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Midrash Tehillim

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Midrash Tehillim (Hebrew: מדרש תהלים) or Midrash to Psalms is a haggadic midrash known since the 11th century, when it was quoted by Nathan of Rome in his Aruk (s.v. סחר), by R. Isaac ben Judah ibn Ghayyat in his Halakot (1b), and by Rashi in his commentary on I Sam. xvii. 49, and on many other passages. This midrash is called also "Agadat Tehillim" (Rashi on Deut. xxxiii. 7 and many other passages), or "Haggadat Tehillim" (Aruk, s.v. סער, and in six other passages). From the 12th century it was called also Shocher Tov (see Midrash Tehillim, ed. S. Buber, Introduction, pp. 35 et seq.), because it begins with the verse Prov. xi. 27, "שחר טוב יבקש רצון ודרש רעה תבואנו", etc.

Editions Edit

The true midrash covers only Ps. i.-cxviii., and this is all that is found either in the manuscripts or in the first edition (Constantinople, 1512). In the second edition (Salonica, 1515) a supplement was added covering, with the exception of two psalms, Ps. cxix.-cl. The author of this supplement was probably R. Mattithiah Yiẓhari of Saragossa, who collected the scattered haggadot on Ps. cxix.-cl. from the Yalḳuṭ, adding comments of his own. Since there are in the Yalḳuṭ no haggadic interpretations of Ps. cxxiii. and cxxxi., the author of the supplement included no haggadic sentences on these two psalms. This omission has been supplied by S. Buber, in his very full edition of the Midrash Tehillim, by printing, under the superscription of the two psalms, collectanea from the Pesiḳta Rabbati, Sifre, Numbers Rabbah, and the Babylonian Talmud, so that the midrash in its present form covers the entire Book of Psalms.

A Composite Work Edit

The name of the editor and the date of the redaction of the true midrash (Ps. i-cxviii.) cannot now be determined. The assumption that Rav Johanan or Rav Simon, the son of R. Judah ha-Nasi, edited it can not be substantiated (comp. Buber, l.c. pp. 3-4). It may, on the contrary, be shown that the midrash is not the work of a single editor. There are many passages containing the same thought. Substantially the same haggadot appear in different forms in different passages, e.g., Ps. vii., No. 6 and Ps. xviii., No. 13; Ps. xviii., No. 25 and Ps. xcv., No. 3; Ps. xviii., No. 26 and Ps. ciii., No. 2; Ps. xxvii., No. 7 and Ps. xciv., No. 5; Ps. xlv., No. 4 and Ps. c., No. 4; Ps. xci., No. 6 and Ps. civ., No. 3.

Mode and Date of Compilation Edit

It has been said that the date of the redaction of the midrash cannot be determined. Haggadic collections on the Psalms were made at a very early time, and are mentioned several times in the Talmudim and in Genesis Rabbah, e.g., Yer. Kil. ix. 32b; Yer. Ket. xii. 3, 35a; Gen. R. xxxiii. 2; Ḳid. 33a (comp. Rashi ad loc.). But it cannot possibly be assumed that the aggadah collections on the Psalms are identical with the present Midrash Tehillim, since the latter contains many elements of later date.


It can not be denied, however, that much material from those old collections is included in the present midrash. It must therefore be assumed that parts of the old collections had been preserved among the later haggadists. Then, when a midrash to the Psalms was undertaken together with the other midrashim, homilies and comments on single verses were collected from the most diverse sources, and were arranged together with the earlier haggadic material on the Psalms, following the sequence of the Psalms themselves. In the course of time this collection was supplemented and enlarged by the additions of various collections and editors, until the Midrash Tehillim finally took its present form.


Its definitive completion must, according to Zunz, be assigned to the last centuries of the period of the Geonim, without attempting to determine an exact date. But Zunz's assumption, that the midrash was compiled in Italy, cannot be accepted. The work was edited in Palestine, as appears from the language, style, and manner of haggadic interpretations. Nearly all the amoraim mentioned in it are Palestinian rabbis, and the few Babylonian amoraim referred to, e.g., R. Ḥida, are mentioned also in Yerushalmi (comp). Buber, l.c. p. 32, note 131).

The midrash contains homilies on the Psalms and comments on single verses and even on single words. The homilies are as a rule introduced with the formula "as Scripture says." In only a few cases are they introduced as in the other midrashim, with the formula "Rabbi N. N. has begun the discourse," or "Rabbi N. N. explains the Biblical passage." Among the comments on single verses are many which are based on the difference of "ḳeri" and "ketib" (differences of enunciated and written forms, resulting usually from transcription error; see also Masoretes) as well as on the variant spellings of words, plene and defective. Many words, also, are explained according to the numerical value of the letters (Gemaṭria) or by analysis of their component parts (Noṭariḳon) as well as by the substitution of other vowels ("al-tiḳri"; comp. the collation of all these passages in Buber, l.c. p. 10a, b). The midrash is prone to interpreting numbers, contributing likewise thereby important observations on the number of the Psalms and of the sections of the Pentateuch as well as on the number of verses in various Psalms. Thus it enumerates 175 sections of the Pentateuch, 147 psalms (Midr. Teh. to Ps. xix. 22), and nine verses in Ps. xx. (Midr. Teh. to Ps. xx. 2).

Legends and Myths Edit

The midrash contains, besides, a number of stories, legends, parables, proverbs, and sentences, with many ethical and halakic maxims. Of the interesting myths may be mentioned that of Remus and Romulus, to suckle whom God sends a she-wolf (Midr. Teh. to Ps. x. 6; Buber, l.c. p. 45a), and the legend of Emperor Hadrian, who wished to measure the depth of the Adriatic Sea (Midr. Teh. to Ps. xciii. 6; Buber, l.c. p. 208a, b). Among the proverbs which are found only in this midrash may be mentioned the following:

  • Walls have ears (Midr. Teh. to Ps. vii. 1; Buber, l.c. p. 31b), i.e., care should be taken in disclosing secrets even in a locked room (comp. Rashi in Ber. 8b, who quotes this proverb).
  • Woe to the living who prays to the dead; woe to the hero who has need of the weak; woe to the seeing who asks help of the blind; and woe to the century in which a woman is the leader (Midr. Teh. to Ps. xxii. 20; Buber, l.c. p. 96b).

Many a custom may be traced to this midrash, e.g., that of not drinking any water on the Sabbath before the evening (Ṭur and Shulḥan Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 291; comp. Midr. Teh., ed. Buber, p. 51b, note 48).

Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography Edit

  • Midrash Tehillim, ed. Buber, Introduction, Wilna, 1891;
  • J. Theodor, Ueber S. Buber's Midrasch, Tehillim, reprinted from the Menorah, Literaturblatt, Hamburg;
  • Zunz, G. V. pp. 266-268.

External links Edit

This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "Midrash Tehillim" by Wilhelm Bacher and Jacob Zallel Lauterbach, a publication now in the public domain.

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