In Judaism, the midrash (/ˈmɪdrɑːʃ/; Hebrew:
מִדְרָשׁ; pl. Hebrew: מִדְרָשִׁים midrashim)
is the genre of rabbinic literature which contains early
interpretations and commentaries on the
Written Torah and Oral Torah
(spoken law and sermons), as well as non-legalistic rabbinic
literature (aggadah) and occasionally the Jewish religious laws
(halakha), which usually form a running commentary on specific
passages in the Hebrew Scripture (Tanakh).
The Midrash, capitalized, refers to a specific compilation of these
writings, primarily from the first ten centuries CE.
The purpose of midrash was to resolve problems in the interpretation
of difficult passages of the text of the Hebrew Bible, using Rabbinic
principles of hermeneutics and philology to align them with the
religious and ethical values of religious teachers.
3 Forms of Midrashic literature
4 Halakhic midrashim
5 Aggadic midrashim
6 Classical compilations
7 Contemporary Midrash
8 Contemporary views
9 See also
11 External links
Gesenius ascribes the etymology of midrash to the qal of the common
Hebrew verb darash (דָּרַשׁ) "to seek, study, inquire". The
word "midrash" occurs twice in the Hebrew Bible: 2 Chronicles 13:22
"in the midrash of the prophet Iddo", and 24:27 "in the midrash of the
Book of the Kings".
The word is translated in the Septuagint as βίβλος, γραφή,
i.e., “book” or “writing,” and it is likely that it refers to
an account of, or the result of inquiry into, the events of the time,
i.e. what would now be called a history. In Second Temple Jewish
literature it began to be used in the sense of education and learning
According to the PaRDeS approaches to exegesis, interpretation of
Biblical texts in
Judaism is realized through peshat (literal or plain
meaning, lit. "plain" or "simple"), remez (deep meaning, lit.
"hints"), derash (comparative meaning, from Hebrew darash—"to
inquire" or "to seek") and sod (hidden meaning or philosophy, lit.
"secret" or "mystery"). The
Midrash concentrates somewhat on remez but
mostly on derash (Some thinkers divide PaRDeS into pshat, remez, din
(law) and sod. In this understanding, midrash aggada deals with remez
and midrash halakha deals with din).
Many different exegetical methods are employed in an effort to derive
deeper meaning from a text. This is not limited to the traditional
thirteen textual tools attributed to the Tanna
Rabbi Ishmael, which
are used in the interpretation of halakha (Jewish law). The presence
of words or letters which are seen to be apparently superfluous, and
the chronology of events, parallel narratives or what are seen as
other textual 'anomalies' are often used as a springboard for
interpretation of segments of Biblical text. In many cases, a dialogue
is expanded manifold: handfuls of lines in the Biblical narrative may
become long philosophical discussions. It is unclear whether the
midrash assumes these dialogues took place in reality or if this
refers only to subtext or religious implication.
Many midrashim start off with a seemingly unrelated sentence from the
Biblical books of Psalms, Proverbs or the Prophets. This sentence
later turns out to metaphorically reflect the content of the
rabbinical interpretation offered. This strategy is used particularly
in a subgenre of midrash known as the "Petikhta".
Midrash discussions are highly metaphorical, and many Jewish
authors stress that they are not intended to be taken literally.
Rather, other midrashic sources may sometimes serve as a key to
particularly esoteric discussions. Later authors maintain that this
was done to make this material less accessible to the casual reader
and prevent its abuse by detractors.
Forms of Midrashic literature
In general the midrash is focused on either halakha (legal) or aggadic
(non-legal and chiefly homiletical) subject matter. Both kinds of
midrashim were at first preserved only orally; but their writing down
commenced in the 2nd century, and they now exist in the shape chiefly
of exegetical or homiletical commentaries on
Tanakh (the Hebrew
Talmud Readers by Adolf Behrman
—— Tannaitic ——
—— Amoraic (Gemara) ——
—— Later ——
—— Exodus ——
Mekhilta of Rabbi Shimon
Mekhilta of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai
Sifra (Torat Kohanim)
—— Numbers and
Sifrei Zutta on Numbers
(Mekhilta le-Sefer Devarim)
—— Tannaitic ——
Seder Olam Rabbah
Baraita of the Forty-nine Rules
Baraita on the Thirty-two Rules
Baraita on the Erection of the Tabernacle
—— 400–600 ——
Pesikta de-Rav Kahana
Seder Olam Zutta
—— 650–900 ——
Tanna Devei Eliyahu
Alphabet of Sirach
Shir ha-Shirim Rabbah
Baraita of Samuel
—— 900–1000 ——
Shir ha-Shirim Zutta
—— 1000–1200 ——
—— Later ——
Machir ben Abba Mari
Targum to the Five Megillot
Targum Sheni to Esther
Targum to Chronicles
Midrash halakha is the name given to a group of tannaitic expositions
on the first four books of the Hebrew Bible. These Midrashim, which
are written in Mishnahic Hebrew set out a clear distinction between
the Biblical texts that they discuss, and the rabbinic interpretation
of that text. They often go well beyond simple interpretation and
derive or provide support for halakha. This work is based on pre set
assumptions about the sacred and divine nature of the text, and the
belief in the legitimacy that accords with rabbinic interpretation.
Although this material treats the biblical texts as the authoritative
word of God, it is clear that not all of the
Hebrew Bible was fixed in
its wording at this time, as some verses that are cited differ from
the Masoretic, and accord with the Septuagint, or Samaritan Torah
With the growing canonization of the contents of the Hebrew Bible,
both in terms of the books that it contained, and the version of the
text in them, and an acceptance that new texts could not be added,
there came a need to produce material that would clearly differentiate
between that text, and rabbinic interpretation of it. By collecting
and compiling these thoughts they could be presented in a manner which
helped to refute claims that they were only human interpretations. The
argument being that by presenting the various collections of different
schools of thought each of which relied upon close study of the text,
the growing difference between early biblical law, and its later
rabbinic interpretation could be reconciled.
Main article: Aggadah
Midrashim which seek to explain the non-legal portions of the Hebrew
Bible are sometimes referred to as aggadah or haggadah.
Aggadic discussions of the non-legal parts of Scripture are
characterized by a much greater freedom of exposition than the
halakhic Midrashim (midrashim on Jewish law.) Aggadic expositors
availed themselves of various techniques, including sayings of
prominent rabbis. These aggadic explanations could be philosophical or
mystical disquisitions concerning angels, demons, paradise, hell, the
messiah, Satan, feasts and fasts, parables, legends, satirical
assaults on those who practice idolatry, etc.
Some of these midrashim entail mystical teachings. The presentation is
such that the
Midrash is a simple lesson to the uninitiated, and a
direct allusion, or analogy, to a Mystical teaching for those educated
in this area.
An example of a Midrashic interpretation:
"And God saw all that He had made, and found it very good. And there
was evening, and there was morning, the sixth day." (Genesis
Rabbi Nahman said in
Rabbi Samuel's name: "Behold, it
was very good" refers to the Good Desire; "AND behold, it was very
good" refers to the Evil Desire. Can then the Evil Desire be very
good? That would be extraordinary! But without the Evil Desire,
however, no man would build a house, take a wife and beget children;
and thus said Solomon: "Again, I considered all labour and all
excelling in work, that it is a man's rivalry with his neighbour."
(Kohelet IV, 4).
See also: Rabbinical literature
Mekhilta. The Mekhilta essentially functions as a commentary on the
Book of Exodus. There are two versions of this midrash collection. One
is Mekhilta de
Rabbi Ishmael, the other is Mekhilta de
bar Yohai. The former is still studied today, while the latter was
used by many medieval Jewish authorities. While the latter (bar Yohai)
text was popularly circulated in manuscript form from the 11th to 16th
centuries, it was lost for all practical purposes until it was
rediscovered and printed in the 19th century.
Rabbi Ishmael. This is a halakhic commentary on Exodus,
concentrating on the legal sections, from Exodus 12 to 35. It derives
halakha from Biblical verses. This midrash collection was redacted
into its final form around the 3rd or 4th century; its contents
indicate that its sources are some of the oldest midrashim, dating
back possibly to the time of
Rabbi Akiva. The midrash on Exodus that
was known to the
Amoraim is not the same as our current mekhilta;
their version was only the core of what later grew into the present
Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai. Based on the same core material as
Rabbi Ishmael, it followed a second route of commentary
and editing, and eventually emerged as a distinct work. The Mekhilta
Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai is an exegetical midrash on Exodus 3 to 35,
and is very roughly dated to near the 4th century.
Sifra on Leviticus. The
Sifra work follows the tradition of Rabbi
Akiva with additions from the School of
Rabbi Ishmael. References in
Talmud to the
Sifra are ambiguous; It is uncertain whether the
texts mentioned in the
Talmud are to an earlier version of our Sifra,
or to the sources that the
Sifra also drew upon. References to the
Sifra from the time of the early medieval rabbis (and after) are to
the text extant today. The core of this text developed in the mid-3rd
century as a critique and commentary of the Mishnah, although
subsequent additions and editing went on for some time afterwards.
Sifre on Numbers and Deuteronomy, going back mainly to the schools of
the same two Rabbis. This work is mainly a halakhic midrash, yet
includes a long haggadic piece in sections 78-106. References in the
Talmud, and in the later Geonic literature, indicate that the original
Sifre was on the
Book of Numbers, Exodus and Deuteronomy.
However, transmission of the text was imperfect, and by the Middle
Ages, only the commentary on Numbers and
Deuteronomy remained. The
core material was redacted around the middle of the 3rd century.
Sifre Zutta (The small Sifre). This work is a halakhic commentary on
the book of Numbers. The text of this midrash is only partially
preserved in medieval works, while other portions were discovered by
Solomon Schechter in his research in the famed Cairo Geniza. It seems
to be older than most other midrash, coming from the early 3rd
Midrash Qohelet, on
Ecclesiastes (probably before middle of 9th
Midrash Esther, on Esther (940 CE).
The Pesikta, a compilation of homilies on special Pentateuchal and
Prophetic lessons (early 8th century), in two versions:
Pesikta de-Rav Kahana
Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer
Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer (not before 8th century), a Midrashic narrative of
the more important events of the Pentateuch.
Yelammedenu (9th century) on the whole Pentateuch; its
homilies often consist of a Halachic introduction, followed by several
poems, exposition of the opening verses, and the Messianic conclusion.
There are actually a number of different '
collections. The two most important are
Tanhuma Ha Nidpas,
literally the published text. This is also sometimes referred to as
Tanhuma Yelamdenu. The other is based on a manuscript
Solomon Buber and is usually known as
Buber, much to many students' confusion, this too is sometimes
referred to as
Tanhuma Yelamdenu. The fact is even though the
first one is the most widely distributed today, when the Medieval
authors refer to
Midrash Tanchuma, they usually mean the second one.
Midrash Shmuel, on the first two Books of Kings (I, II Samuel).
Midrash Tehillim, on the Psalms.
Midrash Mishlé, a commentary on the book of Proverbs.
Seder Olam Rabbah
Seder Olam Rabbah (or simply Seder Olam). Traditionally attributed to
Rabbi Yose ben Halafta. This work covers topics from the
Creation of the universe to the construction of the Second Temple in
Yalkut Shimoni. A collection of midrash on the entire Hebrew
Scriptures (Tanakh) containing both halakhic and aggadic midrash. It
was compiled by Shimon ha-Darshan in the 13th century CE and is
collected from over 50 other midrashic works.
Tanna Devei Eliyahu. This work that stresses the reasons underlying
the commandments, the importance of knowing Torah, prayer, and
repentance, and the ethical and religious values that are learned
through the Bible. It consists of two sections, Seder Eliyahu Rabbah
and Seder Eliyahu Zuta. It is not a compilation but a uniform work
with a single author.
Alphabet of Akiba ben Joseph, a midrash on the names of the letters of
the Hebrew alphabet
Midrash Tadshe (called also Baraita de-
Rabbi Pinehas ben Yair):
Midrash Rabbah — widely studied are the Rabboth (great
commentaries), a collection of ten midrashim on different books of the
Bible (namely, the five books of the
Torah as well as the Five
Scrolls). However, despite the similarity in their names, these are
not a cohesive work. They were written by different authors, in
different locales, in different historical eras. The ones on Exodus,
Leviticus, Numbers, and
Deuteronomy are chiefly made up of homilies on
the Scripture sections for the Sabbath or festival, while the others
are rather of an exegetical nature.
Bereshith Rabba, Genesis Rabbah. This text dates from the sixth
century. A midrash on Genesis, it offers explanations of words and
sentences and haggadic interpretations and expositions, many of which
are only loosely tied to the text. It is often interlaced with maxims
and parables. Its redactor drew upon earlier rabbinic sources,
including the Mishnah, Tosefta, the halakhic midrashim the Targums. It
apparently drew upon a version of
Talmud Yerushalmi that resembles,
yet was not identical to, the text that survived to present times. It
was redacted sometime in the early fifth century.
Exodus Rabbah (tenth or eleventh and twelfth century)
Leviticus Rabbah (middle seventh century)
Numbers Rabbah (twelfth century)
Deuteronomy Rabbah (tenth century)
Shir Hashirim Rabba,
Song of Songs Rabbah
Song of Songs Rabbah (probably before the middle
of ninth century)
Ruth Rabba, (probably before the middle of ninth century)
Lamentations Rabbah (seventh century). Lamentations
Rabbah has been transmitted in two versions. One edition is
represented by the 1st printed edition, 1519 Pesaro; the other is the
Buber edition, based on manuscript J.I.4 from the Biblioteca
Casanatense in Rome. This latter version (Salomon Buber) is quoted by
the Shulkhan Arukh, as well as medieval Jewish authorities. It was
probably redacted sometime in the fifth century.
A wealth of literature and artwork has been created in the 20th and
21st centuries by people aspiring to create "Contemporary Midrash".
Forms include poetry, prose, Bibliodrama (the acting out of Bible
stories), murals, masks, and music, among others. The Institute for
Midrash was formed to facilitate these reinterpretations
of sacred texts. The institute hosted several week-long intensives
between 1995 and 2004, and published eight issues of Living Text: The
Journal of Contemporary
Midrash from 1997 to 2000.
According to Carol Bakhos recent studies that use literary-critical
tools to concentrate on the cultural and literary aspects of midrash
have led to a rediscovery of the importance of these texts as methods
of finding insights into the rabbinic culture that created them.
Midrash is increasingly seen as a literary and cultural construction,
responsive to literary means of analysis.
Frank Kermode has written that midrash is an imaginative way of
'updating, enhancing, augmenting, explaining, and justifying the
sacred text'. Because the
Tanakh became to be seen as unintelligible
or even offensive, midrash could be used as a means of rewriting it in
a way that both makes it more acceptable to later ethical standards
and renders it less obviously implausible.
James L. Kugel, in The Bible as It Was (Cambridge, Massachusetts:
Harvard University Press, 1997), examines a number of early Jewish and
Christian texts that comment on, expand, or re-interpret passages from
the first five books of the
Tanakh between the third century BCE and
the second century CE. Kugel traces how and why biblical interpreters
produced new meanings by the use of exegesis on ambiguities,
syntactical details, unusual or awkward vocabulary, repetitions, etc.
in the text. As an example, Kugel examines the different ways in which
the biblical story that God's instructions are not to be found in
heaven (Deut 30:12) has been interpreted. Baruch 3:29-4:1 states that
this means that divine wisdom is not available anywhere other than in
Targum Neophyti (Deut 30:12) and b. Baba Metzia 59b claim
that this text means that
Torah is no longer hidden away, but has been
given to humans who are then responsible for following it.
Allegory in the Middle Ages
Midrasz, a Polish language journal on Polish Jewish matters
Pardes (Jewish exegesis)
^ a b "midrash". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
^ ENCYCLOPAEDIA JUDAICA, Second Edition, Volume 14, pg 182, Moshe
^ Brown–Driver–Briggs: midrash
^ ENCYCLOPAEDIA JUDAICA, Second Edition, Volume 14, pg 181
^ ENCYCLOPAEDIA JUDAICA, Second Edition, Volume 14, pg 193
^ a b ENCYCLOPAEDIA JUDAICA, Second Edition, Volume 14, pg 194
^ ENCYCLOPAEDIA JUDAICA, Second Edition, Volume 14, pg 195
^ ENCYCLOPAEDIA JUDAICA, Second Edition, Volume 14, pg 183
Genesis Rabbah 9:7, translation from Soncino Publications)
^ Narratology, Hermeneutics, and Midrash: Jewish, Christian, and
Muslim Narratives from the Late Antique Period Through to Modern
Times, ed Constanza Cordoni, Gerhard Langer, V&R unipress GmbH,
2014, pg 71
^ Kermode, Frank. "The
Midrash Mishmash". The New York Review of
Books. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
^ "Review of J. L. Kugel, The Bible as It Was". www.jhsonline.org.
Retrieved 23 July 2017.
Midrash Section of Chabad.org Includes a five-part series on the
classic approaches to reading Midrash.
Sacred Texts: Judaism: Tales and Maxims from the
Midrash extracted and
translated by Samuel Rapaport, 1908.
Midrash—entry in historical sourcebook by Mahlon H. Smith
Texts on Wikisource:
"Midrashim". Catholic Encyclopedia. 1913.
"Midrash". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911.
"Midrash". New International Encyclopedia. 1905.
Full text resources
Abridged translations of
Tanchuma in English.
Yalkut Shimoni (Hebrew)
English translation and Hebrew text
Jews and Judaism
Outline of Judaism
Index of Jewish history-related articles
Origins of Judaism
Ancient Israel and Judah
Second Temple period
Lists of Jews
Land of Israel
Who is a Jew?
Jewish Virtual Library
Relations with other Abrahamic religions
Jews and Judaism