Sunday, September 18, 2005

Open Access: Writing Midrash Avot

Yashar Books' Open Access Project presents R. Gidon Rothstein's doctoral dissertation Writing Midrash Avot (available here).

From the abstract:

The dissertation identifies and analyzes a fifteenth century shift in the hermeneutics of the third century Mishnaic tractate, Avot, known in English as Ethics of the Fathers. Relying on the distinction between peshat and derash already articulated in studies of Midrash, the study shows that Avot commentators before the fifteenth century read the text in ways that could constitute a peshat reading (best translated as a contextually accurate plainsense rendering) of the text. In sharp contrast, the fifteenth century saw the rise of "reading in" to Avot the way that Midrash "read in" to the Biblical text, particularly in the writings of commentators such as Mattathias haYizhari, Joseph Hayyun, and Isaac Abarbanel.

The dissertation defines the difference between peshat and derash, demonstrates the new hermeneutics of the fifteenth century, shows that earlier commentators offered only peshat readings of the text, and that sixteenth century commentators continued the new trend. It then searches for factors that led to that change, noting especially the roughly contemporary and similar shift in Talmudic interpretation-studied at length by academic scholars such as Daniel Boyarin and H.Z. Dimitrovsky -- credited to R. Isaac Kanpanton The conclusion notes that the two significant changes in modes of reading point to the fifteenth century as a time period worth further study, as the mother of a self-conscious search for innovation in Jewish exegesis and thought.

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