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Michael Nosonovsky

Dr. Michael Nosonovsky is an Associate Professor of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. He got his Master's degree in engineering from St. Petersburg Polytechnic University (1992) and in Semitic languages from St. Petersburg State University (1996) as well as PhD in Mechanical Engineering (2001) from Northeastern University in Boston. Michael taught modern and Biblical Hebrew and participated in many field trips to Jewish sites of Eastern Europe studying Hebrew inscriptions on old gravestones.

 


 

ARTICLES:

Connecting Sacred and Mundane: From Bilingualism to Hermeneutics in Hebrew Epitaphs

Issue: 22 (The twenty second issue)
Gravestones with Hebrew inscriptions are the most common class of
Jewish monuments still present in such regions as Ukraine or Belarus. Epitaphs
are related to various Biblical, Rabbinical, and liturgical texts. Despite that, the
genre of Hebrew epitaphs seldom becomes an object of cultural or literary
studies. In this paper, I show that a function of Hebrew epitaphs is to connect
the ideal world of Hebrew sacred texts to the world of everyday life of a Jewish
community. This is achieved at several levels. First, the necessary elements of
an epitaph – name, date, and location marker – place the deceased person into a
specific absolute context. Second, the epitaphs quote Biblical verses with the
name of the person thus stressing his/her similarity to a Biblical character.
Third, there is Hebrew/Yiddish orthography code-switching between the
concepts found in the sacred books and those from the everyday world. Fourth,
the epitaphs occupy an intermediate position between the professional and folk
literature. Fifth, the epitaphs are also in between the canonical and folk
religion. I analyze complex hermeneutic mechanisms of indirect quotations in
the epitaphs and show that the methods of actualization of the sacred texts are
similar to those of the Rabbinical literature. Furthermore, the dichotomy
between the sacred and profane in the epitaphs is based upon the Rabbinical
concept of the ‘Internal Jewish Bilingualism’ (Hebrew/Aramaic or
Hebrew/Yiddish), which is parallel to the juxtaposition of the Written and Oral
Torah.


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