Baruch Dayan HaEmet

From today’s New York Times:

Professor Ezra Fleischer, an Israeli poet and scholar whose work on a long-forgotten trove of ancient Jewish manuscripts helped shed new light on the development of the early synagogue and Jewish prayer, died last Tuesday in Jerusalem. He was 78.…

Professor Fleischer was among the major scholars who studied and cataloged the Cairo Geniza, a treasury of documents, some of which dated to the first century A.D., discovered by Western scholars in a synagogue in Old Cairo the late 1800’s. A geniza is a repository for worn-out texts traditionally kept in a synagogue because, under Jewish law, paper with sacred writing on it cannot be simply discarded; in this case the texts spanned 1,900 years.…

Dr. Ruth Langer, associate professor of Jewish Studies at Boston College called Professor Fleischer “a path-breaking scholar who unpacked the liturgical passages of the geniza.” He was said to have worked on 60,000 fragments over 40 years.

His major contribution, Dr. Langer said, was to demonstrate that Jewish prayer as it is known today was first developed by the rabbis after the destruction of the Second Temple in A.D. 70. Until Professor Fleischer’s work, the prevailing scholarly understanding was that the prayers had emerged earlier, in the synagogues of the Second Temple period.…

Scholars agree that synagogues existed in the late Second Temple period…The question is what happened in them. In an interview in The Jerusalem Post in 1997, Professor Fleischer said that prayer in the early synagogue was individual rather than communal.

“Jews came to synagogue not only to fulfill their obligation to pray but to hear poetry,” he said. “They sat there for hours on end and were not bored.”…

“A poet like Yannai,” he said of the poet who wrote in the sixth century, “a nation produces only once or twice in its history.”

[Hat tip: Professor Gershon Mendel Ahmed.]

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