Sunday, August 23, 2009

Commentary vs. Novellae

In yeshiva, I never really differentiated between the different kinds of secondary literature on the Talmud, other than in regard to the time period in which it was written. The genres all blended together to me.

I only first came across the distinction between commentary (perush) and novellae (chiddushim) in R. Isadore Twersky's classic (and controversial) biography of the Ra'avad, Rabad of Posquieres: A Twelfth-Century Talmudist. R. Twersky notes that Prof. Samuel Atlas published the Ra'avad's commentary on Bava Kamma and titled it as novellae, "Sefer Chiddushei Ha-Ra'avad al Masekhes Bava Kamma. R. Twersky then points out (p. 82):Click here for more

Freimann, in a very learned review of Atlas' edition, remarks that "commentary" (perush) would be a more appropriate and accurate title. The nature of this work corroborates Freimann's contention; it is clearly a commentary and not a series of novellae like those of Nahmanides, Rashbah, or R. Yomtob b. Abraham (Ritba).
What is the difference between a commentary and novellae? A commentary is a running explanation of the text which is being commented upon (i.e. the Gemara). It is geared toward helping the reader understand the text. Some commentaries are glossarial -- like Rashi, they begin by quoting the text and then add words as glosses to fill in the blanks missing from the text. Others, like the Ra'avad's, are more expansive. But key is that they run through the text.

Novellae, on the other hand, use the text as jumping points for discussions of other topics. While they may sometimes comment on the text, they often ask questions on the text or from the text. Think Tosafos and also many of the familiar Talmudic commentaries (really novellae), like (as mentioned above), Ramban, Rashba and Ritva.

The Jewish Encyclopedia has the following under the entry for "Hiddushim" (link:
Technical name of a certain class of commentaries, consisting of a number of single, "new" remarks, additions, and explanations in connection with a text and its earlier commentaries. The ḥiddushim commentaries differ from the others ("perushim," "bi'urim") in that they do not form a continuous production, as do the latter, but contribute only "new" remarks upon difficult parts of the text or its commentaries.

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