Tabick Halivni Rabbinic Literature (SEM5004)
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History and Genres of Rabbinic Literature Jeremy Tabick1History and Genres of Rabbinic Literature:An analysis of David Weiss Halivnis workBy Jeremy TabickDavid Weiss Halivni is a giant in modern scholarship of the Babylonian Talmud. He is a precise and formidable reader of texts, able to spot extremely important minute details. And he is prolific, having written the multi-volume and incomplete commentary on the Talmud, Mekorot u-Mesorot (Sources and Traditions, hereafter MM). This assessment of his work and theories of Rabbinic literature focusses on two of his works published in English: Midrash, Mishnah and Gemara: The Jewish Predilection for Justified Law (hereafter MMG)1 and Jeffrey Rubensteins translation of Halivnis introduction to MM: Bava Batra, published as The Formation of the Babylonian Talmud (hereafter FBT).2 Between these two works, he spans the entire history of the Rabbinic period, and even discusses the influence of the Stammaim on later medieval commentators, which will not be dealt with in this analysis. He makes detailed observations with a plethora of examples on the Tannaitic midrashim (such as Mekhilta and Sifra), the Mishnah of Rabbi (Yehudah HaNasi), and the Babylonian Talmud. These observations are mostly with the goal of making historical claims, which he does with mixed success. However, along the way, he demonstrates his mastery of Rabbinic literature in a way that is far more applicable than the historical claims themselves.This analysis is divided mostly by time period. It begins with assessing Halivnis claims about the Tannaim and those that preceded them (mainly from MMG) on the Mishnah, midrashei halakhah and their relation to each other and to the Tanakh. The second section moves onto the History and Genres of Rabbinic Literature Jeremy Tabick2Amoraim and the nature of amoraic transmission of material. Finally, it discusses the transition into the stammaitic period, how Halivnis thinking about this has changed between MMG and FBT, and what the Stammaim were trying to accomplish. In conclusion, it poses some overall criticism of Halivnis historical methodology, taking the lead from much of Richard Kalmins critiques in his Conservative Judaism article.3 What we are left with is a remarkable mind who continues to lead the way in the interpretation of Rabbinic texts, and who believes in the Jewish obsession with justifying our laws.TannaimHalivni deals extensively with the genres of mishnah and midrash in MMG,4 and also discusses the editing process of the Mishnah in FBT in contrast to that of the Bavli.5 His analysis of the relationship between these two tannaitic genres and the Tanakh will be discussed in this section. The role and style of the anonymous layer in these tannaitic works will also be compared to Halivnis observations about the setam ha-Talmud.Relation to ScriptureCore to Halivnis ideology is the Jewish peoples predilection for justified law, by which he means law codes that come with reasons attached.6 This, he claims, originates in the Bible itself. He makes a key observation, borne out by many scholars of the ancient Near East, that the Bible is outstanding in its decision to include justifications for many (though by no means all, nor perhaps even most) of its laws.7 According to MMG, it was understood in the ancient Near East that people needed laws in order to prevent the world descending into chaos. Thus the laws History and Genres of Rabbinic Literature Jeremy Tabick3could be arbitrary and would nonetheless fulfil their essential purpose: to bring order to society. Their justification is implicit. They should be followed because they were given by the gods or the monarchy, and to prevent anarchy.8 Of the ancient Near Eastern law codes we have, only the Bible includes a wealth of explicit justifications, particularly favoured by the book of Deuteronomy.9This is indicative, he argues, of a Jewish predisposition for laws to have reasons. For example, the firstborn males of people and animals among the Israelites belong to God because God slew the firstborn of the Egyptians (Exodus 13:11-15). The Torah did not have to provide this reason: the fact that God commands it could have been reason enough. But the Torah goes out of its way to show that Gods law can be, and should be, justified. Some of these justifications are symbolic like the law of the firstborn; others are logical, such as Deuteronomys vision of shabbat for which the point is for your servants to rest just like you (Deuteronomy 5:14).In his view, coming from such a unique tradition of motive clauses, midrash is a natural extension. Tannaitic midrash, like the Mekhiltaot and the Sifra, is full of expressions like talmud lomar which introduce verses from Scripture to explain a particular law. Again, like other law codes, it could have claimed that this law was divine and had to be followed blindly, regardless of any justifications. But midrash consciously chose the opposite path: to include logical arguments and Scriptural supports. According to Halivni, this a predictable outgrowth of the tradition of biblical law. He takes this midrashic tradition to refer also to the pre- or proto-rabbinic period.10He also highlights a key way the mishnaic form deviates from the midrashic: in its History and Genres of Rabbinic Literature Jeremy Tabick4fidelity to the order of Scripture.11 While the books of midrash are hooked on a consecutive reading of biblical books, the Mishnah was organised more or less by topic, totally free of the Bibles order. He argues this is a huge break with what came before, and uses Josephus12 and a fast mentioned in Megillat Taanit13 as his support of other Jews being very wary of this sort of development. He thus understands that sticking to the biblical order is the older, more conservative approach, and deduces from this and other evidence (to be explored in the next section) that midrash predates mishnah.It is a very detailed and thoughtful analysis. However, Kalmin points out the holes in the argument and the ambiguities in Halivnis readings of the sources in question. Pertinently, he points out that Halivni equates Jews with Rabbis in this analysis,14 whereas in actuality the rabbinic movement was a small minority at the time of the Mishnah, and certainly before. Thus it could be that Jews as a whole were against deviating from the order of Scripture while the rabbis and their predecessors had been doing so for centuries in works that looked like the Mishnah. The point thus remains inconclusive.Relation of Midrash and MishnahAs part of his proofs that midrash antedates Mishnah as a genre, Halivni points out that the language of the Mishnah is often extremely similar if not identical with the the language of midreshei halakhah, just without many of the Scriptural proofs. He argues that the Mishnah extensively quotes from earlier material, often with so much fidelity that the precise wording of the source is not totally fitting to its new context. He argues that this shows that the midrash is earlier, that the Mishnah knows those works, and selects its quotations from it accordingly.15 It is, History and Genres of Rabbinic Literature Jeremy Tabick5of course, possible to argue the other way, that in fact the works of midrash quoted the Mishnah and attached it to Scriptural verses, using the same wording and making it fit better in a new context. This seems the less likely alternative since the Mishnah was extensively edited and often reformulated,16 so there does not seem any good reason for the editors to compose awkward language other than a desire to be loyal to an earlier formulation. Nonetheless, the possibility remains.He brings examples to illustrate his claim, such as the use of the phrase har ha-bayit in a tannaitic text with a Scriptural support.17 Since the term har ha-bayit changed in meaning after Herods expansion of the Temple, he argues that this midrash can then be conclusively dated to before Herod. The fundamental weakness of this argument is pointed out by Kalmin: while the apodictic law here uses the term with its pre-Herod meaning, it could still be that the Scriptural support was added later.18 Thus this observation, while precise and interesting itself, does not necessarily prove the age of the midrashic form.This point is central to MMG, that the Mishnah is a flash in the pan of Jewish lawa sudden and brief change to apodictic law from a tradition that had always been interested in the reasons behind them, and that continued to be so afterwards. He comes to this from an assumption that the Mishnah represented a popular or well-known work or genre, that Rabbis represent Jews of this period, as referred to above.19 Thus it could be a minority work, while most Jews continued to teach laws with justifications.Furthermore, even among rabbis it took many years for the Mishnah to gain traction as the fundamental and most authoritative guide to Jewish law. (For example, the Yerushalmi often uses the term matnita interchangeably to refer to a baraita or a mishnah, while the Bavli History and Genres of Rabbinic Literature Jeremy Tabick6distinguishes carefully between matnitaa baraitaand matnitinOur Mishnah. This suggests that during the time of the Yerushalmi, it was not true that the Mishnah was the only definitive law code, but by the time of the Bavli it was.)20 Perhaps the Mishnah was controversial even among rabbis, many of whom taught midrash instead.21These two observations, when taken together, would strengthen his fundamental point while (a) undermining the specifics of his arguments, which rest on the assumption that the Mishnah was an extremely important work as soon as it was composed; and (b) sidelining the need to be so careful about the chronological relationship between mishnaic and midrashic form, for perhaps midrash represented a more popular approach and the Mishnah a more sectarian or expert approach. In this way, more recent scholarship may bolster his claim for the Jewish predilection for justified law while detracting from the specifics of his historical claims.Anonymity in tannaitic sourcesSo while midrash was a very old form going back even to pre-rabbinic times, Halivni argues that mishnah came out of a very specific historical circumstance and fitted an important need. It was the school of Rabbi Akiva and his students down to Rabbi who innovated this new format, a work that was not tied to Scripture or justifications of any sort, but was designed to be easily remembered and comprehensive.22 Midrash, he argues, was becoming too expansive and too difficult to remember, especially in the post-Bar Kokhba hardship of 2nd-3rd century Eretz Yisrael. To respond to this circumstance, Rabbi and his academy worked to produce the Mishnah.Like in midrash, the anonymous setam layer means one thing: authority. Halivni sets up a History and Genres of Rabbinic Literature Jeremy Tabick7hierarchy of different setamim, each with less authority than the one before: (i) setam with no dissenting voice; (ii) setam with dissenting voice(s); and (iii) setam with a majority opinion (akhamim) in dissent.23 This is essentially universally accepted by traditional readers of the Mishnah, and indeed has its roots in the Talmud. He contrasts this with the setam in the Babylonian Talmud whose goal is totally different: it does not indicate something universally agreed upon, but the argumentation. This is an illustrative and helpful example of the vast difference in genre between Mishnah and that of the Bavli, for tannaitic midrash does also include anonymous dialectic, like the Gemara. This is what he argues is the legacy of the Stammaim: the revival of the earlier, pre-mishnaic, tannaitic use of the setam and the centrality of the argumentation.24There is certainly much to his claim, but there are also important differences between midrashic and talmudic form that bear noting. For example, midrash often uses the setam layer to simply state the law like the Mishnah. Also, central to the style of the setam ha-Talmud is the use of forced explanations in order to continue the dialectic, what could be called a love of dialectic itself; midrash, however, gives the impression that the dialectic is serving the purpose of getting at the truth and is not an end in itself.25 Thus it cannot be that the Gemara represents a perfect revival of an earlier attitude, there has still been some historical development. This addendum, it seems, is not something that Halivni would disagree with: he does not claim that talmudic and midrashic form are the same, but that they are similar.AmoraimThis section discusses the roots of the Babylonian Talmud in the transmission of amoraic History and Genres of Rabbinic Literature Jeremy Tabick8apodictic statements, and addresses his correction of a common misconception that led many people to believe that the Bavli was completed by the end of the amoraic period.Rav Ashi and Ravina: end of "hora'ah"Halivnis key claim and most important contribution to modern scholarship of the Babylonian Talmud is that the Gemara was not edited by the Amoraim but by a significantly later group he calls Stammaim, because their contribution is setam or anonymous. He proves this extensively in FBT as well as in every volume of his MM.26 It is by far the safest, clearest, and most universally accepted of all his historical claims, now a departure point for the study of Talmud in the academy, and increasing numbers of yeshivot and other traditional Jewish learning environments. In fact, it is an obvious claim and the natural conclusion one would come to from simply reading the Talmud, unshackled by medieval assumptions. After all, the Gemara often quotes Rav Ashi and Ravina, credited in the traditional version with the main bulk of editing, and rules against themor has trouble understanding themin the same way they deal with any other Amora. In contrast, Rabbi is rarely mentioned by name in the Mishnah, and though the akhamim do indeed sometimes disagree with him, his very designation of Rabbi suggests his high status and importance in the process; there is no analogue to him in the Talmud.Further, Halivni brings compelling evidence that the Gemara was never holistically edited by anyone.27 In contrast to the Mishnah which has more or less uniform style and consistent terminology, sugyot across the Bavli have different literally styles and often vastly different conclusions and understandings of earlier sources; this is true of the unusual tractates (like Nedarim) in particular. It seems that even the Bavlis consistent terminology is more due to History and Genres of Rabbinic Literature Jeremy Tabick9later editors applying it than any author or editor of the work itself (e.g. Mesoret HaShas attempt to make sure dtanya and ditnan apply consistently to a baraita and a mishnah respectively, and Halivnis claim that the terminology was decided by the Savoraim)28.The Geonim, not even Rav Sherira Gaon, never claim that Ravina and Rav Ashi edited the Gemara; this claim appears prominently in Tosafot.29 The only text that would lead anyone to this conclusion is a puzzling statement in Babylonian Talmud Bava Metzia 86a that compares Rabbi and Rabbi Natan, with Rav Ashi and Ravina: Rabbi and Rabbi Natanthe end of Mishnah (sof mishnah); Rav Ashi and Ravinathe end of instruction (sof horaah). It is not clear what horaah means here, but by analogy with mishnah and using the fact that Rav Ashi and Ravina are two of the latest authorities mentioned in the Gemara (but by no means the latest), Tosafot and others concluded that this meant that those two were the editors of the Gemara. However, Halivni points out that it is impossible that horaah could have meant that.30 If it was supposed to be analogised to the Mishnah, then would it not have used a clearer word like Gemara? Further, granted that Rabbi was the editor of the Mishnah, but where does Rabbi Natan fit here?Thus Halivni concludes that this statement should be understood in one of two ways:i. Adoration of students for their masters. The author of this statement wanted to highlight how great were Rabbi, Rabbi Natan, Ravina and Rav Ashi as scholars and teachers and was lamenting for their loss, that Mishnah and horaah were never the same in their absence.31ii. That horaah means recorded, official, apodictic, named rulings, such as in the form that is preserved by us as itmar. Thus the end of horaah means something similar to the end History and Genres of Rabbinic Literature Jeremy Tabick10of mishnah: that a particular genre of transmission ended and another began. In the case of mishnah, it was a literary corpus and legal code that was understood to be closed. In the case of horaah, it was the official transmission of the Reciters (tannaim) of amoraic dicta, that after Rav Ashi and Ravina, the rabbis no longer passed down specific formulations of their words to Reciters to be preserved, but were preserved in other ways. This would help explain why later Amoraim have more dialectics attached to their words and more often speak in Aramaic, while Rav Ashi is still often recorded with short, clear statements and in Hebrew.32There is a lot of strength to reading (ii), and it certainly provides a fascinating insight into transitioning from the amoraic to stammaitic age. However, it is also a fairly speculative translation; reading (i) is certainly safer. Indeed these two readings may not be contradictory: horaah could both mean something specific and technical while the whole statement indeed remains a statement of lament on the loss of great sages.Transmission of apodictic and dialectic materialFollowing his understanding of horaah that Ravina and Rav Ashi mark the end of, Halivni makes several bold claims about the way amoraic material was preserved through the generations and which types were preserved better than others.33 First, that the early Amoraim restricted themselves to clear apodictic statements in Hebrew, very much in mishnaic style (he attributes this to Rav, being a member of Rabbis inner circle).34 Over the period of the Amoraim, more rulings were Aramaic and more dialectic crept in, though the Stammaim may have been responsible for a lot of it. This overall trend seems very clear from the record in the Gemara, History and Genres of Rabbinic Literature Jeremy Tabick11obviously with exceptions. However, the specifics of this are very difficult to discern given that it can be impossible to tease apart the original amoraic statement from its glosses by later editors.Second, the Reciters were responsible for formulating these dicta in memorable forms, like itmar.35 They would collect amoraic dicta and organise them around mishnayot and similar topics. Again this claim seems uncontroversial, and Halivni brings evidence from the Bavli itself regarding the actions and roles of these Reciters. Some caution is still advised given how little they are mentioned and in how little detail their role is described.Third, in general the dialectic was not deemed worthy of transmission by Amoraim, only the final answer.36 It was up to the Stammaim, who thought that dialectic was worthy of preservation in and of itself (like the midreshei halakhah before them), to reconstruct what the Amoraim were thinking when they made their rulings.37 Sometimes they succeeded and sometimes they did not. It was the time between the authors of these dicta and their transmitters that resulted in the creation of the many forced explanations (dukim) that define the character of the Gemara we study today. This is a central part of his theory to explain the presence of the forced interpretations of the Bavli.38Fourth, dialectics of the Amoraim were sometimes remembered by their students. These were not official channels of transmission, but what Halivni terms survivals.39 By happenstance these reasons and arguments of Amoraim were remembered. They can be identified by finding an amoraic statement that does indeed seem to be responding to part of the anonymous layer, of which there are many examples. Given that Halivni holds that all of these anonymous statements were added by the Stammaim, the fact that some of them are clearly known by Amoraim requires explanation. His theory of survivals is that explanation.History and Genres of Rabbinic Literature Jeremy Tabick12It seems to me, however, that the existence of survivals is not the only possible solution to his problem. One could easily posit that indeed some (limited) anonymous material of the Bavli was composed and transmitted by Amoraim along with their statements, such as a question on a Mishnah that is then directly answered by an Amora. This would seem to be borne out by understanding the Yerushalmi as similar to the Bavli in an earlier stage of its development; this would show that many anonymous passages were composed before the advent of the Stammaim. Why suggest a new, unofficial, and random method of transmission when the official, carefully edited method of transmission could also explain this phenomenon? It may be that some anonymous material was not reconstructed by Stammaim but simply remembered by them through official channels.Stammaim and SavoraimThe Stammaitic period are where Halivnis claims are most suspect. MMG is obviously out-of-date, being written in 1986; but FBT is not much more up-to-date given there have been recent huge advances in the study of Sassanian Persia, Geonica and early Islam, all of which have the potential to question, enrich, or debunk many of his claims. Instead, he relies entirely on evidence interior to the Talmud Bavli and the methods employed by various Stammaim. This will be discussed in more detail in the conclusion.Halivnis thinking on the dating and nature of the Stammaim has changed dramatically in between MMG and FBT. He has gone from thinking that the Stammaim were one generation of scholars shortly after the the close of the amoraic period, to two-hundred and fifty yearsspanning even into the early geonic periodwith many generations of schools of scholars.40 He History and Genres of Rabbinic Literature Jeremy Tabick13describes different kinds of these scholars based on their literary activity. The intentions and work of the Stammaim begin this section, followed by a discussion of the different subsets of Stammaim he posits: Savoraim, Transposers and Compilers.Reconstructing the dialecticThe stammaitic period begins, according to FTB, when two factors combined:i. The growth of an attitude valuing the dialectic equally if not more than the polished, bottom line;41ii. A sense of difference between them and their antecedents, that earlier sages were worthy of having their statements attributed by name while the Stammaim thought of themselves that they were not.42(Note the contrast with setam Mishnahthere, according to Halivni, anonymous means maximal authority; here he claims it means minimal authority.) With their new priorities, they were presented with the challenge of having swathes of amoraic material without justifications and wanting to provide as much of this justification as was possible. Thus, in Halivnis scheme, the Stammaim return to the midrashic tradition of including dialectic, of placing the justifications for laws front and centre. The departure of the Mishnah was finally over and the predilection of Jews for justified law won out.43This description of the Stammaims activities and goals rests on the assumption that they were trying to accurately reconstruct the unknown dialectics of the past. Halivni in the first place only posited these editors that postdate the Amoraim because they explain why the Gemara insists on posing forced explanations of amoraic and tannaitic sourcesthe only reason that they History and Genres of Rabbinic Literature Jeremy Tabick14are forced is because of the increased gap between them and the unknown past that they are trying to perfectly reconstruct. However, editorial intent is notoriously difficult to discern, know or prove.For example, it is also possible to argue that the Stammaim sometimes knew the true meaning of an amoraic or tannaitic source but nonetheless posed a forced explanation for their own purposespedagogical, literary, or polemical. A good example of this phenomenon can be found in Baba Kama 83b-84a, which could be displaying forced explanations for all three of these reasons. The Torah is very clear of the punishment for laws of injuries: that what they did to their fellow should be inflicted upon them by the court. The tannaitic and amoraic sages, however, were emphatic in their opposition to this and instead insist in this daf that the punishment for injuries is monetary compensation. The Gemara embarks on different explanations for all eight of these texts brought here, each one being rejected before moving onto the next text. As the Rishonim point out,44 many of the later explanations are no better or worse than the earlier explanationsso why were they rejected? The answer seems to be for pedagogic and/or literary purposes: to give the students different ways to justify their law of monetary compensation, and to compose it in such a way where one text flows into the next in the arguments flow, to expedite memorisation.The final text that the Gemara brings shows Rabbi Eliezer stating the peshat of the Torah: ayin taat ayinmamashwe literally take peoples eyes out. His opinion is extremely clear, with actually no room for misunderstanding. But nonetheless the Gemara refuses to understand his plain words and instead interprets it forcibly. Mere historical distance does not seem enough to explain this huge misunderstanding of Rabbi Eliezers words! Anyone who has read the Torah History and Genres of Rabbinic Literature Jeremy Tabick15can completely understand what Rabbi Eliezer is saying. The only reason that does not make a mockery of the Stammaim is that they knew what Rabbi Eliezer meant but refused to understand him that way because they disagreed with him. It was not a faulty reconstruction, it was a conscious polemical choice. The Stammaim were not aiming for accuracy in this forced explanation, but actually morality.Thus, Halivnis understanding of the Stammaims intentions requires further explanation.SavoraimThe roots of the Savoraim comes from the Iggeret Rav Sherira Gaon, who credits them, after the end of horaah, of explanations and opinions approximating to horaah; and whatever had been left hanging, (these) rabbis made explicit And theyand also succeeding rabbis, such as Rav Ena and Rav Simunaincorporated several (of their) opinions in the Gemara.45 Halivni picks up on this early historical claim and assigns roles to the Savoraim towards the end of the stammaitic period. They were working at a time when it was no longer possible to add to the dialectic of the Talmud. Their main contribution was to add brief explanations and editorial comments.46 There are also various sugyot, often at the beginning of massekhtot or chapters, which have been attributed to the Savoraim because they contain no material local to that section, but rather only borrow from elsewhere; they are also often predicated on knowing the outlines of the proceeding chapter, thought to be designed as introductions to the section to be read aloud in the academy when beginning a new learning session.47 Thus, according to Halivni, the Savoraim are a subset of Stammaim living towards the end of the period, perhaps even members of the geonic academies.History and Genres of Rabbinic Literature Jeremy Tabick16Once it is required to concede that the Stammaim were not a single generation and had to have worked over a long period of time, it seems to me absurd to maintain this sharp distinction between Savoraim and Stammaim based on the evidence of Rav Sherira Gaon alone. Is it likely that Rav Sherira would specifically mention a group with a very specific and limited impact on the Bavli while totally ignoring the group that put it all together?48 It seems better to say that Rav Sherira was referring to what Halivni calls the Stammaim, and thus perhaps the Savoraim are identical to the Stammaim. Halivni responds49 by saying some of those named by Rav Sherira as being Savoraim are mentioned in the Talmud and therefore cannot be Stammaim, because they are not anonymous. But why is it such a stretch to think that some Stammaim/Savoraim were not always anonymous? It is less of a stretch to imagine that the Savoraim that Rav Sherira places immediately after the amoraic period are actually those who live two hundred years later at the end of the stammaitic period? Halivnis connection to the name Savoraim and placing them in the historical count based only on Rav Sherira is not clear and this matter requires further investigation.Transposers and CompilersIn addition to the sub-group of Savoraim, Halivni also discerns different kinds of Stammaim in different periods based on their differing editing methods.50 His observations of these methods are very valuable and key to understanding the literary activity of the Stammaim. The precise dating that he assigns them, however, could be suspect.He identifies two main methods of editing: transposing and compiling, and he calls those who did this editing Transposers and Compilers respectively. Transposers took sources History and Genres of Rabbinic Literature Jeremy Tabick17from elsewhere in the Talmudsometimes long, sometimes shortthat they thought would add to the sugya in this new context, and then often constructed dialectic around it to fit it in.51 These, he argues, worked throughout the stammaitic period. Compilers, however, were involved in stitching distinct sugyot together, and were not interested in or not able to add to the dialectic directly; thus, in his scheme, the Compilers operated only towards the end of the stammaitic period.52He comes to this analysis from the assumption that the Talmud was getting more crystallised over time, and it became less possible to add new statements and arguments to it. Eventually, by the Savoraim, it was only possible to add brief explanations. Therefore, he sees any editorial hand which merely adds in a source from elsewhere without comment as later in the stammaitic period, and additions to the dialectic itself as earlier. It is important to note that this approach is not necessarily right: while it does fit with the Talmuds characteristic impulse to respect and preserve the past, it could be that different Stammaim throughout the stammaitic period thought differently about how to properly preserve something (analogous perhaps to a key difference between medieval Ashkenazi and Sephardi scribes, the former who were much more willing to add their own comments into the text than the latter).53 Further, he provides no compelling reason why it should be the case that the Compilers and Transposers could not add to the dialectic after a certain time. With further treatment of this question, his claims of the activity of Stammaim could be assessed more clearly.This identification of different kinds of editing in the Talmud could be extremely instructive in understanding the editing process of this work, regardless of any of the historical claims. Knowing that Stammaim transposed sugyot and integrated it into the argument, for History and Genres of Rabbinic Literature Jeremy Tabick18example, or compiled sugyot without any comment or attempt to resolve the contradictions, is very helpful in reading the Talmud Bavli and seeing how the sugya was formed. This contribution to Talmud scholarship should not be minimised. The historical elements that he adds, however, must be treated with caution.ConclusionTwo main criticism remain of Halivnis treatment of the Babylonian Talmud in particular: how the orality of the texts affects their transmission and our understanding of it; and how a synchronic treatment would greatly enrich his historical claims. In general, his arguments on the relationship between midrash, mishnah, and Tanakh are much more convincing, if far from water-tight.Effect of oralityHalivni maintains that the dialectics was not preserved in the amoraic period, except in the haphazard form of survivals, while it was preserved exactly, in the same way as halakhot in earlier times, in the stammaitic period. He seems to suggest that Stammaim preserved the wording of the dialectics exactly because it too was Torah, whereas Amoraim were not concerned with it.54However, more recent scholarship has shown that the specific wording of the dialectics wasnt preserved throughout the Geonic period. What was known in any given sugya was the various tannaitic and amoraic statements and the essential flow of the argument. Current theories who that the text of the Talmud was fixed even though the precise wording of the anonymous History and Genres of Rabbinic Literature Jeremy Tabick19dialectics was not.55 The specific wording was subject to change from one academy to another, one teacher to another, or even from one lesson of the same teacher to another. This was because it was designed to be learnt and recited orally, the argument to be presented from memory; tannaitic and amoraic halakhic statements were memorised verbatim, but the argumentation was not.56 It therefore appears that Halivnis dichotomy of either preserved or not preserved is flawed due to the Talmuds nature as an oral, not a written, text. Even the Geonim did not primarily study the Talmud from written textsit was in the early medieval Diaspora that this practice began.57 While a written essay has the wording of its argument immortalised and preserved for all time, the lecture notes of that same teacher when they teach the content of their essay does not. This lecture note analogy seems a better description of the anonymous dialectic in the Geonic academies.Rather than assume, then, that some dialectic was unsystematically preserved by Amoraim, and the rest was reconstructed by Stammaim, it seems easier to posit that the Amoraim treated the dialectic material in a similar way to the Stammaim, even if the wording was not fixed. Thus when an Amora answers an anonymous question, it is not that this piece of dialectic happened to be remembered but rather that this question was always an integral part of the sugya. This is the approach of Sussman.58It seems that Halivni in FBT could be too bound to the idea that essentially all anonymous material in the Bavli was reconstructed by the Stammaim. An easier approach would be to relax his distinction between something being preserved and not and posit a middle ground, that the content of something can be preserved without the wording.His analysis of tannaitic material does not suffer from this problem as the texts, especially History and Genres of Rabbinic Literature Jeremy Tabick20the Mishnah, seem to have been fixed much more firmly earlier on. However, I am curious as to how orality affects his distinction between something having explicit Scriptural justification (such as a she-neemar), or when it does not (in most of the Mishnah). After all, in a culture where the people reciting these texts have learnt the Tanakh by heart, how much difference is there between explicitly stating a verse and implicitly referring to verses by the choice of wording and terminology? (As an example, the second chapter of Makkot uses a lot of awkward and difficult wordings in part, perhaps, to conjure up biblical illusions for an obscure area of law, the Cities of Refuge.) Perhaps the author of the Mishnah did not see themselves as creating a text without justification but instead a text for experts who would already implicitly know the justification? This matter requires further investigation.Diachronic versus synchronicBy far the biggest weakness of Halivnis historical analysis of the period of the Stammaim and Amoraim is that it is only diachronic amongst Rabbinic literature and uses no synchronous evidence whatsoever. Totally missing is any comparison to the Sassanian culture in which the Babylonian Amoraim lived; absent is the persecutions that Rav Sherira Gaon reports in his Iggeret at the end of the Sassanian period; and the Muslim conquest of Babylonia is never mentioned. This surely is the only way of precisely dating the activity of the Stammaim: do their methods and styles share anything with Zoroastrian literature? With Muslim literature? Historical periods in popular consciousness are normally begun and ended by dramatic periods of conquest or upheaval: how did the meteoric rise of Islam play into the end of the amoraic era and the beginning of the stammaitic? None of these issues does Halivni bring into his analysis.History and Genres of Rabbinic Literature Jeremy Tabick21In his exploration of the relationship between Mishnah and midrash in MMG, he uses several several instances of synchronic proof, such as Herods expansion of the Temple, and Josephus hesitation about changing the order of Scripture.59 And yet, in his analysis in FBT, none of this previous historical sensitivity is present. Such treatment would have greatly enriched his work and his historical conclusions beyond compare.Halivni is, at his core, an excellent reader of texts; he is not a historian. His speculative historical analysis based only on internal evidence from the Bavli itself should not be relied upon to make specific, well-founded historical claims. In broad strokes this method can work. For example, it is possible to show when one sugya is finished earlier or later than another, as he does often and convincingly throughout his MM and FBT. This relative dating can be accurate, but of limited use when there are no synchronous influences to compare it to.60The broad picture he paints is also clear. The Bible, uniquely among literature of the ancient Near East, includes justification for its laws. This was then also a central feature of the midreshei halakhah, while in the Mishnah it is notably absent (though the significance and extent of this is disputed). The Stammaim introduced the idea that dialectics was in and of itself Torah, a goal unto itself. And thus we have the overall obsession, with obvious exceptions, of Rabbinic literature with justifying the laws by Scripture or by logic. This historical narrative is both well thought-out and inspiring, a story of the people who are not slaves to God, following the Divine will without question, but who require justifications, who wish to always delve deeper in understanding why we are required to do what we do, a people who is worthy of living up to Genesis interpretation of the name Israel: the one who fights with God.History and Genres of Rabbinic Literature Jeremy Tabick22Footnotes1 Halivni, D. W. (1986). Midrash, Mishnah and Gemara: The Jewish predilection for justified law. Cambridge, MA and London, England: Harvard University Press.2 Halivni, D. W. (2013). Formation of the Babylonian Talmud. (J. L. Rubenstein, Trans.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Original work published 2007).3 Kalmin, R. (1987). Midrash, Mishnah and Gemara: The Jewish predilection for justified law (Review). Conservative Judaism 39(4), 78-84.4 Chapters 2-4, pp. 18-65.5 Part II, pp. 103-116.6 MMG, p. 4.7 MMG, pp. 10-14.8 MMG, p. 14.9 MMG, p. 11.10 MMG, p. 15.11 MMG, p. 40.12 MMG, pp. 41-42.13 MMG, pp. 38-40.14 Kalmin, p. 81.15 MMG, p. 48 ff. See, for example, the case in Mishnah Bikkurim 1:1-2.16 FBT, p. 104.17 MMG, p. 22: the example of Mishnah Bikkurim 1:8.18 Kalmin, p. 82.History and Genres of Rabbinic Literature Jeremy Tabick2319 See n. 14 above.20 Tucker, E. (2014). In Talmud lecture series at Yeshivat Hadar, Talmud with Rishonim. New York.21 Halivni discusses a similar possibility in MMG, p. 59 ff., with regards to the School of Rabbi Yishmael.22 MMG, p. 64.23 FBT, p. 103.24 MMG, p. 93.25 Boyarin, D. (2007). Hellenism in Jewish Babylonia. In C. E. Fonrobert and M. S. Jaffee (Eds.), Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature (pp. 336-363). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.26 See Part I of FBT, pp. 3-61, for extensive discussion, proof and references to various volumes of MM.27 See Part II of FBT, pp. 63-85 mainly, for extensive treatment of this claim with numerous examples.28 MMG, p. 98.29 See MMG, Part II, n. 45, p. 235 and references to Tosafot Shabbat 9b.30 FBT, p. 85.31 FBT, p. 86-87. See also MM Baba Metzia 12.32 FBT, p. 85, and see Part II, n. 39, p. 235.33 FBT, Part II, pp. 117-154.34 FBT, p. 118.History and Genres of Rabbinic Literature Jeremy Tabick2435 FBT, p. 133.36 FBT, p. 119.37 FBT, p. 123 ff.38 For analysis of this point, see the conclusion.39 FBT, p. 146.40 FBT, p. 3 ff.41 MMG, p. 76.42 FBT, pp. 5-6.43 MMG, p. 77.44 E.g. Tosafot ad loc, s.v. Rav Ashi.45 Lewin, B. M. (Ed.). (1921). Iggeret Rav Sherira Gaon [The Epistle of Rav Sherira Gaon], pp. 69-71. Haifa. As quoted and translated in Brody, R. (1998). The Geonim of Babylonia and the Shaping of Medieval Jewish Culture, p. 5. New Haven, MA and London, England: Yale Unversity Press.46 FBT, p. 7-9.47 An example of this, given by Rav Sherira himself, is the opening sugya of Kiddushin.48 But if so, why does Rav Sherira allow such limited scope for savoraic activity? This question requires further thought. It could be polemical, as it would be in his interest in the Iggeret to argue for the antiquity of as much of the Gemara as possible.49 FBT, p.4.50 FBT, Part IV, pp.155-190.51 FBT, pp. 168-184. He highlights five types of transpositions there with examples.History and Genres of Rabbinic Literature Jeremy Tabick2552 FBT, pp. 156-168, with many examples.53 Ta-Shma, Y. M. (1985). Sifriyyatamn shel akhmei Ashkenaz Benei ha-Mea ha-YodAlef-YodBet [The Library of the Ashkenazi Sages in the 11th-12th Centuries]. Kiryat Sefer 60, pp. 298-309, especially p. 301.54 FBT, p. 124.55 Brody, p. 159.56 See Fishman, T. (2011). Becoming the People of the Talmud: Oral Torah as written tradition in medieval Jewish cultures. Philadelphia, PN: University of Pennsylvania Press. P. 33 for an account of Talmudic instruction during the geonic period, based on Iggeret Rav Sherira Gaon.57 See Brody, pp. 156-161, and Fishman throughout.58 Such as Sussman, Y. VShuv LYerushalmi Nezikin (1990). In Y. Sussman, D. Rosenthal (Eds.), Mekerei Talmud [Talmudic Studies] Vol. I (pp. 55-133). Jerusalem: Magnes Press.59 See notes 12 and 13 above.60 Compare to Baba Kamma 117a where the Persian word for cushion, bistarka, can conclusively date that sugya to the Sassanian period. See Sperber, D. (1982). On the Unfortunate Adventures of Rav Kahana: A Passage of Saboraic Polemic from Sasanian Persia. In S. Shaked (Ed.), Irano-Judaica: Studies telating to Jewish contacts with Persian culture throughout the ages (pp. 83-100). Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi.TannaimRelation to ScriptureRelation of Midrash and MishnahAnonymity in tannaitic sourcesAmoraimRav Ashi and Ravina: end of "hora'ah"Transmission of apodictic and dialectic materialStammaim and SavoraimReconstructing the dialecticSavoraimTransposers and CompilersConclusionEffect of oralityDiachronic versus synchronic
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