A New and Ancient Science of Ritual

In “Thinking Rite: A New and Ancient Science of Ritual” we aim to integrate modern findings in the study of rituals with emic frameworks for the analysis of ritual. 

The team (see list of members) is centered in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and brings together theoreticians and philologists, students of Biblical and Judaic Studies and Indologists.

Our Publications

from Left to Right: Hillel Mali, Naphtali Meshel, and Anand Mishra

Hillel Mali, “Priestly Offering: Law and Narrative in the Aramaic Levi Document,” Harvard Theological Review (forthcoming)

Hillel Mali, “The Removal of Temple Leftovers and the Tannaitic Holiness Laws,” Tarbiz (forthcoming, in Hebrw: הלל מאלי, ״פינוי השפכים מהמקדש ותורת הקדושה של התנאים,״ תרביץ)

Naphtali S. Meshel and Hillel Mali, “Two Models for Pollution, Part A: From Leviticus to Late Second Temple Literature.” Jewish Studies Quarterly (forthcoming).

Hillel Mali and Naphtali S. Meshel, “Two Models for Pollution, Part B: From Qumran to Qirqisani, from the Mishnah to Maimonides.” Jewish Studies Quarterly (forthcoming).

Naphtali S. Meshel, Anand Mishra, Hillel Mali and Meera Shridhara,  Thinking Rite: Towards Talmudo-Mimamsa.

Naphtali S. Meshel,  Some New Questions in the Fundamental Science of P.

Naphtali S. Meshel, To Be Taken with a Grain of Salt: Between a `Grammar’ and a GRAMMUR of a Sacrificial Ritual System.

Naphtali S. Meshel. 2018. “Hermeneutics and the Logic of Ritual.” Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel, 7, 4, Pp. 466. Publisher’s Version


The textual tradition of Mīmāṃsā associated with Vedic sacrificial rituals and the Talmudic tradition related to the Biblical sacrificial rituals evidently developed in isolation from one another in antiquity and evolved along separate trajectories in subsequent centuries. A group of researchers from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Heidelberg—from the fields of Biblical and Judaic Studies and Indology—jointly read and translate texts from these corpora, examining their explanatory power for a more general science of ritual.

In reading these texts side by side, despite their vast cultural, religious, historical, geographical and linguistic dissimilarities, the aim is neither to establish a shared historical origin, much less to demonstrate that one tradition influenced the formation and development of the other. The goal is also not to suggest the existence of underlying universals based on the initial intuition of some striking similarities between these two textual traditions in terms of content and style, e.g. their discursive and dialectic nature; employment of hermeneutical tools for textual deduction (Sanskrit pramāṇas, Hebrew middôt) that are fixed in number, formal and often counterintuitive; or occasional thematic overlap where the same precise non-obvious question is addressed and the same solution is offered. Rather the main aim is to open up and explore the intellectual space between these two textual/ritual traditions and to investigate the perspective of Mīmāṃsā’s instrumentality for understanding ancient Jewish sacrificial literature.

The ancient Israelite sacrificial system, together with the closely related rules of ritual purity, is the most elaborate intellectual edifice preserved in Talmudic literature. And yet, the rabbinic tradition never developed a sui generis discipline dedicated specifically to the field of knowledge of sacrificial ritual as elaborate as Mīmāṃsā. Mīmāṃsā, on the other hand, was developed specifically in the context of Vedic texts and Vedic ritual; yet the analytic and hermeneutic tools that it formulates, alongside the operative categories that it develops, may be applicable more widely to other ritual and textual systems as well.

While a wholesale application of Mīmāṃsā to non-Vedic rituals and texts is out of question, operative categories and modes of analysis abstracted from it offer a unique set of tools, without parallel in the ancient or modern scholarly traditions, for understanding sacrificial ritual systems outside the purview of classical Mīmāṃsā literature. A rough analogy here would be Pāṇini’s system of Sanskrit grammar, which was developed for analyzing and describing Sanskrit, and wholesale application of the rules and meta-rules of this system to any other language is not feasible, but the abstraction of modes of analysis and operative categories from the Pāṇinian system proved to have strong explanatory power for linguistic systems in general.

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