Bereshith Rabbah (The Great Genesis) is a midrash comprising a collection of rabbinical homiletical interpretations of the Book of Genesis. It contains many. Books & Judaica: Parperaot LaTora El Midrash Bereshit (H) Menajem Becker [W] – The core of Jewish thought and it cosmovision finds its. I. The Earliest Exegetical Midrashim—Bereshit Rabbah and Ekah Rabbati. (For Midrash Shemu’el, Midrash Mishle, Midrash Tehillim see the several articles.).

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Midrash Haggadah embraces the interpretation, illustration, or expansion, in a moralizing or edifying manner, of the non-legal portions of the Bible see Haggadah ; Midrash ; Midrash Halakah. The word “haggadah” Aramaic, “agada” means primarily the recitation or teaching of Scripture; in a narrower sense it denotes the exegetic amplification of a Biblical passage and the development of a new thought based thereupon.

The word then came to be used in a more general sense, designating not the haggadic interpretation of single passages, but haggadic exegesis in general, the body of haggadic interpretations—in fine, everything which does not belong to the field of the Halakah.

The haggadic Midrash, which confined itself originally to the exposition of Scripture text, was developed in its period of florescence into finished discourses.

Hence religious truths, moral maxims, discussions concerning divine retribution, the inculcation of the laws which attest Israel’s nationality, descriptions of its past and future greatness, scenes and legends from Jewish history, comparisons between the divine and Jewish institutions, praises of the Holy Land, encouraging stories, and comforting reflections of all kinds form the most important subjects of these discourses” Zunz, “G.

The opening words of this quotation are a paraphrase of a famous sentence in which the Haggadah was praised by the old haggadists themselves. Indeed, the Haggadah, being exegesis from a religious and ethical standpoint, undertook to influence the mind of man and to induce him to lead a religious and moral life, “that he might walk in the ways of God. It interpreted all the historical matter contained in the Bible in such a religious and national sense that the heroes of the olden time became prototypes, while the entire history of the people of Israel, glorified in the light of Messianic hopes, was made a continual revelation of God’s love and justice.

For this reason the importance for modern Jewish science of the study of the Haggadah can not be overestimated. The entire wealth of the haggadic Midrash hasbeen preserved in a series of very different works, which, like all the works of traditional literature, are the resultant of various collections and revisions, and the contents of all of which originated a long time before they were reduced to writing.

The first traces of the midrashic exegesis are found in the Bible itself see Midrash ; while in the time of the Soferim the development of the Midrash Haggadah received a mighty impetus, and the foundations were laid for public services which were soon to offer the chief medium for the cultivation of Bible exegesis. The Haggadah of the Amoraim is the continuation of that of the Tannaim; and, according to Bacher, there really is no difference between the Amoraim and the Tannaim with reference to the Haggadah.

The final edition of the Mishnah, which was of such signal importance for the Halakah, is of less significance for the Haggadah, which, in form as well as in content, shows the same characteristics in both periods. It may be said in particular, that in the field of the Haggadah the century after the completion of the Mishnah may be fairly compared with the century before its completion, as regards not only the wealth of the extant material and the number of the authors to be considered, but also the independence and originality of the subject-matter treated comp.

A story told in Yer. Benaiah, and heard that it was to hear R. Johanan deliver a discourse there, he exclaimed, “Praised be God that He permits me to behold the fruit of my labors during my lifetime. I have taught him the entire Haggadah, with the exception of that on Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Jose, the story is told of R. During the third and at the beginning of the fourth century the masters of Halakah were also the representatives of the Haggadah; but side by side with them appeared the haggadists proper “rabbanan di-Agadta,” “ba’ale Agada”who subsequently became more and more prominent, attracting with their discourses more hearers than the halakists.

The highest product of the Haggadah, the bereshih discourse drawing upon all the arts of midrashic rhetoric—sentence, proverb, parable, allegory, story, etc. The epigoni of the Haggadah flourished in the fourth and at the beginning of the fifth century, and were followed by the anonymous haggadists ep preserved and revised the immense haggadic material. Creative haggadic activity ceases with the end of the Talmudic period.

The post-amoraic and the geonic period is the epoch of the collectors and revisers, during which the haggadic midrashim were reduced to writing, receiving the form in which they have been handed down more or less unchanged.

Sometimes the results of the Midrash Haggadah—specific deductions on the one hand, general precepts, sentences, and maxims on the other, obtained by a study of the Biblical books from the religio-ethical or historical side, or by penetration into the spirit of Scripture—were collected in special works, forming special branches of the Haggadah, such as ethical Haggadah, historical Haggadah, Cabala, etc. At other times single Scriptural interpretations, haggadic sentences, and stories of all kinds, which originated or were used in the course of some halakic discussion—and this was often the case—were included when that discussion was reduced to writing; and it is for this reason that the Mishnah, Tosefta, and both Talmuds contain so much haggadic material.

Or, finally, the mass of haggadic matter was collected and edited in the exegetic midrashim proper—the midrashim par excellence, which formed either running haggadic commentaries to the single books of the Bible, or homiletic midrashim, consisting of discourses actually delivered on the Sabbath and festival lessons or of revisions of such discourses. Similarly, as regards the Targumim containing or reflecting the Midrash Haggadah, reference must be made to the articles on the various targumim.

Bereishit Rabbah

It may be regarded as characteristic of the midrashim proper that they are anonymous—that is, the name hereshit the editor who made the final revision is unknown; midrsh, haggadic works whose authors are known e. It was the subject of study in the schools and furnished an inexhaustible supply of material for the sermons and discourses which were deliveredon Sabbaths and feast-days, and which followed the Scripture lesson and formed a part of bereshiit worship, or could be separated from it at need.


Opportunity, moreover, often arose, both on joyous and on sad occasions, to resort to haggadic expositions for words of comfort or of blessing, for farewell discourses, etc. References to the arrangement of the Haggadah, to connected haggadic discourses, to the writing down of single haggadic sentences, and even to books of the Haggadah, are extant even from early times.

Pazzi was an editor of the Haggadah “mesadder Agadta” before the time of R. The latter, a Palestinian amora of the first half of the third century, who was also a famous haggadist, was the author of the sentence explaining the phrase “works of God” in Ps.

Abba, severely censures the reducing ell haggadot to writing and the use of written haggadot, for it was in general considered that the prohibition against writing down the “words of the oral law” referred not only to halakot, but also to haggadot; for the micrash in particular might be the expression of private opinions and midrxsh which, not being under control of the schools, were likely to lead to abuses. The severity of this censure indicates that it was not a question of writing down single haggadot merely.

Levi himself says that he once looked into a haggadic work “sifra di-Agadta”and he quotes numerical interpretations therefrom Yer. Levi, that they read a Haggadah-book on the Sabbath. Bereahit regarded breshit collections as demanded by the times, and paraphrasing Psalm cxix. Johanan, who always carried a Haggadah with him, is the author of the saying, “A covenant has been made: There are ,idrash scattered allusions to haggadic works beteshit Talmudic-midrashic literature.

There must also have been collections of legends and stories, for it is hardly conceivable that the mass of haggadic works should have been preserved for centuries by word of mouth only.

These scattered allusions merely show, however, that the beginnings of the written Haggadah date very far back; very little is known of the nature of the old Haggadah-books, and it is impossible to determine what traces they left in the old Midrash literature.

Much material from the various early midrashic collections, which gradually increased in numbers, was doubtless incorporated in the exegetic midrashim which have been preserved; and the latter clearly indicate the nature of the early exegesis, the “manner of discourse of antiquity”; but only the above-mentioned tannaitic midrashim—the Mekilta, Sifre, and Sifra, containing Haggadah mixed with Halakah—date in their earliest mirrash parts from the second century, having been definitively edited in the post-tannaitic time.

The purely haggadic-exegetic midrashim were edited at a much later time, after the completion of the Talmud. One may, as Bacher says, “speak in a certain sense of the completion of the haggadic Midrash as one speaks of the completion of the Talmud, although the works belonging to this class continued to be produced for five centuries or more after that time.

It is of the utmost importance, in considering the several midrash works, to emphasize the fundamental difference in plan between the midrashim forming a running commentary to the Scripture text and the homiletic midrashim. When the scholars undertook to edit, revise, and collect into individual midrashim the immense haggadic material of centuries, they followed the method employed in the collections and revisions of the halakot and the halakic discussions; and the one form which suggested itself was to arrange in textual sequence the exegetical interpretations of the Biblical text as taught in the schools, or the occasional interpretations introduced into public discourses, etc.

This was the genesis of the midrashim which are in the nature of running haggadic commentaries to single books of the Bible, as Bereshit Rabbah, Ekah Rabbati, the midrashim to the other Megillot, etc. But even the earliest of these works, Bereshit Rabbah, is essentially different in its composition from the tannaitic midrashim in that the several “parashiyyot” sections are introduced by proems.

These are characteristic of a different class of midrashim, the homiletic, in which entire homilies and haggadic discourses as delivered during public worship or in connection with it were collected and edited, and which accordingly do not deal in regular order with the text of a book of the Bible, but deal in separate homilies with certain passages, generally the beginnings of the lessons. In brief, the arrangement and division of the Pentateuch midrashim, with the exception of Bereshit Rabbah, it is generally recognized, is based on the Palestinian three-year cycle, with the sedarim of which its sections correspond almost throughout.

The latter are followed by the exposition proper, which, however, covers only a few of the first verses of the Scripture lesson; the first verse or the first part thereof of the lesson is generally discussed more fully than the remaining verses.

The homilies generally close with verses from the Bible prophesying Israel’s auspicious future. This is the common form of the homilies in all the homiletic midrashim; it allows, however, of the utmost freedom of treatment and execution in its various parts. The proems are either simple, consisting of a simple exposition of the proem-text, often amplified by quotations, parables, etc. Bereshit Rabbahconsisting of different interpretations of the same extraneous verse, by one or by various authors, and connected in various ways, but always of such a nature that the last interpretation, the last component part of the proem, leads to the interpretation of the lesson proper.

The direct transition from the proem to the lesson is often made by means of a formula common to all the proems of the homily, where with the proem is brought to a logical and artistic conclusion.

Exegetic material for use in the proems, especially the composite ones, which are often very extensive, was always at hand in abundance; and the art of the haggadist appeared in the use he made of this material, in the interesting combination, grouping, and connection of the several sentences and interpretations into a uniform structure so developed that the last member formed the fitting introduction to the exposition of the lesson proper.

The various midrash works are differentiated by the relation of the simple to the compound proems—the structure of the latter, their development into more independent haggadic structures, the use of the various formulas, etc. By the method of selecting extraneous texts for the proems so many non-Pentateuchal, especially Hagiographic, verses were expounded, even in early times, in the proems to the Pentateuch homilies and interpretations, that these homilies became mines for the collectors of the non-Pentateuch midrashim.


Many extensive interpretations which are found in connection with Scripture passages in those brreshit are merely proems from various homilies, as often appears clearly in the final proem-formulas retained. In such cases these formulas offer the surest criterion for proving the dependence of one midrash upon another. While proems are characteristic of all the homiletic midrashim—and it was due to the popularity of this form of the old homilies that proems were added also to the parashiyyot of the Bereshit Rabbah, although this old midrash is a running commentary on the Scripture text—yet the practise of prefacing the haggadic discourse with the discussion of a mdirash halakic question is observed only in a part of those midrashim.

In Debarim Rabbah the word “halakah” is used, the question proper beginning in most of the exordia with “Adam mi-Yisrael. The interpretations which follow the proems and the halakic exordium in the halakic begeshit are confined, as mentioned above, to some of the first bereshif of the lesson. In some homilies the proems are equal in lengthto the interpretations proper, while in others they are much longer. Even if the editors of the midrashim combined the proems of different authors from the various homilies they had mldrash hand, it yet seems strange that they should have been able to select for bereehit homily several proems, including some very long ones, while they could find only a limited number of interpretations to the lessons, these interpretations, furthermore, covering only a few verses.

The disproportion between the proems and the interpretations has not yet been satisfactorily explained, in spite of various attempts to do so.

Bwreshit character of the exposition in the exegetic midrashim like Bereshit Rabbah has been discussed in Jew. Here the literal and textual explanation is not yet in contrast to the Midrash Haggadah, as it often was in the time of the scientific exegesis.

The old midrash contains many Scriptural interpretations which are exegetic in the truest sense of the word, affording a deep insight into the contemporary attitude toward the Scripture.

But the haggadic midrash is the well-spring for exegesis of all kinds, and the simple exposition of Scripture is more and more lost in the wide stream of free interpretation which flowed in every direction. Zunz has divided the Haggadah into three groups, following the old designations which were subsequently summed up in the word: The words of Zunz, the master of midrash study, in his chapter “Organismus der Hagada,” may serve to close the first, general part of the present survey: For the power of this exegesis lay not in literal interpretation and in natural hermeneutics.

This method of free exegesis was manifested in many ways: But this liberty wished neither to falsify Scripture nor to deprive it of its natural sense, for its object was the free expression of thought, and not the formulation of a binding law” “G. For the name, composition, origin, and edition of these midrashim see special articles and Midrash Halakah. The chief difference in composition between the tannaitic midrashim and Bereshit Rabbah lies in the fact that the parashiyyot into which the latter is divided, begin, with a few exceptions, with proems, such as are always found at the beginning of the homilies collected in the homiletic midrashim.

Genesis Rabbah

Although the original beresit on Genesis may have been divided into parashiyyot with rudimentary proems see Bereshit Rabbah —traces of such proems appear also in the tannaitic midrashim—yet the addition of the many artistic proems found in the existing form of the commentary was doubtless the work of a later time, when the Bereshit Rabbah received its present form.

By the addition of a mass of haggadic material from the time of the Amoraim it became bereshih large and important midrash to Genesis; and this was called “Bereshit Rabbah,” perhaps, to distinguish it from the original form or from intermediate, but less comprehensive, amplifications.

The date of the redaction of Bereshit Rabbah is difficult to determine exactly; but it is probably not much later than that of the Jerusalem Talmud. Zunz holds that it was collected and edited in the sixth century. The more recent conjecture, that it was not edited until the end of the seventh, bereehit possibly not until the beginning of the second half of the eighth, century, can not be maintained.

Attention has also been drawn to the disproportion between the extent of the parashiyyot which now form the pericope “Bereshit” of the midrash and berreshit length of the remaining part of the work; that pericope alone constitutes more than one-fourth of the midrash and contains twenty-nine parashiyyot, several of which deal only with a few, and in some cases only with single, verses.

This portion may have been taken from another and a larger haggadic work on Genesis that remained incomplete, and from which the midrash may have derived eo the name “Bereshit Rabbah.

Still more inexact and misleading is the term “Midrash Rabbah to the Five Books of the Pentateuch and the Five Rolls,” as found on the title-page berewhit the two parts in the much-used Wilna edition. After Zunz, it is not necessary to point out that the Midrash Rabbah consists of ten entirely different midrashim. On the manuscript of the Bereshit Rabbah and some of the other rabbot to the Pentateuch see Theodor in “Monatsschrift,” xxxvii.

According to Solomon Schechter, there are not even six manuscripts of the rabbot to the Beresit and the Five Rolls in existence comp. Midrash ha-Gadol, Preface, xi. The following is an extract from the first proem bereshih parashah 9 and the interpretations to Gen.

And God said, Let us make manetc. Johanan quotes the verse [Ps. He answered, “It means one of his ‘sides’ [not ribs], as it is written, ” [‘And for the second side of the tabernacle’; Ex. Bene Benaiah and R. Eleazar, said, “He created him as a golem [Adam in the primal state], who reached midrah one end of the world to the other, as it is written, ‘Thine eyes did see my substance’ ” [Ps.

Simeon, in the name of R.

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