Studying Jewish Texts

6/18 History Overview

  • 586 BCE The Kingdom of Judea : a sovereign kingdom that gets destroyed. Judea and Sumeria, the Galilee, land occupied by the Phillistines. Our story is the story of Judea—where the temple was. We do not know anything about the first Temple. It was destroyed by the Assyrians/Babylonia. The people were taken from the land, and taken back to Babylonia (some as slave labor?). The Ten Lost Tribes really get lost—about 150 years prior.
  • Ezra (515 BCE) brings some people back to the land of Israel, under the Persians (they were more amenable to having loyal populations), and Cyrus the Great . Some Jews decide to stay in Babylonia, and become part of the Diaspora (from latin, to spread like spores). They are referred to as Judeans, but also Babylonians. Although they live in Babylonia, they worship the G-d that lives in the Temple of Jerusalem. Diaspora Jews made way for the synagogue (maybe not in Babylonia, but in diaspora in general). Rebuilt the Temple (described in the Book of Ezra and Nehemia). Ezra publicly reads the Torah as a governing document (first indication that there is a book called the Torah as a core document, and how to interpret it). This is when the process starts where Jews look to the Bible as a document with all core issues, and can be interpreted to address contemporary issues.

  • How do they interpret the Bible? At first by trying to add to the Bible. Some actually made it into the Bible, but apocrypha and pseudepigrpha are the terms used for the texts that didn't make it in:
    • Intra-Biblical: writing that is Biblical in nature, that becomes codified with the Bible, even though it makes reference to the Bible. (Ex. Book of Esther, a commentary on the Book of Deuteronomy, what would it look like if Jews were not protected by G-d anymore, 'Esther' is a play on Haster Astir—the concept that the opposite of love is indifference.)
    • Apocrypha —uncover mysteries, attempts to comment on and interpret the Bible to shed light on some abstract passages. Pseudepigripha (false authorship—an attempt to write a piece of the Bible): For example, The Last Will and Testament of Abraham, by Abraham. Unknown author(s) write hoping that their interpretation will be commented on and used in guiding morality. They want people to believe their ideas, rather than any sense of pride in authorship.
      • Example: the Book of Jubilees , where they rewrite the Book of Genesis (only of the five books that doesn't contain substantial amounts of laws). Written in Ge'ez, Ethiopic language, with some Hebrew-like words. Then a version in Hebrew was found in Qumran.
      • Example: the Book of Daniel seems to make reference to the Maccabeean Revolt, even though it claims to take place in the First Temple Period. These documents were being read by a very small elite, and being copied by scribes if it became popular.
  • A move out of this intra-Biblical to extra-Biblical literature, to writing commentaries. First, they wrote things to make it in the Bible, then they wrote text that appeared like the Bible, then they went to writing commentaries. This drew a line between the Bible (holy) and commentaries.
  • Very little historical reference between 515 to 325 BCE
  • Alexander the Great (325 BCE) changed the ancient world by bringing Hellenism to the known world. They did not try to take over, but tried to create a sense of belonging to the greater Hellenistic Empire.
  • The Hasmonean Revolt (163 BCE to 65 BCE), with their Maccabees or hammers, restored sovereignty to the land of Israel and declared a holiday. Chanukah (dedication) was modeled after Sukkot (8-day holiday).
  • They become in charge and rule for around 100 years, and become as wretched and contentious as the Greeks. They conquer some areas, including Idumaeans in the south, including Herod, who then rose through the ranks. One of the Hasmonean brothers makes an alliance with Rome (as a power grab), which then marches in an becomes overlord. They tried out a few methods of ruling.
  • The Romans allow Herod to rule from 4 BCE to 30 CE), during the time of the birth of Jesus. They rebuilt Jerusalem and the Second Temple. They built Caesarea Maritima, and Caesarea Philipi (in Golan Heights, Bania, with a Pagan shrine!). Herod also built Herodian and Masada (summer palace). The Romans eventually send emissaries to rule (who are in fear of the local population and live far removed from the city).
  • The site of the Second Temple both thrills and scares the people. In theory, G-d dwells in the Temple, but it also started becoming a political and commercial site. Jesus comes in and overturns the money-changers' tables out of rage that the Temple courtyard had becoming a place of commerce. Money changers were essential for people to travel form far places, dedicate an unblemished lamb back home, change their currency for shekels, and buy an unblemished lamb in Jerusalem. Some Jews believed that the Temple had become corrupted, and some ran away.
  • Eschatology, the belief that the end of the world is coming, and there is a certain urgency in the air. (We need to be spiritually and physically prepared for it.)
  • Qumran ~30BCE, a group left and built a library near the Dead Sea, wrote angry letters predicting justice would be served in the form of the end of the world.
  • Much of the problem was started by the Hasmoneans, who wanted to combine the roles of high priest and king. People were furious because they felt the role of high priest had been debased (when the high priest messed up the service). The post of priest became politicized. There were probably waves of people who moved away from Jerusalam as an attempt to get away from what they saw going on in Jerusalem.
  • The Temple was a site of tension. The post of high priest could be bought by a wealthy family. Money comes from the people, and becomes consolidated in the top tier of the population, and the people become angered.
  • Second Temple destroyed by the Romans (70 CE).
  • Second Temple Period:
  • Exile-->Diaspora: Jeremiah, the Prophet of the exile, says to the people (what do we do now?): Build houses, live. Jews start to spread under the Roman Empire. Wherever the Roman Empire exists, Jews live. (220 CE, height of Roman Empire.) Shift from feeling like they should live in Israel, to living outside of Israel. Some concept of exile as punishment.
  • Roman Empire and Babylonian Empire are two different cultural and political systems. This explains why there is thought and literature is from these two camps.
  • Alexandria forms a Jewish community in the hundreds of thousands, who consider themselves both Alexandrians and Jews. They translate the Torah into Greek (200 BCE), "Septuagint." This event is celebrated and retold in apocrypha, and then later told in rabbinic literature in lament. They didn't see anything wrong with studying Torah in translation, especially Philo (1st Century), who showed how similar Greek and Jewish ethics are. There were things Jews did that separated them, but they didn't dress differently or speak a different language -- they are interacting with non-Jews. Through this interaction, there emerged a category of Judaism (Judeans living outside of Judea). Previously, it was a tribal system in which women joined the family of their husbands. How did they send send tribute to Jerusalem? Pilgrimage, if wealthy. There is early evidence of synagogues, but their role is unclear.
  • Greek-Jewish cultural exchanges (under the rhetoric of authenticity): Deviance (verge away), syncretism (attempting to reconcile), apostasy (turning away, becoming a heretic). Resistance against Roman/Greek influence was often framed in the language of Roman/Greek thinking.
  • How does Hellenism get played out in these communities? Assimilation (communicate with their neighbors in one way, with their friends in another), acculturation and accommodation.
  • Sectarianism: breaking up ancient Judaism into a variety of sects. Not clear who belongs to a sect, and who merely deviates, etc. Maybe these people were just Jews, and had affinity to certain groups.
  • Major sects: Pharisees , Sadducees , Judean Desert people (Qumran and other desert settlements, cultural separatists), Essenes , Zealots , and Jesus followers (later Christians). Josephus (1st Century) is a historian who fights against the Roman, but then allies with the Romans as a 'translator,' but was seen as a traitor. He went back to Rome, and wrote on ancient Judaism. Three types of Judaism: Pharisees (tradition, purity, separate), Sadducees (Tzadok, probably a name, associated with the priests and wealth), and Essenes (goes in line with the Stoics, Cynics and Epicurics in Roman Empire). Zealots generally blamed for inciting violent riots that resulted in the destruction of the Second Temple. Sicarii (tied with Masada) used to carry around knives in hopes of stabbing Romans or Roman officers.
  • Rabbis have another purpose in mind, and do not particularly present a historical account. A lot of the rabbis are from the Pharisees (tradition, laws, etc.). Rabbis don't really want us to know they are Pharisees.
  • 67 CE Zealots attack a chariot carrying a Roman figure, which led to three years' of wars and violence, resulting in the destruction of the Second Temple. The people of Masada were massacred (73 CE). Diaspora no longer centered around Jerusalem. Sadducees were likely killed/unemployed along with the destruction of the Temple. Romans most likely destroyed the Temple because it had become a center of national ambition.
  • Leadership is spotty during and after the battle. The divides created by the political issues at the Temple are now gone.
  • Alexandrian Jews were doing just fine at this point, but were wiped out in one fell swoop (117 CE).
  • Shimon Bar Kokhba starts a second revolt against the Romans (132-135 CE), centered in Jerusalem and Judea. Some of Bar Kokhba's letters found in the Qumran desert. (Guerilla warefare). The Romans put down the revolt sternly, burnt it to the ground, rebuilt it as a Roman city renamed "Aelina Capitolina" and rename the whole of Judea "Palaestina" from the name of a nearby tribe. Jewish slaves flood the Roman slave market.
  • Rabbinic literature places itself in the time of the Bar Kokhba Rebellion. For example, Rabbi Akiva supported the Bar Kokhba Rebellion. The story of rabbinic and non-rabbinic Judaism moves almost exclusively to the Sea of Galilee. Babylonia is flourishing, and rabbis travel back and forth. Hillel is described as a Babylonian who travels to Galilee and becomes prominent there (during the time of Jesus).
  • Periodization: using the empires (Roman, Byzantine, etc.): using a good geopolitical frame, but can lose the fluidity of the Jewish frame and only describes one region
  • Rabbinic periods: allows for more fluidity within the frame of Rabbinic writing
  • Tannaitic: 70-212 CE
  • Amoraic: 212-400 CE
  • Geonic:

June 22 Monday Notes

Second Temple Period: Major Themes

  1. Centrality of Torah: Ezra reading the Torah aloud. Transition from trying to add to the Torah to commentary on the Torah. By the time the rabbis commented (500 years later), they were trying to apply Torah to living daily life. They did this by interpreting Torah, sometimes very generously.
  2. Centrality of the Temple: both real and symbolic, both centrifugal and centripetal. Brings pilgrims, money, the place where Jews have sovereignty. As people become disheartened by the Temple, they move away from Jerusalem. Jews wanted some other way of expressing their tradition. Synagogues a radical idea of replacing the Temple.
  3. Diaspora: Jews went into forced exile when First Temple was destroyed, but when they were allowed to come back with Ezra, some stayed in Diaspora. Begs the question: are we here in punishment or here because we want to be?
  4. What is it to live in a Gentile world? The Torah addresses an ideal of living in Israel, but doesn't address what to do in a larger Gentile community, where you don't control all the variables.
  5. Hellenism: Are we Jewish or are we Greek?
    • Example: Hasmonean Revolt under the auspices of Jews v. Greeks, when in actuality Jewish-Greeks v. Jewish-Greeks, and kings took on Greek names and made a Jewish holiday on a Greek template? Where is the arbitrary line?
    • Example: Wine that has been handled by non-Jews could be for Pagan sacrifices, and also wine is closely tied with sanctified rituals. Jews living in Pagan cities would separate out parallel aspects of ritual life and keep it uniquely Jewish. Rabbis were challenged to come up with ways to deal with ritualistic life
    • Acting 'too' Greek is deviance or heresy, but was difficult to disentangle identities
    • Martyrdom: better to give your life than to commit: idolatry, 'forbidden nakedness,' murder; but also public display of breaking any Torah law
  6. Sectarianism: complexity of these categories, fuzzy lines, movement between them, possible political titles
    • these rifts led to the destruction of the Second Temple, according to rabbis
    • Sinat Hinam: "Free hate" hating for no good reason, baseless hatred: theological reframing of the sectarianism of the Second Temple
    • How much of these differences are existential? The destruction of the Temple changed sectarianism. Ex. Jesus people thought Temple was corrupt, and its destruction was affirmation. (As Jesus dies, the Temple starts to crack...) Gospels written around 70 CE.
      • Synoptic: to be read together, like some rabbinic texts: Mishnah and Tosefta? Gospels synoptic

Charting the rise of rabbinic Judaism


Historical Event

Rabbinic Text

Patriarchate/Rabbinic Movement

Land of Israel


70 CE

Gamliel, Yohanan ben Zakai

Usha; Reconstruction;

c 200
Citizenship, 'crisis'
R. Yehuda HaNasi-convergence/divergence

Legal recognition under Shapur

Urbanization in Empire
Halakhic Midrash
Bulk of Evidence--Patriarchate: Patristics, Inscriptions, Rabbinic Legends

Rising power of exilarchate, school systems


Constantine, Nicaea

Heyday of synagogues
c 361
Julian 'the apostate'

Heyday of Amoraim
c 429
Theodosian Code
Yerushalmi; GR
Elimination of legal status of Patriarch
Decline of Rome, Rise of Islam
Most Midrash
Schwartz-- 'rabbinization' ; Piyyut

Babylonian authority
      • Indicates (*) the continuation of a certain time or theme

  • Transnational movement: happening in Israel and Babylonia at the same time. What rabbis called Eretz Yisrael encompassed a much larger area than Palestina, what others called the Judean area.
  • When Jews move to other areas, there is some question of which to follow. When Roman Empire collapsed, Jews hurried to compile to Yerushalmi Talmud, and Babylonia thrived, therefore lending to a fuller Babylonian Talmud.
  • Rise of Christianity: 325 CE
    • Rise of Constantine , the imperialist, converts to Christianity
    • Council of Nicaea--major Church event, brings in major people and document, giving authority to the religion and that authority to the Emperor Constantine
      • Rabbis didn't write about this because they don't feel like they have to address it
      • Babylonian Jews not dealing with powerful Christians, less fear of retribution
      • Some anti-Christian writing is censored out of the Babylonian Talmud to this day
    • Tension existed between two minorities--Jews and early Christians--remained when Christianity exploded
      • Church fathers writings showed this hostile, anti-Semitic words in Church doctrines
    • Christian anti-Semitism became a real threat, before it was competition about reading the Old Testament
  • Who is in charge of Roman Palestine from destruction of the Temple until rise of rabbis? (0 CE to ~400 CE)
    • cross-pollination of Jews/Christians, synagogue on Shabbat, church on Sunday; analogous to crossing from Red Sox to Yankee territories.
    • Poles: Rabbis and Church fathers at each end trying to lure people, but most people in the middle.
  • Canonization of laws: Theodosian Code not always adhered to
  • Orthodoxy came out from a plethora of different traditions, and rejecting some to create an orthodoxy ("true doctrine")
  • Jews used Greek ideas and placed them in ancient synagogues (early 3rd Century and 4th Century, rabbis didn't object, or weren't in charge)
    • Community leaders (rosh knesset or remnants of the priesthood) were in charge at the synagogues
    • Rabbis were in charge at the Beit Midrash--where they studied Torah
    • Rabbis prayed where they studied, still separatists, started to tolerate things they didn't like in order to win over the people.
  • Jewish texts preserved from before Christ, but not after. Church sees it as embarrassing for the Church and for Jews
    • This is why very little writing from this time, little known about Jews' behavior during time of Christ
    • Rabbis carried traditions through this time? Rabbis talk about Am Ha'aretz (country dwellers), and question their ability to do anything. Tithing the bread, process called challah, which is why bread is called that
  • R. Yehudah HaNasi (Judah the Prince/Patriarch) important early figure/politician/ceremonial figure? c. 200
    • Identified as the compiler of the Mishnah (based on letter by Sharira Gaon, 9th Century, identifies R. Yehudah HaNasi as author)
    • The Patriarchate: political power (not necessarily under same umbrella), maybe from Roman request to appoint a spokesman, maybe head of rabbis only, from the Gamliel family, reference from non-Jewish sources
    • Patriarchate disintegrated around 429 CE, and closure of the Palestinian Talmud (written in the Galilee), coincides with the fall of the Roman Empire
  • Resh Galutah (Head of the Exile) the office of the Exilarchate, Balylonian exile
    • "The law of the land is the law" the Jewish community of Babylonia pushed for autonomy in school system, laws and authority, and agree to abide by all the laws of a foreign state: dual loyalties, nonconflicting.
    • Tension between Babylonian and Palestinian Jews, because they are two sides of conflicting empires
    • Rise of Islam cements Babylonian Judaism as strongest because these Jews found themselves in the center of a vast and spreading empire, and had relatively large influence.
  • Jewish versus non-Jewish sources: a dialogue without addressing one another directly
    • Example: Jacob and Esau: Jacob, the second child, "struggles with G-d," and is chosen (Christians). Jews respond by using Esau's other name: Edom (meaning surrounding forces: Rome). Jews say Rome came first, and Jews came along after.
    • Either a broken chain of communication or telling a story differently on purpose.
    • Including all kinds of different interpretations reconciled sectarianism by allowing disagreement within the rules of Judaism--system of debate, convincing others, using tradition and merit and texts
    • Rabbinic Mishnaic saying: "argumentation that is 'for the sake of heaven' can persist indefinitely, never has to be resolved. But argumentation outside of this (for personal reasons? using illegitimate methods? trying to channel G-d to win an argument) leads to destruction."
    • Akavia b. Mehalalel , excommunicated for ? (but his lineage stayed within the community)
  • Rabbinic telling of history and tradition in a way that made it seem inevitable, they wanted to portray a certain view
  • Mishnah Avot 1:1-15
    • Transmission of Torah from Moses on through to rabbis, who then said: be circumspect in matters of law, raise up many students, & make a fence around Torah.
      • Kabbalah (receipt) and Masar (transmission) implies they had proper receipt and transmission
      • They are talking about all Torah, all knowledge related to Torah, laws, traditions, rituals: Written Torah and Torah Sh'baal Peh
      • "Make a fence" means don't do behavior that could even lead to forbidden behavior. Ex. swimming on Shabbat could lead to wringing out water (forbidden work), 12 days of abstinence per month to not have sex with a menstruating woman
      • 'do not make a fence bigger than the Torah itself' Ex. Eve/fruit/tree/serpent
    • Shimon the Righteous (last of the Great Assembly): HaShlosha Devarim
    • Antigonos of Sokho, from Shimon: don't serve the master to receive reward, but like servants who serve in fear of heaven: Text showing Antigonus teachings through the generations, and students concluded that if we aren't working for reward, yet the 'World to Come' is the ultimate reward, if they don't believe in reward, then they don't believe in the 'World to Come.'
      • Shows how the Saducees withdrew from the timeline of true, orthodox tradition.
      • ideological retelling of history in a contemporary context
    • Hillel: "be students of Aaron" and "if I am not for myself..."
    • Shammai: Make Torah fixed, say little, do much, receive every person favorably
    • Rabban Gamliel: Make for yourself a teacher...
  • Fluid movement from past to the present. (Gafni reading on movement from A to B)
    • 'What happened, happened' attitude, but some seem to give credence to history
    • They do a little history, a little myth
    • Zakhor, by Prof. Yerushalmi (lectures) because rabbis were not people of history, they could write memory literature, allows learning and shaping from certain telling of past (modern people fixated on history)

June 24 Class Notes

Hanukah Reading

How does the story of Hanukah from the Mishnah play into the other stories we know.
  • Maybe the rabbis didn't like the Hasmoneans, and wanted to undermine their priesthood (Hasmoneans took on role of ruler and priesthood)
  • Demotes Hanukkah to a minor holiday where a miracle was performed (one of many)
  • Why does it resonate in modern times? We are more interested in the military triumph and history
    • A holiday of light in the darkest time of the year
    • A historical holiday that speaks to contemporary people (more recent past than other holidays like Purim)
    • Zionist agenda--a small army defeating a large army. This is a myth of the Jewish past that Jews want to tell
    • American Jews: a time of consumption, like Christmas
    • Sometimes the desire to see history play out influences archaeological digs
    • Yigael Yadin excavated Masada with Josepheus in hand, as an example
    • Contemporary times: we feel more connected to a story that is accompanied by archaeological sites
  • (According to text) the Hasmoneans established the holiday with hallel and ho'oda'ah

Feminism in Jewish Texts:

  • Desire to create a new tradition
  • Ways to incorporate hidden female voices form the text

Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Itzkhaki)
  • 12th century Medieval French rabbi, compiling comprehensive Midrash commentary along with Bible verses

Rabbinic Eras

  1. Tannaic Period
    • The Tannaim (Hebrew: תנאים, singular תנא, Tanna) were the Rabbinic sages whose views are recorded in the Mishnah, from approximately 70-220 CE. The period of the Tannaim, also referred to as the Mishnaic period, lasted about 130 years.
    • Rabbi Judah the Prince/Patriarchate compiled the Mishnah
  2. Amoraic Period
    • Amora (Aramaic: אמורא; plural אמוראים, Amora'im; "those who say" or "those who tell over"), were renowned Jewish scholars who "said" or "told over" the teachings of the Oral law, from about 200 to 500 CE in Babylonia and the Land of Israel. Their legal discussions and debates were eventually codified in the Gemara.
    • The Gemara: being codified simultaneously in Palestine and Babylon. (Mishnah + Gemara = Talmud, Yerushalmi & Bavli)
  3. Saboraic
    • Savora (Aramaic: סבורא, meaning 'theory' or 'theorists') is a term used in Jewish law and history to signify the leading rabbis living from the end of period of the Amoraim (around 500 CE) to the beginning of the Geonim (around 700 CE). As a group they are also referred to as the Rabbeinu Sevorai or Rabanan Saborai, and may have played a large role in giving the Talmud its current structure.
    • Becomes more and more about editing and commentary than creating new ideas
    • They can comment on the Mishnah, but did not argue with it. They disputed it by finding other Mishnah opinions or correcting the assumptions that led to a specific opinion.
  4. Geonic Period
    • Geonim (Hebrew: גאונים‎ "geniuses") were the presidents of the two great rabbinical colleges of Sura and Pumbedita, in Babylonia, and were the generally accepted spiritual leaders of the Jewish community world wide in the early medieval era, in contrast to theResh Galuta (Exilarch) who wielded secular authority over the Jews in Islamic lands.
    • Attempt to extracting material from the Talmud in a more user-friendly way
    • (around 11th century) Babylon fell, and Jews fled to Europe
    • Beginning of "responsa" or "Shoot" in Hebrew--She'elot v'Ona'ot, questions and answers
  5. Rishonim Period (11th to 15th century)
    • Height of commentary and responsa
    • Moses Maimonides, also known as Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon or the acronym the Rambam (Hebrew: רבי משה בן מימון‎; Hebrew acronym: רמב"ם), lived in Spain, 1135 to 1204. He was a rabbi, physician, and philosopher during the Middle Ages. He was the preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher.
    • Halakhah--Law books
    • Joseph Karo , wrote HaShulchan Aruch, a more user-friendly code of laws even than Rashi. Becomes the dominant book for Jewish Law, and becomes the main book for what will become Sephardic Jews.
    • Rabbi Moshe Isserles, competing, doing the same thing, even though today we think of it as commentary. Because he was in Poland, this became the document for Ashkenazi Jews.
    • Extensive commentary, including Rashi
  6. Aharonim Period (16th century)
    • Commentary on the Medieval commentary
    • Mishnah Berurah--it tries to clarify and translate previous commentary "Shulchan Aruch". Attempts to answer contemporary issues.

The Six Orders of the Mishnah

The Mishnah , written intentionally in Hebrew because this is the language of the Bible, the language of Holiness.
The Six Orders of the Mishnah
Seder Zeraim
Seder Moed
Seder Nashim
Seder Nezikin
Seder Kodashim
holy things, sacrifices

Seder Tahorot

Bava Kamma
Bava Metzia
Bava Batra
laws of kosher

menstrual laws

Maaser Sheni
Rosh Hashanah

Avodah Zarah


Tevul Yom
Moed Katan




Baraitas - only found in the Talmud, when rabbis refer to a text or piece of literature within the Talmud. Imaginary documents referred to in the Talmud.
Tosefta - "extra stuff" gathered material from before the Mishnah, it's a compilation of commentary on the Mishnah, and other stuff. Tosefta is referred to in the Talmud, and exists.

Reading the Mishnah: Megillah 1:1-2

  • Svara: a theory or hypothesis
  • Starts out with the rule: Megillah must be read Adar 11-15, preferably on the 14th (for villages and cities), and on the 15th (for walled cities from the time of Joshua). Villages move up to market day (Mon, Thu), but cities don't.
  • C--Cities
  • V--Villages
  • W--Walled cities

Class Notes 6/29

hapax legomenom: a word that appears once in a text and gives no indication to where it came from.
Mishnah, Kiddushin, 1:9, refers to the bible--Ecclesiastes 4:12 (a threefold string)
Discussing the text:
  • Goats, sheep, etc... count as light cattle
  • some sort of physical act of claiming as protection of the sale
  • rabbis are not discussing these laws, not analysis
  • some evidence that these were street laws being codified
  • "The On High"
    • Only with money (because G-d cannot take possession)
    • utterance is the equivalent to delivery, even if you say "I give 500 dollars to the Temple," that means that the Temple now owns the money (er, rather, G-d)
  • The obligations you have to your children is similar to the obligations you have with your business partner. (like a contract)
  • Between men and women: contractual agreement
Synoptic methodology: studying two texts together, such as Tosefta and Mishnah. Early Tosefta writings gets codified in the Tamlud.
Exegetical: takes the verse and draws something out
Apodictic: states forth without telling you source , Talmud often asks, how do we know this? it allows the apodictic to match up with exegesis
  • Tannaitic commentary:
    • Exodus: Mekhilta (by R. Ishmael, R. Shimon Ben Yohai)
    • Leviticus: Sifra
    • Numbers & Deuteronomy: Sifrei
  • Tannaitic Midrash on Deuteronomy 6:4
    • Sifrei VaEthanan 6 starts with "Hear O Israel" to indicate where it came from
  • Shabbat: Tosefta v. Mishnah
    • What can you use to light Shabbat candles?
    • Some rabbis have certain opinions, but the Sages say that all oils are okay. The Tosefta has an organized discussion, but the Mishnah has the actual law.

Class Notes 7/1
Judicial system
  • Patur, aval asur, meaning exempt (from liability) but forbidden for the middle category (ex. writing two letters is forbidden, but what about one. It's forbidden to write one, but liability kicks in at two letters)
  • l'hatchila meaning from the beginning, for ideal scenarios
    • Ex. If you intentionally add any amount of milk to meat (from the beginning), the food is treif, and you are liable
  • B'tziaved meaning past actions, when you are dealing with reality
    • Ex. If you accidentally add milk while cooking meat, you are not liable. The food is treif if there is more than 1/60 milk, it's still okay if it is less than 1/60 milk. If it is more than 1/60 milk, and you intentionally eat it, you are liable.

Talmud Study
  • "A mitzvah that is performed through a transgression..." (B. Sukkah 29b-30a)
    • Is a stolen lulav valid? Analogy to using a borrowed lulav (which is not yours) on the second day. If it's okay to use a borrowed lulav on the second day (for sure not on the first), then is it okay to use a stolen lulav on the second day? No, because the borrowed lulav is never thought to be yours.
    • Invalid lulav: stolen, from an idolatrous grove, from a rejected town (occupied mostly by idol worshippers). From Iron Mount is okay. Conditions: dried, broken point, leaves torn off. Valid lulav: leaves dissevered (if tied at the top, says R. Yehuda), three spans
  • From Hebrew, seek or expound, both refers to the act and the writings
  • Process of extracting form the Hebrew bible, which is authoritative, all-encompassing, the word of G-d, therefore there must be reasons for when the Bible doesn't make sense, or repeats itself, or leaves openings

  • Sifra
  • Sifrei
  • Mekhilta
  • Mishnah
  • Genesis Rabbah
  • Lamentations Rabbah
Palestinian Tamlud (doesn't include Ammoraic Midrash)
Babylonian Talmud (includes Ammoraic Midrash)

  • In exegesis, we are more interested in the specific verse, rather than the coherence of the whole document. Comments on verse a may be unrelated to comments on verse b
  • Homiletical: Sermon givers, where the author can draw commentary from any number of sources to give a message
  • Narrative: Story that reads like a story

7/6 Reading:

  • They are all trying to make sense of scripture
  • They make assumptions about Scripture:
    • That the reader knows it well.
    • There is no beginning and no end. Holistic sense of Scripture, all is authoritative, use of different parts of Scripture
    • Sometimes the Midrash will only give you a piece of the verse, when really they are talking about a different part of that verse (they are using shorthand!)
  • In discussing Scripture without much conclusiveness, they are strengthening the authority of the Scripture
  • Encouraging the multiplicity of interpretations, except that the rabbis may be uncomfortable with making assumptions about Scripture (ex. that Genesis comes before Exodus)
  • bridging Scripture (confusing yet authoritative) to relevance & meaning

Creative Philology: study of words (example: focusing on the technical language in Scripture, either letters, wording)
  • The words ki and et used in different methods in the Bible.
Creative Historiography: studying the actual story, filling in some stories where the sentence cuts off

Mekhlita Reading: Exegesis on Exodus 19.3-9
Overall meaning of the verse: if you obey me on my commandments (and you have seen first-hand the behavior that merits punishment), I will take care of you. (Why is it so hard to obey, and why are there such dire consequences to disobeying?)
"Tell the sons of Jacob, tell the house of Israel..."
  • tell the men, tell the women
  • tell for the sake of Jacob, tell for the sake of Israel
  • there are two parts of the verse
"Ye have seen..."
  • the Israelites have seen first-hand how the sins of the Egyptians was punished
"And how I bore you on Eagles' wings and I brought you unto myself"
  • story illustrating that the people of Israel 'ran back' for each commandment, and returned after each commandment
  • using the imperfect tense of Hebrew, implying that it is an ongoing process, and saying that G-d did that and will continue to do that
  • Eagles, unlike other birds who carry their young in their feet, carry its young in a protective way. G-d will "take a bullet" for us.
  • Martyrdom: we have to stay close to G-d to be best protected

Genesis Rabbah: Exegesis on Beresheit
  • Many more rabbis mentioned in this exegesis
  • What existed before the creation of the world: Torah, Throne of Glory--the angels, Torah, never seem to have been created
  • The world was created for the people Israel: so they might exist and be His people
  • The plan for the world pre-existed the world: G-d knew exactly what would be in the world, he created Torah and then created the world in order to enact Torah, and the people Israel must exalt Torah
  • Either G-d created the world for the sake of each individual man, or you are but dust on the earth, and should realize that
  • The world was created for... challah, tithes, and first fruits: not give up everything, give up what you are supposed to give up (act properly)
  • Creative philology: B'resheit... starts with a bet ... closed on 3 sides, you should not inquire about what precedes the creation of the world (before and behind) and above and below: G-d and what extends beyond G-d and what is 'below' Earth
  • Rabbis suggest that there is a danger in pondering these concepts (one rabbi went crazy!)

7/13 Class Notes

Halakhah: walking, path; boundaries of behavior, laws and ethics
  • behavior that falls within sanction of Halakhah, but is not ethically acceptable
H/aggadah: telling; stories about history, myth and moral lessons

Reading in class from Rabbinic Texts, p. 125 : Education of R. Shimon bar Yohai (Bavli Shabbat 33b-a)

7/15 Class Notes

The Haggadah: where did the word come from? From the Biblical commandment to "tell" the story of Exodus.
  • Seder: based on an ancient Greek symposium: reclining, starting with a question. The Hagaddah is both the telling of the story itself, and the entire liturgy of the entire seder. (The Magid itself is not that long.)
  • The Maggid is a compilation of Midrash, starts with the "bread of affliction" and goes on to talk about a bunch of rabbis sitting around in Bnei Brak, commentary on Deuteronomy, about bringing the first fruits to the Temple. (A giant modeling activity, the rabbis sit around discussing Exodus until 5 am, not you go discuss until 5 am.) This text is meant to be supplemented. There are some liturgical elements and some Torah-based commandments, but the rest is modeling for a night of discussing freedom.
  • The Haggadah could have been written around 170 CE, but could have been compiled much later. Some say it's the oldest rabbinic writing.
  • The Maggid based on several Midrashim. (see handout)
  • Musaf added as an additional sacrifice, liturgy based on extra sacrifice
  • Why do we pray? Our forefathers prayed: There are two sources: Jews connect to the Divine (replacement to sacrifices, or allusion to forefathers)
  • Prayer likely preceded the rabbis, even though the rabbis put their own rules on them, putting a rabbinic stamp on it
  • Prayer books too expensive, and prayer leaders had to memorize the prayers, make stuff up
    • piyut: poetry, a way to remember prayers
    • holidays contain a lot of piyut
  • Tanakama (first tanakh) says you can say Shacharit until midday (R. Yehudah--until 4 hrs into day)
  • Mincha until the evening (RY: until middle of the afternoon)
  • Ma'ariv: no set time
  • Musaf: all day (RY only seven hours into the day)
  • By having it more fixed, it's less likely to forget to do it, and more likely it will be done in a group
  • It could be to ensure you pray four separate times
  • They may be working on different systems. (one on the sacrificial system)

Class Notes 7/20
matrona--loan word, meaning a Greek/Roman woman, who is in dialogue with these rabbis, wealthy

Difficulty of Midrash (Holtz reading)
  • Cultural context
  • Multiplicity of studying
  • Originality (we tend to give credence to original texts) Is there independent value of the commentary?
  • Language: Ex. Kelim means "stuff" rabbis often play games with words
  • What does the text assume that I know?
  • Different priorities: ex. tithing, cumin and mint
  • Jacob Neusner: translations of rabbinic texts
  • Artifact approach: this is from ancient times, but this removes it from applying to contemporary issues
  • Have a particular lens when studying text