At the opening of the Academic Year 2006-2007 on 6 September 2006 prof. Schwartz gave a lecture called "Broken beds and chairs in Mishnah Kelim".

Prof. Joshua Schwartz is Dean of the Faculty of Jewish Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan and head of its Department of Land of Israel Studies.
Look at his biography and current details.


There are many ways for a historian to write about a society, and the tools at his or her disposal are manifold and varied. The materials that we have chosen are somewhat unusual; the building blocks of our reconstruction are waste and rubbish. We intend to examine aspects of ancient Jewish history and Jewish society based on its debris and in particular, debris that is not discarded, but rather used, sometimes repaired and occasionally recycled into secondary use. In other words, we will study used and reused garbage. Litter and trash are our primary sources. Garbage is a mirror on our society. What you are is often what you break, throw out or do not and what people say and what garbage says are sometimes divergent.

Theoretically, garbage is such a pervasive element in our society (after all, garbage is connected to almost every aspect of human activity, and waste is so central to our lives) that one might imagine that the study of waste would have attracted much academic interest. This, however, is certainly not the case and even modern garbology deals, for the most part, only with modern society. This conundrum is largely what differentiates garbology from archaeology. Archaeology usually deals with imperishables while garbology focuses on perishables and in particular the attempt to make the perishable imperishable through recycling. The archaeologist rarely has a chance to study the perishables of the ancient world; they have long disappeared. The recycled of the ancient world is for the most part unidentifiable. This helps explain why garbology has rarely been used in the study of the ancient world. 

We seek to somewhat circumvent this problem by making use of a rather radical strategy. While not disregarding the minimal relevant archaeological data, our primary source material will be literary, for the most part rabbinic, in particular the Mishnah and Tosefta of Tractate Kelim, which deals with issues of purity and impurity in relation to utensils. While utensils are mentioned throughout rabbinic literature, the format of Kelim, as we shall see, provides detailed information, albeit secondary and often tangential, about broken utensils and their repair or lack thereof and occasionally of their secondary recycled use. 

Download the complete text of the lecture in PDF format
This somewhat popularised lecture has later been publicised under de title "Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, Prolegomena on Breakage and Repair in Ancient Jewish Society: Broken Beds and Chairs in Mishnah Kelim."