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Midrash (pl. Midrashim) is a Hebrew word referring to a method of reading details into, or out of, a Biblical text. The term "midrash" also can refer to a compilation of Midrashic teachings, in the form of legal, exegetical or homiletical commentaries on the Tanakh .

Table of contents
1 Midrashic literature
2 Aggadic Midrashim
3 Halakhic Midrashim
4 Classical rabbinic midrash compilations
5 See also
6 'External Links

Midrashic literature

In general the Midrash is focused on either Halakhic (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 with the second century of our era, and they now exist in the shape chiefly of exegetical or homiletical commentaries on the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible, aka The Old Testament). Midrashic literature is worthwhile reading not only for its insights into Judaism and the history of Jewish thought, but also for the more incidental data it provides to historians, philologists, philosophers, and scholars of either historical-critical Bible study or comparative religion.

Aggadic Midrashim

The homiletical, or Hagadic, Midrashim embrace the interpretation of the non-legal portions of the Hebrew Bible in a moralizing or edifying manner. As the object of this latter kind of Midrashim was not to determine the precise requirements of the Law, but rather to confirm in a general manner Jewish hearers in their faith and its practice.

Hagadic explanations of the non-legal parts of Scripture are characterized by a much greater freedom of exposition than the Halachic Midrashim. Hagadic expositors availed themselves of whatever material -- sayings of prominent Rabbis (e.g., philosophical or mystical disquisitions concerning angels, demons, paradise, hell, Messiahs, Satan, feasts and fasts, parables, legends, satirical assaults on the heathen and their rites, etc.) -- could render their treatment of those portions of the sacred text more instructive or edifying.

Many of these Midrashim entail mystical or Kabbalistic 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.

Examples of short Aggadic Midrashim

The following examples of shorter midrashim on Biblical verses.

Verse: "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 1:31)

Midrash: 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) (Source Midrash collection Genesis Rabbah, section 9:7, Translation from Soncino Publications)

Verse: "You shall not hate your brother in your heart" (Leviticus 19:17)

Midrash: Our masters taught "You shall not hate your brother in your heart"; you might suppose that Scripture bids you not to strike him, not to slap him, not to curse him. But in saying "In your heart," Scripture also bids you to have no hatred in your heart. (Source Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Arakhin 16b)

Halakhic Midrashim

Midrash halakha are the works in which the sources in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) of the traditionally received laws are identified. These Midrashim often predate the Mishnah. The Midrash linking a verse to a Halakha will often function as a proof of a law's authenticity; a correct elucidation of the Torah carries with it the proof of the Halakah and the reason for the rule's existence. The term is applied also to the derivation of new laws, either by means of a correct interpretation of the obvious meaning of scriptural words themselves or by the application of certain hermeneutic rules. See the article on Midrash halakha for more details.


After the return of Jewish refugees from their diaspora in Babylon, the Torah was the centre of the life of the Jews at home and abroad. A significant concern of the Jewish authorities was to ensure compliance with the Torah's commandments. The enactments of the Mosaic Law made for the purpose of promoting righteousness in Israel; yet, as these laws had been written in view of concrete circumstances of the past, they had to be explained in a way to make them fit the new circumstances of their life. All such explanations of the terms of the Mosaic legislation are legal, or Halakhic Midrashim. (Relatedly, the Mishna does not generally cite a scriptural basis for its laws; connecting the Mishnaic law with the Torah law is also undertaken by the later Midrash (and Talmuds).)

Classical rabbinic midrash compilations

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 Casanata in Rome. This latter version (i.e. Buber) is quoted by the Shulkhan Arukh, as well as medieval Jewish authorities. It was probably redacted sometime in the 5th century.

See also

'External Links