Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Wolpe, Cohen, and Iran

I haven't blogged on Roger Cohen's exceedingly puzzling columns on Iran, its Jews, and Israel (although I have posted a few comments on other people's blogs), but I would now point to Rabbi David Wolpe's account of Cohen's visit to his synagogue in Los Angeles to speak to the Iranian Jewish members of the synagogue (it's about half Iranian Jews): Rabbi David Wolpe: Clashing Over Iran and the Jews.

The encounter came about because of a suggestion by Jeffrey Goldberg that Cohen go there to meet with some Iranian Jews who were not constrained by the Iranian regime because they didn't live there anymore.

Well, Cohen doesn't appear to have learned anything from his conversation with these people. Compare Cohen's article with Wolpe's to see how there was definitely no meeting of the minds (as Cohen says).

I think that Cohen somehow became convinced of a mirage when he visited Iran - that the regime is really much more moderate than it presents itself to be. I don't know how he gained this impression, given the statements of Ahmedinejad and more to the point of Ali Khameini about Israel. He seems to have conflated his pleasant personal experiences in Iran with the political reality there.

I'm also in favor of the U.S. talking to Iran, rather than branding it a member of the Axis of Evil, but I think we should do so in full consciousness of who we're dealing with - a regime that oppresses its own people, that treats Jews as second-class citizens, that executes homosexuals, that persecutes Bahai's (who are not recognized as members of a legitimate religion), a regime that is very probably doing its best to acquire the atom bomb, a regime that supports Hezbollah and Hamas both morally and militarily. At this point, I think that it's in the interest of the United States to be talking to Iran, not fighting it. But our government should not have any illusions about the regime that it is talking to. I'm glad to see that Obama seems to have this same consciousness of the nature of the Iranian regime when he advocates talking to them.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

A new center for Judaic Studies - at Jerry Falwell's university

Jim West reports on the new Center for Judaic Studies at Liberty University, which was founded by Jerry Falwell. According to the Liberty Journal, Dr. Randall Price has just become the Executive Director of the new center. "In order for Christians to support Israel effectively, Price said, they need to understand both Jewish history and importance of the modern state of Israel in Biblical prophecy that God will fulfill. 'If we’re not supporting Israel, then we’re not … understanding [God’s] program as it unfolds in history. And in fact we’re probably on the wrong side of history because we’re not with God in the thing that matters most to Him,' Price said." (Emphasis mine) They're going to be raising money for an endowed chair and eventually want to establish a "separate School of Judaic Studies."

In no version of academic Judaic Studies that I'm aware of is the "importance of the modern state of Israel in Biblical prophecy" a legitimate subject of inquiry, except in analyses of contemporary evangelical theology of Israel. I suspect that Price and his cohort would receive a very cold reception if they propose papers on such a subject (except from an analytical perspective) at the annual meeting of the Association for Jewish Studies.

This is not a legitimate center for Judaic Studies - it is a sham, designed to deceive the students at Liberty University into thinking that they're really studying about Judaism. In actuality, they'll just be looking into a mirror of their own beliefs about Jews and Judaism.

I will be very curious to hear if they ever decide to hire a Jewish scholar of Jewish Studies to teach at this center (that is, one who has not already converted to evangelical Christianity).

Raphael Haim Golb arrested

Last summer I wrote about a panel on Women and Qumran at a conference on the Dead Sea Scrolls that was held at the Israel Museum. In the comments to the posting I received a couple of comments by "Museum Ethics Controversy" and "peter.kaufman2," claiming that there was a deliberate attempt at this conference and others to suppress the views of those disagreeing with the majority scholarly consensus that identifies the scrolls as having belonged to the library of the sect quartered at Qumran, who are generally agreed to be the Essenes whom Josephus wrote about (although there are important scholarly disagreements about this proposition).

It turns out that these comments were probably made by Raphael Haim Golb, who has been posting under many different aliases with the aim of forwarding his father's theories (Norman Golb) about the origins of the scrolls. Robert Cargill has documented Golb's aliases (by the way, in his article, he carefully does not identify the person who posted under all of the aliases, but instead demonstrates that all of the aliases were the same person), including Peter Kaufman. Raphael Golb was just arrested in New York City for identity theft, impersonation (of Dr. Lawrence Schiffman), and harassment.

The defendant, RAPHAEL HAIM GOLB, was arrested on charges of identity theft, criminal impersonation and aggravated harassment. The crimes in the Criminal Court Complaint occurred during the period of July to December of 2008.

The investigation leading to today’s arrest revealed that GOLB engaged in a systematic scheme on the Internet, using dozens of Internet aliases, in order to influence and affect debate on the Dead Sea Scrolls, and in order to harass Dead Sea Scrolls scholars who disagree with his viewpoint. GOLB used computers at New York University (NYU) in an attempt to mask his true identity when conducting this Internet scheme. He gained access to NYU computers by virtue of being a graduate of the university, and having made donations to its library fund.

For more information, see the article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which also explains how Cargill became involved in the issue.

Robert R. Cargill, an instructional technology coordinator at the University of California at Los Angeles's Center for Digital Humanities, has for the last two years been tracking the activity of an academic cyberbully who, writing under as many as 60 different aliases, has been waging a campaign to harass and defame opponents of Norman Golb's theories about the origin of the 2,000-year-old scrolls.

He said that by tracking the Internet protocol addresses attached to a number of e-mail messages, blog posts, and other Web activities, he was able to conclude with reasonable certainty that the perpetrator was working from a series of computers at the Bobst Library. (An IP address is a unique number, assigned by Internet-service providers, that identifies every connection to the Internet.)

Mr. Cargill, who has carefully refrained from making any direct accusations against Raphael Golb or his father, Norman Golb, declined to say whether he had assisted the district attorney's investigation.

Mr. Cargill began tracking the cyberbully—whom he calls the "Puppet Master"—two years ago after he himself was targeted. At the time, he was a doctoral student at UCLA helping to produce a film about Khirbet Qumran—the site in present-day Israel where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered—and its inhabitants for an exhibit on the scrolls at the San Diego Natural History Museum.

Mr. Cargill said it was then that the aliases began attacking him and his film, both in e-mail messages to his superiors and on various Web forums, for failing to give credence to Norman Golb's long-held theory about the origin of the scrolls and how they came to Khirbet Qumran.

I had wondered why the commenter was so vehement in his assertions on my blog. I rarely post on the Qumran scrolls and didn't expect to find a reply that dealt with such a specific issue of controversy.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef rules women may chant Scroll of Esther for men

This is a fascinating story and halakhic decision from the most prominent Sephardic rabbinic authority in Israel today. Rabbi Ovadia rules women may chant Scroll of Esther for men.

Women are allowed to chant the Scroll of Esther on behalf of men if no competent men are available, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of Israel's Sephardi community, ruled last week in a landmark decision liable to outrage many of his Ashkenazi counterparts.

Esther is traditionally read in synagogue on the holiday of Purim, which this year falls next week. And while some rabbis have long permitted women to read the megillah, or scroll, for other women, most do not allow women to read on behalf of men.

In his weekly Torah class on Saturday night, however, Yosef discussed the rules of reading the megillah and ruled that not only may women read it in front of men, but the men will thereby have fulfilled their obligation to hear the scroll read.

"It is permissible for a woman to fulfill this obligation on behalf of men," he said, because the obligation to hear the megillah falls equally on men and women.

Yosef said that most rabbis forbid women to read the megillah on the grounds that men are forbidden to listen to women sing, because a woman's singing voice can stimulate sexual arousal. However, he said, he does not agree that a woman chanting a sacred text is the kind of singing that stimulates sexual arousal. The analogy rabbis have drawn between singing and chanting sacred texts has "no value," he declared.

Yosef said women should not read for men if there are men capable of doing the reading. But in a "small community" where there are no men capable of chanting the text properly, it is permissible to bring a woman to read, he ruled.

Yosef also said that women could write a kosher Scroll of Esther - another task that most rabbis say can be done only by men. He said that ancient megillahs written by women have been found in Yemen, and it would be permissible for women to do so today as well, "to earn a living for their household," since women "were part of the miracle" that the megillah describes.

However, he admitted wryly, it is an open question "whether anyone would buy it."

In both cases, Yosef's rulings were specific to Megillat Esther and do not necessarily apply to other sacred texts, such as the Torah.

Jewish women mystics

I just sent in my paper proposal for the Society of Biblical Literature meeting this fall:

Female Jewish mystics in late antiquity: real women or literary construction?

The Egyptian Jewish philosopher Philo reports on the Therapeutics, a first-century C.E. Jewish monastic group with both male and female members, who engaged in allegorical interpretation of the Scriptures and ecstatic ritual celebrations. The Testament of Job, a retelling in Greek of the book of Job, describes Job’s three daughters as hymning God in the languages of the angels, and Joseph and Aseneth, an expansion in Greek of the biblical story of Joseph’s marriage to Aseneth, describes how Aseneth’s prayers invoke the angelic captain of the heavenly host. Why could these works depict the contact between women and angels in a positive fashion? What factors made it possible for the Testament of Job and Joseph and Aseneth to portray a mystical ideal for women as well as for men? Do these works offer any evidence that real women engaged in mystical contemplation, or do they simply explore the exegetical possibilities through literary depictions? Does Philo’s account of the Therapeutics provide any guidance towards the social setting of composition of the Testament of Job or Joseph and Aseneth, or hint towards the type of woman likely to be involved in mystical contemplation?

Last summer in Israel I did quite a bit of research on Joseph and Aseneth and discovered how thorny the questions are about its composition. There is a real difference of opinion between those who think that it's probably a first century BCE or CE Egyptian Jewish work, and those who think it's much later and may be of Christian provenance (Ross Kraemer argues that the book is later). One problem has to do with the manuscripts and figuring out the recensions and which one might be older than the others. Kraemer argues that a shorter recension is earlier and more original, while other scholars like Christian Burchard argue that the longer recension is the earlier one. I tentatively decided to follow their lead, because their arguments seemed better, but I have the sense that it's very hard to tell without devoting a couple of years to going through all the manuscripts and trying to figure out the process of recension myself, something which I don't have the time to do.

It is really a fascinating book, however, and regardless of when it was written or by whom, it's well worth spending time on it and trying to figure out what's going on in it.