Saturday, January 31, 2004

In my search for Talmudic references to the tumtum (an intersexed person), I came across a web site, "Come and See," that published significant parts of the Soncino Press's English translation of the Talmud. When I first found it I was grateful to be able to get fairly complete quotations (rather than the brief mentions from the other articles on the web--see previous entry). Then I delved a bit deeper to find out whether the Soncino Press had given permission to put their translation on line. I discovered through reading the page on copyright issues that Come and Hear had taken the Talmudic texts from a book called The Plot Against Christianity by Elizabeth Dilling, which apparently had published hundreds of pages from the Soncino Press edition. The Plot Against Christianity appears to be an anti-semitic screed containing many classic anti-Jewish tropes.

Elizabeth Dilling's book was published by Noontide Books, which has published David Duke's autobiography, My Awakening: A Path to Racial Understanding. David Duke is a former Ku Klux Klan leader who has attempted to make white supremacy and anti-semitism respectable.

The Come and Hear web site, aside from its on-line Talmudic publication, has many essays written by the web site owner, Carol A. Valentine, and others, under the heading of America under the Talmud. From the examination of one essay, Holy Atrocities and Judaism, it appears that the author examines the Talmud and other Jewish writings through a hostile, anti-semitic lens designed to see the worst in anything Jewish. Her primary worry seems to be that the United States is quickly becoming a nation governed by Talmudic law.

The author, Carol A. Valentine, owns another web site called Public Action, Inc.. One of the key topics on the web site is Waco and the Branch Davidians, an issue that galvanized the extreme right in this country in the 1990s. There are also articles by her and others that claim that the September 11 attacks were carried by NORAD (North American Aerospace Defence Command), remotely controlling the planes. The site also contains a listing of Holocaust Revisionist web sites.

When I started my research on the Come and Hear site, I thought I had found something very useful -- a web site that offered search capabilities for a significant part of the English translation of the Babylonian Talmud. Upon discovering, however, that the web publication of the Soncino Talmud translation was certainly not authorized by the Soncino Press, and in addition that the web master who put up this site uses it to attack Jews and Judaism, this web publication seems to me to be very much like the free or for-sale term paper sites -- it purports to present legitimately publicly available information in an easy-to-access form, but actually perpetrates a malicious fraud.

A couple of weeks ago I went to the Internet to see if I could find talmudic references to the tumtum and the androgynos (people with indeterminate sexual organs and hermaphrodites). When I put "Talmud" and "tumtum" into Google I came up with a number of web sites. Some of these web sites provide a cautionary tale for anyone using the web for research.

A very interesting and learned essay by Rabbi Alfred Cohen of Congregation Ohaiv Yisrael of Monsey, NY, was published in the Journal of Halacha & Contemporary Society 38 (Fall 1999).

An interesting site called "Born Eunuchs" has an extensive list of sources on eunuchs, including a selection from BT Yebamoth ch. 8 that mentions the tumtum. The translation is taken from the Soncino English translation of the Talmud.

Another site mentioned the tumtum as part of an extensive discussion of circumcision on

There was also a brief discussion of the talmudic passages on the tumtum on a site for transgender people of different religions, Forge Forward.

Another was an essay on intersexuality written by a Sally Gross on a site called Free Essays. The intent of this site seems to be to provide resources for students who wish to plagiarize papers or to buy term papers from them. Interestingly enough, this same essay is present on another free term paper site, Hot Papers.

And in turn, this essay seems to have formed part of a longer essay written by Sally Gross, with the same title, on another web site. This web site is called Blackfriars Publications, which calls itself the "House Imprint of the English Dominicans." My guess is that Sally Gross has no idea that part of her essay appears on the term papers sites.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Some good news from Iraq: Fewer Attacks Since Saddam Capture.
While looking through the referrers to my blog, I came across a referral from Rua da Judiaria, a Jewish blog in Portuguese. It looks very interesting -- and would be even more interesting if I knew Portuguese!

Monday, January 12, 2004

More on Lilith (I was reminded by Jim Davila's kind reference to my recent post on Lilith). Yesterday afternoon, as I was returning home from a visit to downtown Jerusalem (where I bought some interesting books -- one a fairly new biography of Shabbetai Zevi, aimed at a popular audience, another one a book in Hebrew on the Ba'al Shem Tov, entitled "Ba'al Shem -- the Besht: Magic, Mysticism, and Leadership," by Immanuel Etkes), I went one stop too far on my bus and ended up right in front of a bookstore that I've been wanting to go into. It is a bookstore for "sifre kodesh" (holy books) and "tashmishei kedushah" (religious articles would be the best English translation I think). I found another interesting book there, and a printed amulet against Lilith. It's based on earlier amulet texts.

On top it says "Protection for the child and the mother." It includes Psalm 121, an adjuration against the evil eye, and the story of Elijah's encounter with Lilith and her promise to flee when her names are inscribed on an amulet or recited. In the middle between these two texts there is a hand inscribed with divine names. Below that is another diagram with names, and an eye. Around the diagram it says, "Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah." On the right is written under that the names of the three protective angels, "Sani, Sansani, and Semangelof inside." On the left is written, "Lilith and all her band outside." Under both of these sayings is written, "You shall not permit a sorceress to live" three times.

When I was writing my article on Lilith I wanted to include in it that it was still possible to purchase these amulets, and lo and behold, I found one. It's on laminated paper with a hole in the top so that one can hang it over the baby's crib.

I just watched an almost two-hour report on Channel One ("Mabat Sheni") on the checkpoints (called "Tarbut ha-Machsomim"), both those on the Green Line and those between various places on the West Bank. Part of the program was a first-person report by a woman reporter from the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv who volunteered to serve reserve duty at the Kalandiya checkpoint between the Kalandiya refugee camp and Ramallah. She interviewed other soldiers and observed what happened at the checkpoint itself, both when Palestinians were permitted to cross and when they were not allowed to cross because for some reason there was a "seger" -- a closure. It was horrible to watch. I felt like crying, especially when watching children not being permitted to cross or seeing their elders humiliated at the checkpoint. She also interviewed a young Israeli woman soldier who was serving her regular army duty at this checkpoint -- and this woman felt awful about what she was doing at the checkpoint, and at the same time seemed to express the feeling that it was necessary.

Another part of the program was devoted to a report on an attack on soldiers and civilians that happened at another checkpoint, where eleven people were killed by Palestinian terrorists (about two years ago). They interviewed the mother of the Israeli commander at the checkpoint, who had been killed in the attack, his friends, and also a member of Knesset who was a friend of the family and was bringing the issue before the Knesset. This report was very sympathetic to the soldiers and the untenable position they had been placed in by the location of the checkpoint -- in a valley, where they were exposed to fire from above.

There was more on the program, but let me say that one of the things that impressed me was that this was made by, and shown on, Israeli Channel One, which is owned by the Israel Broadcasting Authority, a government agency. The wide-ranging nature of the debate in Israel about the morality of the occupation, about what to do with the settlements, about how to respond to Palestinian terrorism, about the need for a Palestinian state, etc., is quite refreshing to see here.

On Shabbat afternoon, I walked to East Talpiot to visit friends for Shabbat lunch. On my way, I walked across the Haas Tayelet -- a promenade that goes across the ridge that links East Talpiot with the older Talpiot neighborhood. The Tayelet looks down on the deep valley that contains many Arab villages, including Silwan right next to the Old City. To the north one can see the Old City of Jerusalem, including the Dome of the Rock with its golden dome. As I looked across the valley towards the east, I saw a huge wall rising -- in the village of Abu Dis. This was the much discussed "separation fence," which in some places is a high concrete wall. Apparently the very next day, on Sunday, the workers continued to build the wall, which splits Abu Dis into two parts and prevents those on the outside of the wall from entering their shops, schools, and health clinics on the inside of the wall.

As James Bennet writes in today's New York times, Overnight, a Towering Divide Rises in Jerusalem.

On the slope of the Mount of Olives, Abu Dis sits partly within Jerusalem's municipal boundaries, and negotiators once saw it as the possible capital of a Palestinian state.

The idea was that Abu Dis could do politically what it had already done socially and commercially: smudge the line between Jerusalem and the West Bank.

But distinctions are getting sharper here, not blurrier. As he often does, Mr. Sharon referred to Jerusalem on Sunday as "the eternal, united, and undivided capital of the Jewish people."

The new wall will actually divide Abu Dis, keeping part of it on the Jerusalem side, separating neighbors and relatives who live just blocks or even a street apart.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Since I came to Israel the weather has been beautiful -- clear blue skies, warm days, cool nights here in Jerusalem, but today the rain blew in. I was sitting in a cafe on Palmach St. today around noon watching the hail pile up on the sidewalk. Israel always needs rain, but the warm days have been a nice interlude, especially since I'll be returning to cold, snowy, gray Ithaca next week.

I've been writing an article on Lilith for the new Historical Encyclopedia of Jewish Women, being published by Shalvi Publishers on CD-ROM. It's been fun doing the research. If you are looking for a strange and amusing (and also misogynist) work of Hebrew literature, I recommend the Alphabet of Ben Sira, usually dated to somewhere from the 8th to the 10th century C.E. The historical Ben Sira (from 2d century B.C.E. Jerusalem) has nothing to do with the Alphabet named for him, but he appears in the work in a very strange context. The Alphabet is the first place that the tale of Lilith as the first wife of Adam appears. She, like him, was created from earth, and she and Adam quarreled over who would be on top. He said that he was superior to her, and she said that they were equal. She pronounced the name of God and flew away to the Red Sea. Adam complained to God, who sent three angels to bring her back. She refused, and said that she had been created only to kill newborn babies. The angels made a deal with her that they would not bring her back to Adam, if she agreed not to attack children who were protected by an amulet with the angels' names and forms on it.

The Alphabet of Ben Sira is published in English translation in Rabbinic Fantasies,, edited by David Stern and Mark Mirsky, along with many other interesting works of Jewish literature, such as the "Tale of the Jerusalemite," about a man who ends up married to the daughter of Ashmedai, the king of the demons.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Today I went up on the Temple Mount (called by Muslims the Haram al-Sharif), which has been opened for brief visits by tourists in the last few months. It used to be possible to enter the Al-Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, as well as the Islamic Museum, by buying a ticket for all three sites, but the Wakf (Islamic trust) is not permitting non-Muslims into the mosques now. A fairly long line of people waited at the bottom of the ramp leading up to the Maghrebi Gate, until at 12:30 p.m. the Israeli police permitted us to go up (after going through a metal detector and opening our bags to the guards). I wandered around the vast plaza by myself -- first going over to the Al-Aksa Mosque and trying to look inside through the open door, but people were coming out after prayers and it was impossible to see anything. Then I went up the steps to the plaza that surrounds the Dome of the Rock and walked around and looked at the beautiful tiles on the outside of the building. There were not very many people around -- mostly women with children, or children playing (several boys kicking around balls). In addition to the mosques, wide stairs, and smaller buildings whose names I didn't know, there are also parklike areas with trees on the plaza, where small groups of people gathered.

I encountered a pair of girls who, as I was leaning against the wall looking at the Dome of the Rock, looked at me shyly. We started to talk, but very haltingly, since my Arabic is minimal, as was their English. One of them seemed to disapprove of our conversation, and left her friend (she pointed to the Dome of the Rock and "that's ours -- it belongs to the Arabs"). Nadine and I tried to talk for a few minutes. She said she was in 7th grade, and was studying some English. I told her I knew English and Hebrew. She wanted to know where I was staying -- I tried to say "West Jerusalem" in Arabic but I don't think she understood me (I was probably saying it wrong). She smiled a lot and seemed to be enjoying talking to me. I was too, but I was also nervous, so I eventually ended the conversation and continued wandering around the plaza. I left the Mount by a different gate (the gate of the Chain) and then made my way back to the Western Wall plaza.

I had conflicting feelings about going up to the Temple Mount. On the one hand, I felt sad that there was no sign of the Temple that had once stood there (destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E.), and that it's not possible to pray there as a Jew. It felt like a place to which Jews were not welcome. On the other hand, it felt like a place of safety for the Muslims who were there -- a place where women and children could gather without being disturbed. In some ways, it felt like the Western Wall -- people could enter and linger with the secure feeling that this holy place was theirs, and that this was the place to go to speak to God. I wish that it were not the locus of so much conflict, and that anyone who wished could go there to pray or speak with God without creating an international incident.