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The Cultural Crisis of Contemporary Israel

A Jewish Theological Perspective on Its Causes

Admiel Kosman

The cultural crisis that Israel is experiencing today derives largely from the concept of isolation, which is based in Jewish theology (Halevi). The concept itself stems from the 'illegitimacy claim', already present in rabbinic literature, which developed into the firm halakhic practice of separating Jews from non-Jews. Although rabbinic Judaism contains an alternative, universalistic current (Maimonides) that was influential in the Middle Ages, Israel's Religious Zionist educational system is based on the 'isolationist' system expounded by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. Proponents of the latter include both religious Jews and secular Israelis, who defend it as part of Israel's Jewish heritage. These tendencies not only prevent dialogue with Israel's neighbors but also fragment Israel's Jewish public. This rejection of the 'Other' as belonging to the 'sons of darkness' is largely responsible for the cultural crisis pervading the country. Israel should reorient itself toward the universalistic stream represented by philosophers such as Buber, Rosenzweig, and Levinas.

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R. Johanan and Resh Lakish

The Image of God in the Study Hall – 'Masculinity' versus 'Femininity'

Admiel Kosman

This article presents a new reading of the tragic end of R. Johanan and Resh Lakish (BT Bava Metzia 84a). It reviews the traditional apologetic interpretations of the narrative, as if it was meant to aggrandize these sages' devotion to the value of Torah study – before rejecting this understanding, arguing that the intent of the narrative is to present these sages in a critical light, as being repositories of knowledge, while lacking the attribute of humility. The article analyses the narrative from a gender perspective, and shows that the phallic model of the two males is surprisingly contrasted with the wife of Resh Lakish – despite her being a woman and apparently totally illiterate - as a spiritually mature model, who stands outside the exclusive club of Torah scholars.

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Heaven, the Mole and the Well

A Study of a Talmudic Theological Concept

Admiel Kosman

This article engages in a literary analysis of the 'Mole and the Well' narrative, a tale that in the far past apparently was part of the Talmudic text, but is absent from the extant Talmud, with only an allusion to the former existence of the story in the Talmud to be found in BT Taanit 8a. The discussion that opens the article uncovers the hidden links between the passage in Taanit, in a discursive unit that hints at this narrative, and the spiritual contents concealed within the narrative itself (as it is preserved in post-Talmudic sources). This is followed by a close reading of the narrative that will aid us in clarifying the concept of the Emunah (faith) of the sages of the Talmud. This reading places especial emphasis on gender. Our reading finds a striking expression of the central place occupied by the female side in the narrative, by virtue of the fact that those who represent the believer who adheres to God are its two female characters. These women seem to serve as spiritual guides for the third character, the man, who learns from them the profound meaning of the spiritual maturity demanded of the believer.

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R. Simeon Ben Eleazar and the Offended Man

The Ugliness of the Haughty Scholar

Admiel Kosman

The spiritual world of the sages of the Mishnah and Talmud contained two intrinsically opposing elements, that were forced to coexist in the Talmudic corpus, in a tense relationship not without outright clashes. The law, that is a very 'male' creation, is by its very nature conformist, and tends to create a uniform and unyielding, hierarchical, and institutionalized structure. On the other hand, the 'feminine' aggadah (the nonlegal portions of the Talmud and midrashim) characteristically lacks a rigid and obligatory core. While the aggadah might seem like mere window dressing for the profound halakhic discussions in the Talmud, it strikes home when it presents the weaknesses of the establishment and the entire inflexible legal orientation.

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Admiel Kosman


The narrative in BT Kiddushin 81b about R. Hiyya bar Ashi tells of a sage who waged a battle with his Urge after he refrained from engaging in sexual relations with his wife. He, however, did not reveal to her the battle being waged within him, but rather pretended to be an ‘angel’. When his wife incidentally found it, she disguised herself as a harlot and set out to seduce him. After they had engaged in sexual relations, the rabbi wanted to commit suicide. The traditional readings view R. Hiyya as the hero of the tale. This article claims that the aim of the narrative is to present the rabbi as being carried away by dualistic-Christian conceptions. The article further argues that the topic of the narrative is not sexual relations, but dialogue.

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Robert Glick, Jo Ezekiel, Rifkah Goldberg, Maureen A. Sherbondy, Michael Pierce, B. Z. Niditch, Zelda Schneerson-Mishkovsky and Admiel Kosman

On the Museum’s Ruins The Distance Between Encino and Gulbeniski is The Distance Between Assimilation and Holocaust By Robert Glick

My grandmother, during her sister’s birth Omega By Jo Ezekiel

Nostalgia for the Old Millennium By Rifkah Goldberg

Havdalah Tashlich By Maureen A. Sherbondy

Belle Teshuvah By Michael Pierce

Leni R. at 100 Sound Without Music By B.Z. Niditch

My Soul’s Guests at the Time of Loneliness In the Moon's Domain By Zelda Schneerson-Mishkovsky

The Song of Songs Kiddush An Invitation to Angels A New Commentary with God’s Help For the Ten Days of Repentance By Admiel Kosman (translated by Varda Koch Ocker)