Friedman, Shamma

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FRIEDMAN, SHAMMA (1937– ), Talmud scholar. His publications over several decades constitute an important contribution to our understanding of the Babylonian Talmud and related literature. He was the first to provide clear and objective criteria for differentiating between different literary and historical strata within the text of the Babylonian Talmud, subsequently applying these criteria systematically in the form of a continuous commentary to an entire chapter of the Babylonian Talmud (Yevamot x, with a General Introduction to the Critical Study of the Talmudic Sugya (1978)). The insight that many of the difficulties which have baffled generations of interpreters of the Talmud are rooted in the tensions which exist between these different literary and historical levels led Friedman to a more fundamental and (for some) revolutionary conclusion: that these tensions and difficulties are not the result of errors in transmission, or confusion in the interpretation of earlier tradition, but rather the result of a conscious process of synthetic creative reinterpretation which inheres in every level of talmudic literature, from the earliest tannaitic sources, through the statements of the amoraim, and down to the latest commentaries and additions of the savoraim. While continuing to develop and refine the methodolgy for analyzing and interpreting the different redactional levels within the talmudic text, Friedman went on to apply the notions of "development" and "evolution" to two other scholarly issues: the origin and significance of variant readings (especially in the manuscript tradition of the Babylonian Talmud), and the so-called "synoptic problem," i.e., the existence of and relation among alternative versions of a given textual tradition preserved in different talmudic and midrashic works. The notion that later talmudic sages often self-consciously reinterpreted and reformulated earlier versions of a given tradition has proved to be a powerful tool in solving many formerly intractable problems in the history of talmudic halakhah and aggadah. In addition to the many scholarly articles in which these ideas and methods were developed – including numerous studies in the field of Hebrew and Aramaic linguistics – Friedman's major publications in recent years have included Talmud Arukh, Bava Metzi'a vi: Critical Edition with Comprehensive Commentary (1990 and 1996), published by jts press, and Tosefta Atikta, Synoptic Parallels of Mishna and Tosefta Analyzed, with a Methodological Introduction (2002), published by Bar-Ilan University.

The comprehensive critical methodology which has emerged from Friedman's literary efforts has provided the foundation for a number of important scholarly projects in which he has played a leading role. In 1985, Friedman founded the Saul Lieberman Institute of Talmudic Research at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, which encourages innovative Talmud scholarship and provides sophisticated tools for its implementation. The Institute today, under Friedman's direction, distributes a computerized database containing the text of almost all surviving Talmud manuscripts, first printed editions and fragments, as well as a computerized page-by-page bibliography of hundreds of books dealing with talmudic literature. The product of decades of work, these resources are aimed at opening new horizons in the field of Talmud Study. In the early 1990s, Friedman established the Society for the Interpretation of the Talmud, a collaborative venture in which a group of scholars has undertaken the preparation of an edition of the Babylonian Talmud with commentary based on scholarly standards and aimed to a wide reading audience. A preliminary volume containing representative analyses of selected talmudic sugyot (Five Sugyot from the Babylonian Talmud) was published in 2002, and the first three volumes covering entire chapters of the Talmud are currently in the press, with preparations for more extensive publications well under way. Friedman also directs an Internet site at Bar Ilan University (developed together with Prof. Leib Moscovitz) devoted to bringing together all the primary textual witnesses of Tannaitic literature, with Tosefta and halakhic midrashim currently represented.

Friedman is the Benjamin and Minna Reeves Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary and teaches in the Talmud Department at Bar Ilan University. He was born in Philadelphia in 1937 and settled in Jerusalem in 1973. He has held a variety of positions at the Seminary, including acting librarian, and editor of Hebrew publications of the Schocken Institute. During the 1970s and 1980s, Friedman was the dean and director of jts's Jerusalem campus, now known as the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, where he teaches. In addition to his professorship at jts and Bar Ilan, Friedman has taught at several universities, including Harvard, the Hebrew University, and Tel Aviv University, and has sponsored more than 25 graduate students in advanced degrees. He was elected to the Israel Academy of the Hebrew Language and the American Academy of Jewish Research, is Talmud division editor of the Encyclopaedia Judaica, and is a member of the editorial board of Jewish Studies, an Internet journal.

[Stephen G. Wald (2nd ed)]