Monday, May 09, 2005

Thalmvd exhibit at the YUM

There is a fantastic exhibit at the Yeshiva University Museum called PRINTING THE TALMUD: From Bomberg to Schottenstein. It is a

fascinating exploration into the world of Talmud study. The...exhibit illustrates how technological advances - the invention of the printing press more than 500 years ago and the impact of computers in recent decades - have transformed the ancient discipline of Talmud study into an accessible pursuit available to all. The exhibition features outstanding examples of early Talmud manuscripts and rare examples of early printed volumes, including one of the few extant complete sets of the printed edition of the famed Bomberg Talmud. This set is composed primarily of tractates printed in Venice between 1526 and 1531.

The Bomberg Edition in particular was simply breathtaking in beauty. It is six heavy volumes, beautifully printed on vellum, with exquisitely detailed white leather covers, complete with locks on each volume. On the cover of each one was embossed the word "Thalmvd".

Many other beautiful and important manuscripts and early printed editions are included in the exhibit. Of special interest are the Church edicts ordering the banning and burning of the Talmud and several texts that were censored by the Church Censor by means of writing over the offending words in black ink, through which the original text is still visible. One example to be seen is an Aggadah found early in Masechet Berachos that has the night divided into three mishmorot (watches), with God roaring like a lion as each mishmor passes from one to the next. Apparently the Church didn't appreciate the metaphor, for God's roars, kavyachol, are in frustration at what the non-Jews have done to Israel.

Of special interest is

a floor mosaic from the ancient synagogue at Rehov in Israel?s Bet Shean Valley. Dating back to the 6th century, this unique mosaic is the oldest preserved copy of a Rabbinic text, and the only example to survive from the time the Talmud was compiled and redacted.

I've heard about this mosaic for a long time and had only seen poor photographs of it. It is fascinating, to say the least, and one is struck with a sense of awe to see the only example of a Talmudic text from Talmudic times.

Another noteworthy part of the exhibit was the continuously playing videos of Talmud study around the world, particularly the exceedingly rare video of bachurim learning be-chavrusa and gathered around a rebbe in Ponevezher Yeshiva in 1932. Of note is the way in which they were dressed to the nines, wearing gray hats and ties while in the Beis Midrash (to say nothing of their chupps atop their head). I noticed that one bachur's hat was very shabby and faded, which would indicate something about their level of poverty. Still, the dedication to presenting yeshiva students as people of dignity is evident. The excitement and interest of the group of students gathered around their rebbe, a kindly and pleasant looking man is intriguing.

What was especially intriguing for me is that to look at these young men in 1932 is to look at myself not too long ago. Their faces and mannerisms are eerily familiar. Those of them who may not have been murdered by the Nazis would be over 90, if still alive, today. But they are forever frozen in time in film, 20 year old yeshiva bochurim engaged in the pursuit of countless young Jewish men past, present and future.

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