The Modern Study of Ancient Rabbinic Literature: Yonah Fraenkel's Darkhei ha'aggadah vehamidrash

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<ul><li><p>The Modern Study of Ancient Rabbinic Literature: Yonah Fraenkel's Darkhei ha'aggadahvehamidrashDarkhei ha'aggadah vehamidrash by Yonah FraenkelReview by: RICHARD KALMINProoftexts, Vol. 14, No. 2 (MAY 1994), pp. 189-204Published by: Indiana University PressStable URL: .Accessed: 13/06/2014 05:17</p><p>Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms &amp; Conditions of Use, available at .</p><p> .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact</p><p> .</p><p>Indiana University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Prooftexts.</p><p> </p><p>This content downloaded from on Fri, 13 Jun 2014 05:17:18 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>REVIEWS </p><p>The Modern Study of Ancient Rabbinic Literature: Yonah Fraenkel's Darkhei ha'aggadah vehamidrash </p><p>Yonah Fraenkel. Darkhei ha'aggadah vehamidrash. Givatayim, Israel: Yad latalmud, 1991, 777 pp. </p><p>In this monumental work, Yonah Fraenkel presents the results of a lifetime of careful study of ancient rabbinic texts from a modem literary perspective.1 The book focuses on what Fraenkel calls the "classica!" period of midrashic and </p><p>aggadic (nonlegal) creativity, from roughly the first or second century b.c.e., when the earliest named midrashic and aggadic authors lived, until the redaction of </p><p>Vayikra Rabbah (Leviticus Rabbah) and Pesikta de-Rav Kahana approximately seven hundred years later. The major sources cited in the book are the Mishnah and Tosefta, the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds, and midrashic compilations such as Bereshit Rabbah (Genesis Rabbah). </p><p>The book methodically catalogs and describes the contents and methods of rabbinic scriptural interpretation and storytelling. What techniques do the Rabbis use to explicate Scripture? What literary devices are helpful in interpreting their stories? What principles govern the redaction of midrashic and aggadic materials? </p><p>What theological, moral, and philosophical principles inform these texts? The book is directed both to a scholarly and nonscholarly audience, to </p><p>educated nonspecialists who seek the knowledge and tools necessary for learning midrash and aggadah as modern readers, and to Jewish studies scholars who want a total picture of their subject (p. 1). </p><p>The present essay surveys and critiques each of the book's four parts. We </p><p>begin our discussion with part 3, which contains the book's most important contribution. Part 3 fruitfully applies the techniques and conceptual tools of modem literary criticism to the study of rabbinic stories, proverbs, and epigrams. </p><p>The following discussion of part 3 focuses mainly on Fraenkel's treatment of rabbinic sage stories (chapter 9), and thus reflects my own major area of interest. Part 3's rich and provocative treatment of other aggadic forms, however, espe cially chapter ll's discussion of rabbinic proverbs (masha?), could easily form the </p><p>subject of a separate essay. Fraenkel observes that modem literary theory recognizes three types of </p><p>literature: epic, lyric, and dramatic. The three are distinguishable primarily by the </p><p>way they "relate to the surrounding world." </p><p>Epic, Fraenkel maintains, relates to the world as a static entity. Epic considers details about the physical world mtrinsically interesting and worth describing </p><p>PROOFTEXTS14 (1994): 189-204 ? 1994 by The Johns Hopkins University Press </p><p>This content downloaded from on Fri, 13 Jun 2014 05:17:18 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>190 REVIEWS </p><p>even when they impede the development of plot. Lyric, in contrast, views reality as raw material enabling the lyricist to express his or her emotions. Drama sees in human reality oppositions and conflicts between people and circumstances. Every detail either contributes toward the development of plot, hints toward the future, or interprets the past. </p><p>Clearly, observes Fraenkel, rabbinic stories are not lyrical, but are they epic or dramatic? Before answering this question, he attempts to establish their character as works of art. Artistic creations, observed Aristotle, cannot begin and end </p><p>randomly, but must be ordered and measured properly, without accident </p><p>(pp. 238-39). Do rabbinic stories have these characteristics? Fraenkel claims that they do, and cites the following story, found on b. Gittin </p><p>58a, to illustrate his point:2 </p><p>Said Rav Yehudah in the name of Rav: What is the meaning of the verse, "And they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance" </p><p>(Mie. 2:2)? It once happened that a man laid eyes on the wife of his master; he was a </p><p>carpenter's apprentice. One time his master needed to borrow money. He said to rum, "Send your wife to me, and I'll lend her the money." He sent his wife to him. She stayed with him for three days.3 The man went ahead and came to him. He said to him, "My wife, whom I sent to you, where is she?" He said to him, "I sent her off immediately, but I heard that the boys abused her on the road." He said to him, "What shall I do?" He said to him, "If you listen to my advice, divorce her." He said to him, "Her marriage settlement is large." He said to Yum, "I'll lend you the money, and you pay her marriage settlement." </p><p>This one got up and divorced her, and the other went and married her. When the time came and he had no money to pay him, he said to him, "Come and work off your debt." So they sat, eating and driruong, and he stood and poured for them. And tears fell from his eyes into their wine cups, and at that moment the verdict was sealed. </p><p>The story involves a master, his wife, and an apprentice, and Fraenkel argues that the movement of these characters throughout the story reveals it as a </p><p>carefully structured unity. The owning scene places all three protagonists in the house of the master, and the closing scene places them all in the house of the </p><p>apprentice. In between, each scene is marked by movement of at least one of the </p><p>protagonists: scene 2 finds the husband at home and the other two characters in the house of the apprentice; scene 3 finds the husband and apprentice in the </p><p>master's house and the wife in the house of the apprentice; scene 4 returns to the </p><p>setting of scene 2. The verse that opens the story, "And they oppress a man and his </p><p>house, a man and his inheritance," emphasizes the connection between person and dwelling, and lends weight to Fraenkel's claim that the shifts of scene betray intentional design (p. 241). </p><p>This content downloaded from on Fri, 13 Jun 2014 05:17:18 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>Prooftexts 191 </p><p>What other factors indicate this story's character as an artistic creation? Fraenkel maintains that a work of art must be self-contained and self-understood. It must supply, he argues, all of the information necessary to be understood, and its various sections should explicate one another. Artistic stories should also have closure: the end should refer back to the begmriing and provide the story with a circular structure (p. 261). </p><p>The story of the master and the apprentice exhibits these characteristics. "It once happened that a man laid eyes on the wife of his master," the story begins, and ends with a description of tears falling from the master's eyes into the cups of his wife and former apprentice. The story has closure, therefore, since it opens and closes with the motif of "eyes" and with mention of all three protagonists. </p><p>The use of language, Fraenkel observes, is also an integral part of the artistry of rabbinic stories. For example, stories use unusual syntax or plays on words </p><p>(paronomasia) to express the emotional states of the characters, and repeat words or phrases to express tensions, oppositions, and ambiguities (p. 271). </p><p>The master-apprentice story, for example, uses sirrdlar-sounding verbs in similar situations to deepen our understanding of the apprentice's character. The </p><p>apprentice says to the master, "Send [shager] your wife to me," and the text informs us that "he sent [shiger] his wife to him." Subsequently, the apprentice tells the master, "If you listen to my advice, divorce her [garshena]," and the text informs us that he divorced her [gershah]. The words ; and una express the </p><p>apprentice's desire to remove the woman from the domain of the master and take </p><p>possession of her himself. The verb "to divorce" harks back to the verb "to send," and the story's use of paronomasia underlines the plotting premeditated nature of the apprentice's actions from start to finish. </p><p>The story, therefore, is well composed and ordered. It is not a random list of isolated events, but a tightly structured unity, fulfilling one of Aristotle's basic criteria of a work of art. Is the story, however, and are rabbinic stories in general, epic or dramatic? </p><p>We noted above that epic loves details, even those that interrupt the narra </p><p>tive, but descriptions are rare in rabbinic stories. Tension and opposition are fundamental to both drama and aggadah, Fraenkel claims, establishing a strong case for the rabbinic story's dramatic character. </p><p>The story of the master and apprentice, full of contrasts and oppositions, once </p><p>again illustrates this point. The master and apprentice reverse roles, it will be </p><p>recalled, and as the story progresses the scene gradually shifts from the house of the master to the house of the apprentice. The setting and configuration of characters is the same in scenes 2 and 4, but this similarity highlights a crucial difference between them. In scene 2, the master tWnks his wife has gone to the </p><p>apprentice's house only to borrow money, and her prolonged presence there is a secret. In scene 4, in contrast, her presence there is public knowledge. </p><p>The climax of the dramatic tension comes when the master asks the appren tice, "What shall I do?" and the apprentice answers, "If you listen to my advice, divorce her." At this point, it is still possible for the husband to reveal the truth about the apprentice and save himself from his wicked designs. He fails, and the </p><p>plot rolls relentlessly on to its conclusion. </p><p>This content downloaded from on Fri, 13 Jun 2014 05:17:18 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>192 REVIEWS </p><p>Having analyzed the stnicture of the story and described its dramatic nature, Fraenkel turns to its interpretation. What is the story's point, and does the analysis of structure contribute to our understanding of the story's mearting? </p><p>Crucial to Fraenkel's analysis is his claim that stmcture and form are keys to the understanding of content. Applying this theory to the present story, he argues that the contrasts between the husband's ignorance in scene 2 and his awareness in scene 4, the apprentice's deception in scene 2 and his openness in part 4, depicts an encounter between truth and falsehood, innocence and wickedness, and </p><p>openness and concealment. The apprentice's eyes motivate his actions; the mas ter's eyes are blind throughout, until the end, when they finally see the evil truth. </p><p>Until the divorce, the apprentice lies and conceals, and the master, unable to understand the truth, falls deeper and deeper into the trap set by the apprentice. The apprentice disguises himself as an upright person, pretending to lend money out of kindness and concealing the fact that he committed adultery. After the </p><p>divorce, the apprentice no longer acts secretively, and by the conclusion, the master fully understands what transpired. </p><p>The story, claims Fraenkel, contrasts the wicked, crafty, and successful </p><p>apprentice to the innocent, naive and unfortunate master, and presents the destruction of the Temple as the result of the victimization of the innocent by the wicked. </p><p>In Fraenkel's view, rabbinic sage stories are concerned fundamentally with the oppositions and tensions that result from opposing understandings of reality. The sages know that reality is ambiguous and admits of diverse interpretations, and they depict individuals struggling to uncover the truth and decide between various options, each of which presents itself as a correct understanding of reality. If reality were easy to understand, Fraenkel concludes, it could be described </p><p>epically. Since it is not, the dramatic form is much more appropriate (p. 266). Fraenkel errs, however, by seeing uniformity where there is actually tremen </p><p>dous diversity. Sometimes the stories show the characteristics he sees as paradig matic, but it is a mistake to view them as reflecting a uniform worldview or a consistent way of interpreting reality. As we will note repeatedly, Fraenkel tends to interpret the sources monolithically, to assert without proof that the few sources that he analyzes in detail are representative of the whole. </p><p>In addition, the very sophistication of the critical apparatus that serves Fraenkel in such good stead in interpreting certain aspects of a story often causes him to misinterpret other aspects. He approaches the material ^vith a precon ceived literary theory, and too often allows the theory to deterrnine his interpreta tion. One who approaches the material without such heavy baggage is likely to </p><p>interpret differently. Despite Fraenkel's claim to the contrary, the master in the story is anything </p><p>but innocent. He sends his wife to the house of another man to transact business for him. Three days go by and she hasn't returned home, yet the master fails to visit the apprentice and inquire as to her whereabouts. The apprentice goes to the master4 and tells him she has been raped, and without bothering to corroborate the story, the master immediately contemplates divorce. His only thought is to the size of his wife's marriage settlement, although it is his fault she was out on the road alone, and as far as he knows, his wife did nothing wrong. </p><p>This content downloaded from on Fri, 13 Jun 2014 05:17:18 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>Prooftexts 193 </p><p>The story, therefore, describes what happens when society's masters lack the moral strength to stand up to the evil of their underlings. It depicts a stupid and wicked master allowing his wicked apprentice to gain the upper hand. When masters are evil, claims the story, and soc...</p></li></ul>