is largely an internal one -- to promote Jewish self-identification -- but that they are also a reflection of real oral arguments between Jewish and Christian protagonists (205).

Another form of Jewish-Christian interchange is examined by Colette Sirat, in her "Biblical Commentaries and Christian Influence: the Case of Gersonides." In it, she makes the case for Christian scholastic influence on medieval Jewish Biblical exegesis, particularly that of Levi b. Gershon (Gersonides). She argues that Gersonides copied the form (though not the content) of the scholastic approach to the "sacred page" (223).

Irene Zweip similarly looks for outside influences in "Jewish Scholarship and Christian Tradition in Late-Medieval Catalonia: Profiat Duran and the Art of Memory." In examining Duran's treatise on the art of memory, she discovers a "striking analogy" with Petrarch's Secretum, though she is ultimately unable to decide whether the influence was due to Duran's direct access to Christian writings or to intermediary oral sources.