Megillat Taanit (Hebrew: מגילת תענית), lit. "the Scroll of Fasting," is an ancient text, in the form of a chronicle, which enumerates 35 eventful days on which the Jewish nation either performed glorious deeds or witnessed joyful events. These days were celebrated as feast-days. Public mourning was forbidden on 14 of them, and public fasting on all.
History of the feast days
The events generally date to the Hasmonean era, though almost half of them cannot be conclusively identified. Only a few occurred earlier than the Hasmonean era, or after the destruction of the Second Temple. Many commemorate Hasmonean victories in battle.
The days are enumerated, not in the chronological order of the events they commemorate, but in the sequence of the calendar. Megillat Ta'anit contains twelve chapters, each chapter contains the memorial days of a single month, beginning with Nisan (the first calendar month), and ending with Adar.
While J. Schmilg argued that these memorial days become festivals by being incorporated and recorded in Megillat Ta'anit, later scholarship has concluded that the days had been known and celebrated by the people long before that time (as Schmilg himself was forced to admit in the case of some of them). The celebration of these festivals or semi-festivals evidently existed as early as the time of Judith. The compilers of Megillat Ta'anit merely listed the memorial days, and at the same time determined that the less important should be celebrated by a mere suspension of fasting, while public mourning was to be forbidden on the more important ones.
In most editions Megillat Taanit consists of two parts, which are distinct in language and in form, namely:
- The text or Megillat Ta'anit proper, written in Aramaic and containing merely brief outlines in concise style. It dates to the Tannaitic period.
- Scholium or commentary on the text, written in Hebrew. These were written much later - in the seventh century or later, as shown by its author having before him the text of both the Talmudim as well as that of Bereshit Rabbah.
The many quotations from Megillat Ta'anit in the Talmud are all taken from the Aramaic text and are introduced by the word "ketib" = "it is written". This text, which had been committed to writing and was generally known, was explained and interpreted in the same way as the Bible. The Talmud does not include a single quotation from the scholium. Although the comments found in the scholium are mentioned in the Talmud, they are not credited to Megillat Ta'anit, but are quoted as independent baraitot, so that the scholium took them from the Talmud, and not vice versa. Schmilg provides references intended to prove an earlier origin for the scholium; however, these sources merely prove that the scholiast intended to make his work pass for a product of the tannaitic period.
As the text and the scholium of Megillat Ta'anit are distinct in form and in language, so do they differ also in historical accuracy. The text is an actual historical source, whose statements may be regarded as authentic, while its dates are reliable if interpreted independently of the scholium. The scholium, on the other hand, is of very doubtful historical value and must be used with extreme caution. Although it contains some old baraitot which are reliable, the compiler has mixed them with other, unhistorical, accounts and legends, so that even those data whose legendary character has not been proved can be credited only when they are confirmed by internal and external evidence.
In some editions a third section appears: the "final discourse" (Hebrew ma'amar aharon) which lists days on which one should fast (in contrast to the rest of Megillat Ta'anit, which lists days on which fasting is forbidden). This section dates to the period of the Gaonim.
Authorship of the Aramaic text
The Talmud, and the scholium to Megillat Ta'anit itself, provide slightly different accounts of the authorship of Megillat Ta'anit:
- According to an old baraita in the Talmud, "Hananiah ben Hezekiah of the Garon family, together with a number of others who had assembled for a synod at his house, compiled Megillat Ta'anit." According to Halakot Gedolot, Hilkot Soferim, the members of this synod were the "Ziḳne Bet Shammai" and "Ziḳne Bet Hillel," the eldest pupils of Shammai and Hillel. Megillat Ta'anit must have been composed, therefore, about the year 7 CE, when Judea was made a Roman province to the great indignation of the Jews. This calendar of victories was intended to fan the spark of liberty among the people and to fill them with confidence and courage by reminding them of the victories of the Maccabees and the divine aid granted to the Jewish nation against the heathen.
- The scholium to Megillat Ta'anit says: "Eleazar b. Hananiah of the family of Garon together with his followers compiled Megillat Ta'anit." This Eleazar took a noteworthy part in the beginning of the revolt against the Romans, vanquishing the garrison at Jerusalem, as well as Agrippa's troops, and Menahem's Sicarian bands. According to this account, therefore, Megillat Ta'anit was composed by the Zealots after the year 66 CE, during the revolution.
The account in the Talmud and that in the scholium may both be accepted, since not only Hananiah the father, but also Eleazar the son, contributed to the compilation of the work. Eleazar, one of the central figures in the war against the Romans, endeavored to strengthen the national consciousness of his people by continuing his father's work, and increased the number of memorial days in the collection, to remind the people how God had always helped them and had given them the victory over external and internal enemies.
Eleazar did not, however, complete the work, and several days were subsequently added to the list which was definitely closed in Usha, as is proved by the fact that the 12th of Adar is designated as "Trajan's Day," and the 29th of that month as "the day on which the persecutions of Hadrian ceased". Furthermore, R. Simon ben Gamaliel, who was nasi at Usha, says that "If we should turn all the days on which we have been saved from some danger into holidays, and list them in Megillat Ta'anit, we could not satisfy ourselves; for we should be obliged to turn nearly every day into a festival"  This indicates that the work was definitely completed at Usha in the time of R. Simon, in order that no further memorial days might be added.
The scholion is written in Mishnaic Hebrew combined with some more ancient terminology; there are also some influences from later Babylonian Aramaic. Some stories in the scholion are ancient and reliable, mentioning historical facts nowhere else appearing in Tannaic literature; while others are midrashim taken from a variety of sources.
Vered Noam has shown that the scholion currently printed is a medieval hybrid of two independently written commentaries, nicknamed "Scholion O" and "Scholion P", after the Oxford and Parma manuscripts in which they are found. Often these two commentaries contradict each other, offering entirely different stories for the origin of a holiday. In general Scholion O has more overlap with Genesis Rabbah, the Talmud Yerushalmi, and other sources from Israel; while Scholion P is closer to Babylonian sources. The current Scholion, nicknamed the "Hybrid Version", was created in the 9th or 10th centuries by combining Scholia O and P.
Scholia O and P may be just two examples of a genre of commentaries on Megillat Taanit, with a partial scholion in the Babylonian Talmud being a third example, and the other examples not surviving.
Editions and Commentaries
Megillat Ta'anit is extant in many editions, and has had numerous commentaries. The best edition of the Aramaic and Hebrew text is that of Vered Noam, which has supplanted A. Neubauer's as the authoritative work in the field. In addition to meticulous philological scholarship, Noam's edition includes rich annotation and a groundbreaking interpretation of the stemmatic history.
Of commentaries the following may be mentioned: Abraham ben Joseph ha-Levi, double commentary (Amsterdam, 1656); Judah ben Menahem, double commentary (Dyhernfurth, 1810); Johann Meyer, Latin language translation published in his Tractatus de Temporibus, etc. (Amsterdam, 1724). Derenbourg and Schwab have made French versions of the Aramaic text.
- Hananiah b. Hezekiah b. Garon, Author
- Lulianos and Paphos, concerning "the day of Trajan" mentioned in Megillat Taanit
- Megillat Taanit – The Scroll of Fasting by Vered Noam
- Jewish Encyclopedia Article for Megillat Taanit, by Isidore Singer and Jacob Zallel Lauterbach.
- Ueber die Entstehung und den Historischen Werth des Siegeskalenders Megillat Ta'anit, pp. 11–20
- Book of Judith viii. 6
- comp. Brann, l.c. pp. 410-418, 445-451
- As in Ḥul. 129b; Meg. 5b; Ta'an. 12a and 18b
- Eruvin 62
- Yerushalmi Ta'an. ii. 66a
- In Ta'an. 12a, the single passage, "bi-Megillat Ta'anit," from which Schmilg tries to prove that the Talmud quotes the scholium as well as Megillat, is a later addition (comp. Brann, l.c. pp. 457 et seq.), and is not found in the Munich manuscript (comp. Rabbinowitz, Ha-Meassef, iii. 63).
- l.c. pp. 36–41
- Encyclopedia Yehudit: Megillat Ta'anit
- Shabbat 13b
- ed. Vienna, p. 104; ed. Zolkiev, p. 82c
- comp. Schmilg, l.c. pp. 20–36
- Megillat Ta'anit, xii., end, evidently quoting an old baraita
- H. Grätz, Gesch. iii., note 26; although it is not necessary to correct the Talmudic account to agree with the scholium, and to read, as does Grätz, in Shab. 13b, "Eleazar b. Hananiah," instead of "Hananiah."
- comp. Brann in Monatsschrift, 1876, p. 379
- Shabbat 13b; comp. Rashi ad loc.
Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography
- Grätz, Gesch. iii., notes 1, 26;
- J. Derenbourg, Hist. pp. 439–446;
- J. Schmilg, Ueber Entstehung und Historischen Werth des Siegeskalenders Megillat Ta'anit, Leipsic, 1874;
- J. Wellhausen, Die Pharisäer und die Sadducäer, pp. 56–63, Greifswald, 1874;
- Joel Müller, Der Text der Fastenrolle, in Monatsschrift, 1875, pp. 43–48, 139-144;
- M. Brann, Entstehung und Werth der Megillat Ta'anit, pp. 375–384, 410-418, 445-460, ib. 1876;
- P. Cassel, Messianische Stellen des Alten Testaments, Appendix, Berlin, 1885;
- Weiss, Dor, ii. 254-257;
- B. Rattner, in Rabbinowitz, Ha-Meassef, 1902, pp. 91–105;
- M. Schwab, La Megillath Taanith, in Actes du Onzième Congrès International des Orientalistes, pp. 199–259, Paris, 1898.
- Aramaic/Hebrew Text
- English Translation of the Aramaic by Solomon Zeitlin
- Megillat Taanit – The Scroll of Fasting by Vered Noam