What is Midrash?

Discussion in 'Judaism' started by Dave the Web, Nov 24, 2003.

  1. Dave the Web

    Dave the Web New Member

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    I have heard the word Midrash various times before now but I do not know what it means. I think it relates to a certain type of Jewish story. But what does it mean? Is it related to parable, or allegory?
     
  2. Vajradhara

    Vajradhara One of Many

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    Namaste Dave,

    sorry, i didn't see this one earlier... besides... i thought that bananabrain would have replied :)

    in any event....

    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.

    for more information, please visit this link:
    http://www.faqs.org/faqs/judaism/FAQ/03-Torah-Halacha/index.html
     
  3. Nogodnomasters

    Nogodnomasters New Member

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    The is a good collection of midrashes in the book "Hebrew Myths" by Robert Graves and Raphael Patai
     
  4. kiwimac

    kiwimac God is NOT about Fear

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    Midrash is a way of retelling a scriptural story so that it has impact now, so that we realise (essentially) that the story is not just about them then but also about me now, that is,
    Midrash is a technique which makes the scripture come alive with meaning for us in the here & now.

    Kiwimac
     
  5. bananabrain

    bananabrain awkward squadnik

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    vajradhara's answer is pretty comprehensive. i would not recommend starting with either robert graves or raphael patai, the latter being easy to misinterpret and the former being a little careless with his source material by all accounts. but then again, as a traditional jew, apparently it's OK to call me a liar.

    b'shalom

    bananabrain
     
  6. brucegdc

    brucegdc Moderator

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    Bananabrain, do you have a recommended starting point for those of us with small libraries for a "Midrash for Dummies" to add?. I agree that something labelled "Myths" is unlikely to be conducive to finding out about a pattern or reasoning or belief.
     
  7. Dave the Web

    Dave the Web New Member

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    Thank you for the replies. I understand better now.
    Bananabrain why do you feel so offended so easily around here? Has somebody actually called you a liar?
     
  8. bananabrain

    bananabrain awkward squadnik

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    i believe ginzberg's "legends of the jews" is a good place to start, but there are other ones.

    dave - never mind my comment, here isn't the place. i should probably not have said anything.

    b'shalom

    bananabrain
     
  9. Nogodnomasters

    Nogodnomasters New Member

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    What is good about "Hebrew Myths" is that in addition to presenting the stories, it also compares the tales to other religions or myths in the footnotes. This makes for a more interesting read when one can compare the castration of Noah to that of Uranus. It compares the similarities of Iapetus to Japheth.

    You can also see the similarities between the birth saga of Abraham and that of Jesus. In the Abraham story it was Nimrod who performed the slaughter of the innocents.

    The midrashes bring the stories of the Old Testament more in line with classical mythology- and Oh yes- astrology.
     

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