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Midrash Essay

1090 words - 5 pages

Midrash is the act and process of interpretation of the Bible, but there is no one midrash. To fully understand this concept we must look at the purpose of midrashic methodology and how it works. In doing this we will be looking at Midrash Rabbah for the Book of Genesis or Bereshit. Midrash Rabbah contains two interpretations of the account of creation, which will allow us to better analyze midrashic methodology.

Unlike the Talmud or Zohar, midrash does not refer to a single text but a type of text. In Back to the Sources, Barry Holtz defines midrash as, first, “(deriving from the Hebrew root ‘to search out’) is the process of interpreting. The object of interpretation is the Bible or, ...view middle of the document...

In fact, in modern times, most of the rules for keeping the Sabbath were created by the rabbinic councils. The laws of Sabbath along with laws of kashrut are outlined in what Holtz calls midrash halakhah, a legal midrash of rabbinic Judaism. Midrashic methodology assumes that the nature of biblical text is that it is meant to be interpreted by the reader; the gaps are purposefully placed to engage the reader to look further for a meaning. Those who study Torah will look at many things when interpreting text. They not only look at the gaps within the text, but also the placement of words, how certain letters are written, the order of specific words or letters, and various other aspects that can be overlooked. Holtz gives a great outline of the roots of midrash from both aggadic and halachic aspects on pp. 184–185. He states that midrash aggadah will look at motivations, meanings, and resolving confusions, whereas midrash halakhah will look at filling in the gaps and exposition of detail.

In Midrash Rabbah we see two different interpretations of the story of creation in Bereshit. On pp. 8–9 it states that a certain philosopher asked R. Gamliel what materials G-d had found to assist him in reference to creation. R. Gamliel responds, “Tohu, bohu, darkness, water, wind (ruah), and the deep.” (Freedman p.8). It is noted in the footnotes that tohu and bohu meant primeval matter, without form. R. Gamliel goes on to explain that creation is connected with each of those aspects and lists them accordingly. His interpretation of the story of creation, in my opinion, is a very literal interpretation of the words of Bereshit. We then look at Midrash Rabbah on pp. 9–10, where it states, “R. Jonah said in R. Levi’s name, Why was the world created with a beth? Just as the beth is closed at the sides but open in the front, so you are not permitted to investigate what is above and what is below, what is before and what is behind.” (Freedman p.9) The beth they refer to is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet; this letter is the first letter of Bereshit. They look at the story of...

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