The Classic Midrash: Tannaitic Commentaries on the Bible

The Classic Midrash: Tannaitic Commentaries on the Bible

The Classic Midrash: Tannaitic Commentaries on the Bible

The Classic Midrash: Tannaitic Commentaries on the Bible

Synopsis

This volume includes commentary and interpretation of Scripture taken from the early rabbinic masters, the Tannaim, along with a running explanation of their theological, literary and historical importance.

Excerpt

The contents of midrashic-talmudic literature may be described as the answer to two questions. The first is, How shall we conduct ourselves and our institutions (halakah); the second is, What contemporary significance is there to the inherited records our Teachers designate as kitbe ha-qodesh, Sacred Scriptures, and that is haggadah.

During almost five hundred years before the destruction of the second Jerusalem Temple (69-70 C.E.), the Torah of Moses had been subject to interpretation in some form—by translation, by para-Biblical reworking and retelling, by imitation, by epigrammatization, by citation for support of favored views. At Ezra's reading of the Torah (c.458 B.C.E.), Levites and prominent men explained what it proclaimed. So they obviously had studied it. And as books after the Five Books of Moses were gradually added to the corpus of authoritative sources, sometimes after debate and defense, they too were studied and explained, drawn on for instruction and guidance and review.

The contents and implications of law grew out of, or were regarded as growing out of, the Five Books (Pentateuch) of Moses, although there are ad hoc decrees too; but allusions to and endorsements of the laws occur even in a number of the post-Mosaic books. The Teachers do not hesitate to draw on these. And though when they are in the intellectual mood for it, they do not refrain from homiletical and narrative justification of prescribed rules of conduct (see, for many examples, Mekilta, Ba-Hodesh 8, II, 257‐ 259, or M. Baba Qamma 8:6), it is in the field of haggadah, the nonstatutory exhortation-speculation, imaginative and homiletic inventiveness, that the intellectual leaders emerge especially as spokesmen of the tradition that shapes the Jewish mentality, and ideally shapes their behavior too. This gave the Hebrew Scriptures their afterlife, and by that token life to the folk, scholars, and people as a whole. Without it Biblical literature would have been forgotten except perhaps by some antiquarians. And by intertwining all the books with the Torah of Moses, a unity was superimposed on Pentateuch, Prophets, and the Sacred Writings (Ketubim).

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