ghoti arrived Saturday evening, and we had dinner and talked until havadalah (just before 11 pm, at this latitude and a week from the solstice). And then we did a proper tikkun leyl Shavuot, staying up all night studying, like I haven't done for absolutely years.
We read Ruth from an edition given to me by hatam_soferet. It was published for a certain kind of Christian seminarian who needs to take a course in Biblical Hebrew, with a very literal translation and about a page of explanations of grammar for each verse, and minimal exegetical interpretation. We noticed that the verb דבק, to cleave, came up a lot – I knew it was there in 1:14, and I pointed out the parallel with Genesis 2:24, but then the verb reappearing when talking about Ruth's interactions with Boaz' workers, where a romantic interpretation seems much less likely. But in any case, Ruth is a very sweet thing to read with a girlfriend.
And then ghoti taught me Tobit, which is Apocrypha for us though canon for Catholics, meaning that I'd never actually read it before. Given it's largely about levirate marriage, it's really very topical for Shavuot! It seems like it isn't clearly known whether the book was originally Hebrew or Aramaic, and we couldn't quickly find a version in either language, so we just worked from translation; my language skills for books from that sort of era are pretty patchy anyway. We also compared the genealogy of Perez given in Ruth to the one in Matthew, and I learned the surprising fact that the latter includes Rahab as Boaz' mother.
By the time we'd gone through Ruth slowly, and Tobit, which is longish, and taken several breaks for caffeine and ice-cream, it was getting to the low-brain small hours. I read the Torah portion for Shavuot, which is Exodus 19-20, mostly the Ten Commandments. We were a bit too tired for very in depth discussion by then, and the commandments are almost over-familiar. And we ended with a little bit of Hebrew practice where I got ghoti to pick out the first four verses of the Tower of Babel story while we were waiting for it to be light enough for Shacharit.
After we'd slept most of the morning, as you do, we went to shul and I taught a little seminar based on R' Norman Solomon's work on converting to Judaism in the Talmudic period. It was very lucky to find that extract online, but I had mostly remembered the similar shiur I learned with him in Oxford in c 2000. Alongside a couple of Mishnah texts, Bava Metzia on not oppressing the stranger, and the ever-delightful Yadayim on why the prohibition on Moabites converting doesn't apply. What I couldn't find was the midrash, which I thought was in Chronicles but apparently not, about people challenging King David on the grounds that he was descended from a forbidden Moabite convert, and his riposte that only male Moabites count. We had some pretty good discussion about what standards should be set for potential converts, and also the other shades of meaning of גר, particularly people who are affiliated to the Jewish community, whether through marriage or just inclination, but don't choose to convert to Judaism; we have quite a few such people in the community here. People asked me a lot of great questions, though some that were way beyond the scope of what I wanted to teach, like "how can Torah allow slavery?" and "how did we move from Temple ritual to home and synagogue?"
Had about 20 people there, and quite a diverse group too. And they brought a really great range of cheesecakes too, a few of the traditional Eastern European baked ones, a refrigerated lime and mascarpone one, ghoti's mostly 17th century recipe. Plus blintzes and a dish made by GS's Filipina friend from sticky rice and coconut. If we were more sensible sorts of people, we'd have got an early night after all that, but actually we stayed awake talking about all kinds of things.
And next week we're all going to Limmud, and everybody is being really enthusiastic about the conference, including partners' children. I mean, they're right to be excited, Cambridge Limmud in particular has a great young people's programme. But in general I'm really happy that my people are coming to Limmud with me.
Also, this is probably a good time to ask: I really ought to have a paper English Bible; does anyone have any recommendations? It might as well be a Christian Bible since if I'm looking at Tanach I'll mostly just stick to Hebrew. I further realized that my trusty old Soncino Chumash is really quite hard to read; I didn't really start reading Chumash until my Hebrew was fluent enough not to be bothered by the fact that the text is squashed into too little space and the distinctions between ד ,ר and ה are not as clear as they might be. This is really a problem for teaching from it, whether it's bar mitzvah students or people like ghoti. So I think it's time I acquired a more modern Chumash; tell me what's out there with good translations, good typography and preferably commentary that won't make me want to claw my eyes out?
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