Title: Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash
Author: H.L. Strack and G√ľnter Stemberger
Translator: Markus Bockmeuhl


General Introduction

pages 1-14

I. "The Historical Framework"

II. "The Rabbinic School System"

pages 45-56

V. "Handling Rabbinic Texts: The Problem of Method"

Oral transmission of rabbinic texts leads to the problem of criticism: Widespread theory that these texts were passed down orally, and only used in an uncritical way (accepted as is). They were read in a homogeneous method, without taking into account various traits of the texts.

Fixing the problem of method: Can we study rabbinic texts in the same way we study biblical texts?

The method for dealing with rabbinic texts should take into account:

  1. Literary history:
    • Can you put a specific date on the rabbinic writing (often times not, and remember these dates can be approximate)?
    • The date of the final version doesn't take into account the history of previous versions
    • When is the text first cited? (not standardized, the same name can refer to different texts)
    • Which rabbis are named in the text? (Most common method of dating a text)
    • terminus post quem ("limit after which") refers to the date after which a text was written
    • problems: pseudonyms, later versions
  2. Authorship:
    • Rabbinic texts are composite and incorporate earlier versions
    • Authorship generally given to the final redactor, if given at all (?)
    • Texts may be unbiased compilations, edited before a new version is put out (not a rule, must be demonstrated)
  3. Language:
    • development of Hebrew (depending on the language, we can ascertain the approximate time)
    • problems: deliberate archaic language (eg. The Zohar)

There is a preliminary timeline for the chronology of the rabbinic texts, but not conclusive

  • Can the Mishnah or Tosefta (?) be understood without the means of the Talmuds? (Oral tradition was stronger close to the time it was still being actively passed around)
  • Texts are most commonly dated by the rabbis named within them, but even more important is to categorize these texts in historical context (of Judaism and Jewish tradition), especially when texts refer to outside, non-rabbinic lit.

Cultural and Religious History

With new discoveries of rabbinic literature, we can see a much more complex social reality than the monolithic picture of Judaism during this time.

  • Rabbinical writings impacted pseudepigraphical writings (works falsely attributed to earlier figures in history)
  • Impact of Hellenistic period on Jewish writings:
  • Impact of rabbinic Judaism on Islam, church fathers

Form, Tradition and Redaction History

  • Taking into account the literary forms of a text, clearly defined literary forms of the present (the text being examined) and antiquity (older books)
  • Literary and oral traditions grew into these texts by way of a larger framework
  • F. Maas, 1937, used this method on part of the Mishnah by studying of the sayings of the rabbis
  • The end result is to compile a database of literary forms, and the time (and style) to which they belong:

Catalog of Forms:

  • Halakhah
    1. Sayings
      • Simple statement: Rabbi X says... + direct speech;
      • Controversy: Rabbi X says said that... Rabbi Y said that...
      • Attestation: Rabbi X testifies that...
      • Forms: (prosbul, divorce, ordination, etc.)
      • Letter: (Rabbi X dictates a letter, which is then reproduced)
      • Chains and Lists
    2. Narrative
      • Taqqanah: It used to be thus but Rabbi X ordained that...
      • Precedent: (simple statements with little dialogue)
      • Sayings and Narrative in first person
      • Narratives introduced by a biblical text and its exegesis
    3. The Talmudic Sugya
      • Self-contained logical unit of discussion mixing literary forms, haggadic, and halakhic material.
  • Haggadah:
    1. Narrative: historical anecdote, biographical note, biographical narrative (including call narrative, school narrative, death narrative), miracle narrative, narrative with a moral, narrative in first person, fairy tale, fable, legend.
    2. Scientific Description: geographical, ethnological, medical, astronomical, etc.
    3. Speech: sayings in the first person without narrative context, apothegms with narrative content, declamations of woe, parables, proverbs, wisdom sayings, numerical sayings, chain sayings, series and lists, prayers, and sermon
  • Exegesis:
    1. Shares both Halakhah and Haggadah.

Understanding forms can't definitively date text but leads to:
  • Better understanding
  • Separation of base text from later additions

Talmudic Literature

Pages 108-118

I. "The Mishnah"

  • Explanation of Terms
    • Hebrew noun mishnah from the verb shanah "to repeat" (in the sense of learning or teaching through repetition)
    • Mishnah is composed of halakhot (laws and statutes) as well as haggadot (everything else)
    • Divided into six orders (seder) of 7-12 tractates (massekhet) each divided into chapters (perek) and those into sentences (mishnah or halakhah)
  • Structure and Contents
    • Survey of Contents
      1. First Order: Zera'im (Seeds)
        1. Berakhot (Benedictions) - Regulates the prayers
        2. Peah (Corners) - Leaving corners for the poor
        3. Demai (Doubtful) - Fruits which are doubtful as to tithing
        4. Kilaim (Different Kinds) - Plants, animals, and textiles that can't be hybridized
        5. Shebi'it (Seventh Year) - The Sabbatical year
        6. Terumoth (Levies) - Priestly offerings
        7. Ma'aserot or Ma'aser Rishon (Tithes or First Tithes) - Given to the Levites
        8. Ma'aser Sheni (Second Tithes) - Consumed in Jerusalem
        9. Hallah (dough offering) - Given when?
        10. Orlah (foreskin) - ...of trees, which apparently also need to be circumsized
        11. Bikkurim (first fruits) - More on tithing
      2. Second Order: Mo'ed (Festival Days)
        1. Shabbat
        2. Erubin (mixtures) - by which certain Sabbath laws can be bypassed
        3. Pesahim (Passover)
        4. Sheqalim (money) - Taxes paid to the Second Temple
        5. Yoma (The Day) - Yom Kippur
        6. Sukkah (Booth) - Sukkot
        7. Betsah (Egg) - The "first word" on holidays
        8. Rosh ha-Shanah (New Year's) - There are four kinds
        9. Ta'anit (fasting)
        10. Megillah (scroll) - Reading the Book of Esther
        11. Mo'ed Qatan (lesser holy days) - Middle days of Passover and Sukkot
        12. Hagigah (celebration of a festival) - Pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Feast of Weeks, Feast of Booths
      3. Third Order: Nashim (Women)
      4. Fourth Order: Neziqin (Damages)
      5. Fifth Order: Qodashim (Holy Things)
      6. Sixth Order: Toharot (Purities)