Rabbinic literature

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Rabbinic literature, in its broadest sense, can mean the entire spectrum of rabbinic writings throughout Jewish history. However, the term often refers specifically to literature from the Talmudic era, as opposed to medieval and modern rabbinic writing, and thus corresponds with the Hebrew term Sifrut Hazal (Hebrew: ספרות חז"ל‎‎ "Literature [of our] sages," where Hazal normally refers only to the sages of the Talmudic era). This more specific sense of "Rabbinic literature"—referring to the Talmudim, Midrash (Hebrew: מדרש‎‎), and related writings, but hardly ever to later texts—is how the term is generally intended when used in contemporary academic writing. On the other hand, the terms meforshim and parshanim (commentaries/commentators) almost always refer to later, post-Talmudic writers of Rabbinic glosses on Biblical and Talmudic texts.

This article discusses rabbinic literature in both senses. It begins with the classic rabbinic literature of the Talmudic era (Sifrut Hazal), and then adds a broad survey of rabbinic writing from later periods.

Mishnaic literature

The Mishnah and the Tosefta (compiled from materials pre-dating the year 200 CE) are the earliest extant works of rabbinic literature, expounding and developing Judaism's Oral Law, as well as ethical teachings. Following these came the two Talmuds:

The Midrash

Midrash (pl. Midrashim) is a Hebrew word referring to a method of reading details into, or out of, a biblical text. The term midrash also can refer to a compilation of Midrashic teachings, in the form of legal, exegetical, homiletical, or narrative writing, often configured as a commentary on the Bible or Mishnah. There are a large number of "classical" Midrashic works spanning a period from Mishnaic to Geonic times, often showing evidence of having been worked and reworked from earlier materials, and frequently coming to us in multiple variants. A compact list of these works [based on (Holtz 1984)] is given below; a more thorough annotated list can be found under Midrash. The timeline below must be approximate because many of these works were composed over a long span of time, borrowing and collating material from earlier versions; their histories are therefore somewhat uncertain and the subject of scholarly debate. In the table, "n.e." designates that the work in question is not extant except in secondary references.

Extra-canonical rabbinical literature ("n.e." designates "not extant")
Estimated date Exegetical Homiletical Narrative

Tannaitic period
(till 200 CE)

Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael
Mekhilta of Rabbi Shimon
Mekilta le-Sefer Devarim (n.e.)
Sifra
Sifre

Alphabet of Akiba ben Joseph (?)

Seder Olam Rabbah

400–650 CE

Genesis Rabbah
Lamentations Rabbah

Leviticus Rabbah
Pesikta de-Rav Kahana
Midrash Tanhuma

Seder Olam Zutta

650–900 CE

Midrash Proverbs
Ecclesiastes Rabbah

Deuteronomy Rabbah
Pesikta Rabbati
Avot of Rabbi Natan

Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer
Tanna Devei Eliyahu

900–1000 CE

Midrash Psalms
Exodus Rabbah
Ruth Zuta
Lamentations Zuta

1000–1200

Midrash Aggadah of Moses ha-Darshan
Midrash Tadshe

Sefer ha-Yashar

Later

Yalkut Shimoni
Midrash ha-Gadol
Ein Yaakov
Numbers Rabbah

Later works by category

Major codes of Jewish law

Jewish thought and ethics

Liturgy

Later works by historical period

Works of the Geonim

The Geonim are the rabbis of Sura and Pumbeditha, in Babylon (650 - 1250) :

Works of the Rishonim (the "early" rabbinical commentators)

The Rishonim are the rabbis of the early medieval period (1000 - 1550)

Works of the Acharonim (the "later" rabbinical commentators)

The Acharonim are the rabbis from 1550 to the present day.

Meforshim

Meforshim is a Hebrew word meaning "commentators" (or roughly meaning "exegetes"), Perushim means "commentaries". In Judaism these words refer to commentaries on the Torah (five books of Moses), Tanakh, Mishnah, Talmud, the responsa literature, or even the siddur (Jewish prayerbook), and more.

Classic Torah and Talmud commentaries

Classic Torah and/or Talmud commentaries have been written by the following individuals:

Classical Talmudic commentaries were written by Rashi. After Rashi the Tosafot were written, which was an omnibus commentary on the Talmud by the disciples and descendants of Rashi; this commentary was based on discussions done in the rabbinic academies of Germany and France.

Modern Torah commentaries

Modern Torah commentaries which have received wide acclaim in the Jewish community include:

Modern Siddur commentaries

Modern Siddur commentaries have been written by:

See also

Bibliography

  • Back to the Sources: Reading the Classic Jewish Texts, Barry W. Holtz, (Summit Books)
  • Introduction to Rabbinic Literature Jacob Neusner, (Anchor Bible Reference Library/Doubleday)
  • Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash, H. L. Strack and G. Stemberger, (Fortress Press)
  • The Literature of the Sages: Oral Torah, Halakha, Mishnah, Tosefta, Talmud, External Tractates, Shemuel Safrai and Peter J. Tomson (Fortress, 1987)

External links

General

  • A survey of rabbinic literature
  • A timeline of Jewish texts
  • Comprehensive listing by category - Global Jewish Database
  • Judaica archival project
  • Chapters On Jewish Literature
  • Online Resources for the Study of Rabbinic Literature

Links to full text resources

  • Mechon Mamre
  • Sages of Ashkenaz Database
  • Halacha Brura and Birur Halacha Institute
  • The Electronic Torah Warehouse
  • hebrewbooks.org
  • seforimonline.org
  • Primary Sources @ Ben Gurion University
  • Young Israel library

Glossaries

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