If you were to organize a graduate seminar around a single text what would it be?

Moulie Vidas

University of California at Davis

The graduate curriculum in my field is so text-centered that I'll probably have many opportunities to teach seminars focused on a Talmudic chapter or the interpretive career of a Biblical passage. The question, however, invites a fantasy; it also invites us to think of a seminar organized around a text but not necessarily a seminar about a text. Taking this opportunity to indulge in a playful counter- factual, I choose Johannes Eisenmenger's Entdecktes Judenthum, the notoriously hostile compilation and interpretation of rabbinic texts (or, alternatively, its medieval predecessor, Paris Ms. BNF Lat. 16558). In a real seminar, this text might be taught by an expert on anti-Semitism and it might be studied as an instance of scholarship in the service of hate or oppression. In my counter-factual seminar, fantasized from the privileged situation of what Israel Yuval called "the postpolemical" age, this text will not be studied for itself. It will, rather, supply a canon of Talmudic passages to organize a seminar in which the Talmud is encountered as a provocative, even scandalous text. While the "bizarreness" of the Talmud in Eisenemenger's book is often achieved through distortion or selective quotation, on a disturbing number of occasions we may find ourselves scandalized along with Eisenmenger, experiencing the gap between the late ancient document and the modern scholar (an encyclopedia of anti-Semitism faults Entdecktes Judenthum for "accurate" but opportunistically "literal" readings). It will be a lesson in the Otherness of the Talmud and its causes (is it something in the document itself? in our modern assumptions? in our Christianized assumptions?) and in ways to overcome that Otherness.