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Rabbinical Eras

Rabbinic literature, in its broadest sense, can mean the entire spectrum of rabbinic writings throughout Jewish history. But 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 (ספרות חז"ל; "Literature [of our] sages [of] blessed memory," where Hazal normally refers only to the sages of the Talmudic era). This more specific sense of "Rabbinic literature"—referring to the Talmudim, Midrash, 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 literatureEdit

The Mishnah and the Tosefta (compiled from materials pre-dating the year 200) 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 MidrashEdit

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
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 categoryEdit

Major codes of Jewish lawEdit

Jewish thought and ethicsEdit

Jewish philosophyEdit

LiturgyEdit

Later works by historical periodEdit

Works of the GeonimEdit

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

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

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

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

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

MeforshimEdit

Meforshim is a Hebrew word meaning "(classical rabbinical) commentators" (or roughly meaning "exegetes"), and is used as a substitute for the correct word perushim which means "commentaries". In Judaism this term refers to commentaries on the Torah (five books of Moses), Tanakh, the Mishnah, the Talmud, responsa, even the siddur (Jewish prayerbook), and more.

Classic Torah and Talmud commentariesEdit

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 Edit

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

  • Reform Judaism
    • "A Torah Commentary for Our Times," a three-volume commentary edited by Rabbi Harvey Fields
    • "Sparks Beneath the Surface" by Rabbis Lawrence S. Kushner and Kerry M. Olitzky, spiritual commentary based on Hasidic teachings
    • "The Torah: A Women's Commentary" edited by Dr. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Rabbi Andrea Weiss, featuring new critical approaches such as literary criticism, sociology, and feminism not found in traditional commentaries.

Modern Siddur commentaries Edit

Modern Siddur commentaries have been written by:

See alsoEdit

Bibliography Edit

  • 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. (Tomsan Fortress, 1987)

External linksEdit

GeneralEdit

Links to full text resourcesEdit

GlossariesEdit

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