Martin I. Lockshin, “Bible Studies,” in Robert Chazan, ed., The Cambridge History of Judaism, vol. 6: The Middle Ages, The Christian World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 555-581

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  Martin I. Lockshin, “Bible Studies,” in Robert Chazan, ed., The Cambridge History of Judaism, vol. 6: The Middle Ages, The Christian World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 555-581
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  chapter 21 BIBLE STUDIES martin lockshin One of the most exciting intellectual developments of the Middle Ages for Jews was the production of Bible commentaries, which were free-standing  works where writers could express themselves creatively and relatively freely. In theory, there are good reasons why this should  not   have occurred.Most medieval rabbinic academies had a very Talmud-centered curri-culum and ignored the old rabbinic maxim:  “ People should always dividetheir study days into three [equal] parts: one part Bible, one part Mishnahand one part Talmud ”  ( bk  ˙  id   30 a). The great scholar Jacob Tam (known asRabbenu Tam; twelfth-century northern France), who dabbled in Biblestudy but was a masterful talmudist, noted the discrepancy between thismaximandthepracticesofthe  yeshivot  that heknew. Hesuggested thattheTalmud-centered curriculum of his days was legitimate because it focusedspeci 󿬁 cally on the Babylonian Talmud, which, he argued, was an admix-ture of Bible, Mishnah, and Talmud. Thus, people who studied theBabylonian Talmud primarily or exclusively had, by de 󿬁 nition,  “ dividedtheir study days into three [equal] parts. ” 1 Many Jews like Rabbenu Tamapparently preferred to follow a different saying about Bible study: “ Studying Bible is a virtue and not a virtue; studying Mishnah is a virtuefor which one receives reward; but there is nothing more virtuous thanstudying Talmud ”  ( bBM   33 a). 2  An even stronger argument against independent study of the Bible (i.e.study of the Bible unconnected to Talmud study) could be formulated asfollows: since the classical works of midrash and the Talmuds were  󿬁 lled with interpretations of biblical texts, and since those books had beengranted canonical status on matters of law and belief by medieval Jewry,did it not make sense that the Bible exegesis found in those books should 1 Tosafot  k  ˙  idushin  30 a, s.v.  la tserikha; Sanhedrin  24 a, s.v.  belulah ; and  Avodah Zarah  19 a,s.v.  yeshalesh . See the discussion of Rabbenu Tam ’ s suggestion in Ephraim Kanarfogel,  Jewish Education and Society in the High Middle Ages   (Detroit,  1992 ), ch.  5 . 2 See the use of this saying in Rashbam ’ s commentary to Gen.  37 : 2 . 555  also be considered the  󿬁 nal word? Or, put differently, if medieval Jews saw themselves as bound by talmudic law, and if talmudic law was based onclassical rabbinic biblical exegesis, why would medieval Jews write theirown independent Bible commentaries? Yet some of the greatest rabbis and other Jewish intellectuals of theMiddle Ages did just that. They produced a wide variety of Bible com-mentaries, some of which are still studied and respected today. Jewish Bible commentaries began to appear in Muslim countries asearly as the ninth century, but not until the end of the eleventh century in Christian countries. This time gap was the result of a number of factors. The study of the Bible was greatly in 󿬂 uenced by, and a naturaloutgrowth of, the advanced study of the Hebrew language and of philosophy by Jews in Muslim Spain. Furthermore, the threat posedto rabbanite Judaism by the Karaites  –  who claimed that they hada superior way of reading the Bible, a way that undermined the truthclaims of rabbinic Judaism  –  was a strong catalyst for the writing of Bible commentaries. Karaism and the advanced study of Hebrew language and of philosophy were basically absent in western ChristianEurope, at least for the  󿬁 rst centuries when medieval Bible commen-taries were being written.So, the fact that Jewish Bible commentaries in Christian Europe laggedtwo centuries behind those written in Muslim Europe is understandable.This chapter willtry to explain why andhow Christian Europe, eventually,did become fertile ground for works of Bible exegesis.  WERE THE JEWS OF CHRISTIAN EUROPEREALLY AGAINST BIBLE STUDY?  Jews who had spent time in Muslim countries in the Middle Ages oftenpainted a negative picture of the Bible study they observed among Jewsin Christendom. Abraham ibn Ezra, who grew up in the Jewish com-munity of Muslim Spain, spent the last few decades of his life (in themid twelfth century) living in Christian countries. He was sadly dis-appointed with the knowledge of and interest in the Bible that hefound there. He disparaged those Ashkenazic scholars who consideredthe study of grammar to be a waste of time and who, in his words, “ have not read the Bible  . . .  but have studied only Talmud since thedays of their youth. ”  Ibn Ezra insisted that  “ it is inappropriate fora scholar to be void of knowledge of the Bible. ”  He pointed out that, when such a scholar encounters the phrase  “ as it is written, ”  whichintroduces biblical quotations in the Talmud, the scholar does notrecognize the verse and does not have the tools to determine whether 556 the middle ages: the christian world  the interpretation offered by the talmudic rabbis was meant as simpleexegesis or something beyond. 3 In his ethical will, Judah the son of Asher, who, in the early fourteenthcentury, moved in the opposite direction, from Germany to Spain, urgedhis children not to make the same mistake that he had made. He encour-aged them to study biblical grammar and exegesis, and explained hisadvice:  “ Because I did not study this in my youth, as it was not usually taught in Ashkenaz, so I have not been able to teach it here [in Spain] ”  where such skills were valued in a rabbi. 4  In Catalonia at the turn of the  󿬁 fteenth century, the Jewish philosopherPro 󿬁 at Duran complained:  At this time I see the Sages and leading scholars of Israel neglecting Scripture  . . . Ifyouaskthemaboutaverse,theydonotknowwhereitisandtheyconsideranyone who spends his time on Scripture a fool, for the Talmud is central. This malady hasbeen widespread in France and Germany in this and the preceding generations. 5  As we shall see in this chapter, this extreme portrayal of the Jews of medievalChristendomasuninterestedorincompetentinBiblestudyisnot justi 󿬁 ed.WhileBiblecommentariesinChristiancountries,asnotedabove,came onto the scene later than in Sepharad, once they did arrive they hada lasting effect on Jewish intellectual history. HESITANT BEGINNINGS IN THE SOUTH OF FRANCE Scholars used to believe that the Jews of Franco-Germany developed theirbiblicalexegeticaltraditionswithoutanyin 󿬂 uencefromMuslimcountries.Recently, Avraham Grossman has argued cogently that that was not thecase and that, as early as the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the exegeticalpractices of the Jews of Christian Europe must have been in 󿬂 uencedsomewhat by their (albeit limited) contact with the culture of the Jews of Muslim Spain. 6 3 See ibn Ezra  ’ s  Yesod Mora ve-Sod Torah , ed. Joseph Cohen and Uriel Simon,  2 nd rev. andenlarged edn. (Ramat Gan,  2007 ),  77 – 8  ( 1 : 4 ) and  111  ( 2 : 16 ). In the Appendix to thatvolume,  213 – 30 , Simon eloquently described ibn Ezra  ’ s intellectual loneliness when helived among the Jews of Christendom, and his dissatisfaction with their level of knowl-edgeoftheBibleandofother 󿬁 elds.SeealsoM.Lockshin, “ LonelyManof  Peshat  , ”  JewishQuarterly Review   99 ,  2  ( 2009 ),  291 – 300 . 4  Beit ha-Talmud   4  ( 1885 ),  344 , cited by Kanarfogel,  Jewish Education and Society  ,  79 . 5  Ma  ‘   aseh efod  , ed. Jonathan Friedlander (Vienna,  1865 ), p.  174 , cited by Frank Talmage, “ Keep Your Sons from Scripture, ”  in Talmage,  Apples of Gold in Settings of Silver: Studies in Medieval Jewish Exegesis and Polemics  , ed. Barry Wal 󿬁 sh (Toronto,  1996 ), p.  153 . 6 See, e.g., Avraham Grossman in Magne Saebo, ed.,  Hebrew Bible / Old Testament:The History of Its Interpretation , vol. I, pt.  2  (Göttingen,  2000 ),  327 – 8 . bible studies 557  It is likely that the  󿬁 rst accomplished Bible exegetes of medieval Franco-Germany   –  Moshe ha-Darshan and Menah ˙ em ben Helbo  –  came from orstudied in the south of France. Unfortunately, we know very little abouttheir lives and works. Virtually none of their exegesis has survived exceptin the form of citations in the works of scholars of the next generation.Moshe ha-Darshan lived in eleventh-century Narbonne and was consid-ered by Rabbenu Tam to be one of the leaders of French Jewry in his days.His exegesis was midrashic and may have consisted in part of collecting and editing   midrashim . We know even less about the life of Menah ˙ em benHelbo. It is not even clear whether he lived in France or in Germany, butthere does seem to be some evidence that he spent some time in southernFrance. Avraham Grossman believes that Menah ˙ em lived from  1015  to 1085 , approximately. Based on the many citations from Menah ˙ em in the works of later exegetes (Rashi, Joseph Qara, and others), Menah ˙ em may  well have been the creator of the genre of   peshat  ˙  ( “ plain meaning  ”  or “ contextual meaning  ” ) Bible commentaries in France. According toGrossman, it is likely that Menah ˙ em ’ s Provençal background broughthim into contact with the exegesis of commentators from Muslim Spain,and, speci 󿬁 cally, with their new approaches to grammar and the plainmeaning of words. 7 It would be at least a century after Moshe ha-Darshan before othernotable works of exegesis were produced in southern Christian Europe.Many of those later works were direct results of, or reactions to, the worksof the most famous and most lasting school of Jewish Bible exegesis inhistory   –  the exegetes of northern France and Germany. BIBLE EXEGESIS IN FRANCO-GERMANY  From the end ofthe eleventh to the end of the twelfth century, the talmudicacademies of northern France and Germany were making great contribu-tions to the  󿬁 eld of Bible exegesis, at the very same time that they were writing some of the most important medieval works related to Talmudstudy. A few years after Menah ˙ em and Moshe ha-Darshan, and perhapspartially as a result of their efforts, the Jews of Christian Europe beganproducing their most in 󿬂 uential contributions to the study of the Bible.The  󿬁 rst surviving commentaries from Christian Europe are those of Rashi (Solomon ben Isaac; northern France,  1040 – 1105 ), and for many  Jews, Ashkenazic and Sephardic, those commentaries are also the last word on exegesis. The northern French Bible commentaries of this 7 See ibid.,  331 . 558 the middle ages: the christian world  period  –  particularly Rashi ’ s but also others  –  have permanently changedthe way Jews look at the Bible. Even Rashi ’ s commentary style  –  quoting aword orashort phrasefromaverse,andthenreactingtothatunitoftextin comments of (generally) one to thirty words  –  became the standardstyle for many later exegetes.It is amazing the speed with which Rashi ’ s Bible commentary becameaccepted in the Jewish world, well beyond the geographical con 󿬁 nes of northern Christian Europe. 8 In later generations, when a rabbinic scholarcomposed a new commentary on the Torah, it became almost unheard of for him to print that commentary on the same page as the biblical textunless he also printed Rashi ’ s commentary on the same page. Rashi manu-scripts from medieval times number in the hundreds, attesting to the work  ’ s great popularity. The  󿬁 rst Hebrew book published in a printing press was Rashi ’ s Torah commentary. It appeared even before the  󿬁 rstpublished Hebrew text of the Bible. RASHI AND PESHAT ˙ Rashiknew anddrew on a vast array of midrashicworks from the  800 yearsbefore his time. These works had clear didactic goals and it would be anexaggeration to call many of them  “ commentaries. ”  Rashi announced thathe was going to do something different: There are many aggadic  midrashim ; our rabbis have already arranged them in theirproper place in Genesis Rabbah and other collections of   midrash . I, however, havecome [to write] only the  peshat  ˙  of Scripture, and those  ’   agadot   which explain the words of Scripture each word in its appropriate place. 9 BeforeRashi ’ stime,therewasnoconcertedattemptinChristianEuropetodistinguish between  peshat  ˙  (the  “ plain ”  or contextual interpretation of thetext) 10 and midrash. In fact, it is debatable whether the now universalterminological difference between the two words existed. Close to  200 8 For example, on the rapid acceptance of Rashi ’ s Torah commentary in Spain, seeEric Lawee,  “ The Reception of Rashi ’ s  Commentary on the Torah  in Spain: The Caseof Adam ’ s Mating with the Animals, ”  Jewish Quarterly Review   97 ,  1  ( 2007 ),  33 – 66 . 9 Commentary toGen.  3 : 8 . The 󿬁 nal phrase of thiscomment –  וד –  has been the subject of much discussion and its meaning is not totally clear. See Sarah Kamin,  Rashi  ’   s Exegetical Categorization in Respect to the DistinctionBetween Peshat and Derash  [Hebrew] (Jerusalem,  1986 ),  71 – 7  and  209 – 47 . There are alsoother versions of the wording of the comment. 10 The word  peshat  ˙  is notoriously hard to translate, primarily because it is used in many different ways by different authors. On the history of its understanding, see, among others, David Halivni,  Peshat and Derash  (New York,  1991 ), and Kamin,  Rashi  ’   s Exegetical Categorization . bible studies 559
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