Peshat and Derash: Plain and Applied Meaning in Rabbinic Exegesis

Peshat and Derash: Plain and Applied Meaning in Rabbinic Exegesis

Peshat and Derash: Plain and Applied Meaning in Rabbinic Exegesis

Peshat and Derash: Plain and Applied Meaning in Rabbinic Exegesis

Synopsis

From the days of Plato, the problem of the efficacy and adequacy of the written word as a vehicle of human communication has challenged mankind, yet the mystery of how best to achieve clarity and exactitude of written expression has never been solved. The most repercussive instance of this universal problem has been the exegesis of the law embodied in Hebrew scripture. Peshat and Derash is the first book to trace the Jewish interpretative enterprise from a historical perspective. Applying his vast knowledge of Rabbinic materials to the long history of Jewish exegesis of both Bible and Talmud, Halivni investigates the tension that has often existed between the plain sense of the divine text (peshat) and its creative, Rabbinic interpretations (derash). Halivni addresses the theological implications of the deviation of derash from peshat and explores the differences between the ideological extreme of the religious right, which denies that Judaism has a history, and the religious left, which claims that history is all that Judaism has. A comprehensive and critical narration of the history and repercussions of Rabbinic exegesis, this analysis will interest students of legal texts, hermeneutics, and scriptural traditions, as well as anyone involved in Jewish studies.

Excerpt

This book reflects the confluence of complementary interests: scholarly and theological. It is divided into two parts that are related but not necessarily substantively continuous. The structure of the book thus mirrors its central theological proposition--that rabbinic exegesis and halakha (legal norms) are integrally, but not always inextricably, linked. Though always related, Jewish exegesis and behavior do not always coincide or converge. The continuity of religious behavioral norms can withstand the occasional uncoupling of praxis and intellect. This conclusion is borne out by a rigorous scholarly exploration of relevant rabbinic materials, but its theological underpinnings will not ultimately be slighted or concealed.

The relationship between the scholarship and theology embodied in this book, like that between Jewish exegesis and behavior, is intimate but not inviolate. The matters of exegesis and theology to be discussed, though arranged consecutively, may certainly be understood and assessed separately. In fact, the fate of the relationship between parts one and two lie in the reader's hands; they may be read productively either continuously or disjunctively. I realize that the scholarly and theological sections of the book may appeal to distinct audiences. My hope is that, to some extent at least, these audiences may overlap.

The relationship between scriptural peshat (i.e., the plain meaning) and rabbinic derash (i.e., the applied meaning), is the generative and axial issue of the book. It binds the scholarly and theological halves of the book to each other while nourishing the discussion in each. The aim of the book as a whole is to delineate and grapple with the tension that occasionally arises between what is perceived . . .

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