Monday 30 July 2018

Baruch Dayan HaEmes: Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Elman Z"L

From RRW 
We regret to inform you of the passing of YU faculty member,

Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Elman, Z"L

The levaya will take place tomorrow, Monday, July 30, at 12:30 p.m. at,

Kehila Chapel
60 Brighton 11th St.
Brooklyn, NY 11235

Professor Yaakov Elman was a professor of Judaic studies at the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies at Yeshiva University. He was also a director of the Friedberg Genizah Project.
Professor Elman was the author of The Living Torah, a two-volume translation and commentary on Nevi’im, together with diagrams and maps. He was the editor of Hazon Nahum: Studies in Jewish Law, Thought and History Presented to Dr. Norman Lamm on
the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday. Prof. Elman published widely in the field of Talmud, and his research interests include rabbinic theology, unfolding systems of rabbinic legal exegesis and the cultural context of classical rabbinic texts.
For the past five years, Rabbi Elman divided his time between Yeshiva and Harvard University, where he was an associate of the Center for Jewish Studies, and conducted research on the relation of the Babylonian Jewish community of Talmudic times to the surrounding Middle Persian culture and religions.
Rabbi Elman received his MA in Assyriology from Columbia University and his PhD in Talmud from New York University.

May Hashem comfort the family with all those who mourn for Zion and Jerusalem.

Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary
Glueck Center for Jewish Study, Suite 632
500 West 185th Street
New York, NY 10033

Sunday 29 July 2018

Baruch Dayan HaEmes: Rabbi Dr. Meir Fulda '59R Z"L

From RRW  
We regret to inform you of the passing of our esteemed faculty member and Rebbe, our chaver,

Rabbi Dr. Meir Fulda, Z"L
[YUHS 48, YC 52, RIETS 59, BRGS 79]

Husband of Naomi.
Father of Joseph and Aviva.

The Levaya in Eretz Yisrael will take place IY"H at 3 p.m. tomorrow, Monday, following the arrival of LY002. (scheduled to arrive at 11:50 a.m.) at,

Segula Cemetery
Petach Tikva

(not on Rechov Harishonim as previously written)

Tel: 9311328 or 0537791164

Shiva in Eretz Yisrael: Details to follow.

A Holocaust Survivor, Rabbi Dr. Manfred Fulda was associate professor of Talmud. During his long and distinguished professional career at YU, Rabbi Fulda taught at YUHSB and YUHSG, was Principal at YUHSG, and served as chair of the division of Jewish studies for nearly three decades. He was Associate Professor of Talmud. Until his passing, he continued to teach Talmud at the Isaac Breuer College of Hebraic Studies (IBC) and Stern College for Women. He was a towering presence in JSS for more than three decades. He was awarded the Presidential Medallion by President Richard M. Joel at the 2017 Commencement. In 2016, Rabbi Fulda was the guest speaker at the YU event marking the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht. Read more here.
In 2002, the Rabbi Dr. Manfred Fulda Scholarship was established by Walter and Randie Lowenthal as a personal endowment for both Yeshiva College and Stern College students.

May Hashem comfort the family with all those who mourn for Zion and Jerusalem.

Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary
Glueck Center for Jewish Study, Suite 632
500 West 185th Street
New York, NY 10033

What Would Have Happened if Yitzhak Rabin Had Lived?

From RRW

There seems evidence here that Rabin could be abrasive and dismissive at least at times.

Thursday 26 July 2018

Book Review: The Grammar of God

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First   

                      Book Review:  The Grammar of God (2015) by Aviya Kushner

       Aviya Kushner grew up in Monsey. All members of her family had a strong Hebrew background. They  debated constantly about subjects like the meaning of particular Hebrew roots, and the impact of the different grammatical stems and tenses, and nekudot, etc., etc.  In 2002, at age 28 she ends up in Iowa in a graduate school program for writers. There she happens to take a Bible course. That meant studying the Bible in English for the first time.         
      Although her teacher was very knowledgeable, Aviya immediately realized that her teacher could not read the Bible in Hebrew. (Only one other student in the class could.) As Aviya sat through the classes, she was constantly surprised and even shocked by what was being quoted from the English Bible in class, the translations not at all being in accord with the Hebrew Tanach that she grew up with. While she attempted to remain silent, her facial expressions would constantly betray her. Her teacher would  ask: “Why are you so surprised?” She would respond: “I would have to explain so much to you about Hebrew for you to understand why this translation is surprising.” Aviya explains that she took notes on what surprised her, and those notes became letters that eventually became essays. Eventually, those essays became her master’s thesis. One day, her teacher suggested to her that she write this all up as a book. But her teacher asked her to keep one thing in mind throughout: Even if the English translation was inaccurate at times, the Bible in English is holy to millions and millions of people. 
        So that is the background to this book. The book has different chapters, each focusing on different problematic areas in the English translations. But this is not a scholarly book. It is a very easy one to read.  The author also makes a point of reminding us of the statement by the Hebrew poet Chaim Nachman Bialik that a translation is like “a kiss through a handkerchief.”
       I will now provide some examples of items that she discusses, i.e., matters that are lost or transformed in English translation. (Admittedly, a lot of this is obvious to us, but it still bears repeating.)
       For example, the names for God. When we see “Elokim” in Hebrew, we know that it has the form of a plural. But in many English translations, the translation is merely “God.” You lose a lot in this manner! As to the reason for the plural, a widely cited explanation is that of Ibn Ezra on Gen. 1:1. He writes that the plural form for God’s name is merely a “derekh kavod,” and that other languages have something similar as well when a younger addresses an elder. The proof that multiple Gods are not intended is that “bara” (=create) in Gen. 1:1 is in the singular form.
       What about the name “A-do-nay”?  One thing I learned from this book is that this seems to be a plural form as well! It means “my masters.” (“Adoni” would mean “my master.”) I am 59 years old and have recited “Barukh Atah A-Do-Nay” myriads of times, and I did not realize this! (Note that “Barukh” and “Atah” are singular, confirming that here too the plural for God’s name is only being used as a form of respect.)

            How about the name for the first man, “Adam”? In reading the Bible in Hebrew, we all realize that this name is connected to the word “adamah,” from where Adam was created (see Gen. 2:7). This connection is lost in any English translation.
             Aviya spends a lot of time on the issue of idiomatic expressions involving the body. She writes: “It seems that often whatever is bodily is blurred, transformed in translator’s hands. The body, it seems, is a battleground in translation. The ancient Bible often relies on body parts in its metaphors and descriptions, which is not necessarily a contemporary way of viewing the world. Translated literally, these metaphors can seem awkward, bizarre, or overly dramatic in English.”  For example, “charon apo” is often translated merely as “his wrath.” But literally it means “his burning nose.” Actually, a better literal translation is “his burning face.” “Af” in Hebrew is likely a metaphor for face, since it is the most prominent section of the face. (When Gen. 3:19 tells us that Adam will eat bread with “zeiat apekha,” the sweat is coming from his face, not his nose.)  
         What about “erekh apayim”? Literally it means “long of nose” or “long of face.” It is an idiom for a God who is slow to anger. If “slow to anger” is the translation used, the interesting image is lost. 
        (By the way, “af”=nose, really comes from Aleph-Nun-Pe. The nun dropped out in this word. That is why we have the word “hitanaf” at Deut. 1:37.) 
        What about “yerekh Yaakov” at Ex. 1:2? Should the translation describe that the Israelites come from the “loins” of Jacob? Many just refer to the “descendants” of Jacob.
          The author has a lot of fun with “sarei misim” at  Exodus 1:11. The King James version (from the year 1611) has “taskmasters.” But should it not be “tax masters”? But what exactly is the “tax” in bodily slavery?
         Finally, at Exodus 2:24, God hears the Israelites cry out from their slavery. Verse 2:25 follows: “God saw Bnei Yisrael, va-yeda Elokim.” The King James version translates the last two words as: “God had respect unto them.” The author writes that this translation “enslaves us all in an incorrect translation of what slavery was like: for man and for God.”  I would add: How can any of us respect the King James version on any verse after seeing this!
        (I did learn from this book that the King James version puts in italics any explanatory words that they added that were not in the original Hebrew.)
           Most interesting is the portrait of the author’s mother. Aviya tells us that her mother had a life of the night at her dining room table. After everyone went to sleep, she would sit there in her nightgown with a large milkshake and several piles of ancient dictionaries and would read Akkadian (the language of ancient Assyria and Babylonia). She would read their poetry, stories, and legal documents (e.g., Code of Hammurabi from the 18th century B.C.E).  (The author admits that hers was not a typical Monsey family!) The ancient texts and all of their grammar brought joy to her mother.
        Her mother never finished her PHD on an aspect of Biblical grammar, because her mentor at the University died. With five children, she could not have easily relocated to another PHD program in another city. But she was able to get a teaching position at SUNY Rockland for 20 years teaching Hebrew.
       Bottom line: If you enjoy my column, I think you will enjoy this book. (As to myself, I enjoyed the book as well because I got a few ideas for future columns from it!)
    P.S. I found out about this book because Zal Suldan sent me an article that the author wrote. The article was all about the importance of the nekudot to her family. Then I found a major error in the nekudot in the article (which may not have been the author’s fault but the fault of an editor). The article referred to an important book on the Haggadah as “Haggadah Shelomoh.”  I realized that the reference was to R. Menachem Kasher’s “Haggadah  Shelemah” (=same Hebrew letters, but different nekudot!) This error intrigued me enough that it got me interested in the book!
  P.P.S. I mentioned above that a widespread view is that “A-do-nay” is a plural form that literally means “my masters.” See, e.g., Encyclopaedia Judaica 7:679 (original edition). Admittedly, the nun in “A-do-nay” has a kametz under it, while the normal vowel under the third root letter in this plural form is a patach. It is possible that the purpose of this unusual vocalization was to avoid the understanding of the word “A-do-nay” as a plural. I am open to hearing from readers on this matter.
Mitchell First can be reached at He gets up in the wee hours of the morning with the Mandelkern and Even-Shoshan concordances on his desk. (But unlike the author’s mother, no milkshakes.)

Sinat chinam - The Jewish Chronicle

From RRW 

Tuesday 24 July 2018

Rabbinical Alliance of America Supports Passage of the Nation-State Bill in Israel

From RRW 
Contact: Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik  

Rabbinical Alliance of America 
Supports Passage of the Nation-State Bill in Israel

The Rabbinical Alliance of America — Igud HaRabbonim, with a membership of over 950 Orthodox Rabbis — supports the passage of the Nation-State bill under consideration in the Knesset that will codify already-essential elements of Israel's make-up. These elements include the country's predominantly Jewish character and balance; its right to rely on Jewish law in addition to the range of legal systems to which its courts refer; its use of Hebrew as the main language of cultural discourse; and its ability to continue to serve as the religious and cultural center of the Jewish people worldwide.

Additionally, this bill's passage will help protect Israel and Israelis from the anti-religious coercion and judicial manipulation that, in the name of humanism and liberalism, trample on basic Jewish principles. Jews in Israel and throughout the world support the office of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel in its national role. The RAA/Igud refuses to sit by silently while militant elements of Diaspora and Israeli secularists — aided by the progressive streams of Judaism —manipulate Israel's liberal activist courts to divest the country of its religious-humanistic values rooted in the ancient Jewish tradition.  

Rabbi Yehoshua S. Hecht, Presidium Chair of the RAA/Igud, stated, "Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people. It must remain a beacon of decency where family values and basic standards, held sacred by the Jewish people for millennia, are not trampled upon with impunity."

Rabbis from across North America, represented by the RAA/Igud, raise their voices in support of an Israel that heeds both the Prophetic and Rabbinic calls for justice and compassion for the "home-born" and "stranger" alike. The nearly 1,000 rabbis of the RAA/Igud urge Israel's elected officials to act responsibly and fairly in their ongoing negotiation over the details of the Nation-State law. The RAA/Igud looks to Israel to continue modeling the best of the Jewish spirit. The miraculous Jewish state must represent all that is hopeful and possible in our time. The time is overdue to pass a Nation-State bill that guarantees that Jewish communities will never again suffer destruction and exile. 

The RAA/Igud continues to pray for the peace of all who desire peace and for all who work to bring understanding and truth to a world so conflicted and splintered. May the One who makes peace in His heavens make peace upon us and upon all Israel, Amen.


Sharon Shapiro-Lacks on Banning Plastic Straws

The issue of plastic straws is one that is very topical at this time. For environmental reasons, there are various places in the world -- including, in the U.S., the city of Seattle -- which are banning them. On one level, such undertakings raise the halachic issue of what we should do in response to environmental concerns -- a true Torah topic that is, often, not considered. On this level alone, we should know of this issue.

In this particular case, though, there is a further Torah issue of, perhaps, greater magnitude, as this ban impacts negatively on many disabled individuals who need such straws in order to efficiently consume liquids. Even in our pursuit of good undertakings, we must always consider how such actions may impact on other human beings. This is the sensitivity that is demanded of us by such mitzvot as V'ahavta l'rei'cha kemocha, [Love your neighbour as yourself]. The call of Torah is always to see all sides.

It is, in this regard, that we invite you to watch this video from Sharon Shapiro-Lacks the Executive Director of Yad Hachazakah-JDEC

Yad Hachazakah-JDEC is, of course, an organization with which Nishma has a close connection in that I serve as its Rabbinic advisor. (It should be noted that Sharon is also the wife of Nishma's U.S. Coordinator, Wayne Lacks.)

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Sunday 22 July 2018

Lessons from Mockingbird: A Tisha B'Av Thought

From RRW

"  What’s extraordinary about Atticus is that he stands against the majority without demonizing his opponents."

"A refusal to demonize our adversaries, whether in communal disagreements or national politics, is always worth striving for, but it takes on added poignancy as we approach Tisha b’Av, when we mourn for the destruction of the Temple and the numerous tragedies that followed."

 Learning to disagree in an agreeable fashion...

Tisha B’Av: Does Loneliness Really Bother Us?

From RRW 

Rabbi Elchanan Poupko's latest article.

Tisha B’Av: Does Loneliness Really Bother Us?

This Motzie Shabbos we will be reading the book of Eicha, Lamentations. The book begins with the words:Eicha Yashva Badad—how did she sit lonely?!” We lament the terrible loneliness the Jewish people experienced following the destruction of the first and second Temple. This can me the loneliness we experience as part of our distance from Hashem, or any other kind of loneliness that followed the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
This lamentation to give us time to think loneliness in our own surrounding and examine whether or not it really bothers us. Did we ever ask ourselves how lonely the children whose father died or left feel in tight-knit communities? Have we ever been bothered by how lonely the family which is Sephardic/ Ashkenai/ Russian/ Bukharian/ or anything that is not us feel when they move into our neighborhood and were never welcomed in?
I am reminded of the time I approached someone in Shul and asked if he would like to join us for a meal. His eyes teared up. He said: ”I live here now for a few years and no one has ever invited me. By now I am married with a family so we can’t just come over but thank you.” Loneliness hurts, and you never know who is feeling it.
We read more than thirty(!) references in the Torah to being extra kind to the orphan, the convert, and the widow. As a rabbi I hereby assure anyone reading this article that looking out for the orphan, convert, and the widow is far more important than going to minyan in the morning, lighting Chanukkah candles, and even separate seating at weddings. Can we all just check for a moment how many converts we know? How many converts are we calling before Yom Tov when it is a mitzvah mide’oraysa to do so?
Can we all stop for a moment and ask ourselves how many widows we know? Can we ask ourselves what we do for widows, which according to many poskim including the Taz on Shulchan Aruch includes divorced women, in our community?
How many orphans are our children friends with? Or do we just pretend they don’t exist? “Eicha Yashva Badad.” We lament the loneliness of Klal Yisrael, but do we really? We all know how difficult it can be for people from difficult backgrounds to get their kids into schools, never mind get Shidduchim, or feel welcome in our shuls. “Eicha Yashva Badad”
Can we ask ourselves what we have done to make sure that the already painfully lonely existence of singles does not become even worse? I met once a wonderful young lady who lived in a large Jewish community. She was already in her thirties, which means she had been trying very hard to get married for at least ten years. As she walks into her doctor’s office the receptionist calls out in front of the whole office:” oh, here you are Ms. Schwartz(not her real name), so nu, did you decide already that you want to get married?” The young lady turned around, left the office, and burst out in tears. Thousands of young singles live among us leading invisible lives. We don’t know who they are, we don’t acknowledge them, and if they are lucky we occasionally remember them so we can red them a shidduch. “Eicha Yashva Badad “
I would like to refer to the young people among us but not as many do call them:” youth at risk”, they are not more at risk than anyone else, they just don’t fall into the fold. Who would like to be seen with any of them? They are often isolated and disregarded rather than be embraced lovingly as they should be. They can’t find mentors and friends to talk to as people fear the stigma of spending too much time with them and so the name we call them becomes self-fulfilling. Suddenly they are at risk. Not their choice. Our choice. “Eicha Yashva Badad “
So as we sit this Tisha Be’Av and lament how lonely we are without the she’china, let’s stop for a moment and think of all those whose loneliness is exacerbated by our indifference. Let us think of all those whom Hashem had explicitly asked us to welcome, and let us pledge that they will never be lonely again so that next year, we don’t need to sit on the floor and say again, “Eicha Yashva Badad “

Friday 20 July 2018

REMA O"CH 551:1 Bigdei Shabbat on Shabbat Hazon

From RRW
The Rema paskens to NOT wear bigdei Shabbat on Shabbat Hazon

Does this not constitute Aveilut b'Pharhesya?

A possible approach is as follows
A household of Aveilim only may remove their shoes on Shabbat and say Birkat Aveilim.

All those present are fellow aveilim ergo no one is being disturbed

It stands to reason that when the entire community are Aveilim, there is no inyan of Pharhesya even on Shabbat

EG those in Shiva may attend Keenot On The 9th of Av.

Parshas Devarim - Let Us Approach with Care

From RRW

Rabbi Eliyahu Safran on the parsha -- hope you enjoy
Baltimore Jewish Life | Parshas Devarim - Let Us Approach with Care

Thursday 19 July 2018

The winner out of the controversial Trump-Putin summit? Bibi Netanyahu

From RRW

How can one person make a difference?

From RRW

This article concerns the actions of Rabbi Mordechai Green ztz"l, a true ben Torah, who passed away this week. My wife, Naomi, and I had the pleasure of knowing and learning with Rabbi Green and we are truly saddened by this loss. The events in this story truly show us how Hashem assists those who are devoted to His service which Rabbi Green clearly was.

Wednesday 18 July 2018

Liturgical Parallels between Tisha B'Av and Purim

 From RRW 

Previously posted around Tisha b'av 2009, then reposted March 6, 2011, on Nishmablog.

The following outline lists some of the parallels, primarily liturgical, between Purim and the 9th of Av.

1 Maariv - Nighttime 
     A. Only Megillos that are read at night.
          - Eicho
          - Esther
     B. Similar Structure with Kaddish Tiskabel and v'Ato Kodosh

2 Shacharis - Omissions
     A.  Purim - A "miracle" Holiday , no Hallel (Megilloh instead)
     B.  9th of Av -  A Fast Day  without   
          -  Selichos (Kinnos instead)
          -  Tachanun & Ovinu Malkeinu

3 Shacharis - Chazoros Hashatz
     A. Only weekday repetitions of the Amido having Krovos/Krovatz 
at least in the common Ashkenaz / Yekke Litrugy
4 Preceding Shabbos 
     A. Purim preceded by Zachor
     B. 9th of Av preceded by Chazon

5 The Tanach's Pattern - Special Torah and Haftoro readings are read on the Shabbos 
before the event, with the corresponding Megilloh on the day of the event.
     A. Purim - The Amalek Connection
          -  Torah- Zachor 
          -  Navi - Haftoro of Zachor (Shaul's War with Amalek in Shmuel)
          -  Kesuvim Esther
     B. 9 Av - The  Eicho Connection
          -  Torah - Eicho in Devorim
          -  Navi - Eicho in the Haftoro of Chazon (Yeshaya)
          -  Kesuvim - Eicho

6. Month-wide 
     A. Mishenichnos Adar Marbin b'Simcho
     B. Mishenichnos Av M'maatin b'Simcho

7. Miscellaneous
     A. Some Pesukim in Esther are read to Eicho's melody (in particular Asher 
     B. Chiyuv S'eudo vs. Chiyuv Taanis
     C. Similar Minhogim not to work


Tuesday 17 July 2018

JVO Blog: The Call of Introspection

Jewish Values Online ( is a website that asks the Jewish view on a variety of issues, some specifically Jewish and some from the world around us -- and then presents answers from each of the denominations of Judaism. Nishmablog's Blogmaster Rabbi Wolpoe and Nishma's Founding Director, Rabbi Hecht, both serve as Orthodox members of their Panel of Scholars. Nishmablog, over the years, has also featured the responses on JVO by one of our two Nishma Scholars who are on this panel. 

The Jewish Values Online website now offers a new service -- a blog which presents comments on various topics within Judaism and the Jewish world. See Rabbi Hecht is also a blogger on this blog.

His latest post

The Call of Introspection

is now available at

A link is also up on Facebook at 


Monday 16 July 2018

Monday 9 July 2018

Jonathan Haidt: The Righteous Mind

From RRW 
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

Thesis:  People are hopelessly mired in confirmation bias.

Peer Review

Sunday 8 July 2018

The Earliest Surviving Texts of the Torah

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First   

                                  The Earliest Surviving Texts of the Torah

                Many of us are aware that the oldest complete Hebrew Bible is the Leningrad Codex which dates to the early 11th century. It is currently stored in the National Library of Russia in the city of St. Petersburg (formerly called Leningrad). Earlier than this, we have the Aleppo Codex which dates to the 10th century.
                In the Aleppo Codex, most of the Pentateuch is now missing, due to anti-Jewish riots that broke out in Aleppo (Syria) on Dec. 1 1947 after the U.N. voted to partition Palestine. The rioters broke into the synagogue and burned many Torah scrolls. They also broke into the locked iron chest that housed the Codex. After the riots, only 295 of the original 490 pages of the  Codex remained. In 1958, what remained was smuggled to Israel.  We do not know precisely what happened to the missing pages. Probably most were burned in the riots. Periodically, individual Jews acknowledge possessing fragments.
                 Another notable early text of the Pentateuch is British Museum Codex Or. 4445. This text dates to the early 9th century and has most of the Pentateuch. We also have other texts of the Pentateuch from the 10th century, aside from the Aleppo Codex.
                If we go 1000 years prior to this, we have the Dead Sea Scrolls. Among these scrolls, there are approximately 220 texts that are Biblical texts (usually very fragmentary). These texts date from the third century B.C.E. to the early 2nd century C.E. If we look at the totality of the texts, we have texts covering large portions of the Torah and the Nach. (There are no texts at all from the book of Esther, but this may just be a fluke.) We also have Biblical texts from the first to second centuries C.E. from Masada and a few other sites.
               But what about the centuries between the 3rd century and 8th century C.E.?  Let us focus on texts of the Pentateuch. Until I recently read two articles on this subject, I could not name any texts of the Pentateuch from this period. Usually I find that I have difficulty squeezing all the relevant material into these short columns.  Here our sources are so few that I will not have this problem! The following is what we have from the Pentateuch during these intervening centuries (a period referred to as “the silent era” in terms of Biblical texts):
                1. A scroll found in 1970 at Ein Gedi that has the text of Leviticus chapters 1-2. It may originally have had more than that. The scroll was found in the synagogue there. The synagogue is dated to approximately 500 C.E. but carbon-14 testing reveals that the scroll dates to approximately 300 C.E. (Although found in 1970, it was only recently that the scroll was able to be read, due to the latest technological advances.)
               2. Texts known as the London sheet, and Ashkar-Gilson sheet 2. In recent years, when the latter was on display in the Shrine of the Book in Israel, it was realized by two Israeli scholars that the London sheet and Ashkar-Gilson sheet 2 derive from the same scroll. The scroll dates to around 700 C.E.  The surviving sheets contain Exodus 9:18-13:2 and 13:19-16.1. Where these sheets originated is unknown. Probably, they originated from the Cairo Genizah and then ended up on the antiquities market. (Most of the material from the Cairo Genizah dates from the 10th through 13th centuries.)
                    The London sheet was in the collection of Jews’ College in London for many years. It is now held in a private collection. The Ashkar-Gilson sheet is named for Fuad Ashkar and Albert Gilson, two American doctors who purchased the document along with others from an antiquities dealer in Beirut in 1972. Subsequently, they donated the documents they purchased to Duke University. Duke University put them on loan, temporarily, to the Shrine of the Book in Israel.
                The Ashkar-Gilson collection includes other old Torah texts as well. For example, a text, known as Ashkar-Gilson 14, includes the Decalogue in Deuteronomy chap. 5.  The collection has not been completely analyzed yet. Many of the texts are so faded that they can only be read utilizing the latest advanced technology.
                 4. We have the following early Biblical fragments which are known to have come from the Cairo Genizah: A) T-S NS 3.21: portions of Gen. 13-17; B) T-S NS 4.3: portions of Gen. 4-6, and C) T-S NS 4.8: portions of Gen. 25-26.   (T-S NS stands for “Taylor-Schechter New Series.)
                  A and B probably derive from the same scroll and date between 500 C.E. to 800 C.E.  C dates a bit later.
        Now let us ask the same question with regard to texts of the Pentateuch preserved in Greek translation and held by Christians over the centuries. Here we have much more. I am not doing justice to this subject and will leave out a lot, but it is important to mention three famous early Septuagint manuscripts:
          - Codex Vaticanus from the 4th century, held in the Vatican Library. It has a complete text of Tanach, although a few sections were added in the 15th century.
          -Codex Sinaiticus from the 4th century. The main body of the manuscript is in the British Museum in London. A small part is in Leipzig. The text includes much of the Nach. With regard to the Pentateuch, what has survived is only Gen. 23:19-24:46, and Num. 5:26-7:20 (with material missing even in these sections).
          -Codex Alexandrinus from the 5th century. It is held in the British Museum in London. For centuries it had been held in a library in Alexandria. It has an almost complete text of the Tanach.
           Codex Sinaiticus has an interesting story to it. There is a monastery in the Sinai called Saint Catherine’s Monastery. It is located adjacent to a mountain that many believed was Mount Sinai. (This monastery is a standard travel destination on tours to the Sinai. I was there in the 1970’s. This was before Israel returned it to Egypt. I am sure many of you have been there as well.) A German Biblical scholar named Constantin von Tischnedorf noticed pages from this old text when he visited the monastery in the middle of the 19th century. Over the course of many years and subsequent visits, he negotiated with the monks and paid them to take many of its pages out. He wrote up his story and claimed that it all started when he saw leaves of this parchment in a wastebasket; it was “rubbish which was to be destroyed by burning it in the ovens of the monastery.” The monks deny this and maintain that it was kept properly in their library. Most scholars today believe the monks and not Tischendorf and believe that he was just trying to tell a story that put the monks in a bad light so as to justify his duplicitous negotiations with them.
          I used the term “codex” before but did not define it. A codex is the earliest form of a book. The advantages of a codex rather than a scroll are ease of browsing and rapid reference, and use of both sides of the sheet. Christians adopted the codex format for the Bible and other writings as early as the 2nd century C.E. It took longer for us to adopt this format. We continued to write Biblical texts on scrolls. But the codex format was eventually adopted by Jews as well, starting around the 8th or 9th century. Most of the material from the Cairo Genizah represent fragments from codices, not scrolls.
     Most of the material for this article came from a 2018 article available on line by Gary A. Rendsburg: “The World’s Oldest Torah Scrolls,” and from an article in the Nov.-Dec. 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review by Paul Sanders. A useful work on this topic (although a bit out of date) is Ernst W├╝rthwein, The Text of the Old Testament (translated by Erroll Rhodes).
Mitchell First is can be reached at He admits that when he was taken on a tour of the Saint Catherine’s Monastery in the 1970’s, he had no idea that it was an important place in the history of the text of the Bible.