Talmud Readers by Adolf Behrman
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Deuteronomy Rabbah (Hebrew: דברים רבה) is an aggadic midrash or homiletic commentary on the Book of Deuteronomy. Unlike Bereshit Rabbah, the Midrash to Deuteronomy which has been included in the collection of the Midrash Rabbot in the ordinary editions does not contain running commentaries on the text of the Bible, but twenty-five complete, independent homilies, together with two fragmentary ones, on as many sections of Deuteronomy, which for the larger part are recognized as "sedarim," the Sabbatical lessons for public worship according to the Palestinian three-year cycle.
Sections of the Midrash
The index to the rabbinical Bible (Venice, 1525) gives 27 sedarim in Deuteronomy; on 19 of these there are homilies in the present Midrash, as well as a fragment, which, according to the editions, belongs to another seder (Deut. xxix. 9). It may be due to differences of time and place in the division of the cycle of sedarim that in the Debarim Rabbah there are no homilies on seven or eight of the sedarim mentioned in that index—namely, Deut. xi. 10, xiv. 1, xv. 7, xxiii. 10, xxiii. 22, xxiv. 19, xxvi. 1, and occasionally and conditionally xxix. 9—and that, besides a homily on a section mentioned in other sources as a seder (Deut. iv. 25), there are five additional homilies on the sections Deut. i. 10, iv. 7, xi. 26, xxiv. 9, and xxix. 1, which were not otherwise known as sedarim.
In some of these homilies, moreover, the halakic exordiums (see below) close with the words מנין ממה שקרינו בענין ..., which clearly show that the Scriptural sections on which the homilies were pronounced were used for public lessons. The editor of this Midrash, however, has probably included only the homilies on the Sabbatical lessons of the cycle of sedarim: for Debarim Rabbah contains no homilies on the lessons of the Pesiḳta cycle belonging to Deuteronomy, Deut. xiv. 22 and xxv. 17 (Deut. xxxiii. 1 is a seder as well as a Pesiḳta section).
The economy of this Midrash containing sedarim homilies on Deuteronomy, as well as the character of the individual homilies, could easily have been misconstrued and forgotten after the division of the Torah into pericopes according to the one-year cycle had come into general use. In present editions Debarim Rabbah is divided only according to these latter pericopes; it was not noticed that the homilies on כי תצא and כי תבא did not correspond with the beginnings of the pericopes Deut. xxi. 10 and xxvi. 1. The sidrot Niẓẓabim and Wayelek formed one pericope in the oldest Midrash editions (Constantinople, 1512, and Venice, 1545); hence in these editions Debarim Rabbah contains only ten sections, corresponding with the pericopes. The further designation of these sections as "parashiyyot" and their enumeration from 1 to 11, dividing Niẓẓabim and Wayelek, are addenda of the later editions.
Analysis of contents
According to its original composition, this midrash includes the following homilies (the passages marked with an asterisk are sedarim):
- Parashah i. Nos. 1-9 (according to the Wilna ed.), on * Deut. i. 1;
- ib. Nos. 10-14, on Deut i. 10;
- ib. Nos. 15-20, on *Deut. ii. 2;
- ib. Nos. 21-25, on *Deut. ii. 31;
- par. ii. Nos. 1-9, on *Deut. iii. 23;
- ib. Nos. 10-17, on Deut. iv. 7;
- ib. Nos. 18-24, on *Deut. iv. 25;
- ib. Nos. 25-30, on *Deut. iv. 41;
- ib. Nos. 31-37, on *Deut. vi. 4;
- par. iii. Nos. 1-7, on *Deut. vii. 12;
- ib. Nos. 8-11, on *Deut. ix. 1;
- ib. Nos. 12-17, on *Deut. x. 1;
- par. iv. Nos. 1-5, on Deut. xi. 26;
- ib. Nos. 6-11, on *Deut. xii. 20;
- par. v. Nos. 1-7, on *Deut. xvi. 18;
- ib. Nos. 8-11, on *Deut. xvii. 14;
- ib. Nos. 12-15, on *Deut. xx. 10;
- par. vi. Nos. 1-7, on *Deut. xxii. 6;
- ib. Nos. 8-14, on Deut. xxiv. 9;
- par. vii. Nos. 1-7, on *Deut. xxviii. 1;
- ib. Nos. 8-12, on Deut. xxix. 1; (par. viii. No. 1, merely a halakic exordium, doubtful if belonging to *Deut.xxix.9);
- par. viii. Nos. 2-7, on *Deut. xxx. 11:
- par. ix. Nos. 1-9, on *Deut. xxxi. 14;
- par. x. Nos. 1-4, on *Deut. xxxii. 1;
- par. xi. Nos. 1-5, and probably 7-8, on Deut. xxxiii. 1 (ib.. No. 6 is an interpolated second halakic exordium; No. 8 probably closes the homily and the Midrash, the remaining pieces being additions borrowed from the Midrash on the death of Moses).
These homilies, which in a new edition of the Midrash should be marked as its proper components, evince a great regularity of workmanship in their composition and execution. Each homily begins with a halakic exordium, has one or more proems, followed by the commentary—in which, however, only the first verse, or a few verses from the beginning of the section read, are treated—and ends with an easily recognizable peroration containing a promise of the Messianic future or some other consolatory thought, all concluding with a verse of the Bible. The comments referring only to the first verses of the lesson characterize Debarim Rabbah as a Midrash of homilies in which even the proems are rather independent homilies than introductions to the comment on the Scriptural section; and the exordiums show, further, that Debarim Rabbah is very similar to the Tanḥuma Midrashim.
In the halakic exordium (an essential of the haggadic discourse which is found neither in Pesiḳta and Wayiḳra Rabbah nor in Bereshit Rabbah) an apparently irrelevant legal question is put, and answered with a passage from the Mishnah (about twenty times) or Tosefta, etc. Such answers are generally introduced in Debarim Rabbah by the formula כך שנו חכמים though the formula usual in Tanḥuma, כך שנו רבותינו, occurs twice (in parashah i. Nos. 10 and 15). Then follow other halakic explanations (compare parashah v. No. 8; par. vii. Nos. 1 and 8; par. ix. No. 1; par. xi. No. 1) and haggadic interpretations, the last of which are deduced from the Scriptural section of the Sabbath lesson. Thus, a connection between the halakic question and the text or the first verse of the lesson is found, and the speaker can proceed to the further discussion of the homily, the exordiums closing generally with the formula מנין ממה שקרינו בענין, followed by the first words of the Scriptural section. The formula occurs 18 times as cited; twice as מנין שכתוב בענין; once as מנין שכך כתוב; twice as מנין שנאמר; it is lacking altogether in only a few of the homilies.
Resemblance of Yelamdenu
The stylistic manner of opening the discourse with a halakic question is so closely connected with the original Midrash Tanḥuma, however, that in consequence of the introductory formula ילמדנו רבינו ("May our teacher instruct us?"), with which the exordiums and hence the homilies began, the name "Yelamdenu" was also given to this Midrash. Even in early times some scholars concluded from the halakic exordiums in Debarim Rabbah that this Midrash was derived in large part from the Yelamdenu; as did Abraham ben Solomon Akra in his Kelale Midrash Rabbah, Venice, 1601.
Debarim Rabbah Older than Tanḥuma
It is curious that while in Debarim Rabbah every homily has a halakic exordium, in the extant Tanḥuma Midrashim the part on Deuteronomy is without any (the Tanhuma edited by S. Buber lacks the exordiums to Exodus also). It would be erroneous to conclude from this, however, that the present Debarim Rabbah must be identified with Tanḥuma, and Tanḥuma to Deuteronomy with Debarim Rabbah, or that Debarim Rabbah as well as the Tanḥuma Midrash in the editions to Deuteronomy, and several other Midrashim to Deuteronomy of which fragments have been published in modern times, or from which quotations are found in old authors, have all borrowed from the original Yelamdenu.
If the designation "Tanḥuma homilies" be given to the homilies described above, consisting of halakic introductions, proems, comments on various verses, etc., modeled on the form of the Yelamdenu Tanḥuma, and if the latter was also the model for the haggadic discourses in the centuries immediately following Tanḥuma, it may be said that Debarim Rabbah contains these homilies in a much more primitive form and also in a more complete collection than the Midrash Tanḥuma to Deuteronomy in Buber's and the earlier editions; for these editions (as Theodor has shown in his Die Midraschim zum Pentateuch, in Monatsschrift, 1886, pp. 559 et seq.) are extant in a very defective form, treat many fewer sedarim than Debarim Rabbah, and, are with few exceptions, only shorter or longer fragments of sedarim homilies.
In view of the form of the homilies and the composition of the whole work, which lend to Debarim Rabbah the appearance of a Tanḥuma Midrash, it is not strange that passages from this Midrash are quoted, in some citations of earlier authors (in the 13th century and later), as belonging to Tanḥuma. Textually, Debarim Rabbah has little in common with the Tanḥuma Midrashim on Deuteronomy, either in the editions or in the extracts from Tanḥuma in Yalḳuṭ or from Yelamdenu in Yalḳuṭ and Aruk. Some halakic questions found also in Tanḥuma in homilies on Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus are quite differently applied and developed in the exordiums of Debarim Rabbah. This Midrash, in its use of the old sources, such as Yerushalmi, Bereshit Rabbah, and Wayiḳra Rabbah, often shows a freer treatment, and endeavors to translate Aramaic passages into Hebrew and to modernize them.
As regards the time of writing or editing the Debarim Rabbah, "the epoch of the year 900" comes, according to Zunz, "perhaps" nearest the mark. The Midrash was not known either to R. Nathan, the author of the Aruk, or to Rashi (the passage in a citation quoted by the latter is not found in Debarim Rabbah). A large number of extracts are found in Yalḳuṭ, generally with the designation of the Midrash אלה הדברים רבה, as it is commonly cited by the older authors.
The Munich Codex
The same name is given to the Midrash on Deuteronomy in Cod. Munich, No. 229; this contains for the first pericope, דברים, four entirely different homilies which have but a few points of similarity with those in present editions, but which are likewise composed according to the Tanḥuma form, and are on the same Scriptural sections as the homilies in Debarim Rabbah; namely, on Deut. i. 1, i. 10, ii. 2, ii. 31. The second and third pericopes have also halakic exordiums closing with the words, מנין ממה שקרינו בענין..., in which, however, the question is put without any formula. The Munich manuscript agrees with Debarim Rabbah in the pericopes עקב to נצבים, but has additions to the latter; the remaining pericopes are lacking.
Another manuscript Midrash, which was in the possession of A. Epstein circa 1900, contains not only the same homilies as Cod. Munich for the pericope דברים, but for the pericope ואתחנן has similar homilies, that are entirely different from Debarim Rabbah and are on the sedarim Deut. iii. 23 (not iv. 7), iv. 25, iv. 41, vi. 4; all these four homilies have halakic exordiums. The manuscript also has a different exordium for the beginning עקב. From this point to the pericope כי תבא, it agrees with the print editions (the exordiums, however, are preceded only by the word הלכה, without אדם מישראל); in pericope נצבים and its additions it agrees with the Cod. Munich. For וילך (also on Deut. xxxi. 14) it has a different text; and in the last two pericopes, האזינו and וזאת הברכה, it agrees with the Midrash Tanḥuma in present editions. It may be assumed with certainty that the first one or two pericopes of this manuscript—in which several passages can be pointed out that R. Baḥya (end of the 13th century) quotes from the Midrash Rabbah or from אלה הדברים רבה—belong to a Midrash that originally included the whole of Deuteronomy. What remained of that Midrash was combined in those codices with pericopes from Debarim Rabbah and Midrash Tanḥuma. Among the numerous Midrashim to Deuteronomy there are known to be a number of fragments of a Debarim Zuṭa, the preservation of which is due to the author of Yalḳuṭ.
Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901–1906.
- See Bibliography to Bereshit Rabbah. On Debarim Rabbah especially, compare:
- Leopold Zunz, Gottesdienstliche Vorträge der Juden, 1832, pp. 251–253;
- Weiss, Dor, iii. 268, iv. 210 et seq.;
- S. Buber, Einleitung zum Tan. pp. 20b et seq., 40a, and, Vienna, 1885;
- Theodor, in Monatsschrift, 1886, p. 559; 1887, pp. 35, 321 et seq.;
- A. Epstein, Beiträge zur Jüdische Alterthumskunde, pp. 57, 76 et seq.;
- idem, in Bet Talmud, year V.;
- Winter and Wünsche, Die Jüdische Litteratur, i.;
- W. Bacher. Ag. Pal. Amor. iii. 504 et seq.;
- Maybaum, Die Aeltesten Phasen in der Entwickelung der Jüd. Predigt, pp. 2, 42 et seq., Berlin, 1901.