Schechter Scholars Present Research at International Conference on Late Antiquity


Two Schechter scholars recently presented papers at an international conference focused on aspects of Late Antique Mobility and Migration in the regions around Israel. The conference was sponsored by The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

Prof. Moshe Benovitz, professor of Talmud and Dr. Milka Levy-Rubin of the Land of Israel Studies department, spoke of their research in this period during which migration, settlement, colonization and mobility of peoples and intellectual trends created varied and different realities in the region.

The Palaestina on the Map of Late Antique Mobility and Migration conference brought together scholars from Israel and abroad who utilize textual and archeological sources to bring insights into migration patterns and societal change from Roman times into the Islamic conquest hundreds of years later.

Prof. Benovitz’ work is focused on the use of the Roman Mile in Jewish texts from the period and in Jewish religious practice to this day.

Prof. Moshe Benovitz

According to Benovitz, the Roman mile was not an abstract unit.

Today, we use the word ‘milestones’ to signify importance. It is based on the actual Roman mile ‘milestones’ which measured distances on the roads they built throughout their empire. The Roman mile, writes Benovitz, “was so ubiquitous and so well-known that it was even used to measure time, in a unit called “kedei hilukh mil”, ‘the time it takes to walk a mile’.”

Because a great deal of the Jewish texts (Mishnah, Tosefta, Halakhic Midrashim, and the Palestinian Talmud) on which today’s Judaic ritual is based are from the Roman period, the Roman mile is still used as a halakhic measurement to this day.

To take a relevant example: the eighteen minutes before which matzah dough must be placed in the oven in order to be baked, for example, are based on “the time it takes to walk a mile” (Babylonian Talmud Pesahim 46b), though this text should read “the time it takes to walk a Persian parsang (=four miles)”, and originally referred to a lengthier time frame of seventy-two minutes, as is clear from the parallel in the Palestinian Talmud and from an inconsistency in the Babylonian Talmudic tradition, which states the distance between the towns of Tiberias and Migdal on the shore of the Kinneret is one mile, when in fact it is four miles.”

The Babylonian Talmud, the most influential collection of rabbinic lore, was redacted in Babylonia. But it too, he acknowledges, “consists mainly of discussions of Palestinian material.”

Levy-Rubin’s paper on ‘Migration within, to and from: Reshuffling of the Settlement Pattern of Palaestina Following the Muslim Conquest,’ follows various processes of continuity and change during the first centuries of Islamic rule in the area of Israel, Palaestina.

Dr. Milka Levy-Rubin

As a researcher focusing on the transition between late antiquity and early Islam in the Near East, particularly at a time of the Muslim conquest of the area, she mined sources for this paper to determine how the population changed, or stayed the same.

She found that, “though the Arab conquest of Palestine seems to have been comparatively non-violent, it nevertheless brought about a momentous shift and reshuffling of the population.”

Social group changes, exodus of and influx of populations and the emergence of new and various strata and class structurers were all results of Muslim conquest. Populations moving included Christians, Muslims, Persians, Samaritans, Jews, and other groups.

According to Levy-Rubin these changes, “Precipitated the internal immigration of other parts of the population who, following the changes, were looking for a new home.”

“The Muslim conquest,” she wrote, “had thus torn apart the fabric of the local society after which a new society, significantly different from the former, was formed, and initiated a process of spatial Islamization.”

“Immigration,” she writes, “was thus also a vehicle of social mobility, changing not only the geographical settlement pattern, but its social one as well.”

Levy-Rubin is Curator Emerita of the Humanities collection of the National Library of Israel, and teaches in Schechter’s Land of Israel Studies department.

Top image: 1865 Spruner Map of Israel, Canaan, or Palestine in Ancient Times-Geographicus-Canaan-spruner-1865

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