Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael - Vol. 1

Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael - Vol. 1

Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael - Vol. 1

Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael - Vol. 1

Synopsis

Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael is a classic collection of midrash. It contains commentary on a large part of the Book of Exodus (chapters 12 to 23) and represents the two main modes of interpretation: the halakhah (legal doctrine), and the aggadah (moral and religious teachings). The work also contains allusions to historical events and ancient legends not found elsewhere.

A new introduction by noted scholar David Stern highlights the work, now published in a convenient two-volume set. It retains the original text from the JPS 1933 edition, reset in a modern, readable typeface, with Hebrew and English on facing pages and the original indexes.

This classic work is widely recognized as a model of meticulous and thorough scholarship. Its translation is accurate, straightforward, and usable by scholars, students, and lay readers. Out of print for many years, it will be heralded as an important reissue that should belong to every rabbi, rabbinical school, and Jewish Studies professor, and will be an important addition to synagogue libraries and public libraries with Judaica collections.

Excerpt

The Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael is the classic anthology of early rabbinic interpretations of the Book of Exodus and one of our earliest sources for midrash, as the activity of biblical commentary that was practiced by the Rabbis is known. The sages whose opinions are recorded in the Mekhilta are all Tannaim—that is, early rabbis who lived in the first two centuries C.E., before the completion of the great law code of early Judaism, the Mishnah, in 220 C.E. It is therefore assumed that the Mekhilta was completed and edited in the Land of Israel by the second half of the fourth century C.E., at the latest. But whenever it reached its final state, there is little question that most of the traditions preserved in the anthology were originally composed and transmitted orally until they were set down in writing, generations later.

The title of the work, which is Aramaic, can be translated as “The Treatises According to Rabbi Ishmael.” This Rabbi Ishmael, a famous second-century sage who reputedly founded one of the two main schools of early rabbinic exegesis, was probably not, however, the anthology’s author or editor. He was merely the author of the first truly substantive attributed interpretation cited in the collection—a comment on Exodus 12:2 (I:11)—and for this reason, according to some scholars, the work as a whole was attributed to him. Other scholars believe the reason for the attribution is that many of the legal interpretations in the Mekhilta derive from Ishmael’s school, rather than from that of his rival, Rabbi Akiba.

1. For the most recent summary of scholarly views on the history of the Mekhilta, see H.L. Strack and Günter Stemberger, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash, trans. and ed. by Markus Bockmühl, 2nd printing (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 251–57.

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