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Institute of Advanced Study

What’s In a Year? An Incomplete Study on the Notion of Completeness


This paper investigates ways to uncover ideological and epistemological presuppositions behind legalistic statements. Commencing with several examples from cuneiform and Greek literature, it then focuses on early Jewish literature of the Graeco-Roman period. The question at stake is the human control over the natural flow of time: can mankind tame time using man-made categories like the month and the year, or must mankind align itself with divinely-ordained categories of time, with no human intervention allowed? Generally speaking, sectarian Jewish circles held the latter opinion, while the somewhat later rabbinic stance promoted the former opinion in a highly explicit polemic. The paper examines one specific moment in rabbinic literature, in which this strong ideological stance is compromised and an ideal year (i.e. devoid of any human influence) is embraced. We draw the circumstances for this preference and speculate as to the ideological stance of its proponent, Rabbi Judah the Prince.

Insights Paper