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Monday, 5 April 2021

320) NEW LIGHT ON OLD COMMENTARIES:

"[Ashkenazim] consider anyone who spends his time on Scripture a fool, for the Talmud is central” -Ha’Efodi.

 

The first printed edition of the Chumash, Bologna, January 25 1482. 

INTRODUCTION:

It was only from as late as the ninth century in Muslim lands, and the eleventh century in Christian lands, that rabbis began to write formal commentary on Torah. One of the reasons for the lag of two centuries was that the Karaite Jews, who opted for anti-rabbinic and extremely literal interpretations of the Torah, were mainly active in Muslim countries, and therefore, Bible interpretation and commentary became a necessary defence against their literalism. Eventually, when Torah commentary penetrated through to Christian countries from around the eleventh century, there was an explosion of commentaries of all genres, and even commentaries on commentaries known as supercommentaries.

When the printing press was invented towards the end of the fifteenth century, the very first Hebrew book to be printed was Rashi’s commentary on the Torah. This was published even before the printed version of the Torah itself.

In this article, based extensively on the research by Rabbi Professor Martin Lockshin[1], we shall explore the origins, nature and status of rabbinical Biblical commentary. As we shall see, Torah commentary became quite an industry despite the strange fact that, as Lockshin points out,

“… there are good reasons why this should not have occurred.”

The reason why rabbinic Biblical commentary should not have flourished was because Bible (Torah and Tanach) study was not overly encouraged.

 

WHY WERE RABBIS NOT SUPPOSED TO WRITE TORAH COMMENTARIES?

In early post-Talmudic times, it was generally felt that there was no need for Torah scholars to spend time on Biblical studies. Lockshin explains that this was because:

“[Both Babylonian and Jerusalem][2] Talmuds were filled with interpretations of biblical texts, and since those books had been granted 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 also be considered the final word?

Or, put differently, if medieval Jews saw themselves as bound by talmudic law, and if talmudic law was based on classical rabbinic biblical exegesis, why would medieval Jews write their own independent Bible commentaries?”

 

WHAT ABOUT “ONE THIRD TORAH STUDY”?

If it is correct that Bible study per se was discouraged, then this seems to be in direct contravention of the following Talmudic injunction:

The Talmud in Kiddushin 30a teaches that: 

“A person should always divide their study days into three [equal] sections: One third Bible, one third Mishnah and one third Talmud.”

Accordingly, Bible study is an integral part of the study regimen for a Jew, so why was it discouraged?

Rashi’s grandson, Rabbeinu Tam (1100-1171) explained this apparent contradiction as simply that the Talmud itself already contained a balanced combination of all three of the required components of Bible, Mishna and Talmud (Gemara). Therefore, in his view, Talmud still trumped independent study of the Bible which remained effectively discouraged.[3]

 

“BIBLE STUDY IS A VIRTUE BUT NOT A COMPLETE VIRTUE”

In another Talmudic source, Bible study is surprisingly referred to as “a virtue but not a complete virtue”:

“The Sages taught in a baraita: For those who engage in the study of Bible, it is a virtue but not a complete virtue. For those who engage in the study of Mishna, it is a virtue and they receive reward for its study. For those who engage in the study of Talmud, you have no virtue greater than that.”[4]

These types of teaching created a culture where Bible study was not considered crucial learning material and it therefore followed that writing commentary on Tanach was certainly not the vogue.

Let us now move on to the post-Talmudic (and post-Savoraic and post-Gaonic[5]) period to see how attitudes toward Bible study began to change.

 

THE KARAITE JEWS OF SPAIN:

Rabbinic interest in Torah commentary began from ninth century particularly in Muslim southern Spain[6], known as Andalusia[7].

The term Karaite actually comes from the Hebrew word “Mikra” which means Scriptures or Torah. During the ninth and tenth centuries, Karaites were a significant portion of the Jewish population, and they began to exert considerable influence in Spain. Later, in Castile, high-ranking Rabbinical Jews such as Joseph Ferrizuel persuaded the king to allow the persecution and expulsion of Karaite Jews. With royal assistance, Rabbi Todros Halevi and Joseph ibn Alfakhar successfully drove out a large portion of the surviving Karaite population. Ironically, this was a form of expulsion from Spain of Jews by Jews centuries before the Expulsion of all practicing Jews in 1492.[8]

[See Kotzk Blog: 063) How the Karaites (unwittingly) Changed the Face of Judaism Forever.]

The Sefaradi Jews in Muslim lands became well-acquainted with Biblical content and commentary already since the ninth century due to their need to counter the Biblical interpretations of the Karaite Jews.

 

IBN EZRA (1089-1167):

These Sefaradi Jews from Muslim Spain often chided their fellow Ashkenazi Jews in Christian counties (particularly Northern France and Germany) for their lack of basic Biblical knowledge. An example of this can be seen regarding Avraham ibn Ezra who grew up in Muslim Spain but spent his final decades in Christian lands.

Ibn Ezra disapproved of his Ashkenazi scholarly colleagues who he considered unschooled in basic Bible knowledge:

“[They][9] have not read the Bible ... but have studied only Talmud since the days of their youth…[I]t is inappropriate for a scholar to be void of knowledge of the Bible.”[10]

Ibn Ezra continues that when the Talmud uses the frequent expression “as it is written,” the Ashkenazi scholar does not know where the verse is to be found in the Torah. [21]

 

YEHUDA BEN ASHER (1270-1349):

R. Yehuda ben Asher, the German (Ashkenazi) Talmudist (and brother of the Baal haTurim) who later became the rabbi of Toledo, Spain, urges his children not to make the same mistake that he had made by neglecting Bible study. He wrote:

“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.”[11]

 

PROFIAT DURAN (1350-1415):

Around the fifteenth century, Spanish philosopher and polemicist Profiat Duran also known as haEfodi, who had spent some time in Germany studying Talmud, comments rather poignantly:

“At this time I see the Sages and leading scholars of Israel neglecting Scripture ... If you ask them about a verse, they do not know where it is and they consider anyone who spends his time on Scripture a fool, for the Talmud is central. This malady has been widespread in France and Germany in this and the preceding generations.”[12]

Despite these various criticisms regarding a lack of basic Tanach studies amongst Ashkenazi rabbis, Lockshin shows[13] how a veritable industry of Biblical commentaries began to emerge although initially somewhat hesitantly.

 

BEGINNINGS OF A POPULAR GENRE OF BIBLICAL COMMENTARY:

Lockshin cites the new research by Avraham Grossman[14] that Jews of Christian Europe, such as those in Franco-Germany (Ashkenaz), which would include Rashi and the Tosafists, did not independently develop traditions of Biblical commentary as was previously assumed. Rather, they were influenced by the emerging culture of Biblical interpretation which was popular amongst the Jews of Muslim Spain, as we have seen.[15]

In keeping with this view, it is no coincidence that the first two Biblical commentators from Franco-Germany (Ashkenaz) who preceded Rashi, were the eleventh century Moshe haDarshan and Menachem ben Chelbo (1015-1085)[16], and both spent time in Southern France. Southern France is significant because this would have placed them geographically in closer proximity to Muslim (Southern) Spain where Biblical studies were a focus.


Although the interest in Torah interpretation took much longer to develop in Northern France and Germany, it was ironically those schools which were to become the “most famous and most lasting” of all the Biblical commentators. Rashi (1040-1105) was to emerge as one of the exemplars of those new schools, and it could be said that his commentaries are regarded as the standard and last word on Biblical interpretation and exegesis. But the roots of this genre were firmly entrenched, earlier, within the Jews of Muslim Spain.

 

RASHI (1040-1105):

Rashi (in his commentary on Bereishit 3:8) claimed to always present the Peshat, or simple meaning of the Biblical words:

וַאֲנִי לֹא בָאתִי אֶלָּא לִפְשׁוּטוֹ שֶׁל מִקְרָא

“I, however, have come [to write] only the peshat of Scripture…”

Notwithstanding this declaration from Rashi, the vast majority of his commentary is not Peshat but Midrashic (Homiletical), as a perusal of any section of Rashi’s commentary will immediately reveal. Rashi openly drew and quoted from Midrashic sources going back as far as 800 years. Generally, Midrashim are not considered commentaries. Lockshin makes this quite clear when he states:

“it would be an exaggeration to call many of them ‘commentaries.’”

Midrash or Homiletics (from the word homily which means a “sermon” or “derasha”) is not a technical commentary but rather a didactic exercise (i.e., a means of portraying a religious message or idea). Didactics is more of a preaching than a teaching.

This is how Lockshin defines Rashi:

“Rashi was a Jewish educator first and foremost, and secondarily a Bible exegete.”

Lockshin therefore explains that in Rashi’s time, the word Peshat may not have meant the same as we understand it today:

“…it is debatable whether the now universal terminological difference between the two words [peshat and midrash][1] existed.”

Peshat for Rashi may have meant a didactic or religious message - not as we would understand it today where Peshat means a technical commentary on the plain meaning of the words. Thus, as Lockshin suggests, because Rashi was more of an educator than commentator:

“Rashi’s true contribution appears to have been the creation of a genre of Bible commentary that mixed peshat and midrash.”

 

BE’ER YITZCHAK (d.1864) ON RASHI:

This notion is supported by Yitzchak Horowitz in his Be’er Yitzchak, a supercommentary on Rashi. The Be’er Yitzchak claimed that often Rashi quoted from Midrashim, not because of any difficulty in the Biblical text but rather, simply because the Midrashwas true[2]:

לא מהחרח הכתוב דרש כן...רק שלפי האמת כן דרש

 In fact, he further suggests that Rashi quotes Midrashim (in Lockshin’s paraphrase):

[B]ecause Rashi, for other undefined reasons, did not[3] want us to interpret that verse according to the peshat.”

This underscores the idea that Rashi was more of a pedagogue or preacher than a commentator.

 

YOSEF KARA (c.1050-c.1125):

Rashi’s student and colleague, Yosef Kara[4], however, chose to rather champion an approach to a more technical Torah commentary that involved true Peshat (i.e., the plain meaning of the text). Yosef Kara writes:

“There is no need to bring proofs from other places or from midrash ... Anyone who does not know the peshat of Scripture and inclines toward midrashic explanations may be compared to someone who is drowning in a river ... and grabs on to anything that he can find in an attempt to save himself. If he just turned his attention to the [plain][5] word of God, he would then inquire after the meaning of the text and he would succeed in finding the peshat.”[6]

In another place, Yosef Kara similarly exclaims:

“I do not want to record any midrash in this book.”[7]

 

RASHBAM (c.1085-c.1175):

Another staunch follower of the school of actual Peshat was Rashi’s grandson, Shmuel ben Meir, the son of his oldest daughter Yocheved[8]. Rashbam sometimes exhibited great disdain for his grandfather who did not stick to his claim of representing Peshat. Rashbam was prepared to technically comment on Biblical matters even when he offered no didactic lesson or moral.

Thus, as an example of the difference between the approach of Rashi and Rashbam, regarding the ear-piercing ceremony of the slave who refused to go free:

·         Rashi explains that it took place by a door – because didactically the door symbolises the freedom the slave had rejected;

·         Rashbam, however ignores lessons we can learn and simply explains that the ear-piercing had to take place at a site where soft material like a wooden door would allow an awl to easily penetrate.

Lockshin shows just how far Rashbam was prepared to go with his commitment to Peshat

“[Rashbam][9] often knowingly interpreted the peshat of a specific verse as saying the precise opposite of what Halakhah (Jewish law) taught.” 

An example of this is Rashbam’s commentary on Vayikra 21:4, where he says a Cohen may not attend the funeral of his wife. This is in contrast to the Halacha where a Cohen may and actually should indeed do so. 

And Lockshin tells us that: 

“There are at least twenty places in Rashbam’s Torah commentary where he offered an explanation of a biblical verse that is incompatible with Jewish law and practice.” [20]

Furthermore: 

“Rashbam, and other medieval rabbis, may not have held an unwavering belief that every word of the Torah was written by Moses.”[10] 

These examples show just how far Rashbam was prepared to go with his commitment to true Peshat. 

Jason Kalman cites Yaakov Thompson who maintains that Rashbam wrote commentary on most Biblical books, but "very early after their composition they began to disappear".[19]


YEHUDA HECHASID (1150[11]-1217): 

R. Yehuda heChasid, a leader of the Chasidei Ashkenaz (German Pietists) took a similar position when he wrote that a number of sections of the Torah were authored after the time of Moshe Rabbeinu.[12] Pure Peshat often leads to outcomes that are far from traditional didactics. 

 

STUDENTS OF THE RAMBAM (135-1204): 

From the second half of the twelfth century until the first half of the fourteenth century, Southern France became a bastion of support for Maimonides, especially during the Maimonidean Controversies

According to Lockshin: 

“Many of these thinkers wrote Bible commentaries. Some produced very radical Bible commentaries that espoused positions that denied the factuality of miracles in the Bible or that doubted God’s active providential control of our world.” 

 

THE KIMCHI FAMILY OF COMMENTATORS: 

Southern France began to produce philosophical and rational (as opposed to Midrashic or mystical) Torah commentaries just before the birth of Maimonides. Yosef Kimchi (c.1105-70) is considered the founder of the school of Torah commentary of Southern France (as opposed to the Rashi and Tosafist Midrashic schools of Northern France). He produced works which introduced rationalist thinking and philosophical Torah interpretation to the Jews of Southern France. He wrote: 

“One who does not know Hebrew linguistics thoroughly, his interpretation is not credible; his peshat is not peshat.”[13] 

Yosef Kimchi was from Muslim Spain (Andalusia) and later moved to Southern France where he and his two sons, Moshe (d. c.1190) and David (c.1160-1235) were active. David was to become known as the famous Radak (Rabbi David Kimchi) who appears in editions of Torah commentaries entitled Mikraot Gedolot.

 

Radak was challenged by “philosophically troubling texts in the Bible” which spoke of G-d being corporeal (having human characteristics) and of nature sometimes changing (as in the case of miracles). Lockshin emphasises that these matters: 

“are not issues that troubled the members of Rashi’s school (with the exception of Bekhor Shor).” 

[See The Tosafists – Somewhere between Magic and the Guide For the Perplexed?

Radak, unlike most other commentators, did not concern himself with finding an implicit meaning in every single word[14] and nuance of the Torah. He spoke, instead, about kefel ha’inyan, where words are sometimes repeated simply as part of the writing style.

 So, for example, on the verse: 

וַיִּירָ֧א יַעֲקֹ֛ב מְאֹ֖ד וַיֵּ֣צֶר ל֑וֹ וַיַּ֜חַץ אֶת־הָעָ֣ם אֲשֶׁר־אִתּ֗וֹ וְאֶת־הַצֹּ֧אן וְאֶת־הַבָּקָ֛ר וְהַגְּמַלִּ֖ים לִשְׁנֵ֥י מַחֲנֽוֹת׃

 “Jacob was very frightened and anxious” (Gen. 32:8) 

·         Rashi picks up on the redundancy of the two similar words “frightened” and “anxious” and explains:

וַיִּירָא שֶׁמָּא יֵהָרֵג, וַיֵּצֶר לוֹ אִם יַהֲרֹג הוּא אֶת אֲחֵרִים

“He was afraid lest he be killed [by his brother, Esau], and he was distressed that he might have to kill [Esau] (Genesis Rabbah 76:2).” 

·         On the other hand, Radak simply understands the verse to emphasize the “depth of Jacob’s fear.” 

 

GERSONIDES - LEVI BEN GERSHON (1288-1344): 

Levi ben Gershon, also known as Gersonides, was another commentator from Southern France. Although he often combined both Sefaradi and Ashkenazi exegesis (commentaries), he also had some radical rationalist views. 

Gersonides believed that, as Lockshin puts it: 

“God’s providence and knowledge of the particulars of our world were limited.” 

Gersonides also rejected the common view (based on a literal reading of the Biblical verses) that originally man was only to eat fruit and vegetables and only permitted to meat after the flood.  Gersonides wrote that that reading was: 

“a colossal lie that any religious person should run away from.” 

He held this position which was predicated on his fundamental argument that G-d does not change (or change his mind).

In another place, Gersonides based himself of Maimonides[15] and claimed rather boldly that: 

“it is not required to believe everything that they [= the talmudic rabbis], of blessed memory, said, for we can find in their works opinions that are mutually contradictory. Accordingly we need not avoid saying that some of their opinions are incorrect in matters of this nature.” 

 

YOSEF IBN KASPI (1279-1340): 

Another southern French commentator, Yosef ibn Kaspi, was so dedicated to rationalist philosophy that he went beyond even the radical rationalist views of Maimonides. Lockshin explains: 

“Ibn Kaspi had little respect for classical rabbinic methods of biblical interpretation and for talmudic study. He saw his own radical exegesis – often written in an allusive manner, interspersed with derogatory comments about standard exegesis – as meant for a small intellectual elite.” 

Ibn Kaspi was known for his distinction of religious followers into two groups, the common folk who made up the majority and then the minority of intellectuals. He referred to these as hamon am and yechidei segulah respectively. 

[See Kotzk Blog: 068) Outspoken Rabbinical Views Claiming That The Torah Recorded Superstitions Of Its Day:

[See Kotzk Blog: 175) RABBEINU NISSIM OF MARSEILLES – ONE OF THE MOST RADICAL OF ALL THE COMMENTATORS:]

 

NACHMANIDES (1194-1270): 

Lockshin explains that Nachmanides, who lived in Girona in northern or Christian Spain, was “the first major Bible commentator to introduce mystical exegesis into his commentary…” 

Nachmanides opposed Maimonidean rationalism because: 

“[a]ccording to Nahmanides, this rationalism sometimes led to misreadings of biblical texts, both legal and narrative. 

An interesting comment Nachmanides makes is one regarding the permissibility to “cherry-pick” Torah interpretations. Although traditionally, this is considered a very unfavourable practice, Nachmanides shows that it is actually permitted if not encouraged[16]. Lockshin explains: 

“We can see from Nahmanides’s commentary that Rashi’s commentary had received near-canonical status within 150 years of its writing, so much so that Nahmanides felt obligated to prove that it was permissible to disagree with Rashi’s interpretations. The proof, Nahmanides argued, was in Rashi’s own behavior. Rashi picked and chose among midrashim and sometimes interpreted against them, preferring the peshat explanation of the text. By doing so, ‘he authorized us to do the same,’ and to pick and choose among his (Rashi’s) explanations. This Nahmanides did often in his commentary. He dismissed many explanations that Rashi had offered even when Rashi was simply quoting or reworking a talmudic tradition.” 

The commentary of Nachmanides, according to Lockshin, become “the second most popular Bible commentary (after Rashi’s) in Jewish history.”

 

YITZCHAK ARAMA (1420-1494): 

Ironically and surprisingly, the last generations of commentators from Christian Spain prior to the Expulsion of Jews in 1492, seem to have been “the ones with the most positive attitudes to Christian Bible exegesis.” 

Yitzchak Arama moved from Muslim southern Spain to the northern Spanish town of Tarragona in Christian Spain. It was in Tarragona that he noticed that the Jews living there were not satisfied with classical Torah commentary. Arama wrote that the Jews in the north preferred the style of the “people from Edom [i.e., Christians]”: 

“So Arama announced that he was writing a book that would use Christian preaching style as its model.” 

Arama was obviously referring to using a style of commentary not to the actual dogma.

 

DON YITZCHAK ABRAVANEL (1437-1505):

Yitzchak Arama’s student, Don Yitzchak Abravanel, similarly strongly disapproved of the commentaries of Rashi, Maimonides and Ibn Ezra. 

Abarvanel criticised the commentary styles of Ashkenaz and wrote somewhat sarcastically that the rabbinic maxim, “At five years old, study Scripture; at ten, study Mishnah,” does not mean “that he should engage in Scripture only until the age of five and not afterwards, as the Ashkenazim do today.” 

With Abravanel, once again surprisingly, we have another commentator with: 

“’a broad knowledge of, and ecumenical attitude towards, Christian exegetical literature.’[17] He cited approvingly from the writings of Augustine and Thomas, and even from the works of one churchman who had converted from Judaism, Paul of Burgos.” 

Abravanel didn’t stop there, he also disputed that Samuel had written the Book of Samuel. 

Regarding both Yitzchak Arama and Don Yitzchak Abravanel using Christian styles of exegesis, it is possible that they found some precedent from Rav Hai Gaon (the last of the rabbis from the Gaonic Period.) Rav Hai Gaon (939-1038) suggested to some of his students who were grappling with a verse from Psalms (Ps. 141:5) that they should consult the local “Katolikus” (catholicus, or Christian clergyman). 

When Rav Hai Gaon saw that his student was hesitant to do so, he retorted: 

“the pious men of previous generations never refrained from turning to members of other religions when they encountered a difficulty [in a biblical text].”[18] 

Whether that story is apocryphal or not, Arama and Abravanel were happy to openly adopt a favourable attitude towards Christian styles of Biblical interpretation and by their own admission introduced some of those aspects into their own commentary.

 

CONCLUSION: 

Far from formal rabbinic Torah commentary always being there, we have investigated its emergence and traced its birth and growth in ninth century Muslim Spain from infancy and hesitant beginnings to a rampant industry after passing through the Christian north and Ashkenaz. Far from being a gentle and soft homogenic genre of informative and instructional teachings, Torah commentary became a theological battlground. We hear loud and opposing voices all vying for supremacy and diversely echoing the mystical, Midrashic, Peshatist and radical rationalist trends within Judaism and even an apparent contribution from “Edom”.

Perhaps the Talmud foresaw all these tensions when, as we saw earlier, it declared that “the study of Bible, it is a virtue but not a complete virtue.”



[1] Parenthesis mine.

[2] See Bereishit 37:14.

[3] Emphasis mine.

[4] Not to be confused with the author of the Shulchan Aruch, R. Yosef Karo (1488-1575).

[5] Parenthesis mine.

[6] Commentary to 1 Sam. 1:17.

[7] Commentary to 1 Sam. 1:1; see also commentary to 2 Sam. 12:30 and other texts cited by Eppenstein in his introduction to Perushei Rabbi Yosef Qara Linevi’im Rishonim (Jerusalem, 1972), 11–12.

[8] Rashbam and RabbeinuTam were brothers.

[9] Parenthesis mine.

[10] See Rashbam’s commentary to Bamidbar 22:1. In another paper, Lockshin writes: “Although such an approach would be anathema to almost all contemporary Orthodox Jews, it is not unthinkable that a pious Ashkenazic Jew in the twelfth century would be open to those types of critical approaches…” See M. Lockshin, Moses Wrote the Torah: Rashbam’s Perspective.

[11] Lockshin has the birth date as 1140.

[12] See Israel Ta-Shma, Kneset Mehkarim (Jerusalem, 2004), 273.

[13] Sefer ha-Galuy, 4 (cited by Cohen, “The Qimhi Family,” 391).

[14] Although Radak “often exemplified the combining of both Sepharad and Ashkenaz traditions when he presented peshat and midrash as two viable ways of understanding the same text.”

[15] Guide of the Perplexed 2:30.

[16] See commentary on Bereishit 8:4.

[17] Lockshin is citing Eric Lawee in Isaac Abarbanel’s Stance Toward Tradition: Defense, Dissent, and Dialogue (Albany, 2001).

[18] Cited by S. Asaf, Tekufat ha-Ge’onim Vesifrutah (Jerusalem, 1955), 119–20, quoting R. Joseph ibn Aqnin’s Arabic commentary to Song of Songs.

[19] Thompson, Y, 1989, The Commentary or Samuel ben Meir on the Song of Songs.

[20] Rashbam wrote in his introduction to Exodus 21:

“Let knowers of wisdom know and understand that I have not come to explain rabbinic law (halakhot), even though this is the essence of Torah, as I have explained in my Genesis commentary (e.g., at Gen. 1:1; 37:2). For it is from the apparent superfluousness of scriptural language that rabbinic homilies (aggadot) and law are derived. Some of these rabbinic interpretations can be found in the commentary of our Rabbi Solomon, my mother’s father, may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing. But I have come to explain the contextual meaning of Scripture. And I will ex-plain the statutes and laws according to common sense (literally “the way of the world”). And I will do this even though the rabbinic understanding of the laws is the essence, as the rabbis taught: “law uproots Scripture (b. Sota 16a).”

(Harris, R, 2009, Medieval Jewish Biblical Exegesis, In History of Biblical Interpretation. Volume 2:141–171. Edited by Alan Hauser and Duane F. Watson. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.)

[21] To illustrate Ibn Ezra’s commitment to Peshat and logic is his comment on Gen. 33:4, which deals with the moment of reunion between Jacob and Esau. Harris writes: "The ancient rabbis, suspicious of Esau as they tended to be in all matters, noted the ancient scribal markings on 'kissed' and took it to mean that Esau had intended to bite Jacob to death. Ibn Ezra dismisses this midrash as 'good only for those who are still nursing (!)' and notes that context dictates the conclusion that 'Esau intended no harm to his brother.'” [See above, Robert Harris 2009, p.153.] This would be another difference between a Peshatist and Midrashic approach to Torah interpretation.

Lockshin cites Ibn Ezra: "Rashi] wrote a commentary on the Bible following [standard] midrashic methods. He thought that his commentary was following peshat methods but only one comment out of a thousand in his works represents peshat. Contemporary scholars take great delight in such works."

[Safah berurah, ed. by G. Lippmann (Furth, 1839), p. 5a] 

[See Lockshin M, 1989, Tradition or Context: Two Exegetes Struggle with Peshat.]









8 comments:

  1. What I feel is missing in this discussion is the commentary that relies on the Remez and Gematriot of which there are a few Rishonim: Rabbi Elazar of Worms (the Rokeach), Baal Haturim (who has two commentaries on the Torah), Rabbeinu Efraim and Rabbenu Yoel. It appears there was a group of commentators, of which the Tur is the most known which seemed to exist as a branch of Chasidei Ashkenaz. Also Sefer Hagematriot of R. Yehuda Hachasid can also be considered a type of commentary on the the Bible. At least the Rokeach's commentary on the Torah and Megillot was known, since it is repeated by the Ba'al Haturim in his commentary.

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    1. Thank you EA as always. Would not Remez and Gematriot fall under the general rubric of Midrash (in it broader connotation as opposed to just "derush"), as does "sod" (as in Ramban)?

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  2. Rabbeinu Bachya, the Chovos Halevovos said in his introduction why he wrote the Sefer. He said there were those who already gave explanations for every facet of Torah. I always assumed there were meforshim but we're either burned or geniza.
    How would you explain what he said?

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  3. I would say that that is the view of the Chovos Halevavos, and it is as valid for us as any other commentator.

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    1. Also, perhaps the fact that he came from Zaragoza in Northern Spain may explain his less philosophical view. It also ties in with the post-Talmudic view that Gemara was the final word on all Torah interpretation.

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  4. Hi. Your site is terrific! I am writing as I am unable to view your sources. Hoping you can help. Thank you!

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    1. Sources directly follow the article. Thank you.

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