Sunday, July 27, 2008

Summary of the first year

This is a summary of the schedule for the first year, to give a sense of the general flow:

  • August 25 - November 21: midrashim on the events in the Torah (i.e. the first five books)
  • November 22 - January 4: "Nakh" (the other biblical books)
  • January 5 - February 6: the Second Temple period
  • February 7 - April 5: the tannaitic (Mishnah) period
  • April 6 - June 3: the amoraic (Gemara) period
  • June 4 - July 31: Israel (the people and the land)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Buying copies of Sefer ha-Aggadah

If you are reading this blog, you probably are interested in picking up your own copy of Bialik and Ravnitzky’s Sefer ha-Aggadah.

The English copy is easy enough to find, Booksamillion has it for $47.97 for members (be sure to scour the web for coupons) and Amazon currently has it for $50.37.  But go ahead and search your favorite book source for it – the ISBN is 0805241132.  (If I may digress for a moment, for those of you who use the Firefox browser, I can only say good things about the Book Burro add-on, and I also am a huge fan of the bookfinder web site.)

The Hebrew edition is a bit tougher to find, but one reliable source I’ve found is, which sells it for $51 plus $22 for airmail delivery.  My copy of the book arrived fast, and in perfect condition.


I like both the Hebrew and English editions – both contain extensive annotations (the Hebrew version is printed in two volumes and contains more annotations and additional materials).  Both volumes are approximately 8.5” by 11” (although the English edition is about a quarter-inch taller and wider.)  The Hebrew edition is over 700 pages long and the English edition is over 900 pages long (including the prefatory material).

(This is a actually a test post for me, to see if my blogging client and photo posting works happily with  I’ve previously commented about these editions here and here.)

Commentary on the schedule

This is some background information on the schedule for the first year of Sefer Ha-Aggadah.

Sefer Ha-Aggadah is organized in a four-level hierarchy:
a) The work is divided into six parts (without names). Parts I and II are arranged chronologically. Part I covers the biblical period and beyond, through the destruction of the Second Temple, and Part II covers the rabbinic period. Parts III-VI are arranged thematically. Part III deals with Israel and Torah, Part IV with God and theology, Part V with people and society, and Part VI with the natural world and miscellaneous topics.
b) Each part is divided into chapters, which have names and numbers.
c) Each chapter is divided into sections, which have names (this is what is listed in the rightmost column of the spreadsheet), and in the Hebrew version only, also have numbers.
d) Each section is divided into individual aggadot (atomic units of aggadah/legend). These are numbered from the beginning of the chapter (the numbers don't start over in each section). These are of drastically varying length, ranging from a single line to multiple pages.

Thus, for example, Part I (biblical period and beyond) has 10 chapters. Chapter 5 deals with Israel's time in the desert, and has 27 sections. Section 11 (no number in the English edition) deals with Korach's rebellion, and contains 7 aggadot (numbered 93 to 99).

When we did a straw poll a while back, the most popular choice was to split Sefer Ha-Aggadah evenly over two years. So the first year will cover all of Parts I and II, and the first 6 chapters of Part III. This calendar begins on the Monday a week after the end of Institute 2008 (figuring that it will take a week for people to get back into the normal rhythm of life) and ends on the Friday before Institute 2009. Each week, Saturday and Sunday are treated as a single day, and major Jewish holidays (using a maximalist definition of which days are considered holidays) are similarly combined with the day before or after them, to accommodate different rhythms of reading and blogging/commenting.

We tried to harmonize two seemingly conflicting ideals that were expressed: 1) keeping the pace as even as possible, 2) splitting up the text based on logical divisions rather than typographical ones (e.g. a page a day). So the reading for each day is split up mostly along section divisions (which has the added bonus of being consistent between the Hebrew and English versions, which have different page numbering), though due to the large variation in section lengths, it was often necessary to split a single section among multiple days, or combine multiple sections onto a single day. In no circumstances is a single aggadah split up. Some of these aggadot (e.g. Moses's death) are particularly long, and rather than split them up, we assigned shorter sections to nearby days, to make it easy to read ahead or catch up if needed. (The also lengthy story of the Ten Martyrs has internal divisions in the Hebrew version but not the English version, but we can address that when we get there.)


It's also cool to look at the (entirely random and coincidental) correspondences between this schedule and the Hebrew calendar. The story of the Akedah (binding of Isaac) will be the week before Rosh Hashanah, so we'll be equipped to prepare interesting discussions and divrei torah in our communities. The story of Honi the circlemaker, a perennial Tu Bishvat favorite, will be on... Tu Bishvat! (If you don't know this story, don't worry -- you will!) The Three Weeks leading up to Tisha B'Av include the sections about physical and spiritual exile, transitioning to the messianic redemption.

Some of these correspondences, on the other hand, are exactly the opposite of what one would expect, which may lead us to new perspectives on familiar holidays. During Chanukah, a festival
celebrating the rededication of the Temple, we'll read about the destruction of the First Temple. On and around Purim, a day celebrating a narrow escape from annihilation, we'll read about the
Ten Martyrs, for whom no such escape happened. (Maybe the difference between blessing and curse isn't so clear.) In contrast, the story of Purim itself falls around the Gregorian new year, a time of Purimesque revelry in the secular culture.

Sefer Ha-Bloggadah: the countdown begins!

The Sefer Ha-Aggadah project will kick off in 26 days!!! We'll begin officially on Shabbat afternoon, August 16, Tu Be'Av, at the NHC Summer Institute at Franklin Pierce University, following the formal completion (siyyum) of the Encyclopaedia Judaica. You can still register to come to the Institute for the full week or just for Shabbat.

After a week to readjust to normal life, our study schedule will begin on Monday, August 25. Here is the schedule for the first year. It will conclude on Friday, July 31, 2009, and we'll have a siyyum on the first half of Sefer Ha-Aggadah at the NHC Summer Institute, on Shabbat afternoon, August 8, 2009.

There will be an ongoing discussion of the daily reading right here on the blog. Every day, at least one member of the blogging team will post something about that day's reading, and everyone is invited to discuss in the comments. The substantive discussion will be here on the blog, but all participants are also invited to join the email list, to keep with administrative announcements and discussion.

In addition to the blog, there is talk about starting local Sefer Ha-Aggadah groups to meet occasionally in person. I have heard rumors about groups starting in Jerusalem, the New York area, and Philadelphia. Email the list if you want to start something in your area.

I am very excited to announce the amazing Sefer Ha-Bloggadah blogging lineup. Our team includes bloggers in North America and Israel; grandparents and college students; people with ties to each of the major Jewish denominations; people who teach and study Jewish texts full-time and people with a wide range of other jobs; veteran bloggers and people who have never blogged before. Here's the list:

Marisa Harford
Sara Meirowitz

Jonah Steinberg
Howard White

chillul Who?
Benjamin "feygele" M., Oy is Yo, Backwards and Jewschool

Drew Cohen, Jewschool
Neil Litt, Daf Am Haaretz

Rabbi Alana Suskin
David A.M. Wilensky, The Reform Shuckle

Bruce, Three Jews, Four Opinions
Diane Klein, Three Jews, Four Opinions
Steve, Three Jews, Four Opinions

BZ, Mah Rabu and Jewschool