“Any minute now the world streams over its border” (Ot-ot gist zikh shoyn iber di velt bizn rand). So writes Soviet Yiddish poet Peretz Markish, a single resonant line among the hundreds in his eighty-page poem The Man of Forty (Der fertsikyeriker man), which his wife smuggled out of Stalinist Russia in a potato sack in 1949. Had she not done so it would surely have been seized by Stalin’s agents, who were moments from arresting the dissident poet when she departed.
Secundus the Silent was a first-century Greek philosopher who in order to prove his assertion that women were incapable of chastity, undertook successfully to seduce his own mother. Though he revealed his identity to her while the two were in bed together—before consummating the affair—her willingness, and resultant shame, led her to hang herself. Though Secundus’s point was carried, his growing sense of the dishonor of his action and its fallout led him to take a vow of silence about the event; thus his epithet.
At the tail end of 2020, the globe has retreated inside, yet the ruthless wave of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has taken over a million lives and counting. Throughout the twentieth century this journal managed to duck the waves of current events no matter how turbulent, but, as the short essays in this issue’s anniversary forum make clear, JQR’s penchant for the now-calm waters of the past has never dimmed the vim or relevance of its scholarship.
In this issue:
When set in cool water and heated only gradually, the frog—in a resonant metaphor—allows itself to be cooked without struggle. From the comfortable remove of history, foregone teloi in mind, we may shake our heads at the unthinkable complacency. It has often been through such a metaphor that we have gazed at certain apparently blindered aspects of Jewish bourgeois life in 1930s Germany.
With volume 110, JQR has emerged as an important platform for the publication of pioneering articles in the nascent field of visual Kabbalah.
Myers asks about some of the broader questions that inform Tworek’s recent essay “Mystic, Teacher, Troublemaker: Shimon Engel Horovits of Żelechów and the Challenges of Hasidic Education in Interwar Poland” (JQR 110.2)
If a woman does not immerse after her menstruation according to rabbinic norms, legislates Maimonides in 1176, she will lose her dower to her husband. In her lively and original work of social reconstruction, Eve Krakowski sees this law as a “milestone in the long and winding history of rabbinization.” Digging behind the law, one of Maimonides’s more aggressive legal reforms, she discovers fascinating and largely unseen traces of women’s folk piety.
Building on Bernard Jackson’s influential application of semiotics to the field of biblical law, Daniel Reifman’s essay “Semiotics and the Nature of Rabbinic Legal Discourse” (JQR 110.1) offers a foray into a semiotic approach to the study of rabbinic law, exploring the potential of this approach for legal theory more broadly. He takes as his case casuistic rabbinic law and the very concrete terms and exemplars it addresses.