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soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Torah and Halachic Authority (3/12)
Section - Question 3.24: What is a Midrash?

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Top Document: soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Torah and Halachic Authority (3/12)
Previous Document: Question 3.23: What are the extra-canonical (minor) tractates?
Next Document: Question 3.25: What are Halakhic (or Tannaitic) Midrashim?
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                                  Answer:
   
   Dr. Jacob Neusner explains that the word 'Midrash' is based on a
   Hebrew word meaning 'interpretation' or 'exegesis'. He shows that the
   term 'Midrash' has three main usages:
    1. The term 'Midrash' can refer to a particular way of reading and
       interpreting a biblical verse. Thus we may say that the ancient
       rabbis provided Midrash to Scripture. This does not mean that any
       interpretation of scripture is automatically true rabbinical
       Midrash. In fact, most of what people call 'Modern Midrash' has
       nothing to do with the classical modes of literary exegesis that
       guided the rabbis. Commentary and Midrash are two different
       things! In order to get a good idea of what classical rabbinic
       Midrash really is, one has to actually study it; No two or three
       sentence definition can accurately define the structure of
       Midrash.
    2. The term 'Midrash' can refer to a book - a compilation of
       Midrashic teachings. Thus one can say that "Genesis Rabbah" is a
       book that is a compilation of Midrash readings on the book of
       Genesis.
    3. The term 'Midrash' can refer to a particular verse and its
       interpretation. Thus one can say that "The Midrash on the verse
       Genesis 1:1 says that...[and some Midrashic interpretation of the
       verse would go here].
       
   Dr. Charles T. Davis (Appalachian Statue University, Philosophy and
   Religion Department, NC) has prepared a [5]summary of the definition
   and features of Midrash, based on Rabbi Burton Visotzky's "Reading the
   Bible". This summary says that once a canon (i.e., approved scriptural
   text) is closed, the problem facing the community is the problem of
   "searching out" the canon. Midrash is a method of reading the Bible as
   an Eternal text, and is the result of applying a set of hermeneutical
   principles evolved by the community to guide one in reading the canon,
   in order to focus one's reading. The ultimate goal of midrash is to
   "search out" the fullness of what was spoken by the Divine Voice.
   
   In developing midrash, there are two schools of thought on how to
   handle the language of Torah. One is that the language is the language
   of human discourse, and is subject to the same redundancies and
   occasional verbiage that we all encounter in desultory conversation.
   The other view holds that since Scripture is the Word of G@d, no word
   is superfluous. Every repetition, every apparent mistake, every
   peculiar feature of arrangement or order has meaning.
   
   Midrash minimizes the authority of the wording of the text as
   communication, normal language. It places the focus on the reader and
   the personal struggle of the reader to reach an acceptable moral
   application of the text. While it is always governed by the wording of
   the text, it allows for the reader to project his or her inner
   struggle into the text. This allows for some very powerful and moving
   interpretations which, to the ordinary user of language, seem to have
   very little connection with the text. The great weakness of this
   method is that it always threatens to replace the text with an
   outpouring of personal reflection. At its best it requires the
   presence of mystical insight not given to all readers.
   
   Additional reading on Midrash may be found in the [6]Midrash Reading
   List.

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Top Document: soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Torah and Halachic Authority (3/12)
Previous Document: Question 3.23: What are the extra-canonical (minor) tractates?
Next Document: Question 3.25: What are Halakhic (or Tannaitic) Midrashim?

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