Tag Archives: Mekhilta

The Talmud Blog Live- Ron on “The Torah as the Divine Logos in Tannaitic Literature”

After over a year and a half of blogging, last night, for the first time ever, all of the Talmud Blog’s editors and contributors were actually in the same place at the same time. And what better reason could there have been for such a gathering than to attend, along with a diverse crowd of Talmud Blog followers, a presentation by Dr. Ron Naiweld on “The Torah as the Divine Logos in Tannaitic Literature”.

It is our pleasure to present to you the audio of the lecture here. Enjoy, and feel free to offer your comments below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You Rejoice – though not Me: Some Notes on bMeg 10b and its Parallels

Lucas Cranach the Elder 'Untergang des Pharao im Roten Meer' (Germany, 1530)

Does God rejoice at the downfall of the wicked? Surely He wants the good to prosper and the wicked to perish. Yet, the destruction of God’s own creatures, regardless of some poor choices they may have made in the past, is also not a cause for Divine celebration. If one wishes to ascribe to a logical, binary scheme, the answer to this question can either be “yes” or “no”.  But this is the Talmud Blog, where a rabbinic “yes, but…” / “no, but…” will do just fine.  Indeed, rabbinic literature contains both views.  On the one hand, R. Ishmael confidently  responds to his students (preserved at Sifre Numbers 117) that indeed, God is happy when those who anger Him perish, while we also have a moving, anthropomorphic portrait of God’s pain at the wicked’s demise (mSan 6:5).

One of the better known talmudic passages that deals with this subject appears at bMeg 10b – towards the beginning of the so called Babylonian Esther Midrash (bMeg 10b-17a) which I am now teaching in the Hebrew University Talmud Department. The Babylonian Esther Midrash is a unique corpus. It is apparently the only complete midrash on a biblical book that was compiled in Babylonia, and as such it affords a rare window into Babylonian midrashic imagination. Scholars like Eliezer Segal have produced significant and lasting scholarship on the Bavli’s Esther Midrash. The primary tool in these scholarly endeavors is a kind of comparative criticism, that unfortunately ends up seeing the Bavli’s Esther Midrash as an essentially tone-deaf, pale reflection of Palestinian midrashic poetics.  Blame it on postmodernism, but I see in the Bavli’s ‘belatedness’ the beauty of the mosaic, pastiche – in short, a textual realization of Late Antiquity.

The passage that interests me appears towards the beginning of a long list of ‘petihtot’ to Esther, which Segal has demonstrated derive mainly from Palestinian exemplars. Indeed, the vast majority of tradents are Palestinian sages.  Further, in his assessment the full poetic punch of these petihtot is often effaced in the Bavli. This is true, but only if you consider Palestinian synagogal poetics as the sole form of legitimate poetry. Arguably, there is another kind of poetry that takes place in the processes of deconstruction and subsequent reconstruction which the Bavli performs on its Palestinian rabbinic heritage.

The point I have to make is a relatively, small, philological one.  But I do think that it partially explains a formerly incomprehensible Yerushalmi and also contributes to a deeper understanding of the development of two passages in the Bavli.  In any event, it has been far too long since the Talmud Blog had a post about a close, original reading of a sugya.

ר’ יהושע בן חנניה פתח לה פתחא להאיי פרשתא מהכא: והיה כאשר שש ייי עליכם להיטיב אתכם ולהרבות אתכם כן ישיש ייי עלי[כ]ם להאביד אתכם וג’

ומיחדי הקב’ה במפלתן שלרשעים 

והכת’ בצאת לפני החלוץ ואומרים הודו לייי כי לעולם חסדו ואמ’ ר’ יוחנן מפני מה לא נאמ’ כי טוב בהודאה זו לפי שאין הקב’ה שמח במפלתן שלרשעים

ואמ’ ר’ שמואל בר נחמני אמ’ ר’ יונתן מאי דכת’ ולא קרב זה אל זה כל הלילה באותה שעה ביקשו מלאכי שרת לומר שירה לפני הקב’ה אמ’ להן הקב’ה מעשה ידי טובעין בים ואתם אומרים שירה לפני

אמ’ ר’ יוסי ביר’ חנינה הוא אינו שש אבל אחרים משיש דוקא נמי דכת’ ישיש ולא כת’ ישוש שמע מנה

R. Yehoshua b. Hanania introduced the section from here: ‘And it shall come to pass that as the Lord rejoiced over you to do you good, so the Lord will rejoice over you to cause you to perish’ (Deut 28:63). 

Now does the Holy One, blessed be He, rejoice in the downfall of the wicked?

Is it not written, ‘as they went out before the army, and say, Give thanks unto the Lord, for his mercy endureth for ever (2 Chron. 10:21)’, And R. Yohanan said: Why are the words ‘for he is good’ omitted from this thanksgiving? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, does not rejoice in the downfall of the wicked? 

And R. Shmuel b. Nahamani said that R. Yonatan said, What is the meaning of the verse, ‘And one came not near the other all the night (Ex. 14:20)’?   At that time the ministering angels wanted to chant their hymns before the Holy One, blessed be He, but He said, The work of my hands is being drowning in the sea, and shall you chant hymns before me?

R. Yossi b. R. Hinana replied: He himself does not rejoice, but he makes others rejoice.  This is indicated also by the text, which writes yasis and not yasus, which proves [what we said]. 

(bMeg 11a, following MS Columbia; translation based on Soncino)

The opening verse is taken from the so-called “rebuke” section of Deut 28.  The link between this verse and Esther seems to center on the threatening verb “cause to perish (להאביד)” in Deut 28:63 and its ubiquity in Esther, for example at 4:7.  Apparently, R. Yehoshua understood the near destruction of the Jews in Esther as a realization of the Deuteronomic rebuke.  Judging from the first three petihtot of Esther Rabbah which cite Deut 28:66-68 and other later Palestinian midrashic parallels, this was apparently not an unusual way of introducing the Scroll of Esther.

The rest of the passage, however, is somewhat peculiar, and as such has gained the attention of generations of scholars.  I will focus on two issues:  The Talmud objects to the depiction of God as rejoicing over causing the destruction of the wicked, since two midrashic interpretations demonstrate that God does not rejoice when the wicked are punished (following Yehoshafat’s defeat of the Moabites; and after the drowning of the Egyptians in the Red Sea – the latter an example of a startling Babylonian reversal which was used in medieval times to justify the absence of Hallel recitation after the first day of Passover, but that is for another time).  The contradiction is resolved via a closer reading of the original verse from Deuteronomy, where God is now said merely to cause others to rejoice yet not rejoice Himself.  In other words, the entire sequence was generated by an apparent misinterpretation of the original verse that did not conform to midrashic traditions about God not rejoicing at the downfall of the wicked, and the conclusion is essentially to read the verse more carefully.  Further, as others have already pointed out (for example, E. Segal), the formulation of the original question “Now does the Holy One, blessed be He, rejoice in the downfall of the wicked,” is somewhat jarring, since nowhere in rabbinic literature do we find an entire generation of Jews referred to as “wicked”.

The passage bears a strong connection to a parallel at bSan 39b:

ויעבר הרנה במחנה

אמ’ ר’ אחא בר ר’ חננא באבוד רשעים רנה ובאבוד אחאב רני רינה

ומי חאדי הקב’ה במפלתן שלרשעים

והא כתי’ בצאת לפני החלוץ אומרים הודו ליי’י כי לעולם חסדו

ואמ’ ר’ יוחנן מפני מה לא נאמר כי טוב בפרשה זו לפי שאין הקב’ה שמיח במפלתן שלרשעים

ואמ’ ר’ שמואל בר נחמני אמ’ ר’ יונתן מאי דכת’ ולא קרב זה אל זה כל הלילה באותה שעה שטבעו מצרים בים ביקשו מלאכי השרת לומ’ שירה אמ’ להן הקב’ה מעשה ידי טובעין בים ואתם אומרים שירה לפני

א’ר יוסי בר’ חנינה הוא אינו שש אבל אחרים משיש דוקא  נמי דכת’ ישיש ולא כתי’ ישוש שמע מינה

‘And there went out the shout throughout the camp’ (1 Kings 22:36).

R. Aha b. R. Hanina said: ‘When the wicked perish, there is song (Prov. 11:10)’, and when Ahab perished there was ‘song of songs’ (following MS Yemenite, hagadot hatalmud, and others).  

Now does the Holy One, blessed be He, rejoice in the downfall of the wicked?

Is it not written, ‘as they went out before the army, and say, Give thanks unto the Lord, for his mercy endureth for ever (2 Chron. 10:21)’, and R. Yohanan said: Why are the words ‘for he is good’ omitted from this thanksgiving? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, does not rejoice in the downfall of the wicked? 

And R. Shmuel b. Nahamani said that R. Yonatan said, What is the meaning of the verse, And one came not near the other all the night (Ex. 14:20)?   At that time the ministering angels wanted to chant their hymns before the Holy One, blessed be He, but He said, The work of my hands is being drowning in the sea, and shall you chant hymns before me?

R. Yossi b. R. Hinana replied: He himself does not rejoice, but he makes others rejoice.  This is indicated also by the text, which writes yasis and not yasus, which proves [what we said]. 

(b. San 39a according to another Yemenite MS, MS Herzog).

This passage appears at the end of the fourth chapter in tractate Sanhedrin, where the Mishna describes how, after conveying a sense of seriousness to witnesses, the court reassures them that their task is essential and worthy.  One of the verses recited for the witnesses is Prov. 11:10: “when the wicked perish there are shouts of joy”.  At bSan 39b, the Talmud cites a verse from I Kings (22:36) that describes the news spreading of (the wicked) King Ahav’s demise.  R. Aha b. R. Hinina cites the verse from Prov and adds that when Ahav died there was even greater rejoicing.  Note that the Yemenite MS Herzog is vocalized רִנֵי רִינָה.  This leads into the same sequence that appears at bMeg 10b.

It is now easier to understand why the passage refers to “the wicked” – for Ahav’s wickedness was infamous. Yet, in certain respects the bSan passage is even more problematic than its bMeg parallel. The verse from Deuteronomy is not even quoted, but is nevertheless presumed in R. Yossi’s closing exposition.  And the opening question (‘Now does the Holy One…rejoice in the downfall of the wicked’) is almost incomprehensible, for where do we see God himself rejoicing at Ahav’s death?  On the other hand, there is reason to assume that the bSan passage is “primary” to the one in bMeg in the sense that the initialbuilding blocks of the passage were composed within the discursive context of bSan (yes, I am aware of Zvi Septimus’ article). This can be demonstrated since specifically bSan seems to have developed out of a parallel Palestinian passage preserved in the Yerushalmi that also appears as a comment on the same Mishna:

כת’ “ויעבר הרינה במחנה”.

מהו “הרינה”. הריני.

וכן הוא או’ “בצאת לפני החלוץ” וגו’. ללמדך שאף מפלת הרשעים אינה שמחה לפני המקו’ם.

It is written ‘And there went out the shout throughout the camp (1 Kings 22:36)’. 

What is “the shout” – hareni.

And it also says, ‘as they went out before the army (2 Chron. 10:21)’ etc. To teach you that even the downfall of the wicked is not a joy before Omnipresent. 

It seems clear that there is some relationship between the ySan and bSan passages. The Yerushalmi comments on the same Mishna, quotes the same verse from 1 Kings and then cites the same midrash on 2 Chron 10:21 (which first appears in the Mekhilta Beshalah, Shira parsha 1, p. 118).  Yet, on the whole, the meaning of this short Yerushalmi passage has eluded interpretation, particularly the first line.  What does the word הריני mean here, and what does it add to the verse from 1 Kings?

Not surprisingly, the traditional commentators try to apply the Bavli parallel to the Yerushalmi, and they suggest that the definite article (הרינה - the shout of joy) is interpreted here to refer to the great joy felt at the demise of the wicked.  Neusner’s translation emends the text accordingly “What is this cry (HRYNH)? Lo, it is a song (HRY RYNH).” On the other hand, the Mohr Siebeck translation suggests a reading of חרון – anger.  This seems to be based on the second line of the Yerushalmi, which cites the Mekhilta about God not fully rejoicing at the defeat of Moab.  Since the latter is apparently linked to the first line with the words “and it also says (וכן הוא אומר),” one might assume that the first line about “the shout” should also convey the same message of Divine displeasure at the downfall of the wicked.

In fact, the words “וכן הוא אומר” should actually be read “וכאן הוא אומר” (“and here it says”), and they merely represent a direct though shortened quotation of the Mekhilta passage according to the best witnesses. As for the first sentence “מהו הרינה – הריני”  the final word might perhaps be read as הרינו and represent a regressive assimilated form of הפעיל צווי הרנינו – ‘(you, pl.) Rejoice!’  As such, the Yerushalmi interprets 1 Kings 22:36 to mean that God is telling the Jews to rejoice (הרנינו) at Ahav’s death.  This then is juxtaposed to the midrash from the Mekhilta where God does not fully rejoice at the defeat of Moab.  The tension between these two positions, however, is unresolved.

This brings us back to the bSan parallel. If the original, Palestinian set of amoraic comments on mSan 4:5 contains two apparently unreconciled views of the Divine reaction to the demise of the wicked, the Bavli turns this material into a dialectical sequence.  Thus, originally, the comment on the verse from 1 Kings attributed to R. Aha b. Hinina (אחא בר חננא  - a name which looks suspiciously close to “” אחאב רני רינה as indeed is made clear in a variant preserved in geniza fragment CUL: T-S Misc. 28.201) apparently refers to God commanding rejoicing at the demise of the wicked Ahav. Notwithstanding the vocalization of MS Herzog, perhaps originally the term was to be read רנו רינה and similarly represent a regressive assimilation, now of the פיעל צווי form רננו.  Either way, the Bavli explicitly interrogates this midrashic understanding of 1 Kings, since in two places God is seen as not rejoicing at the downfall of the wicked.  The Bavli’s answer, based on Deut 28:63, now works perfectly.  God himself does not rejoice, but he causes others to rejoice – precisely as we see in the midrashic reading of 1 Kings 22:36 explicitly preserved in the Yerushalmi though only residually in the Bavli.

In short, we have a passage at bSan 39b that seems to, artfully, make use of a cryptic Palestinian text that juxtaposes God’s command to rejoice at Ahav the wicked’s death with his lack of joy at Moav’s defeat. This is turned into a series of questions that clarify where Divine joy at the downfall of the wicked is to be located – not within the godhead itself, rather in divine encouragement to rejoice. A philosophically fascinating proposition.

At last, this sequence intersects with bMeg 10b, where the citation of Deuteronomy 28:63 as a frightening petihta to Esther seems to elicit the need to ‘soften’ the troubling notion that God Himself rejoiced at the near destruction of the Jews in the Purim story.  No, God Himself did not rejoice. But he did encourage others to do so in carrying out their awful, destructive task.

Redaction and Reconstruction

Two  articles on redaction in the Tannaitic corpus that is not Mishnah were recently published. I thought that each exemplified an interesting facet of the reembracement of source criticism in recent years.

The first is Yoav Rosenthal’s article in Tarbiz 79, on an interesting phenomenon in the MSS of the Tosefta. Rosenthal’s work focuses on the “recent afterlife” of texts; something analogous to the search for “historical traditions about Jesus from the first 48 hours after resurrection”; although he contends that rabbinic works are in fact made of discreet sources, they are not always readily found. The only “rigourous” tools we have are the MSS, which rarely give away the secrets of actual redaction. They’re better at finding the first baby steps the text made when it was being transmitted.

In what might be his most influential work yet, Yoav Rosenthal brings to light some gems first discovered by Adiel Schremer. Rosenthal claims he has found footnotes in Tosefta, which become apparent when comparing the two extant MSS of this work. In some rare instances, a clump of halakhot will be found at the end of the chapter in one MS, and in the middle in another. Rosenthal shows that this clump of halakhot is a commentary on one halakha in the chapter of Tosefta that does not “move around” in the MS tradition, or an addendum to it.

This of course opens the door to the possibilities that (a) there are more such places, but they cannot be found in the MS tradition, and (b) that the Tosefta is made up of multiple layers, and that it was an open text for a certain amount of time.

This should be distinguished from true “redaction”, i.e. the creation of a new text out of sources already available to the redactor. This phenomenon was recently astutely detected in Tosefta Sanhedrin 7 by Ishay Rosen-Zvi, and deserves its own treatment.

A completely different take on the question of redaction is Steven Fraade’s “Anonymity and Redaction in Rabbinic Midrash”, published in the recently-noted Melekhet Mahshevet. In a conference conducted two years before Moulie Vidas suggested that the Stam was being anonymous on purpose, Fraade made the same observations regarding the anonymous material in the Mekhilta. Fraade notes that since Halivni and Friedman popularized the idea that the Bavli is made of different strata, very few scholars have attempted (in print, at any rate) to apply the same tools to other rabbinic texts.

Fraade suggests that it makes less of a difference whether or not the anonymous parts are earlier or later than the named ones, and that the bigger and more interesting task is to parse the effect this combination of multivocality and monovocality has on the reader. Do many names carry more or less weight than one text speaking with no names; and what is the effect of the combination?

In order to do this he read through a sizable chunk of Mekhilta nezikin, and presents the reader with a detailed discussion of parasha 4 in which he points out that the named statements in this midrash are “interlopers in a text that otherwise seems to glory in its anonymity”. He suggests that their names are presented in order to point out the partiality of the single opinions against the redacted text, brought into the debate to highlight the overarching anonymous pedagogical move that is Stam Mekhilta.

Fraade himself sees this article as the beginning of a project; as someone who is already laboring on several readings of parashot of midrash, his insight on the effect of the final redacted product on the early reader is an invaluable tool. I would, however, also focus on actual source criticism, which is easier to employ in Midrash, with all of its rules, terms and patterns, than in Mishnah, Tosefta or Talmudim.

In a way, this reading too is a study on the short-term afterlife of the text: what did the composer mean for the first audience to hear? What would the first – or third – teacher of this text transmit to his students? Are these questions better or are they in fact just a shying away from the old (“protestant”) questions of redaction and source criticism?

A New Reading of 4Q251 8

Note: Events and reviews are the mainstay of the blog, but some original research and thoughts will of course be posted from time to time. The ideas in these posts are not finished pieces. Rather, they are ideas thrown out with the hope that they will generate comments and debate. This is a fragment I stumbled across while doing research for my MA thesis, supervised by Prof. Menahem Kahana. I thank Prof. Aharon Shemesh for the email conversation that sparked this post.

Several years ago, Aharon Shemesh (whose new book with Cana Werman was just published, and whose old books were recently reviewed by Beth Berkowitz) reread a Qumran fragment of what he termed “Midrash Mishpatim“. Designated simply and prosaically 4QHalachaa by its original editors, Shemesh was able to see through the holes in the fragment (and there were many) and posit an exciting new reconstruction of one pericope, a rewriting and commentary on Exodus 21:23.  His interpretation managed to make sense of the fragment while simultaneously reconstructing not only an interpretation of Exodus 21:23 (ונתן בפללים) heretofore unheard of, but also one that marks and explicates the exegetical element of the rewriting.

Speaking to Prof. Shemesh recently about the same fragment, I came across one other place where it is possible to offer a reconstruction along the same lines. Less exciting and revolutionary, but in this instance somewhat important, I believe, for the history of rabbinic legal history and biblical interpretation.

In the DJD reconstruction of the scroll, we read in fragment 8 (the asterisks mark letters that are not complete in the scroll, like the requisite circles above the letters in critical editions):

[כי יכה איש את עבדו או את שפחתו ]בעין [ או כי יפיל את שן]

[עבדו או אמתו לחפשי ישלחנ]*ו ונתן *ש*ב[תו ורפו]א ירפא

[תחת עינו או שנו כי יגח שור איש או ]*אשה והומת השור וסקלהו

As you can see, the words that remain in the fragment are בעין in l. 1, ונתן שב…א ירפא in l. 2 and אשה והומת השור וסקלהו in l. 3. The DJD editors decided that these words are the connection point between the midrash on Exodus 21:26-27 and idem, 28.

However, in a conversation with Prof. Shemesh, I suggested that בעין does not fit the role of the object of the blow quite well – one would expect את עינו as in MT or perhaps על עינו as in rabbinic Hebrew. בעין however is part of the talionic formula – not in Exodus, but in Deuteronomy 19:21, in the law of conspiring witnesses “עין בעין שן בשן יד ביד רגל ברגל”.

Beyond this “narrow” question of grammatical construct lies the wider question of the reliability of such reconstructions. The editors decided to read the fragment as commenting on the sequence Exodus 21:26-28, but this is but one option. The grammatical question can actually lead to the following reconstruction:

עין] בעין [ שן בשן  יד ביד

רגל ברגל כויה תחת כויה ] ונתן שב[תו ורפו]א ירפא

[כי יגח שור איש או ]*אשה והומת השור וסקלהו

This reconstruction (the DJD editors note that the first four reconstructed words in l. 3 don’t fit the estimated size of the fragment, and can be omitted) would have the fragment be the connection point between two laws that are not contiguous in the Biblical text: the law of the miscarrying woman, and the law of the goring ox. This reconstruction also lets the fragment answer an important question.

The formula “an eye for an eye” never appears as an integral part of a law in the Pentateuch, but rather has a way of being interpolated into an already existing law. As an exercise, try reading Exodus 21:22-25, Leviticus 24:16-22 and Deuteronomy 19:21 without this formula. The verses will stand on their own just fine.

4Q251 knows this, and might be creating a “new” law of assault in order to solve the problem (warning: unsubstantiated reconstruction!):

כי ינצו אנשים ונתתה עין] בעין [ שן בשן  יד ביד

רגל ברגל כויה בכויה ] ונתן שב[תו ורפו]א ירפא

[כי יגח שור איש או ]*אשה והומת השור וסקלהו

A more substantial reconstruction of line 1 might – perhaps read something like “when men fight together, and one hits the other and maims him, then you shall give eye for eye, tooth for tooth etc.”

In this new law, 4Q251 incorporates the talionic formula together with the law that compensation for lost time and medical expenses is given to the victim of a brawl (Exodus 21:19). This reading of Exodus 21:18-19 and 22-25 as parts of the same law is found in the Mekhilta according to Rabbi Ishmael (Nezikin 6 and 8 ) and the Mishnah (Bava Kama 8), and now – perhaps – also in 4Q251.

It should be noted that even if the DJD reconstruction is maintained, the inclusion of the formula from Exodus 21:19, ונתן שב…א ירפא means that Exodus 21:18-19 is read together with the other laws of injury, and not, for example, as part of the laws of murder. But I think the proposed reconstruction solves the grammatical problem and the legal problem in one swoop. It also does so more elegantly.

If so, this would be yet another example of possible connections between the school of R. Ishmael and other (almost contemporary) scripture-reading circles, such as Qumran.