Yonatan Adler, "The Hellenistic origins of Jewish ritual immersion" 1-21
The present study explores the origins of Jewish ritual immersion – inquiring when immersion first appeared as a rite of purification and what the reasons may have been for this development specifically at this time. Textual and archaeological evidence suggest that immersion emerged at some point during – or perhaps slightly prior to – the first half of the first century BCE. It is suggested here that the practice grew out of contemporary bathing practices involving the Hellenistic hip bath. Through a process of ritualization, full-body immersion emerged as a method of purificatory washing clearly differentiated from profane bathing. By way of a subsequent process of ‘hyper-ritualization’, some ventured further to distinguish purificatory ablutions from profane bathing by restricting use of ‘drawn water’ for purification and by assigning impurity to anyone who bathed in such water. Before us is an enlightening example of one of the many ways wherein Jewish religious practices evolved and adapted in response to Hellenistic cultural innovations.
Yehuda Brandes, "The conceptual significance of the prefatory sugya in the Babylonian Talmud," 22-43
The prefatory sugya is unique in that the Mishnah is treated as a canonical text to be interpreted homiletically like a biblical verse. In this article I shift the scholarly focus from the technical interpretative methods of the prefatory sugya to its internal meaning. Homiletical interpretation of the Mishnah is merely a rhetorical device employed by the author of the prefatory sugya in order to provide a conceptual preface to the tractate as a whole or to the central topic of the opening chapters. With this approach, the possibility emerges that the Talmudic prefatory sugya may have preceded the Savoraim, and may be considered a natural extension of the familiar petiḥta Midrash genre. This new ‘content approach’ significantly shifts and enriches our perception of the literary role of the prefatory sugya, from a playful intellectual curiosity to meaningful dicta of the sages emphasizing essential principles and values of the tractate.