A Diplomatic Edition of Mishna-Codex Kaufmann (A50)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Asian and Middle Eastern Studies


The study of Hebrew rests on Biblical Hebrew (BH) and Rabbinic Hebrew (RH), which together constitute the bedrock for tracing the evolution of this ancient and at the same time thriving language, whose history connects the Bible to modern Israel and Judaism. The former, thanks in part to a long history of Christian European scholarship, is grounded in a firm basis that consists of a "standard" Biblical text serving as a foundation for comprehensive and authoritative studies of the grammar and lexicon. The latter, by contrast, lacks these scholarly benefits: for the majority of Rabbinic texts, including the foundational text known as the Mishna (redacted ca. 200 CE and constituting the basis of the two Talmuds - compendia of Rabbinic law and lore), there exists no single, authoritative scholarly edition, as a direct result of which there are also no up-to-date, comprehensive, grammatical and lexical works. And yet, a proper historical interpretation of this text is crucially dependent on such tools. Our project will work towards ending this impasse by producing a critical edition of the single most important manuscript of the text of the Mishna - ms. Kaufmann A50 (ca. 11th century), long considered a particularly reliable source for the study of RH. The main text of ms. Kaufmann incorporates two distinct language traditions - that of the copyist of the consonantal Hebrew text, and that of the scribe who provided it with vowel diacritics whose purpose is to aid pronunciation. This picture is further complicated by numerous erasures and marginalia. Our critical edition will represent these textual/palaeographic complexities, and the several layers of textual development to which they bear witness, with maximal accuracy and fidelity, thereby presenting a recension that is as close as possible to an idealized, pristine text. This task will call upon the team's expertise in reading and editing ancient Hebrew manuscripts. Furthermore, with the aid of infra-red technology - a technique not heretofore applied to the study of the Mishna text - we will recover readings that have been scratched out in the course of the manuscript's evolution. On the basis of previous research, there is reason to believe that such readings are often superior to those by which they have been replaced, and they will therefore contribute to the ongoing interpretation of the Mishna.

The ultimate aim our edition is to facilitate the creation of a firm textual basis on which the study of RH may be pursued. This will represent a major improvement, perhaps even a systemic change, for research in this area. In addition, as it is becoming increasingly clear that the linguistic tradition of RH has more bearing on the various traditions of BH than has traditionally been supposed and that it can therefore contribute to a more nuanced picture of the latter's evolution, our work will be of interest to BH philologists. More broadly, it will be relevant to anyone wishing to engage with the development of Classical Judaism, for either scientific or cultural/personal reasons. Each of the members of the research team, according to their varied specializations, will promote the usefulness of the proposed edition as a basic research tool by producing articles in which the data that it provides are utilized - in the context of RH philology, the relationship between RH and the language of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the use of RH elements in medieval Hebrew poetry. In the second year of the project we will convene a seminar of key scholars in the field, in order to air methodological issues and to alert the research community to our work.

In sum, our research aims at producing a foundational work that will set research in RH philology on a more solid basis, by providing a comprehensive, authoritative and accessible edition of a primary witness of one of its core texts. In doing so, we hope to open up a new research vista as well as to invigorate public interest.

Planned Impact

Ms. Kaufmann A50, the basis of our research, is the single most important textual witness known today of the Mishna, which is a primary foundational document of Rabbinic Judaism. On it are based the two Talmuds - compendia of Rabbinic law and lore in which the cultural/religious edifice of traditional Rabbinic Judaism is grounded. It is therefore natural to expect that a new publication of a critical edition of the Mishna text will arouse interest among Jews oriented in some measure towards traditional Jewish religious culture. Moreover, modern historical experience teaches that a significant proportion of that part of the religious community that is actively interested in Jewish texts accepts "scientific" publications as valid and relevant to study within a religious context, employing them for this purpose. This audience can be addressed, in the (primarily English-speaking) West as well as in Israel, through various organs (which, by serving as interfaces, become beneficiaries themselves). In the former, information about the work can be disseminated through the network of "learning" organizations (the most prominent in the UK is "Limmud"), which cater to people seeking to nourish a religious orientation through the techniques - especially educational and intellectual/academic - offered by the larger, secular environment. In Israel, such interest is channelled into similar organizations, but here one may also simply work through the secular news media in order to publicize the edition - e.g., the weekend literary supplement of the daily newspaper "Haaretz." We have indicated this group of possibilities as "teaching material" in the "outputs" section of the application. Within the framework of such a religious orientation, the proposed edition might serve a vaguely legitimating function, by highlighting the antiquity of the text and the soundness of its linguistic tradition from a scientific point of view, which would be seen as confirming its status within the religious culture. Such a role would be welcome as part of the ongoing effort to build and maintain a bond between the scientific/enlightened and the religious/traditional, softening the tendency towards impersonal technicalism in the former and dogmatic extremism in the latter.

Furthermore, ms. Kaufmann is an early European Hebrew codex, and therefore a part of the history of the Medieval Jewish book. Many European and American libraries hold substantial collections of Hebrew codices, and such materials are frequently exhibited and/or written about in semi-popular works. A critical edition of ms. Kaufmann would therefore naturally be of interest, as an exemplary edition, for example, to librarians and manuscript curators working with medieval Hebrew manuscripts. The world of ancient manuscripts is an interface-point between strictly academic research and the cultural interests of the public in general and collectors in particular. Seen from this angle, the edition would of course raise the monetary value of the manuscript itself, but more generally, it would become a part of the extensive apparatus of critical editions, facsimiles, illustrated catalogues, etc. that surrounds the manuscript heritage, lending it prestige and therefore cultural weight. And in today's digital world of constant mutability the relative permanence represented by this heritage, along with other monuments from the past, plays an important stabilizing function. Thus, libraries would be the beneficiaries of our edition.

In our specific academic field of Rabbinic Hebrew philology we hope that our work will represent a milestone that will have a bearing on the basic conditions under which research is conducted. In the general environment we can have no expectations of having such a "game-changing" effect. However, we are confident that through the channels noted above, it will become a small part of the way in which academic research can make our world slightly more liveable.


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