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Abraham ben Maimonides
Son of Moses Maimonides, religious philosopher. Egypt (1186–1237).
Abravanel, Isaac ben Judah
(or Abrabanel). Statesman, philosopher, and exegete. He served as treasurer to Alfonso V of Portugal and in 1484 entered the service of Ferdinand and Isabella of Castille. After unsuccessfully attempting to have Ferdinand and Isabella revoke their expulsion decree of 1492, he departed Spain with its Jewish population and made his home in Italy where he wrote his Torah commentary. His commentaries include political observations and polemics defending Judaism that reflect his knowledge of philosophy and history as well as his experience as a political statesman. His exegesis is characterized by lengthy answers to questions, sometimes numbering over forty, which he raises before each unit. Eschewing grammar and philology, he concentrates on the rationale for the commandments, stressing their moral significance. Portugal, Spain, and Italy (1437–1508).
The leading rabbis and poskim (Jewish legal decisors) living from roughly the 16th century to the present. The acharonim follow the rishonim, the "first ones," the rabbinic scholars who flourished between the 13th and the 16th centuries preceding the publication of the Shulchan Arukh.
Heb., "telling." The nonhalakhic (nonlegal) homiletic side of rabbinic teaching, mostly anchored to the biblical text; typically found in Talmud and Midrash; includes folklore, legend, theology/theosophy, scriptural interpretations, biography, and so forth; also spelled haggadah.
Aggadat Bereshit
A collection of twenty-eight homilies on Bereshit (Genesis) and related readings in the prophets and psalms. This text has been dated to the tenth century c.e.
Aibu, Rabbi
There are actually five scholars of this name mentioned in the Talmud; the one who is cited most is probably of the amoraic period.
Akeidat Yitschak
A compilation of sermons and philosophic discourses on the biblical text by Isaac ben Moses Arama, Spain, (ca. 1420–1494).
Heb., "binding." Biblical account of God's command to Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice.
An ancient Semitic language spoken in Mesopotamia and widely diffused in the ancient Middle East from before 3000 b.c.e. through the biblical period. Its chief dialects were Babylonian and Assyrian.
Albo, Yosef
Fourteenth-to-fifteenth-century Spanish Torah commentator and philosopher.
Aleppo Codex
The most well known and authoritative document in the masorah ("transmission") of the entire Hebrew Bible, written in codex (book) rather than scroll form. It was produced and edited by the influential masoretic scholar Aaron ben Asher in the 10th century c.e.. According to modern studies, the Codex comprises the most accurate representation of Masoretic principles in any extant manuscript, having very few errors among the millions of orthographic details that make up the Masoretic text. For this reason the Codex is viewed as the most authoritative source document for both the original biblical text and its vocalization (vowels and cantillation marks). Until recently it was the oldest complete manuscript of the Hebrew Bible; however, in 1947 it was lost when the synagogue that housed it was looted and burned. Some parts have been recovered, but approximately 40 percent of it, including nearly all of the Torah, remain lost.

The Codex was given to the Jewish community of Jerusalem after its completion in the 10th century. During the First Crusade it was among the items that were captured and held for ransom by the Crusaders. The elders of Ashkelon were able to gain control of it and the Codex was brought to Egypt together with a group of Jewish refugees. It eventually came to reside in the Rabbanite synagogue in Cairo, where Maimonides used it in making his own copy of the Torah and in formulating his rules for writing Torah scrolls. At the end of the 14th century, Maimonides' descendants brought it to Aleppo, Syria, where it remained for five hundred years, until 1947, when Muslim anti-Jewish riots desecrated the synagogue in which it was kept. The Codex remained lost until 1958, when it was smuggled into Israel by a Syrian Jew, but parts of the Codex were missing. Since then, two additional folios (pages) of the Codex have been recovered, but more than a third of the work remains missing.

Before parts of the Aleppo Codex were lost (i.e., before 1947), the order of its books followed the Tiberian Masoretic textual tradition, similar to that of the Leningrad Codex. The books of the Torah and Nevi'im (Prophets) appeared in the same order found in most printed Hebrew Bibles; however, there are significant differences in the order of its books in Ketuvim (Writings)—the order in the Codex is: Chronicles, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah.

Alphabet of Ben Sira
Ninth-century compilation of midrashim.
Alshikh, Moshe ben Khaim
Sixteenth-century Palestinian commentator, based in Safed (Tzfat). Prominent halakhic authority and popular preacher in Safed during its golden age in the 16th century. Hayim Vital was one of his disciples. A collection of his popular Shabbat sermons form a commentary to the Torah. His commentaries contain many midrashim and religious-ethical and philosophical ideas. His name also appears as “Alshekh” or “Alshich.” Adrianolpolis, Israel, Damascus (1508-1600).
Alter, Yehudah Aryeh Leib
Known as the "Sefat Emet" after his major work, Leib was an eminent Chasidic sage and the second Gerrer Rebbe. Born in Warsaw, Poland, he was raised by his grandfather, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir, the first Gerrer Rebbe, after his father, Rabbi Avraham Mordechai, died when Leib was eight years old. Raised to be a scholar, he distinguished himself at a young age by devoting as much as eighteen hours a day to the study of Torah, mastering Talmud, the Zohar, and Chasidic classics. In 1870, at the age of 23, he succeeded his grandfather as the second Gerrer Rebbe. Leib’s monumental work, Sefat Emet al HaTorah, is a brilliant but difficult Torah commentary in five volumes. His commentary stresses the moral and ethical lessons to be derived from the Torah text and offers many kabbalistic allusions. The work's title comes from Proverbs 12:19, Sefat emet tikon la'ad, "Truthful speech abides forever," which was the last verse on which he commented before his death. Poland (1847–1905).
Amarna letters
An archive found near the modern Egyptian village of el-Amarna, the site of the Egyptian capital in the fourteenth century b.c.e., which contains more than three hundred official letters to and from Canaan and elsewhere in western Asia to the Pharaohs Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV (also known as Akhenaton, 1369–1353 b.c.e.). This correspondence testifies to a very unstable situation in Palestine, with infighting among the Egyptian agents there, and considerable unrest generated by a group called the "Habiru."
Aramaic, “those who say” or “those who tell over.” Originally referred to the interpreter who attended upon the public preacher or lecturer for the purpose of expounding at length and in popular style the heads of the discourse given to him by the latter. Subsequently the name given to the renowned Jewish scholars who interpreted the teachings of the Oral Law, from about 220 to 500 c.e. in Babylonia and Palestine. Their legal discussions and debates were eventually codified in the Gemara. ('Amora'im, pl.)
A Semitic people who occupied the country west of the Euphrates from the second half of the third millennium b.c.e. The term "Amurru" refers to them. In the earliest Sumerian sources, beginning about 2400 b.c.e., the land of the Amorites was associated with Syria and Canaan, although their ultimate origin may have been Arabia. From the 21st century b.c.e., a large-scale migration of Amorite tribes infiltrated Mesopotamia, precipitating the downfall of the Neo-Sumerian Third Dynasty of Ur, and acquiring a series of powerful kingdoms, culminating in the triumph under Hammurabi of one of them, that of Babylon.

The word "Amorite" is used in the Hebrew Bible as a synonym for "Canaanite." The use of one term rather than the other is due to the preference of an author or the tradition on which the author depends. Source criticism of the Pentateuch generally assumes that "Amorite" was preferred by the Elohist tradition (E), while "Canaanite" was preferred by the Yahwist tradition (J). All Hebrew Bible references to the Amorites have one characteristic in common—the reference is always to a people living in the past.

A form of social organization forming a confederacy whose objective is to protect a shared interest. The twelve Israelite tribes established just such a group, where each tribe took its turn in caring for the central sanctuary for one month in a year.
The word "apocalypse," used in discussing a genre of biblical literature, comes from a Greek noun apokalypsis, which means "revelation," "disclosure," or "unveiling." Apocalypse is a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework. Within this framework a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendental reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial, insofar as it involves another, supernatural world.
From the Greek, "hidden things or writings," that is, things to be hidden away. A collection of writings, mostly from the end of the biblical period, between ca. 200 b.c.e. and 100 c.e., that were accepted by early Christians as Scripture but that, because they were eventually excluded from the Jewish Bible, came to be regarded by many later Christians as belonging to a special scriptural category. They were included in the Bible of Western Christianity, where they became "deuterocanonical" (that is, the "second" set of canonical books), but under the name "Apocrypha"; later, many Protestant churches excluded them in part or in toto from their canon. These books are, along with the Pseudepigrapha, particularly interesting to biblical scholars, since many of them contain retellings of biblical stories or reflections on particular passages or people in the Bible, and thus can provide us with a snapshot of how parts of the Bible were being interpreted from the third century b.c.e. onward. Among the best known books of the Apocrypha are Sira(ch), Wisdom of Solomon, Judith, Baruch, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and Tobit.
apodictic law
A form of law stated absolutely, without any conditions. Apodictic law is characteristically Israelite, and is not common in other ancient Middle Eastern law codes.
A convert to Judaism from Pontus, Anatolia, and a disciple of Rabbi Akiba. The author of one of three post-Septuagint translations of the Bible into Greek, the others being Symmachus and Theodotion. The date of these translations is in dispute, but they seem to belong to the second century c.e. They all differ in translation "style," Aquila's being rather literal while Theodotion's and Symmachus' are somewhat freer. As revisions of the Septuagint version, they shed light on the later development of interpretive traditions.
Arama, Isaac Ben Moses
Fifteenth-century Spanish rabbi and author of Akeidat Yitzkhak.
A Semitic language closely related to biblical Hebrew and known in many dialects and phases, including Syriac. Aramaic flourished throughout the biblical period and thereafter, being the lingua franca of the Middle East before the Arab conquest. It is the language of the targums, the Gemaras, and large sections of Midrash. The language is still spoken in isolated communities around the world.
The Bible notes a kinship of Arameans with the Hebrew patriarchs. It also records a checkered history of relationships between the two peoples in later times. The Aramaic language is used in parts of the biblical books of Ezra and Daniel and remained in everyday use among Jews for over a thousand years. By ca. 1100 b.c.e. Arameans were present not only in Syria, but in the northern Transjordan (the area east of the Jordan River). The kingdom of Aram, which was centered in Damascus, became the foremost Aramean state in Syria in the ninth to eighth centuries b.c.e. This state is sometimes simply referred to in the Bible as "Damascus."
Asher, Bakhya ben
Fourteenth-century Spanish Torah commentator, ethicist, and kabbalist.
Asher, Jacob ben
An influential medieval rabbinic authority, often referred to as the Ba'al ha-Turim, "Master of the Turim (Pillars)," after his main work in halakhah, the Arba'ah Turim. He was the third son of the Rabbi Asher ben Jehiel (known as the "Rosh"), a German-born rabbi who moved to Spain. Besides his father, who was his principal teacher, Jacob quotes very often in the Turim his elder brother Jehiel; once his brother Judah, and once his uncle R. Chaim (1270–ca. 1340).
Ashkenazi, Eliezer Ben Eliyahu
Sixteenth-century European rabbi and author of Ma’aseh Ha’Shem. Cairo, Italy, and Poland (1512–1585).
Ashkenazi, Shimon
Twelfth-century European rabbi and possible author of midrash collection Yalkut Shimoni.
Ashkenazi of Yanof; Jacob ben Yitzkhak
Thirteenth-century rabbi who authored important Yiddish Torah commentary for women, Tze’enah Ur’enah.
The term now used for Jews who derive from northern Europe and who generally follow the customs originating in medieval German Judaism, as distinct from Sephardic Jews, whose distinctive roots are traced back to Spain and the Mediterranean. Originally the designation Ashkenaz referred to a people and country bordering on Armenia and the upper Euphrates; in medieval times, it came to refer to the Jewish area of settlement in northwest Europe (northern France and western Germany). By extension, it now refers to Jews of northern and Eastern European background (including Russia) with their distinctive liturgical practices or religious and social customs.
The name of a powerful Mesopotamian-based power that began expanding westward in the late tenth century b.c.e. The threat of Assyrian expansion affected all states around Canaan. The Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel near the end of the eighth century b.c.e.
Omitting conjunctions, such as "and," "but," "however," and others. Example:
"The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, 'The Lord, the Lord, a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness; for thousands he maintains his kindness, forgives faults, transgression, sin; yet he lets nothing go unchecked, punishing the father's fault in the sons and in the grandsons to the third and fourth generation.'" (Ex. 34:6–7)
Atrahasis Myth
A Babylonian text, dating to the seventeenth century b.c.e., which tells of the beginnings of humanity, problems arising after creation, the near-destruction of humanity by a flood, and its re-creation after the flood. Atrahasis plays a role corresponding to that of Noah in the biblical flood story.
(or Pirkei Avot.) Meaning "[Chapters of the] Fathers." A book of the Mishnah, comprising a collection of statements by famous rabbis.
Avot de-Rabbi Nathan
A collection of elaborations and interpretation of biblical texts presented in the form of a commentary on the mishnaic tractate Avot. The text of this work is sometimes referred to as The Fathers according to R. Nathan and is preserved in two versions. As to dating, one opinion concludes that while the "origins" of this text may belong to the end of the tannaitic period (late second century c.e.), the extant versions themselves cannot be dated earlier than the sixth century c.e.
Heb., "covenant." Usually used as the term describing the special relationship that the Torah maintains exists between God and the Jewish people.
Ba’al haTurim, Ya’akov
Popular name of Jacob ben Asher. Fourteenth-century commentator on Jewish law, born in Germany but fled to Spain to avoid persecution, where he did his main work. His major work is Arba’ah Turim, "Four Rows," an important precursor to Joseph Caro’s Shulchan Arukh. His volumes of Torah commentary for which he is named, Ba’al haTurim, rely heavily on gematria.
Ba’al Shem Tov
The founder of Chasidism, an itinerant preacher, rabbi in eighteenth-century Eastern Europe. Also called “the Be'sh't” (1698–1760)
The site of ancient Babylonia is a flat, alluvial plain between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, about 300 miles long. The Babylonians, a Semitic people, have a long history and produced a great deal of literature important to the study of the Hebrew Bible. They replaced the Assyrians as the dominant imperial power in the ancient Middle East.

The Babylonian ruler, Nebuchadnezzar II (also spelled Nebuchadrezzar), conquered Jerusalem in 597 b.c.e. In 539 b.c.e., the Babylonian Empire fell to Cyrus the Great, king of Persia. Cyrus later issued a decree permitting the exiled Jews to return to their own land, and allowed their temple to be rebuilt. Under Cyrus and the subsequent Persian king, Darius the Great, Babylon became a center of learning and scientific advancement. The city was the administrative capital of the Persian Empire, the preeminent power of the then known world, and it played a vital part in the history of that region for over two centuries.

In 331 b.c.e., Babylon fell to the forces of Alexander the Great. Under Alexander, Babylon again flourished as a center of learning and commerce. But following Alexander's death, his empire was divided among his generals, causing turmoil in the country. By 141 b.c.e., when the Persian Empire took over the region, Babylon was in complete desolation and obscurity. Under the Persians, Babylon remained a province of the Persian Empire for nine centuries, until around 650 c.e.. It continued to have its own culture and peoples, who spoke varieties of Aramaic, and who continued to refer to their homeland as "Babylon." Jews remaining from the Babylonian exile formed schools that eventually became great centers of learning, and in ca. 219 c.e., one of the greatest was founded in Sura. The work at these academies eventually produced the Babylonian Talmud.

Babylonian Exile
Scholars commonly refer to the period from 587–539 b.c.e. as the Babylonian Exile. This term is somewhat misleading, in that it suggests that most, if not all, of the surviving population of Judah was moved to Babylon. It was predominantly the upper strata of Israelite society that was deported.
Bachya ben Asher
Exegete, preacher, and kabbalist. He interprets the Pentateuch (published in 1291) in four ways: literally, homiletically, allegorically, and mystically. The clarity of his style and the moralistic thrust of his exposition made his commentary popular through the ages. Saragossa, Spain (thirteenth century).
(Lit., "outside"); a teaching or a tradition of the tannaim that has been excluded from the Mishnah and incorporated in a later collection compiled by R. Hiyya and R. Oshaiah, generally introduced by "Our Rabbis taught…," or "It has been taught…."
See Obadiah ben Abraham of Bartinoro.
Baruch, first book of (or 1 Baruch)
The first of several works attributed to Baruch, Jeremiah's scribe. It was probably composed sometime in the second century b.c.e., though its apparently composite character and ambiguous affiliations make dating quite difficult.
Jewish shorthand term for the Babylonian Talmud.
beit k’nesset
Heb., "house of assembly." A synagogue.
beit midrash
Heb., "house of study." A place set aside for study of sacred texts such as the Torah and the Talmud, generally a part of the synagogue or attached to it.
Bekhor Shor
Joseph ben Isaac. In his Torah commentary, he follows the literal approach of his French predecessors, Rashi and Rashbam, stressing the rational basis of the commandments. Twelfth century, northern France.
Bereshit Rabbah
Known in English as Genesis Rabbah, a compilation of homilies on the stories of Bereshit (Genesis), from about the sixth century c.e.
Berlin, Naphtali Zvi Yehudah
Nineteenth-century rabbi, head of the famous yeshiva at Volozhin. He was the author of Ha’emek Davar, a collection of his commentaries on the weekly Torah portion, and is often referred to by the title of this work (1817–1893).
Heb., intuition, understanding, intelligence. Also, in kabbalistic thought, one of the Ten Sefirot.
Book of the Covenant
The collection of civil and religious laws in Ex. 20:22–23:33 to which the Decalogue serves as an introduction. It is called "The Book of the Covenant" from the phrase that occurs in Ex. 24:7. The laws are presented as if they were given directly to Moses, but closer examination reveals that they developed over time to serve the changing needs of the Israelite community. Unlike the Decalogue, this collection of laws lacks a coherent structure and has a rather eclectic character.
Buber, Martin
Philosopher and theologian. Though best known for his work I and Thou, in 1925 he also translated the Bible into German with Franz Rosenzweig and published several works of Bible interpretation. He is one of the key figures in religious existentialism. Germany (1878–1965).
Bunim, Simcha
One of the early Chasidic masters, he is identified most closely with the congregation at Przysucha, Poland. The son of an itinerant preacher, he did not become a chasid until well after he married. He worked as a timber merchant, studied pharmacology in Danzig, opening a pharmacy in Przysucha. He became a disciple of the great Seer of Lublin, and became renowned for his learning and wisdom. When the Seer died, Simcha Bunem was his heir apparent, a controversial appointment because many of the Seer's followers felt Bunim's business background made him an inappropriate candidate. Nonetheless, he succeeded the Seer, and he was able to apply his worldly wisdom to Torah insights. He based his teachings on Torah study and not miracle-working and became an active part of the communal and political life of Polish Jewry. When Bunem died he was succeeded by his son Abraham Moses, but the real leadership of his group was assumed by Menahem Mendel of Kotsk. Rav Bunem's teachings were collected by his disciples and published in 1859 as Kol Simchah. Poland (1767–1827).
Caro, Joseph ben Ephraim
Author of the Shulchan Arukh, an authoritative work on halakhah, Spain (or Portugal), Turkey, Palestine (1488–1575).
Caspi, Joseph Ben Abba Mari
Philosopher and commentator who lived in medieval France in the late thirteenth to early fourteenth centuries.
Cassuto, Umberto
Highly respected rabbi, commentator, and Bible scholar of the early to mid-twentieth century. Florence, Italy (1883–1951)
casuistic law
A form of law found throughout the ancient Middle East. This type of law is typically stated in the form: if x occurs, then y will be the legal consequence. This type of law is found in the Hebrew Bible in the first part of the "Book of the Covenant" and in Deut. 12–26.
Chafetz Chayyim
See Israel Meir HaCohen Kagan.
Heb., "wise." A title given to pre-70 c.e. protorabbinic sages/scholars and post-70 c.e. rabbinic scholars (pl. chakhamim or chakhmim.)
Heb., "pious ones." The term refers to Jews from various periods: The earliest is a group that resisted the policies of Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century b.c.e. at the start of the Maccabean revolt; then to the pietists in the thirteenth century known as the Ashkenazic Chasidim who were much involved in mysticism of the period; finally to the followers of the movement of Chasidism founded in the first half of the eighteenth century by Israel Ba’al Shem Tov.
Chatam Sofer (Khatam Sofer)
See Moshe Schreiber.
Chayyuj, Judah
Hebrew grammarian. Cordova, Spain (late tenth century).
Acronym for the phrase, “our sages of blessed memory,” referring to the scholars of the talmudic period. It is formed from the Hebrew letters chet, zayin, lamed, for chachameinu (our sages), and zichronam livrocho (of blessed memory). One frequently sees the letters Z”L (or zayin-lamed) after the name of a revered scholar or family member. This is a usage of the same term of veneration.
(or Chizkuni.) A commentary on the Torah and on Rashi's commentary by the Hezekiah ben Manoah of France. He largely bases himself on his predecessors: Rashi, Rashbam, and Bekhor Shor; but he also quotes many midrashim that are no longer extant. France (mid-thirteenth century).
chiasm(us), chiastic
A literary structure that builds to a climax element-by-element and then unfolds those elements in reverse order. In a chiasm, the second group of elements is a mirror image of the first, producing patterns such as ABBA or ABCB'A'. Also called a "palistrophe."
chillul haShem
Heb., "profanation of the Name." Causing God or Judaism to come into disrespect or causing a person to violate a commandment.
Heb., "five." The Torah; the Five Books of Moses.
Hebrew poetry is made up of lines that divide into at least two, often three, clauses, which together are called a colon (plural = cola). A colon is thus a single line of poetry. Some scholars prefer the term stich.
Culi, Ya’akov
Eighteenth-century rabbi and author/compiler of the most famous Sephardic Torah commentary, Me’am Loez.
The term for "Deuteronomist," one of the four "sources" or traditions in the Pentateuch. The Deuteronomist is the name given the tradition or school that produced the Deuteronomic Code (the central section of the book of Deuteronomy, chapters 12–26). The book of Deuteronomy, to which this source is almost, if not exclusively limited was appended to the JE epic sometime after the seventh century b.c.e. Also see Documentary Hypothesis.
Da'at Zekenim
Also: Da'at Zekenim Mi'ba'alei haTosafot. Anthology of comments on the Torah by the authors of the Tosafot. Northern France (12–14 centuries).
Dead Sea Scrolls
This is the name popularly used for a group of manuscripts found in the general area of Khirbet Qumran, a site along the shores of the Dead Sea, starting in 1947. Justly described as the greatest manuscript find in history, this collection of biblical manuscripts and other writings seems to have belonged to a group of ascetic Jews who retreated to this desert locale perhaps in the second century b.c.e. and who continued to exist there until 68 c.e. The group may be identified with the Essenes, a religious sect described by Philo of Alexandria, Pliny the Elder, and Josephus; these Essenes may in turn be the same sect as the "Boethusians" known from rabbinic literature. The Dead Sea Scrolls have provided a wealth of information about the history and development of the biblical text itself, about first-century Judaism and the roots of Christianity, and about biblical interpretation as it existed just before and after the start of the c.e.
Greek, refers to the Ten Commandments (Aseret da'Dibrot) received by Moses on Mount Sinai according to Jewish scriptures.
See D.
Deuteronomistic Historian
See Dtr.
Deuteronomy Rabbah
(In Heb., Devarim Rabbah.) Aggadic midrash on Deuteronomy. A collection of independent rabbinic sermons of the Tanchuma-Yelammedenu type tied to various passages in Deuteronomy; see also Midrash Tanchuma. The collection apparently originated in the land of Israel, probably sometime after the mid-fifth century c.e., but its date and history of redaction and transmission remain obscure.
The dispersion of Jews throughout the world after the fall of the Second Temple (70 c.e.). Refers to all Jews living outside of Israel. Also known as the "exile" (Heb., galut).
A scribal error in which the same letter, word, or phrase is accidentally written twice. See scribal errors.
Documentary Hypothesis
The Documentary Hypothesis proposes that the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, known collectively as the Torah or Pentateuch), represent a combination of documents from four originally independent sources. According to the influential version of the hypothesis formulated by Julius Wellhausen (1844–1918) these sources and the approximate dates of their composition were: The editor who combined the sources into the final Pentateuch is known as R, for Redactor, and might have been Ezra.
Dov Baer, The Maggid (Preacher) of Mezeritch
Inheritor of the mantle of Chasidic leadership after the death of the Ba’al Shem Tov, his pupils included almost every major figure in the next generation of Chasidic rebbes (1704?–1770).
The term for the Deuteronomistic Historian, whose work is found in parts of Deuteronomy, in Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings.
Dunash ben Labrat
Linguist, grammarian, and poet. Spain (mid-10th century).
The term for "Elohist," representing one of the four "sources" or traditions in the Pentateuch. E was composed ca. 850 b.c.e. The Elohistic tradition, like that of J, derives its name from the word the text uses when referring to God, here, the Hebrew word 'elohim, translated into English as "gods" or "God." See also Documentary Hypothesis.
The territory of Edom is in Transjordan to the south of Moab and is barely mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. In Genesis, Esau is regarded as the patriarch of the Edomites.
Eleazar ben Azariah
Important first- to second-century Palestinian tanna. He is cited more than 150 times in the Babylonian Talmud.
Elephantine papyri
Collection of Aramaic papyri from the Jewish and Aramean garrison of the Persian Empire based on the island of Elephantine, Egypt in the fifth century b.c.e.
In Jewish history, the nineteenth-century movement and related events that led to Jews being granted full civil status in many European societies.
There circulated in late antiquity a number of works attributed to Enoch, an antediluvian figure mentioned briefly in Gen. 5:21–24. The very fact that this biblical passage apparently asserted that Enoch had been "taken" by God while he was still alive seemed to imply that he continued to exist in heaven—indeed, that he exists there still. From such a vantage point, Enoch could presumably not only observe all that was happening on earth, but was privy to all the secrets of heaven, including the natural order and God's plans for humanity's future. A number of anonymous writers who wished to discourse on such subjects attributed their writings to Enoch, and eventually a composite Book of Enoch—and then Books of Enoch—began to circulate.

First Book of Enoch

Our present 1 Enoch comprises a number of different works. Most or all were apparently originally written in Aramaic, and parts of these Aramaic texts have turned up among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The most ancient manuscripts found—drawn from the "Book of Luminaries" (or "Astronomical Book") section (that is, chapters 72–82) of our present 1 Enoch, and the "Book of the Watchers" (1 Enoch 1–36)—have been dated well back into the third century b.c.e. (However, the composite nature of even these subsections is clear.) Versions of 1 Enoch are not attested in any of the Dead Sea Scrolls fragments, but their absence there may be due to chance: there is nothing in the contents of this book to justify a later date.

In short, the oldest parts of 1 Enoch may well constitute the most ancient Jewish writings to have survived outside the Bible itself. Newer sections were eventually blended in with the old, and the entire Book of Enoch was subsequently translated into Greek and from Greek into ancient Ethiopic (Ge'ez), in which language alone the book survives in its entirety.

Scriptural interpretation was hardly the major concern of 1 Enoch. The very figure of Enoch the sage in this book has been shown to have been influenced by Mesopotamian models, and the astronomical learning and other materials presented in this book likewise bespeak the transmission of ancient, eastern lore. Nevertheless, a number of figures and incidents associated with biblical narratives also appear, and in what is said about some of them it is possible to see the outline of some very ancient interpretation, in particular, a grappling with difficulties associated with the story of Noah and the flood.

Second Book of Enoch

It survives only in Slavonic, in two recensions, both of which are represented in various manuscripts. The origins of 2 Enoch are quite mysterious. The Slavonic texts certainly represent a translation from the Greek, which may indeed have been the original language of composition. As for its date, in view of some of the biblical interpretations found in this book, which are paralleled in ancient Jewish sources, it may well be that the earliest kernel of this text goes back (as some have suggested) to the beginning of the Common Era; on the other hand, the absence of any mention of it in Greek or Latin patristic writings is troubling.

Third Book of Enoch (Hebrew Apocalypse of Enoch)

The name 3 Enoch was coined by H. Odeberg for his 1928 edition of this mystical Hebrew treatise; it is known elsewhere as the Book of Hekhalot ("Palaces"), the Chapters of R. Ishmael, and other names. The text itself, while an early landmark in the history of Jewish mysticism, is late within the context of early biblical interpretation, belonging perhaps to the fifth or sixth century c.e.

Enuma Elish
The best known extrabiblical ancient Middle Eastern myth of creation. This Babylonian myth was recited annually as part of the great Babylonian New Year festival. It tells of the birth of the gods and of the creation of humankind in a well-ordered universe. It was written ca. 1100 b.c.e.
A Jewish sect that thrived in the first century c.e. While the Christian Bible speaks of the Sadducees and Pharisees, it never mentions the Essenes. In addition to Josephus' description of the Essenes, they are also discussed by another first century c.e. Jewish writer, Philo, and by the first-century Roman, Pliny the Elder. They separated themselves from the rest of their fellow Jews to practice a strict observance to the Jewish law. See also Rabbis of antiquity.
An adjective defining a legend or folk story that concentrates on origins as a way of explaining how something got to be the way it is.
Interpretation, especially biblical interpretation.
Exodus Rabbah
(In Heb., Shemot Rabbah). A composite medieval aggadic midrash on the book of Shemot (Exodus), whose first part consists of rabbinic comments on verses from Exodus, chapters 1–10, while the second is a series of sermons on Exodus 12–40 of the Tanchuma-Yelammedenu type. The two were combined ca. eleventh or twelfth centuries.
Fragment Targum
See targum.
form criticism
A subdiscipline of biblical criticism that studies discrete parts of Scripture by examining literary characteristics (such as legends, etiological stories, parables, etc.), attempting to trace each part to its period of oral transmission or preliterary stage. Form criticism of the Bible is based on the premise that much of the biblical text is derived from an oral tradition. The original material upon which the story was based may have been a historical event, and upon its retelling, may have accreted or lost details or become combined with other similar stories. Scholars have used this method of study to supplement the tools of source criticism by examining fragments of similar subjects from cognate cultures. See also redaction criticism.
Heb., "exile." The term refers to the various expulsions of Jews from their ancestral homeland. Over time, it came to express the broader notion of Jewish homelessness and the state of being aliens. Thus, colloquially, "to be in galut" means to live in the Diaspora and also to be in a state of physical and even spiritual alienation.
Heb., "eminence, excellence." The title of "gaon," probably an abbreviation of gaon ya-akov, "the majesty of Jacob" (Ps. 47:5), was given to the heads of the two Babylonian academies of Sura and Pumbedita. There are no data to show when the title "gaon" originated. The title is used consistently only toward the close of the sixth century, at the end of the Persian rule, when the two major schools of Sura and Pumbedita resumed their parallel activity after a period of interruption. The first gaon of Sura assumed office in 609, and the last died in 1034; the last gaon of Pumbedita died in 1038; hence the activity of the Geonim covers a period of nearly 450 years.
Aramaic, “completion” or “tradition.” The portion of the Talmud that contains rabbinical commentaries and analyses on the work called the Mishnah, which was finalized by R. Judah haNasi (ca. 200 c.e.). The Mishnah was debated exhaustively by many generations of rabbis in Babylonia and Israel, and these debates and discussions were recorded in the series of books that became the Gemara, which was combined with the Mishnah to form the Talmud.
An interpretative device or method in rabbinic Judaism that focuses on the numerical value of each word.
Genesis Apocryphon
An Aramaic elaboration of the Genesis narratives, from first century b.c.e. or c.e., found in Cave 1 at Qumran.
Genesis Rabbah
(In Heb., Bereshit Rabbah). Palestinian aggadic midrash on the book of Bereshit (Genesis), probably compiled ca. 425 c.e., although much of its exegesis certainly goes back to an earlier period.
Genesis Rabbati
Midrash on the Book of Genesis ascribed to Rabbi Moses ha-Darshan of Narbonne, 11th century.
Heb., "storage." A geniza (or genizah) is a depository in a synagogue (or cemetery) for worn-out sacred books and unneeded papers containing God's name; simply discarding writings containing the name of God (even personal letters and legal contracts could open with an invocation of God) is forbidden. In practice, genizot (pl.) also contained writings of a secular nature, with or without the customary opening invocation, and also contained writings in other languages that use the Hebrew alphabet (Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Persian, Ladino, and Yiddish). Periodically the contents of the geniza would be gathered and interred in a grave in the Jewish cemetery. Synagogues in Jerusalem buried the contents of their genizot every seventh year. By far, the best known geniza, famous for both its size and spectacular contents including books and documents that provide source material on Jewish communities living under Islamic rule from about the ninth through the twelfth centuries, is the Cairo Geniza, discovered in 1864 by Jacob Saphir.
The presidents of the two great rabbinical colleges in Babylonia, the generally accepted spiritual leaders of the Jewish community worldwide in the early medieval era, ca. 600–1000.
Gerer Rebbe
See Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter.
A law instituted by the rabbis to prevent people from unintentionally violating commandments (pl. gezeirot).
See Ralbag.
Gilgamesh Epic
The Epic of Gilgamesh is perhaps the best known myth of the ancient Near East. It is the world's oldest epic poem. It was written on clay tablets in Akkadian ca. 1750 b.c.e. Copies of at least part of the epic have been found all over the Middle East, from ancient Sumer (the southern part of modern Iraq), to the Hittite capital (in what is modern Turkey), to the Israelite city of Megiddo. It has striking parallels with the Genesis creation and flood narratives.
Greek, derived from gnosis, meaning "knowledge." Refers to various systems of belief characterized by a dualistic view of reality: the God who created the material, phenomenistic world is different from (often antithetical to) the ultimate (hidden) God of pure spirit. Possession of secret gnosis frees a person from the material world, considered subject to evil, and gives one access to the spiritual world. Gnostic thought had a great impact on the theological thinking of the eastern Mediterranean world in the second to fourth centuries c.e., especially in Christian form.
Graf-Wellhausen Hypothesis
The classic statement of the more commonly known "Documentary Hypothesis" of the Pentateuch, which has also been referred to as the "New Documentary Hypothesis."
Ha’emek Davar
See Naphtali Zvi Yehudah Berlin.
Heb., "completion." One of a series of selections from the books of Prophets of the Tanakh that is read in Jewish religious services. The haftarah reading follows the Torah reading on each Sabbath and on Jewish festivals and fast days. Generally the haftarah is thematically linked to the parashah that precedes it.
The individual and collective rabbinic legal rulings that regulate all aspects of Jewish life, both individual and corporate.
halakhic midrashim
A group of individual rabbinic texts that interpret different books of the Pentateuch. The name reflects the fact that these books deal largely, though by no means exclusively, with matters of halakhah, the interpretation and application of biblical laws. (It is apparently because of their concern with halakhah that these texts were compiled exclusively on the biblical books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy; Genesis, because it contains little of an overtly legal character, was not included in the scope of the halakhic midrashim.) The halakhic midrashim include the Mekhilta deR. Ishmael and Mekhilta deR. Shimon b. Yohai (both on Exodus), Sifra (on Leviticus), Sifrei Numbers and Sifrei Zutta (both on Numbers) and Sifrei Deuteronomy and Midrash Tanna'im (both on Deuteronomy).
Because of the apparent doubling of halakhic midrashim on each of the four books, David Hoffman and later scholars have pursued the possibility that the two different "sets" of halakhic midrashim derive from two ancient schools of rabbinic interpreters, those of R. Aqiba and R. Ishmael. While clear differences in content, approach, rabbinic scholars cited, and halakhic terminology do indeed characterize the different sets, Hoffman's thesis has nonetheless been shown by later scholars to oversimplify matters somewhat: non-halakhic material in the two sets does not seem to derive from the same putative sources as the halakhic material, and it is far from clear, moreover, which characteristics in the two sets reflect differences fundamental to the texts themselves and which may merely reflect preferences of the texts' final editors. With regard to date, since the rabbis cited in them are generally tanna'im along with some first-generation 'amora'im, the halakhic midrashim are generally assumed to have been compiled sometime in the third century c.e. (though some scholars have questioned this assumption as well). If this dating is correct, the halakhic midrashim represent, after the Mishnah, Tosefta, and perhaps one or two other texts, the earliest stage of rabbinic writings.
Halevi, Judah
Poet, philosopher, and author of The Kusari. Spain (before 1075–1141)
hapax legomenon (plural: legomena)
A word or phrase that occurs only once in a body of literature, such as the Bible.
A scribal error in which two successive, identical letters or groups of letters are accidentally written only once. Also refers to omission of text by failing to copy a block of text. See scribal errors.
Heb., "enlightenment." Jewish rationalistic thought in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe.
"Two for one," the expression of one idea through two formally coordinate terms joined by “and,” instead of a noun and an adjective, or a verb and an adverb. One component specifies the other. Example:
“But Abel, he also brought from the firstborn of his flock and from the fat of them.” (Gen. 4:4)
A religious system in which the believer worships one god alone without denying that others may worship different gods with equal validity.
Greek, "to interpret, translate." Technical term referring to the principles of textual interpretation. The term is often used with reference to the study of Jewish and Christian scriptures.
Hertz, Joseph H.
Early twentieth-century rabbi, chief rabbi of Great Britain, best known in the United States for his translation and commentary for the Soncino Chumash, Britain (1872–1946).
Hirsch, Samson Raphael
Important nineteenth-century rabbi; regarded as the father of Neo-Orthodoxy and one of the central figures of Modern Orthodox Judaism, Germany (1808–1888).
Torah commentary by Chizkiyahu ben Manoakh, thirteenth-century French scholar.
Holiness Code
A collection of priestly law found in Lev. 17–26. It is so called because of the reiterated demand that Israel should be "holy" because God is holy.
A copying error, from the Greek meaning "having similar endings," involving the omission of material that appears between two words that are the same or have similar endings. See scribal errors.
Horowitz, Isaiah ben Abraham Halevi
Known as the "HaShelah Hakadosh," derived from the initials of Horowitz's major work, Sh'nei Luchot Habrit (Tablets of the Covenant). Horowitz was a rabbi, kabbalist, halakhist, and communal leader. His major work, Sh'nei Luchot Habrit, combines halakhah, homily, and Kabbalah to instruct the reader on how to live. Divided into two sections, it contains laws concerning the festivals followed by the mitzvot organized in the order they appear in the Torah. Czechoslovakia, Poland, Israel (1565-1630).
A group of Asiatics, mostly Semites, who invaded the eastern Nile Delta, initiating the Second Intermediate Period, ca. 1665–1560 b.c.e. (according to the traditional chronology) of ancient Egypt. The Hyksos ruled over Lower and Middle Egypt for 108 years, forming the Fifteenth and possibly the Sixteenth Dynasties of Egypt (ca. 1648–1540 b.c.e.). Traditionally, only the six Fifteenth Dynasty rulers are called "Hyksos." The Hyksos had Canaanite names, as seen in those which contain the names of Semitic deities such as Anath or Ba'al. They introduced new tools of warfare into Egypt, most notably the composite bow and the horse-drawn chariot. Some scholars, as early as Josephus, have associated the Semitic Hyksos with the ancient Hebrews, seeing their departure from Egypt as the story retold in the Exodus. Notably, Canaanite/Hebrew names occur among the Hyksos. They were expelled from Egypt by Ahmose in 1560 b.c.e.
An intentional exaggeration not intended to be taken literally; usually descriptive in nature. Example:
“The cities are great, and walled up to heaven.” (Deut. 1:28)
hysteron proteron
A class of figures of speech employing an expression involving reversal of expected order. A disordering of time. The term is Greek meaning "later earlier." Example:
"You shall plant vineyards and dress them, but you shall neither drink of the wine, nor gather the grapes; for the worm shall eat them." (Deut. 28:39)
Ibn Ezra, Abraham ben Meir
One of the most outstanding Jewish scholars of the "Golden Age" of Muslim Spain. He was a poet, grammarian, exegete, translator, philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer. Until 1140 he lived in Tudela, Spain. Thereafter, he wandered throughout Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East in poverty. It was during these travels that he composed most of his many influential literary works. He is known for his great erudition in matters of science and linguistics, and etymology and grammar were his main concerns. In his introduction to the Torah, he states his intention to determine the literal meaning of the text as well as to adhere to the decisions of the rabbis in interpreting the legal portions. Considered one of the most important biblical commentators, his interpretations were neoplatonic and often quite rationalistic. His commentary was based primarily on a meticulous foundation of Hebrew grammar and philology, based upon his understanding of the realities of biblical life. His style is brief to the point of being cryptic, thus resulting in its own subsidiary literature of supercommentaries. Ibn Ezra used his commentaries to defend the rabbinic oral tradition against its detractors from the Karaite movement, making extensive use of the teachings of Rabbi Sa'adia Ga'on, the tenth-century sage who had conducted his own war against Karaism. Spain, northern Africa, Palestine, Italy, England, France (1089 or 1093–1164 or 1167).
Ibn Janach, Jonah
Spanish physician, grammarian, and lexicographer. He compiled the first complete book on Hebrew philology, which is preserved in its entirety. Its second half, known as Sefer ha-Shorashim ("The Book of Roots"), is a complete dictionary of biblical Hebrew, which also contains exegetical excursuses on difficult biblical passages. His grammar of biblical Hebrew is called Sefer Ha-Rikmah. His influence on succeeding generations of exegetes is enormous. Spain (first half eleventh century).
Isserles, Moses ben Israel
Scholar. Sometimes referred to as the Rama, from Cracow. He is best known for his halachic works (1530–1572).
The term for "Yahwist" ("Jahwist" in German), one of the four "sources" or traditions in the Pentateuch. J was composed ca. 950 b.c.e. The Yahwistic source is thusly named because of the predominant use of the divine name "Yahweh" (YHWH) as God's personal name in this text. Also see Documentary Hypothesis.
A postulated redaction of the J source and E source of the Pentateuch, probably ca. 750 b.c.e. Also see Documentary Hypothesis.
A subgroup of the Canaanites who held Jerusalem (Jebus) until the time of David.
Jehiel, Barukh ben
Important early Chasidic leader, grandson of the Ba'al Shem Tov, he was most closely identified with his congregation at Medzibozh (1757–1810).
Jeremiah ben Elazar
Third-century Palestinian amrora, a prominent expert on aggadah.
Josephus, Flavius
Born of a priestly family in Jerusalem, Josephus was, by his own account, a gifted student who acquired a broad exposure to the different Jewish schools of thought existent in his own time. He served as a general in the great Jewish revolt against the Romans but was defeated and taken prisoner. (Josephus recounts that he prophesied that the Roman commander, Vespasian, would be made emperor; Vespasian spared Josephus' life and when, two years later, the prophecy came true, freed him.) After the war Josephus moved to Rome and composed, among other works, his multivolume Jewish Antiquities. The first four books of this massive work retell the events of the Pentateuch with frequent additions and modifications that reflect the biblical interpretations he learned in his youth; they are a rich source of information about ancient exegesis. In addition, he wrote a lengthy account of the Jewish revolt against Rome (The Jewish War), a brief autobiography (Life of Josephus), and a spirited defense of Judaism (Against Apion) (ca. 37 c.e.–ca. 100 c.e.).
A book purporting to contain a revelation given to Moses by the "angel of the Presence," one of the angels closest to God, at the time of the Sinai revelation. It takes the form of a retelling of the book of Genesis and the first part of Exodus: the angel goes over the same material but fills in many details, sometimes shifting slightly the order of things, and occasionally skipping over elements in the narrative. The book was originally written in Hebrew, and fragments of it have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. From Hebrew it was translated into Greek (parts of this translation still survive in quotations from Greek authors) and from Greek into Latin and Ge'ez (ancient Ethiopic). The (almost) complete text exists only in Ge'ez, though a substantial section is extant in Latin as well. Many scholars date the book to the middle of the second century b.c.e. or even later, but some favor an earlier date, perhaps at the beginning of the second century b.c.e. or even a decade or two before that.

The author of Jubilees was a bold, innovative interpreter in his own right—one might say, without exaggeration, something of a genius—and subsequent generations valued highly, even venerated, his book's insights into Scripture. In seeking to retell the book of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus, this author had a definite program: he wished to claim that this initial part of the Pentateuch, although it consists mostly of stories and does not contain any law code as such, had nonetheless been designed to impart legal instruction no less binding than the overt law codes found in the rest of the Pentateuch. In other words, by reading the stories of Genesis carefully, one could figure out all kinds of binding commandments that God had, as it were, hidden in the narrative. Reading in this fashion, the author of Jubilees was able to find a set of rules strictly defining what is permitted and forbidden on the Sabbath, regulations forbidding marriage between Jews and non-Jews, strictures against various forms of "fornication," and other subjects dear to this writer's heart. One interesting feature of the book is that it maintains that the true calendar ordained by God consisted of exactly 52 Sabbaths (364 days) per year and that the moon, whose waxing and waning determined the months and festivals for other Jews, ought rightly to have no such role in the true calendar. The author sought to show that this calendar, too, was implied by the stories of Genesis.

Apart from these pet issues, the Jubilees author ended up presenting a good deal more in the way of biblical interpretation. Some of these interpretations may likewise have been of his own creation, but others were certainly widespread traditions at the time of his writing. One way or another, the book is a treasure of ancient thinking about the Bible. The Dead Seas Scroll sect adopted the same calendar as that prescribed by Jubilees, and it is clear that the members of this group held this book in high esteem.

Judah ben Samuel he-Chasid (the Pious)
Ethical writer and mystic; authored a commentary on the Torah. Regensburg (ca. 1150–1217).
A geographical name that is initially attested in the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Maccabees (in the Apocrypha), denoting the postexilic Jewish state.
Kara, Joseph
Bible commentator, northern France (born ca. 1060).
A system of Jewish theosophy and mysticism.
Kagan, Israel Meir HaCohen
Known by the name "Chafetz Chayyim" after his most famous work. He was of humble origins and was born in Zhetel, Poland where he was taught by his parents until the age of ten. After moving to Vilna to further his Jewish studies he was not an especially noted student and decided not to become a pulpit rabbi. He settled in Radin, Poland where he operated a modest grocery store with his wife. While in Radin he spent most of his time studying Torah and teaching the local people. As his reputation grew, many students came to study with him and his small store became known as the "Chafetz Chayyim Yeshivah." In addition to his teaching, Kagan was very active in Jewish causes. He travelled extensively to teach Torah and encourage people to support Jewish institutions. He was one of the founders of Agudat Yisrael, the international orthodox Jewish organization and helped many yeshivot survive the financial problems of the interwar period. Kagan died in Radin, leaving a legacy of twenty-one religious works. His first book, Sefer Chafetz Chayyim (1873), was the first attempt to organize and clarify the laws regarding slander and gossip. His later works include Shmirat HaLashon, which furthered his discussion about gossip, and the respected triad of Mishna Berura, Bi'ur Halacha, and Sha'ar HaTzion (1894–1907), his commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch. Poland (February 6, 1838–1933).
Heb., "congregation, gathering." Refers to the corporate Jewish community of medieval Europe.
Derived from Heb., kara'im, "readers [of Scripture]." Karaite Judaism or Karaism is a sect that arose in opposition to rabbinic Judaism characterized by the sole reliance on the Tanakh as scripture, and the rejection of the Oral Law (the Mishnah and the Talmud) as halakhah. The name "Karaite" was chosen by the adherents of the sect to distinguish themselves from the adherents of rabbinic Judaism. They originated in Baghdad, which is in present-day Iraq. When interpreting scripture, Karaites strive to adhere only to the p'shat, "plain meaning," of the text. This is in contrast to the methods used in rabbinic Judaism.
Karo, Joseph
See Caro, Joseph.
Kaspi, Joseph ibn
Philosopher, grammarian, and commentator, Spain (1279–1340).
Keli Yakar
Homiletic commentary by Ephraim Shelomo ben Aaron of Luntschitz, Poland.
Aramaic, "[what is] read." The kere is the technical orthographic representation used to indicate the pronunciation of the words in the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible. The kere written representation was developed as a result of a small number of differences between what is written in the consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible, as preserved by scribal tradition, and the way the affected words have become to be understood. See also ketiv.
Keter Torah
A Torah commentary authored by Aaron ben Elijah (1328?–1369), a Karaite scholar, philosopher, and jurist. He lived in Nicomedia (near Izmir, Turkey). He was called “Aaron the Younger” to distinguish him from Aaron the Elder who lived a century earlier. His commitment to the literal interpretation of the text did not prevent him from introducing allegorical and metaphysical interpretations.
Aramaic, "[what is] written." The ketiv is the original written form of words in the Bible. When the Masoretic text of the Bible was being developed, scholars noticed that certain words appeared to be incorrectly spelled. Desiring not to alter the words of the holy scroll, they developed an alerting mechanism to show the written form of the word, the ketiv, and the vocalized form of the word, cf. kere.
Heb., "Writings." The last section of the Hebrew Bible, consisting of the books of Psalms through Chronicles in the Jewish canon.
Khatam Sofer
See Moshe Schreiber.
Kimchi, David
See Radak.
Kimchi, Joseph
Grammarian, Bible commentator, translator, and polemicist. Father of Radak (ca. 1105–1170).
Kotzker Rebbe
See Menachem Mendl Morgenstern of Kotzk.
The colloquial language (dialect) spoken by the Jews in Turkey, Spain, Morocco, and other Mediterranean countries—the Sephardic Jews, which is based primarily on Spanish, having words taken from Hebrew, Arabic, and other languages, and written in the Hebrew alphabet.
lashon ha'ra
Heb., "evil language." Encompasses all forms of forbidden speech (gossip, slander, lying, etc.).
Leib, Yehudah Aryeh, of Ger
See Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter.
Lekach Tov
A midrashic compilation on the Torah and the Five Megillot by Tobias ben Eliezer, eleventh century c.e., Balkans.
Leningrad Codex
The Leningrad Codex is one of the oldest known manuscripts of the complete Hebrew Bible produced according to the Tiberian masorah ("transmission"); according to its colophon it was produced in 1008. The Aleppo Codex is the only known older such manuscript; the Aleppo was completed several decades earlier and was used as the proof-copy against which the Lenigrad Codex was corrected. However, major parts of the Aleppo Codex have been missing since 1947; thus the Leningrad Codex is the oldest intact codex of the Tiberian masorah. The former owner of the Codex, the Karaite collector Abraham Firkovich, never stated where he had acquired it. It was taken to Odessa, Russia in 1838 and was later transferred to the Imperial Library in St. Petersburg. The Codex is now housed there in the National Library of Russia.

According to its colophon, the codex was produced in Cairo from manuscripts written by Aaron ben Moses ben Asher. Some scholars believe that it is a product of the ben Asher school itself; however, no evidence exists that ben Asher ever saw it. The most notable feature of the Leningrad Codex is the source of most of its orthography: unusually for a Masoretic work, the consonants, the vowels, and the Masoretic notes were all written by the same person, Samuel ben Jacob. The Leningrad Codex, and the Aleppo Codex which was edited by ben Asher himself, appear to be the most faithful to ben Asher's Masoretic tradition of any other surviving texts from later periods that are not based upon these two codices. Since the Leningrad Codex contains numerous corrections, alterations, and erasures, it has been postulated that the Leningrad Codex was an existing text that did not follow ben Asher's rules and was altered into conformance.

The order of the books in the Leningrad Codex follows the Tiberian textual tradition, which is followed by the later tradition of Sephardic biblical manuscripts; however, there are significant differences in the order of its books in Ketuvim (Writings)—the order in the Codex is: Chronicles, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah. In recent times, the Leningrad Codex was used as the source of the Hebrew text reproduced in Biblia Hebraica (1937) and Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (1977). It also is used by scholars as a primary source for the recovery of details in the missing parts of the Aleppo Codex.

Leviticus Rabbah
(In Heb., Vayikra Rabbah). Palestinian aggadic midrash on the book of Vayikra (Leviticus), apparently redacted sometime in the fifth century c.e., but containing much earlier material.
Luria, Yitzhak ben Shlomo
Known as the "Ari" ("the Lion"), an acronym for the Hebrew phrase "the divine Rabbi Yitzhak." Considered to be the most profound thinker to emerge from Jewish mysticism, his teachings revolutionized the entire Kabbalistic tradition. Luria studied Jewish law and rabbinic literature in Egypt. When Luria was 15 years old, he married his cousin and together they moved to a secluded island on the Nile that was owned by his father-in-law. During this period, he concentrated his studies on the Zohar and the works of earlier Kabbalists. In 1569 he moved to Safed. He was particularly interested in the ideas of his contemporary, Moses Cordovero, and studied Kabbalah with him until Cordovero's death in 1570. Initially Luria was famous as a mystical poet. Later, he started teaching Kabbalah in an academy, and would occasionally speak in synagogues. Luria himself never produced any written works, but his teachings were preserved in the somewhat conflicting and often unreliable accounts preserved by his disciples, primarily Rabbi Chaim Vital (1542–1620). Books on his teachings include Ez Hayyim, Shulhan Aruch shel R. Yitzhak Luria, Orhot Zaddikim, and Patora de Abba. Israel, Egypt (1534–1572).
Roman: 70. The Septuagint.
Maimonides, Moses ben Maimon
Known as the Rambam (acronym for Rabbi Moses ben Maimon). Bible commentator, halakhic codifier (Ha-Tad Ha-Hazakah=Mishneh Torah), philosopher (Moreh Nevukhim = Guide of the Perplexed), commentator on the Mishnah, and physician. Maimonides was one of the few medieval Jewish philosophers who also influenced the non-Jewish world. Maimonides was the first person to distill the halakhah found in the Talmud into a systematic code: the Mishneh Torah. His greatest philosophical work, a philosophic view of Judaism, is called The Guide to the Perplexed. As a physician he wrote a number of books on medicine. He was born into a very illustrious family which was able to trace its ancestry back to Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, the compiler of the Mishnah, and King David. His father, Rabbi Maimon, the dayan (judge) of Cordoba, educated him in secular subjects such as mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy as well as giving him an extensive knowledge of Jewish subjects. Later in his life he had to flee Cordoba to avoid persecution by the Muslim rulers who had become intolerant of the Jews in their realm. Maimonides took his family first to Morocco, later to Israel, and finally to Egypt in 1165, where he was appointed physician to the sultan of Egypt and served as leader of Cairo's Jewish community. Spain, northern Africa, Palestine (1135–December 13, 1204).
Acronym for Meir Loeb ben Yehiel Michael. Rabbi, preacher, and Bible commentator. Author of a massive and influential commentary on the Tanakh. Eastern Europe (1809–1879).
Heb., "speaker." A kabbalistic notion of how the holy spirit is mediated to the mystic; also used to describe preachers among the eighteenth-century Chasidim (c.f. Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezritch).
Maggid of Mezeritch
See Dov Baer.
A form of wisdom tradition represented in the Hebrew Bible that is widely attested in the ancient Middle East generally, but especially in Mesopotamian wisdom literature. It is concerned with esoteric knowledge that is derived from omens deciphered by specialists sometimes called "diviners." A common source of omens for diviners was the examination of animal organs. The name "mantic wisdom" was given to this art/science of interpretation.
A city on the middle Euphrates in Syria where over 20,000 cuneiform texts, mostly from the eighteenth century b.c.e., exhibiting many similarities to the Bible, have been found.
Heb., "tradition." The traditional, authoritative form of the Hebrew text of the Bible, standardized in its basics sometime around 100 c.e., became the Bible for Jews and has been preserved and handed down by them from generation to generation ever since. In the Middle Ages, the Masoretes—a group of Jewish Bible scholars who gave this text-form its current scholarly name—established and promulgated the last details of this form, standardizing its consonants, vowels, and cantillation signs, as well as marginal notes that relate to orthographic, grammatical, and lexicographic oddities in order to preserve the subtlest nuances in the text's traditional pronunciation, meaning, and conventions of public reading. Most of this work was done by the school of Masoretes in Tiberias between the sixth and ninth centuries. (Masoretic, adj.)
Heb., derived from masorah, "tradition." The Masoretes were scholars who sought to preserve the traditional text of the Bible (hence the term "Masoretic text") that is used in contemporary synagogues. The Masoretes were scholars who encouraged Bible study and attempted to achieve uniformity by establishing rules for correcting the text in natters of spelling, grammar, and pronunciation. (c.f. masorah)
Me'am Loez
A widely studied commentary on the Tanakh written in Ladino; it is perhaps the best known publication in that language. It was initiated by Rabbi Ya'akov Culi in Turkey in 1730. In his introduction Rabbi Culi personally guarantees that "everyone who reads the Me'am Loez every day will be able to answer in Heaven that he has learned the whole Torah, because all aspects of the Torah are covered in it." The Me'am Loez quickly became extremely popular in the Jewish communities of Turkey, Spain, Morocco, and Egypt. In 1967, a Hebrew translation, Yalkut Me'am Loez, was published. The first English translation, the Torah Anthology, was written (primarily) by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan; this translation has introduced Me'am Loez to the Ashkenazi world.
Mecklenberg, Jacob Zvi
Rabbi and author of HaKetav VehaKabbalah, "The Written and the Oral Tradition," an important nineteenth-century book of Torah commentary.
Torah commentators from the rabbinic period.
Mei Ha’shilo’akh
See Mordechai Yosef of Isbitza.
Meir Lev ben Yekhiel Michael
See Malbim.
Heb., "scroll." One of five readings from the Writings division of the Tanakh that are traditionally read during religious services in the synagogue over the course of the year. Each megillah is read on a particular occasion: "The Song of Songs" is read on the Sabbath of Passover in many communities. The "Book of Ruth" is read before the reading of the Torah on the morning of Shavuot. The "Book of Lamentations" is read on Tish'a b'Av (Ninth of Av). "Ecclesiastes" is read on the Sabbath of Sukkot. The "Book of Esther" is read in all Jewish communities on Purim (pl., megillot).
Tannaitic halakhic midrash on the book of Exodus in two forms, the Mekhilta de-R. Ishmael and the Mekhilta de-R. Simeon ben Yohai, first and second centuries c.e.

Mekhilta deR. Ishmael

A (rabbinic) collection of interpretations of verses in the book of Exodus. The Mekhilta deR. Ishmael is one of a group of texts known collectively as the halakhic midrashim; it would thus seem to belong to the third century c.e.

Mekhilta deR. Simeon b. Yohai

One of the halakhic midrashim, a collection of interpretations of verses in the book of Exodus. For various reasons, scholars have suggested that it may in fact be somewhat later than the other halakhic midrashim, belonging therefore to the fourth or even fifth century c.e.

Meklenburg, J. Z.
Author of Ha-Ketav ve-ha-Kabbalah. Poland (1785–1865).
Work, any of the categories of labor forbidden to be performed on the Sabbath.
Menahem ben Jacob ibn Saruq
Authored Machberet, a dictionary of biblical Hebrew. Spain (10th century).
Mendelsohn, Moses
Philosopher, literary critic. Recognized as one of the leaders of the Haskalah, Enlightenment. He wrote the Biur ("Explanation") between 1780 and 1783 (1729–1786).
A "polar expression," a phrase that refers to the totality of a phenomenon by naming the items at its two extremities. Example:
“When God began to create heaven and earth…” (Gen. 1:1)
A region name from the Greek meaning "between the rivers." It designates the fertile area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the area inhabited by the Babylonians and Assyrians.
An absolute comparison with no qualifiers. Example:
"Judah is a lion cub, you climb back, my son, from your kill." (Gen. 49:9)
A figure of speech in which a term is used in place of another that is associated with it. A class of synecdoche. Example:
“Then shall you bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.” (Gen. 42:38)
Meyuchas ben Elijah
Exegete and talmudist. Little else is known of him. Greece (probably fifteenth century).
From Heb., darash, "inquire," also meaning "interpretation" or "exposition." These are works resulting from the elaboration on a biblical text in the form of legal, exegetical, or homiletical commentaries. The term is currently used to designate specifically the sort of exegesis practiced by the Rabbis of antiquity and contained in such works as the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds as well as various collections of rabbinic exegesis, such as the Mekhiltas, Sifrei Deuteronomy, Genesis Rabbah, Exodus Rabbah, Leviticus Rabbah, Numbers Rabbah, Deuteronomy Rabbah, and dozens of others. Midrash is also often used as the title of such collections of exegesis, such as Midrash ha-Gadol, Midrash Tanchuma, and so forth. Literary midrash may focus either on halakhah, concerning specific patterns of religious practice, or on aggadah, dealing with theological ideas, ethical teachings, popular philosophy, imaginative exposition, legend, allegory, animal fables, and so on—that is, whatever is not halakhah. (Midrashim, pl.).
Midrash ha-Gadol
A late-medieval anthology of midrash on the Pentateuch. This collection, of Yemenite origin (generally attributed to David b. Amram of Aden, Yemen, who lived in the thirteenth or fourteenth century), often freely reworks its sources, sometimes interpolating material from Maimonides or other medieval scholars. At the same time, it also preserves much ancient material, some of it otherwise quite unattested or at least unknown in that particular form.
Midrash Tennaim
A halakhic midrash on Deuteronomy.
Midrash Tanchuma
An early medieval compilation of rabbinic midrash on the Torah extant in various forms arranged according to the triennial lectionary cycle. This compilation comprises three different collections of Torah haggadot (tales) of which two exist; the only knowledge of the third is through citations. These midrashim have been named after R. Tanchuma bar Abba (a Palestinian amora, ca. 350–371 ce, and one of the foremost haggadists of his time), although there is no evidence of his writing or editing them. The tales received his name simply because they consist partly of homilies attributed to him (i.e., they carry the introductory formula “thus began R. Tanchuma” or “thus preached R. Tanchuma”) and partly of homilies by haggadic teachers who followed the style of R. Tanchuma. The Yelammedenu is a group of midrashim that begin with halakhic formulas and end with homiletic formulas. Because of these standard opening formulas, the midrashim in this collection are said to be of the Tanchuma-Yelammedenu type, one found as well in other midrashic compilations and manuscripts including Deuteronomy Rabbah and parts of Exodus Rabbah, Numbers Rabbah, Pesiqta Rabbati, and yet others. Subsequently numerous Tanchuma and Tanchuma-like fragments have been published from manscript. The various Midrash Tanchuma texts and fragments may all stem back to a common type, but attempts to reconstruct any particular original text have failed.
Midrash Vayosha
Compilation of midrashim from 1100 c.e.
Heb., “sanctuary,” this term usually refers to the Temple in Jerusalem.
Mikra’ot Gedolot
"The Commentators' Bible," a single volume that incorporates the text of the entire Chumash and the commentaries on it written by numerous important medieval and early modern rabbis, including Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and others.
Heb., "custom." Custom that evolved for practical religious reasons that has continued long enough to become a binding religious practice. The word is also used more loosely to describe any customary religious practice (pl. minchagim).
Heb., “repetition,” the codification of Jewish law and practice put into its final form around 200 c.e. It is a written compilation of orally transmitted legal teachings covering all aspects of Jewish law, and elaborates the details of many things treated only cursorily in biblical law in addition to addressing a number of entirely new matters. It is arranged in six orders that, in turn, are divided into tractates; edited by Rabbi Judah haNasi, Palestine. It is the first document containing the oral law of the Jewish people, and during the succeeding 300 years, commentaries known as the Gemara were written which were then joined with the Mishnah to form the Talmud.
Heb., "opposer." Traditionalist and rationalistic Jewish opponents of eighteenth-century Jewish Chasidism (pl. mitnagdim).
Israel's neighbors whose territory was south and east of the Dead Sea. One of the best known Moabites in the Hebrew Bible is Ruth.
The recognition of the existence of other gods, but with the consistent worship of only one deity, a subtype of henotheism. Adjective form: theomonic.
Mordechai Yosef of Isbitza
Nineteenth-century Chasidic rabbi and author of Torah commentary Mei Ha’Shilo’akh, by which name he is frequently referred to.
Morgenstern, Menachem Mendl of Kotzk
More widely known as the Kotzker Rebbe, he was a leading figure in nineteenth-century Chasidism. A mysterious figure, he secluded himself from contact with people for much of the last twenty years of his life. His works are considered by many a precursor of Jewish existentialist thought.
motive clause
A clause in a law seeking to explain the law or motivate the listener to observe it.
Also known as Ramban (acronym for Rabbi Moses ben Nachman Gerondi). Philosopher, kabbalist, exegete, talmudist, poet, and physician. He was born in Gerona, Spain, and spent his final years in Palestine. Nachmanides was the foremost halakhist of his age. Like Maimonides before him, Nachmanides was both a physician and a great Torah scholar. While Maimonides was a strict rationalist, Nachmanides had a strong mystical affinity. His biblical commentaries were the first to incorporate mystical interpretations which were incorporated into the Kabbalah. He is primarily known for his two major commentaries, one on the Torah and the other on the Talmud. His Torah commentary provides a literal interpretation of the text but also makes frequent use of the Talmud, Midrash, and mystical works. His commentary on the Talmud is written in the style of the Tosefists. He also wrote more than fifty other works on a wide range of specialized topics. In 1263 the king of Aragon ordered him to participate in a religious disputation with Pablo Christiani, a Jewish apostate. After the debate he published an account of the proceedings. Although Ramban won the disputation, his victory was short-lived. The Dominicans were able to convince the king that some of Nachmanides' statements were blasphemies against Christianity, and the account of the disputation was burned. At the age of 72, impelled by persecution of the Church, Ramban moved to Israel, settling in Acco until the end of his life. Spain, Palestine (1194–1270).
Acronym for Naphtali Zevi Yehuda Berlin (1817–1893). Rabbinic scholar and head of yeshivah at Volozhin, Poland. Authored Ha'amek Davar, a commentary on the Torah.
Heb., "chief, patriarch"; the chief of the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem; after its abolition, the head of Palestinian Jewry.
Neveh Shalom
Commentary to Sa'adia's translation of the Torah, by Rabbi Amram Korah (Yemen and Israel, 1871–1953). Published in Sefer Keter Torah Ha-“Taj” Ha-Gadol.
Hebrew: "Prophets." The central division of the Hebrew Bible, consisting of the books of Joshua through the Major and twelve Minor Prophets.
Heb., "signs." The "dots" and other markings that indicate vowels in printed Hebrew. Hebrew that includes these is called "pointed," while texts that omit them, such as the Torah scroll, are called "unpointed."
Numbers Rabbah
(In Heb., Bamidbar Rabbah). A composite medieval aggadic midrash on the book of Bamidbar (Numbers), originally two separate compositions, combined ca. thirteenth century.
Musical modes in which liturgy is sung or Torah, megillot, and haftarah is chanted. There are at least eight different modes that have developed from geographically disparate Jewish communities. In addition, there are different modes for Shabbat and the Festivals and for morning, afternoon, and evening services.
Obadiah ben Abraham of Bartinoro
Commonly known as "The Bartenura" or "Obadiah of Bartinoro." A Jewish rabbi and a commentator on the Mishnah, Bertinoro is regarded as the best commentator of the Mishnah; the importance of his commentary is demonstrated by the fact that hardly an edition of the Mishnah has been printed without it. His commentary is based mainly on Rashi and the Rambam. He was born and lived in the second half of the fifteenth century in Italy; he died in Jerusalem about 1500.
Second-century c.e. translator of the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic. Onkelos was reputed to be a nephew of the Roman emperor Hadrian and a convert to Judaism; the name is probably a corruption of Aquila. His work is known as the “Targum Onkelos,” “translation of Onkelos.” Written in Israel, Targum Onkelos became the standard version of the Hebrew Bible that was used in Babylonian synagogues during the talmudic era. Even as a convert, Onkelos gained the respect of the leading Hebrew scholars of his day. His translation became almost as authoritative a text as the Tanakh itself, and was of particular interest to later commentators and scholars, since as a translation and thus a subjective interpretation, it reflects the common understanding of the Hebrew text of Onkelos’ time. Many modern scholars contend that the name "Onkelos" was mistakenly attached to the Aramaic text in early medieval times on account of a mis-identification with a translation by "Onkelos the Proselyte" that is mentioned in the Talmud. No alternative authorship of this Aramaic translation has been suggested.
The use of suggestive words for rhetorical effect, usually through the imitation of sounds. Example:
"Charge, horses! Crash on, chariots!" (Jer. 46:9)
The primary literary unit of the prophetic books is the "oracle." The Hebrew term translated "oracle" in modern English versions is massa, which has a literal meaning of "burden." "Oracle" has been used as a technical term for various kinds of utterances delivered by a prophet in response to a worshiper's question. Oracles include everything from short utterances addressed to a specific situation to lengthy speeches and whole books (for example, Nahum, Habakkuk, Malachi).
Oral Law
In traditional Pharisaic and rabbinic thought, God reveals instructions for living both through the written scriptures, the Torah, and through a parallel process of orally transmitted traditions. Critics of this approach within Judaism include Sadducees and Karaites.
Two juxtaposed concepts which apparently contradict each other, used to lend force to an expression. Example:
"Death and life are in the gift of the tongue, those who indulge it must eat the fruit it yields." (Prov. 18:21)
The term that represents the Priestly "source" or tradition in the Pentateuch, parts of which were written ca. 550 b.c.e. by Aaronid priests, and other parts, notably the "Holiness Code" (Lev. 17–26), that might represent traditions of one to two hundred years earlier. The Priestly source, as its name suggests, is marked by the unmistakable interests of the priesthood and ceremonial sanctity, and by the kind of precise attention to detail associated with a priestly way of thinking and acting. A concern with ritual origins and laws, as well as with the chronological details of Israel's past is evident. Because the priesthood was a hereditary office in Israel, there is also an interest in genealogies. See also Documentary Hypothesis.
Interpretative method of reading Torah based on the "plain" meaning of the text.
Derived from the Greek term for the "Philistines," for the seacoast population encountered by early mariners. This is the ancient designation for the area between Syria (to the north) and Egypt (to the south), between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan, roughly encompassing modern Israel.
Panim Yafot
Sixteenth-century commentary, written by Reb Pinkhas Halevi Horowitz.
The weekly Torah reading text selection. Synonym: sidra. Plural: parashot.
A verse of Torah.
The five books of Moses; the first five books of the Hebrew Bible—Genesis through Deuteronomy—known by the Hebrew word Torah (= "teaching," "law").
Heb., "division, chapter." A section of the Torah portion to be read publicly; each Torah portion has seven of them on Shabbat.
Greek, "cutting out." A rhetorical term that refers to an extract of a larger work that itself forms one coherent unit or story. The term usually describes a short passage suitable for public reading from a text, and is now applied to readings of Scripture.
The name given to the Syriac translation of the Hebrew Bible widely used by Syriac-speaking Christians. Its origins (apparently composite) are unknown; some scholars have suggested that it may have started as an adaptation of one or more Jewish targums, since a number of interpretations otherwise known from rabbinic literature are to be found within it. Others have nonetheless maintained that it was from the start a Christian translation. Parts of the Peshitta are said to have been made in the first century c.e.
Pesiqta de-Rav Kahana
Homilies on the synagogue lectionaries. Fifth (?) century c.e., Palestine.
Pesiqta Rabbati
Medieval midrash on the festival lectionaries.
Heb., perushim, lit. "separatists." One of the four principal Jewish sects in the first century c.e., as described by Josephus. Many scholars identify them with the later sages and rabbis who taught the Oral and Written Law; others see them as a complex of pietistic and zealous separatists who were distinct from the protorabbis. According to Josephus, the Pharisees believed in the immortality of souls and resurrection of the dead, in a balance between predestination and free will, in angels as active divine agents, and in authoritative Oral Law. The Pharisees were associated with those whose adherence to the Torah brought them into conflict both with Hellenistic gentile culture and with their fellow Jews who compromised or collaborated with that culture. They practiced a commitment to the Torah that strictly separated Jews from gentiles in such things as dietary laws, circumcision, fasting, and prayer. They accepted the oral expansion of the written Torah and accepted belief in things that were not spelled out in the written Torah, such as the doctrine of resurrection. In early Christian materials, Pharisees are often depicted as the leading opponents of Jesus and his followers and are often linked with "scribes" but distinguished from the Sadducees. See also the description of rival Jewish groups under Rabbis of antiquity.
pharaonic dynasties
The periods of the reigns of the rulers of Egypt are divided into groupings called "Kingdoms," "Periods," and "Dynasties." The Kingdoms (Old, 2686–2134 b.c.e.; Middle, 2080–1640 b.c.e.; and New, 1570–1070 b.c.e.) refer to periods when the political control of the country was strong. The spans of years when political control in Egypt weakened, fractured, or collapsed are referred to as "Periods." There are three: the "First Intermediate Period," ca. 2181–2055 b.c.e.; the "Second Intermediate Period," ca. 1665–1570 b.c.e. (which includes the Hyksos period); and the "Third Intermediate Period," 1070–664 b.c.e.. Overlaps in the chronology are caused by splintering of rule between Upper and Lower Egypt. The "Dynasties" are periods characterized by the rule of pharaohs who had common political practices and/or heredity succession. Thus, during the late second millennium, the putative period of the Exodus, Egypt was ruled by pharaohs of the New Kingdom of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Dynasties.
Pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty
Amenhotep I
Thutmose I
Thutmose II
Thutmose III
Amenhotep II
Thutmose IV
1550–1525 B.C.E.
Amenhotep III
Amenhotep IV/

Pharaohs of the 19th Dynasty
Ramses I
Seti I
Ramses II
Seti II
One of the "Sea Peoples" who migrated to the southwest coastal plain of Canaan from their home in Crete or Asia Minor after failing in their attempt to settle in Egypt. This migration occurred ca. 1200 b.c.e. at about the same time the Israelites were establishing themselves in the country. The Philistines were centered in five major cities: Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, Gath, and Gaza.
Philo (Judaeus)
Nobleman and philosopher, Alexandria, Egypt. This Greek-speaking Egyptian Jew was the author of a multivolume series of commentaries on the Pentateuch. Philo was heir to an already existing tradition of interpreting the Bible allegorically, a tradition that appears to have flourished in Alexandria, Egypt. Philo championed this approach; for him, although biblical stories recounted historical events, they likewise had an "undermeaning" (huponoia) by which Abraham, Jacob, and other biblical figures were understood to represent abstractions or spiritual realities whose truth applied to all times and places. Philo explained many biblical texts in keeping with then-current Greek philosophical ideas. Although Philo's allegorical explanations of Scripture were certainly widely known in the Jewish world, his works played almost no role in the later history of Jewish biblical interpretation. They were, however, extraordinarily important to Alexandrine Christianity, and through the writings of Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, and other Christian scholars gained a place for his ideas and methods in much Christian biblical interpretation (ca. 20 b.c.e.–ca. 50 c.e.).
The Phoenicians were Israel's neighbors to the north. They were a part of the Canaanites culturally and ethnically, and were also related to the "Sea Peoples" who generally settled the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
Pirkei Avot
See Avot.
Pirkei deR. Eliezer
Aggadic work, written in rabbinic Hebrew, on scriptural narratives and discourses on other themes. Its allusions to Islamic culture and to Arab rule over the land of Israel suggest that this work was put into its final form after the Arab conquest—according to some, as late as the eighth or ninth century c.e. At the same time, the text preserves many ancient traditions, including quite a few known only from the biblical Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. At times these traditions are presented by Pirkei deR. Eliezer in a form that suggests that their author had read these pseudepigraphic texts not in the Greek or other translations through which these texts have survived in Christian churches, but in a Hebrew or Aramaic version now lost. It is traditionally attributed to Rabbi Eliezar ben Hyrcanus, who lived in the first century c.e. Eighth century, Palestine.
Deliberate (over)use of conjunctions. Example:
"The Lord said to Moses, 'If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the Lord by deceiving his neighbor about something entrusted to him or left in his care or stolen, or if he cheats him, or if he finds lost property and lies about it, or if he swears falsely, or if he commits any such sin that people may do….'" (Lev. 6:1–3)
In Jewish law, the “legal decisors,” rabbis who decide the halakhah in cases of law where previous authorities are inconclusive. Posek (sing.)
From Greek, pseudos, "false," and epigraphos, "writing, inscription." A somewhat loose term to describe a group of texts, mostly written between the third century b.c.e. and the second century c.e., which, although generally not attributed the same sanctity as the Bible, were nonetheless studied and preserved by early Jews and Christians. They are called "Pseudepigrapha" ("falsely ascribed" writings) because many of them purport to be the pronouncements of an ancient worthy such as Adam, Enokh, Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Ezra, and so forth. A great many of these books retell biblical stories or seek to comment on incidents or figures known from the Bible, and they can thus tell us much about how the Bible was read and interpreted from the third century b.c.e. on. Included in the Pseudepigrapha are various apocalypses, or revelations, given to various biblical figures, often "foretelling" events belonging to the time in which the apocalypse in question was actually written; testaments, that is, the "last words" or wills of biblical figures standing at the threshold of death and imparting advice and recollections to their children; and interpretive retellings and expanded biblical stories.
The phase of the Phoenician language used primarily in the western Phoenician colonies, such as Carthage, in North Africa, from around the beginning of the fifth century b.c.e.
(or Khirbet Qumran). Site overlooking the northwest corner of the Dead Sea, about eight and a half miles from Jericho, where, starting in 1947, numerous documents, including the oldest known Bible manuscripts, the Dead Sea Scrolls, were found hidden in various caves nearby. Qumran was apparently the home of an ascetic Jewish community, probably to be identified with the Essene sect known from the writings of Josephus and others, which flourished ca. 135 b.c.e.–70 c.e.
See "Redactor."
Heb., "teacher" or "master." Ordained expert in Jewish worship and law. An authorized teacher of the classical Jewish tradition (see Oral Law) after the fall of the Second Temple in 70 c.e. The role of the rabbi has changed considerably throughout the centuries. Traditionally, rabbis serve as the legal and spiritual guides of their congregations and communities. The title is conferred after considerable study of traditional Jewish sources. This conferral and its responsibilities is central to the chain of tradition in Judaism.
Acronym for Rabbi Abraham ben David of Posquières, Provence (ca. 1125–1198). Commentator of rabbinic texts and noted codifier of rabbinic law. Wrote a commentary on the Sifra.
Rabbeinu Tam
Rabbi Jacob ben Meir Tam. Talmudist, halakhist, and community leader. Grandson of Rashi, France (ca. 1100–ca. 1171).
Rabbinic Judaism
The continuation of the beliefs of the Pharisees after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 c.e. It developed through the second to sixth centuries c.e. Rabbinic Judaism is to be contrasted with Karaite Judaism, which broke with the rabbinic Jews over the validity of the Oral Law, and over procedures used to interpret Jewish scripture, the Torah; and early Christianity, which developed into a separate religion.

Rabbinic Judaism is based on the tradition that the law (Torah) revealed at Sinai had both a written and oral form. The written part consists in the Torah, or the five books of Moses. The oral revelation was transmitted by word of mouth from the generation present at Sinai to their descendants up to the time of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The oral law was subsequently codified in the Mishnah and Gemara, and is interpreted by subsequent rabbinic decisions and writings. Rabbinic Jewish literature is predicated on the belief that the written law cannot be properly understood without recourse to the Oral Law (the Mishnah and the Talmud). Much rabbinic Jewish literature concerns specifying what behavior is sanctioned by the law; this body of interpretations is called halakhah, "the way."

Rabbinic Judaism employs the methods of p'shat, "plain meaning," of the text; remez "implication or clue"; d'rash, "deep interpretation," based on breaking down individual words; and sod, "secret," the deeper meaning of the text (drawing on its mystical implications) to interpret the oral and written law.

Rabbis of antiquity
A group of Jewish scholars that championed an approach to Scripture and to Judaism that came to bear their name (that is, rabbinic Judaism; see also midrash). The Rabbis were so known because, starting in the first century c.e., the leaders and teachers of this group were addressed and spoken of as "Rabbi" (that is, "my teacher," "my master"). A conventional distinction separates the Rabbis of antiquity into two chronological groups: those before 200 c.e. (see Mishnah) are called tanna'im and those after 200 E. are called 'amora'im. But as a school of exegetes and practitioners, the Rabbis are probably older than the use of their distinctive title might indicate: scholars of similar tendencies are known to us earlier as the "sages," "elders," soferim ("scribes"), and Pharisees (possibly: "specifiers," "explainers"). The Pharisees are mentioned often in the Christian Bible, the writings of Josephus, the Mishnah, and elsewhere, but they are frequently presented as merely one of several rival Jewish groups that existed in Second Temple times. These groups disagreed on a number of fundamental issues; prominent among them was the matter of how and on what basis to interpret, extend, and apply biblical laws—that is, their systems of halakhah. It is clear that the Pharisees' halakhah was markedly different from that of another group, the Sadducees. Their two systems of halakhah had deep roots, perhaps going back early in the Second Temple period. There is some indication that the Dead Sea Scrolls community basically followed the halakhah of the Sadducees, though they themselves seem to be connected (on the basis of other accounts in ancient writings) with yet a third group, the Essenes, a strict, somewhat ascetic Jewish sect that flourished during the same period.
Acronym for Rabbi David ben Joseph Kimchi. Grammarian, lexicographer, and exegete. Following the methodology of Ibn Ezra, he concentrates on philological analysis. However, relying on rabbinic literature, he also includes homiletical interpretations. He wrote commentaries to Genesis, all the prophetic books, Psalms, and Chronicles. His collected comments on the rest of the Pentateuch and Proverbs were probably culled from his philological writings. Narbonne, Provence (1160?–1235?).
Acronym for Rabbi David ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra. Scholar, Bible commentator, Spain, Cairo, Safed (ca. 1479–ca. 1573).
Acronym for Rabbi Levi ben Gershon, also known as Gersonides. Philosopher, mathematician, astronomer/astrologer, Bible commentator, and Talmudist, southeastern France (1288–1344).
See Maimonides.
See Nachmanides.
Acronym for Rabbi Samuel ben Meir. Grandson of Rashi and commentator on the Bible and Babylonian Talmud. Of the former, only his commentaries on the Torah and Ecclesiastes survive. A confirmed literalist, he states his position in his comment to Exodus 21:1 as follows: "I have not come to explain the halakhot…. Derived as they are from textual redundancies, they can partly be found in the commentaries of Rabbi Solomon, my maternal grandfather. My aim is to interpret the literal meaning of Scripture." Northern France (ca. 1080–1174).
Acronym for Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzkhaki (Solomon ben Isaac). Commentator on Bible and Talmud, writer of responsa and other halakhic writings. A vintner by profession, Rashi was incredibly prolific. He is regarded as perhaps the greatest interpreter of Torah; his commentary to the Bible and the Babylonian Talmud remains standard curriculum in all traditional Jewish schools to this day. His Bible commentary is a blend of the literal and midrashic. Its methodology is defined in his comment to Genesis 3:8: "As for me, I am only concerned with the literal meaning of Scriptures and with such aggadot (i.e., midrashim) as explain the biblical passages in a fitting manner." He is noted for explaining the p'shat, or plain meaning of the text, sprinkled liberally with stories, parables, and some fanciful suggestions of his own based on classical midrash. Rashi’s style carefully follows the language of the text while providing a combination of his own analysis and a collection of traditional rabbinic midrash. In traditional circles, Rashi is studied to learn the central vision of the text's meaning. The Talmud is considered impossible to read without Rashi's commentary and his commentary to the Torah is the most standard, and most reprinted commentary in history. Rashi’s commentary on the Torah has the distinction of being the first Hebrew text ever printed on a printing press. Dozens of super-commentaries have been written to expand Rashi's commentaries; many scholars even suggest that all of the commentaries on the Torah written after Rashi are, on some level, a commentary on Rashi's work. Grandfather of Rabbenu Tam and Rashbam, Troyes, France (1040–1105).
Second- to third-century Babylonian amora, also known as Abba Arikha and Abba bar Aibu. Founder of the Talmudic academy at Sura; one of the most important halakhists in the Babylonian Talmud.
The title of the spiritual leader of the Chasidim; see Tzaddik.
redaction criticism
That part of biblical study that continues the processes begun by source criticism and form criticism. Redaction criticism focuses on the final stage in the formation of a biblical unit or book, and is concerned with the theological perspectives and intentions of the redactor/editor as perceived in the way in which that redactor/editor arranged, edited, and expanded upon the sources.
This term refers to individuals who combined and edited literary material from different sources and provided connecting links in the form of editorial "glosses," comments. This term (and its abbreviation, "R") is also applied to the writing of the Pentateuch. The Documentary Hypothesis postulates that the Persian emperor, wishing to promote Hebrew national unity after the Babylonian exile, promulgated the redaction of the hypothetical JE, P, and D texts. JE and P contained rival histories and rival religious views, P and D contained rival law codes. All had to be kept to avoid alienating various groups, but the differences needed to be minimized so that people could be certain what the law code and history was. See also Documentary Hypothesis.
Many scholars think that the redactor, R, was Ezra, as he was the priest empowered by the Persian emperor to arbitrate and assert the state religion. Ezra was instructed to uphold the religious text that he carried back with him from the Babylonian exile. According to the biblical Book of Nehemiah, when Ezra read it out to the assembled people returning from exile, many thought that certain things were new and had not been read before. In particular, a law, usually ascribed to R, concerning Sukkot, the "Festival of Booths," is reported as never having been carried out before.
Also known as Heb., teshuvot, from she'elot u'teshuvot, "questions and answers." In rabbinic literature, the "Responsa" comprise the body of written decisions and rulings given by poskim ("decisors of Jewish law"). The responsa constitute a special class of rabbinic literature, to be distinguished from the commentaries, which are devoted to the exegesis of the Hebrew Bible, the Mishnah, the Talmud, and from the codes of law which delineate the rules for ordinary incidents of life. The responsa literature covers a period of 1,700 years; the mode, style and subject matter have changed as a function of the travels of the Jewish people and of the development of other halakhic literature, particularly the codes. Responsa play a particularly important role in Jewish law. The questions forwarded are usually practical, and often concerned with new contingencies for which no provision has been made in the codes of law, and the responsa thus supplement the codes. They therefore function as a source of law, almost as legal precedent, in that they are consulted by later decisors in their rulings; they are also, in turn, incorporated into subsequent codes (sing. responsum).
The leading rabbis and poskim who lived from approximately 1250 to 1500, in the era before the writing of the Shulchan Arukh and following the geonim. The term literally means “the first” or “the former.” Rabbinic scholars living subsequent to the Shulchan Arukh are known as acharonim, “the latter.”
S’fat Emet
See Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter.
Sa'adia ben Joseph al-Fayyumi Gaon
Arguably the greatest leader, philosopher, and halakhist of the gaonic period, he was born and raised in Egypt and settled in Babylonia where he became gaon (president) of the academy of Sura. His Arabic translation and partial commentary (Tafsir) of the Bible (Torah and some books of the Writings) has remained standard for Arabic-speaking Jews. He also produced a dictionary of the Bible, and his commentaries were quoted in the writings of Jewish exegetes in Spain. Liturgical poet, grammarian, and Bible commentator and translator. (882–942 c.e.).
A messianic movement begun in the seventeenth century by Shabbetai Tzvi (1626–1676), who ultimately converted to Islam.
One of the four principal Jewish sects of the first century c.e. as described by Josephus. Their viewpoint on the nature of Israel as a religious community and on obedience to the Torah was strongly influenced by their economic and social interests. They were composed mainly of wealthy priestly and aristocratic families of considerable prestige and political influence. They claimed to be loyal to the Torah alone—the Torah as written, not in its oral enlargement. See the description of rival Jewish groups under Rabbis of antiquity.
Samaritan Pentateuch
The Hebrew text of the Pentateuch as preserved by the Samaritans, a non-Jewish sect centered around a sanctuary on Mount Gerizim, claiming descent from the tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel. Apart from a few sectarian elements, the text is based on a type of manuscript found among Jews in the Second Temple period, and is slightly different from other forms of the Pentateuch text, such as the one apparently used by the Septuagint translators or the Pentateuch as preserved by the Masoretic (traditional) Hebrew text. Many of its differences may be attributed to the fact that the Pentateuch appears to have circulated in slightly different "editions" in late antiquity.

For the Samaritans, only the first five books of the Bible (= the Torah) are canonized. Their Pentateuch establishes the location of the Temple and the qualifications for the priesthood and the priestly hierarchy; the status of the Samaritan priests derived mainly from their interpretation of their Pentateuch. An analysis of the Samaritan Pentateuch shows about six thousand instances where it and the Masoretic text differ; in about two thousand of these instances, however, the Septuagint agrees with the Samaritan version. This has led scholars to wonder about the value of the text of the Samaritan Pentateuch for any critical study into the origin of the Hebrew Bible, but after the discovery of the Qumran documents, it was seen that the variant readings in the text, the forms of its script, and the orthography in the text all date the Samaritan Pentateuch to a period not earlier than the Hasmoneans (142–53 b.c.e.). The Samaritan Pentateuch then evolved away from the Torah following this period but evidence from the Qumran scrolls demonstrate that correspondences between the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Torah persisted into the first century c.e.

Most Samaritan Pentateuchs are written in Hebrew, and many have adjacent columns written in Aramaic or Arabic, or even both languages. Some manuscripts exist in only Aramaic or Arabic. The oldest manuscripts are written in the Samaritan alphabet, which differs from the post-exilic Hebrew alphabet, and some authorities believe it to be an orthographic form that bridges paleo-Hebrew and the post-exilic Hebrew letter forms. The existence of the Samaritan Pentateuch became known in Europe in 1616, when a traveler named Pietro della Valle purchased a copy of the text in Damascus and brought it to Italy. This copy made its way to Paris in 1623, where it excited close interest. In 1645, an edited copy of the text was published in Paris. Several versions have been published during the last three centuries. While printed copies are available, handwritten copies of the Samaritan Pentateuch are scarce. The total number of surviving handwritten manuscripts is approximately one hundred and fifty; however, many of these texts exist only in fragmentary form. Copies date from about the ninth century c.e. to the twentieth century, with the majority being from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The most significant collections can be found at the synagogue at Nablus, Israel, and at the Rylands Library at the University of Manchester, the British Museum, the Bibliotheque Nationale, Michigan State University, and a few private collections.

Inhabitants of Samaria, a general name for the region north of biblical Judah or Judaea. When Samaria was conquered (along with the rest of the old Northern Kingdom of Israel) by the Assyrians in 722 b.c.e., the Assyrian king exiled the Israelite inhabitants of Samaria's cities and repopulated the area with a conglomeration of different nations (2 Kings 17:24–31). They are said to have recognized only Mount Gerizim as the sacred center rather than Jerusalem. Relations between the Jews—that is, the inhabitants of Judah—and the Samaritans in the Second Temple period were often strained, and most Jews apparently regarded them as foreigners, although both groups worshiped the God of Israel and shared the Pentateuch as sacred Scripture (though the Samaritan Pentateuch differs somewhat from the traditional Hebrew text). In addition to the material preserved in the Samaritan Targum, ancient Samaritan traditions of biblical interpretation are to be found in abundance in Tibat Marqa; some scholars have suggested that Theodotion, (Pseudo)-Eupolemus, and the author of the Aramaic Levi Document were Samaritans rather than Jews, but these attributions remain speculative and strong counter-arguments have been advanced to each of them. Samaritan communities exist to the present.
Samuel ben Hofni
Talmudist and Bible commentator. Gaon of Sura, Babylonia (d. 1013).
From Greek for "assembly" (of persons seated together). The Great Sanhedrin was an assembly of Jewish judges who constituted the supreme court and legislative body of ancient Israel. Its origins are somewhat obscure, but occured during the middle of the fourth century b.c.e., replacing the Knesset Gadolah, "Great Assembly," apparently a body of scribes, sages, and prophets. The composition of the Sanhedrin included a chief whose title was "Nasi", the Kohen Gadol or High Priest, a vice-chief justice, known as the Av Beit Din, and sixty-nine general members. During the the Second Temple period in Jerusalem, prior to its destruction in 70 c.e., the Sanhedrin would meet in the Temple during the day, except before festivals and Shabbat. In addition to its prominent role in Judaism, the Sanhedrin was also mentioned in the founding documents of Christianity, including the Gospels. The last universally recognized binding decision of the Sanhedrin is dated ca. 358 c.e., when the rule-based Hebrew calendar was adopted to replace the calendar determined by the Court. The Sanhedrin was dissolved after continued persecution by the authorities of the Roman Empire, and since that time there has been no universally recognized authority within Jewish law.
Schreiber, Moshe
Known as "Khatam Sofer" after his major work. He was known as a brilliant scholar who was offered many rabbinic positions. In 1806 he became chief rabbi of the Bratislava Jewish community and founded there a rabbinical seminary whose reputation and educational standards brought students from all over Europe to study. Schreiber's knowledge of the Talmud attracted rabbis to visit Bratislava to seek his advice and decisions. In addition to his educational and religious functions, he served as a “ba'al din,” a chief judge of the rabbinical court. In 1809, when Bratislava was besieged by Napoleonic troops, Schreiber took refuge in the nearby village of Saint Jur from where he organized charitable activities to help his fellow citizens who were affected by the war. He was an important halakhic decisor and a prolific writer, composing numerous volumes of responsa, sermons, commentaries, letters, poems, and a diary, all of which bear the imprint of his fervent Orthodoxy. He was a key opponent of the early Reform movement and opposed innovation of any sort. Besides his major work, the Khatam Sofer, he wrote an important Torah commentary, Torat Moshe. Germany (September 26, 1762–October 3, 1839).
scribal errors
The principle that persons copying manuscripts by hand were not infallible and even the most careful copyist could produce a copy containing errors. Scholars have found that errors in copying were so common that they classified errors into the following categories. Examples of these error types are shown in the Bible. (Some of these errors have been corrected in modern editions.)

Second Temple period
The term that refers to the entire span of history from the of the Jews' return to their homeland after the Babylonian exile, starting in 538 b.c.e.—shortly after which (ca. 520–515 b.c.e.) they rebuilt the Jerusalem Temple, which Babylonians had destroyed—until the great revolt against the occupying Roman army in 66–70 c.e., at which time the Romans attacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple once again. Although this entire time is technically covered by the phrase “Second Temple period," most scholars use the term to refer to the last few centuries thereof, as a more religiously neutral way of designating what Christian scholars had often called the "intertestamental period," that is, the time falling between the history recounted in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles.
Seder Olam (Rabba)
Midrashic chronological work ascribed to Yose ben Chalafta, second century c.e., Palestine.
Sefat Emet
See Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter.
Sefer ha-Chinnukh
"The Book of [Mitzvah] Education." A thirteenth- or fourteenth-century compilation of the 613 traditional commandments of the Torah in the order of their appearance, divided according to weekly parshiyot, with philosophical explanations and references to their talmudic amplification. Attributed to one Aaron ha-Levi of Barcelona (1230–1300), its authorship is uncertain.
Sefer ha-Mivhar
A Torah commentary by Aaron ben Joseph ha-Rofe (Aaron the Elder) (ca. 1250-1320), a Karaite scholar and physician. He lived in Sokhet, Crimea, and in Constantinople. Though a strict literalist, he occasionally introduces a midrashic interpretation taken as a rule from Rashi.
Heb., "counting, number." In Kabbalah, the sefirot are the primary emanations or manifestations of deity that together make up the fullness (pleroma) of the Godhead (pl. sefirot).
Segal, David ha-Levi
Known as the "Turei Zahav" (shortened to "Taz") after his most significant work. Regarded as one of the greatest Polish rabbinical authorities. Talmud scholar, halakhic commentator, and Av Bet Din (head of rabbinical court) later in his life. His major work was a commentary on the Shulchan Aruch, the "Turei Zahav" ("Rows of Gold"). Poland (ca. 1586–20 February 1667).
The designation Sepharad in biblical times refers to a colony of "exiles from Jerusalem" (Obadiah 20), possibly in or near Sardis; in the medieval period the Jews who lived in Spain and Portugal (the Iberian peninsula) before the expulsion of 1492 assumed this appellation. As a cultural designation, the term refers to the Jews of the Mediterranean region and its related Diaspora in the Balkans and Middle East (especially in Islamic countries). The term is used in contradistinction to Ashkenazic, but it does not refer, thereby, to all Jews of non-Ashkenazic origin.
Starting in the third century b.c.e., Hebrew Scripture began to be translated into Greek, apparently for the use of Greek-speaking Jews in Hellenistic centers like Alexandria, Egypt. A legend eventually sprang up about this translation to the effect that seventy, (or seventy-two in another version of the tradition) Jewish scholars, one from every known nation, were brought to Alexandria at the order of Ptolemy II (ca. 285–247 b.c.e.) to work on a translation of the Pentateuch, each in an isolated cell; when the translations were compared, they all agreed in every detail, for the translators had been divinely guided. As a result, this translation came to be known as the Septuaginta ("seventy"), and its name is sometimes abbreviated as LXX (Roman: 70). Subsequently, the name "Septuagint" also came to include the old Greek translation of the other books of the Hebrew Bible, a translation made in stages from the third to the first century b.c.e.

Any translation by nature contains a good deal of interpretation: ambiguities in the original text can rarely be duplicated in translation and, as a result, the translator must take a stand and render the ambiguity one way or another. Moreover, translators aware of this or that traditional interpretation will sometimes incorporate it (consciously or otherwise) into their translation. For both these reasons, the Septuagint, although it may present a fairly close rendering, can frequently provide information about how a particular verse or phrase or single word was understood by Jews as early as the third century b.c.e.

However, there are great difficulties in using evidence from the Septuagint in an overall study of ancient interpretation of the Bible. To begin with, the biblical texts that were used by the Septuagint translators were often slightly, and in some cases, drastically, different from that of the traditional Hebrew text; they bear witness to the coexistence of different text-forms of the Hebrew Bible in late antiquity. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has dramatically confirmed this fact. No one of these text-forms can be said to be correct or "the best." Instead, there exists a whole branch of modern biblical scholarship, textual criticism, which is devoted to examining each and every verse of the Bible as preserved by various textual witnesses in order to understand the significance of any differences that might exist between different versions of that verse. Textual criticism is an art, not a science, and the conclusions of one textual critic are not necessarily shared by others.

All this is of some consequence to the whole matter of ancient biblical interpretation. For example, it is often far from clear whether a particular difference between the Septuagint and the MT (the Masoretic text, that is, the traditional Hebrew text of the Bible preserved by Jews through the ages) represents a case of the Septuagint translators interpreting in some nonliteral fashion the same Hebrew text as that found in the MT, or whether the difference between the Septuagint and the MT represents a difference in two different forms of the Hebrew text that were in circulation in late antiquity, the one having been used by the Septuagint translators and the other preserved in the MT. The same is true, by the way, of differences between the Septuagint and other textual witnesses such as the Samaritan Pentateuch or ancient biblical manuscripts from Qumran. Nor, for that matter, is it often easy to establish which of various forms of a biblical verse attested in different sources represents the "most original" form of the verse (and which others, therefore, might represent some secondary, often simplified or interpreted, form of the same verse). Further complicating matters is the fact that the Septuagint itself underwent a complicated process of transmission and revision, so that there is no one, single "Septuagint" to refer to.

Sforno, Ovadiah ben Jacob
One of the most illustrious scholars of medieval Italian Jewry, Sforno lived during a period of volatile change in the relationships between Italian Jewry and the general Italian population, characterized by the trauma of the Spanish Inquisition, the institution of anti-Jewish laws in Italy, and Papal enmity. He was an exegete, a distinguished talmudist, philosopher, and physician. Sforno received a thorough Jewish and secular education. He attended university in Rome, where he studied philosophy, mathematics, and medicine, and received a medical degree in 1501. He settled in Bologna where he established an academy of Torah study. Sforno's later years were marked by a dramatic deterioration in the relationship between the Jewish and non-Jewish populations. This worsening change in events is reflected in Sforno's later writings. Though he was considered one of the greatest halakhic authorities of Italy, his fame rests primarily on his biblical commentary. Steeped in the educational background of the Italian Renaissance, his diverse interests were expressed in his commentary, particularly scientific matters related to his medical training, such as biology. His commentary focuses on the literal meaning of the text, avoiding issues of philosophy and grammar. Italy (ca. 1470–ca. 1550).
Acronym for Samuel David Luzzatto. Scholar, philosopher, exegete, and translator. In his Torah commentary he favors the views of Rashi and Rashbam but also offers his own novel interpretations. He frequently quotes his students, citing them by name. Though chronologically he belongs to the modern period, his faithful pursuit of the plain meaning of the text qualifies him for the company of medievalist commentators. Italy (1800–1865).
Acronym for Samuel Leib Gordon. Author of a Bible commentary for students and teachers, Palestine (1865–1933).
Shelomo, Ephraim of Luntschitz
Known as the "Keli Yakar," after his noted Torah commentary. Exegete, rabbi, and preacher. Renowned for his brilliant sermons, in which he spared no one from criticism, he bullied the rich for not being more generous, criticizing their pretensions of religious status based on financial standing rather than on deeds, and accused the poor of not doing enough to help themselves and relying on charity. His writings rely heavily on midrash and psychological interpretations. His sermons were collected and published in Ir Giborim, Revivot Efrayim and other works. His Torah commentary, the Keli Yakar, is included in many editions of the Tanakh as a standard commentary. Poland (1550-1619).
Shem Ha'meforash
Heb., "Forbidden Name." YHVH, the Tetragrammaton.
Shemot Rabbah
Known in English as Exodus Rabbah, this is a compilation of homilies on the stories of Shemot (Exodus). From about the sixth century c.e.
A term referring to the foothills leading up to the central hill country of Judaea.
Sherira ben Hanina
Halakhist, author of numerous responsa. Gaon of Pumbedita, Babylonia (ca. 906–1006 c.e.).
Shimon bar Yohai
Second-century Palestinian tanna, a student of Akiva’s and one of the key halakhic decisors of his era. The Zohar is pseudepigraphically attributed to him.
Shimon ben Lakish
Third-century Palestinian amora, also known as Reish Lakish. Widely known for his great physical strength (legend has it that he had been a gladiator) and remarkable learning. Talmud reports hundreds of his debates on halakhah with his brother-in-law Yochanan bar Nappacha.
Shmuel ben Meir
Grandson of Rashi, older brother of Rabbenu Tam, he was an important Torah commentator whose work is based on peshat, the text's "plain meaning," drawing heavily on his extensive knowledge of Hebrew linguistics and the targumim (c. 1080–after 1158).
Shulchan Arukh
Heb., "the prepared table." The classic codification of Jewish law by Joseph Caro (1488–1575) of Safed, traditionally published with glosses by Moses Isserles (1525–1572) of Poland.
The weekly Torah reading text selection. Synonym: parashah. Plural: sidrot.
(Also Torat Kohanim.) The halakhic midrash on the book of Vayikra (Leviticus), organizing tannaitic commentary according to the order of Vayikra. The name “Sifra,” Aramaic for “book,” was first used to refer to this work in the Gaonic period, ca. 600–1000, and was probably compiled about the end of the fourth century c.e., Palestine.
Tannaitic midrashic commentary on the books of Bamidbar (Numbers) and Devarim (Deuteronomy), probably compiled at the end of the fourth century c.e., Palestine.

Sifrei Deuteronomy

(or Sifrei Devarim.) A (rabbinic) collection of interpretations of verses found in sections of the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy). It is one of the halakhic midrashim and thus assumed to have been put into some preliminary form in the third century c.e., though it certainly contains later additions.

Sifrei Numbers

(or Sifrei Bamidbar.) A midrashic collection on the book of Bamidbar (Numbers). It is one of the halakhic midrashim and thus assumed to have been put into some preliminary form in the third century c.e. Sifrei is apparently a composite text in its present form.

Yeshu'a ben El'azar ben Sira (or "Sirach," as his name appears in the Greek translation of his book) was a sage who wrote his book toward the beginning of the second century b.c.e., around the year 180 or so. From Hebrew the book was subsequently translated into Greek (by Ben Sira's own grandson) and became part of the Greek Bible of early Christianity; other ancient versions were made into Syriac and Latin (in which language it came to be known as "Ecclesiasticus"). Ben Sira's book was particularly beloved to the founders of rabbinic Judaism, but apparently because his identity was well known and the book was not attributed to some ancient worthy from the biblical past, they felt that it could not be included in the rabbinic canon of Scripture, and the original Hebrew version of it was therefore eventually lost.

Ben Sira saw in Scripture a great corpus of divine wisdom; he therefore made broad use of Scripture in writing his own book, including his lengthy catalog of biblical heroes mentioned earlier. But he was a conservative in all things—a "classicist," one might say—and this catalog contains relatively little that is not explicitly stated in Scripture itself. He certainly was aware of many interpretive traditions, which, for one reason or another, he chose not to include in his book. This notwithstanding, the book does contain a number of interpretations from a relatively early stage of development.

The textual problems connected with the book are notorious. Although composed in Hebrew, it was known for centuries only through its Greek and Syriac versions and secondary translations made from these. Medieval copies of portions of the Hebrew original were discovered at the end of last century in the Cairo Geniza fragments, and these have been supplemented by further Hebrew finds at Qumran and Masada, so that now slightly less than 70 percent of the Hebrew original is extant. Recent scholarship, however, has suggested that the original text-form in Hebrew was expanded at one point, and that both the original and expanded forms are represented in various manuscripts of the subsequent translations. To complicate matters further, the medieval copies of the Hebrew themselves frequently disagree or contain obvious errors; some scholars also suspect that the medieval Hebrew copyists may at times have sought to supplement their lacunary text(s) by retroverting from one of the ancient versions.

Soloveitchik, Yosef Dov
First of the great rashei yeshivot (head of a yeshiva) of Brisk, Lithuania, and ancestor of Joseph Soloveitchik. Nicknamed Beis Ha’Levi for his highly thoughtful Torah commentary, which covers both halakhic and aggadic subjects (1820–1892).
source criticism
A tool used by biblical scholars that attempts to discover the written sources behind the text in the form in which it now exists and to suggest how these sources became part of larger units. The ultimate aim of source criticism to reconstruct the history of the biblical text as well as to derive information about the religious history of ancient Israel. Methodology includes examination of the way a text is written (elements of style, vocabulary, grammar, repetition, idiomatic expression, and other markers) to attempt to determine the sources that a biblical author may have used. The methods of source criticism culminated in the development of the Documentary Hypothesis. See also redaction criticism and form criticism.
The people of the southern part of ancient Babylonia in the late third millennium b.c.e. and their language, a non-Semitic language written in cuneiform.
One of the authors of three post-Septuagint translations of the Bible into Greek; the others are Aquila and Theodotion. All that survives of these three versions are scattered fragments and citations here and there. The date and interrelationship of these three translations is in dispute, but they all seem to belong to the second century c.e. They themselves differ in translation "style," Aquila's being rather literal, Theodotion's and Symmachus' somewhat freer. As revisions of the Septuagint version, they shed light on the later development of interpretive traditions.
The exchange of one idea for another connected idea, expressed in a variety of ways: the whole may be represented by a part (or a part by the whole); the genus may stand for the species (or its reverse); or a definite number may be used figuratively. Example (a part for the whole):
“Your seed shall possess the gate of his enemies.” (Gen. 22:17)
The Aramaic dialect of the ancient and medieval Syrian churches.
A law instituted by the rabbis and not derived from any biblical commandment (pl. takanot).
The body of rabbinic law, dialectic, and lore comprising the Mishnah and Gemara, the latter being an exposition and elaboration of the former in Hebrew and Aramaic. Two separate talmudic compilations exist: the Babylonian Talmud (redacted ca. 500 c.e.) and the Palestinian Talmud (also known as the Jerusalem Talmud; redacted ca. 400 c.e.).

Babylonan Talmud (Bavli)

A massive compendium of Jewish learning and biblical exegesis redacted in Babylon in the fifth and early sixth centuries c.e. but containing a great deal of earlier material. Organized in the form of a digressive commentary on the Mishnah, it ends up citing and explaining much of the Hebrew Bible and is thus a valuable collection of rabbinic biblical interpretation.

Jerusalem Talmud (Yerushalmi)

A compendium of Jewish learning and biblical exegesis compiled in land of Israel in the late fourth or early fifth century c.e. Like the Babylonian Talmud, it takes the form of a highly digressive commentary on the Mishnah, but the Jerusalem Talmud is considerably shorter than the Babylonian. Because of the prestige power of the Babylonian centers of Jewish learning (where the Babylonian Talmud was in use), the Jerusalem Talmud came to have less influence than the Babylonian within later Judaism.

An acronym for the Bible. It is formed by the Hebrew letters tav, nun, kof, which represent the first letter of each major section: Torah (Law), Nevi’im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings).
Tanchuma (Yelammedenu)
Collection of homiletical midrashim on the Torah. See Midrash Tanchuma.
The rabbinic sages whose views are recorded in the Mishnah, from approx. 70–200 c.e. The period of the Tanna'im (also referred to as the “Mishnaic period”) came after the period of the Zugot (“pairs”), and before the period of the 'Amora'im; lasting about 130 years. Tannaitic (adj.), tanna'im (pl. n.), Aramaic.
The name for a translation of the Hebrew Bible, or parts thereof, into Aramaic, a Semitic language related to Hebrew and spoken widely throughout the ancient Middle East from the eighth century b.c.e. onward. Targums are not only interpretations in the sense that all translations involve interpretive decisions; some targums, notably Targum Neophyti, the Fragment Targum, and Targum Pseudo-Jonathan (all targums of the Pentateuch), contain frequent exegetical expansions of the biblical text, from a few words to entire paragraphs, not found in the original.

Despite the extensive research conducted over the last half century in particular, scholars have still not reached consensus as to either the dating or interrelationship of the targums. Virtually all agree, however, that the process of translating biblical texts into Aramaic must have begun long before any of our extant targums was composed; such translation began perhaps as early as the time of the return from Babylonian exile. If so, then the various individual targum texts—Onkelos, Neophyti, and so forth—most likely do not represent the work of isolated translators "starting from scratch": their translations probably contain within them many translation traditions inherited from ages long past. In that sense, at least, any dating of a targum is likely to be misleading from the standpoint of ancient biblical interpretation, since at least some of the interpretations contained within that targum may go back to a period far earlier than the targum's own composition.

A particular affinity exists among the so-called Palestinian targums Neophyti, Pseudo-Jonathan, and the Fragment Targums, along with various snippets of targum texts discovered in the Cairo Geniza, all of which arguably go back to a "proto-Palestinian targum." If, as some scholars have suggested, these various targums basically took shape late in the first or in the second century c.e., then their common ancestor should certainly be dated still earlier.

Fragment Targum

A series of targums to the Torah that are preserved only in fragmentary form. Also known as Jerusalem Targum (Targum Yerushalmi).

Samaritan Targum

This targum exists in widely divergent forms produced and revised over many centuries. The oldest form goes back to before the fourth century c.e. (its Aramaic is similar to that found in the Palestinian targums), but greater precision as to the date is impossible, at least on linguistic grounds.

Targum Neophyti

By Targum Neophyti is meant the main targum text elsewhere called more precisely "Targum Neophyti (or Neofiti) 1." This manuscript also contains numerous marginal and interlinear glosses. The manuscript itself is dated to the sixteenth century, but its original editor argued that the text it contains is one that goes back to pre-Christian times; however, this claim was soon disputed. The date and affiliations of Targum Neophyti have subsequently been much discussed; but many scholars fix its date roughly at the end of the first century c.e. As is the case with other targums, this one obviously contains some material older than that.

Targum Onkelos

This targum of the Pentateuch eventually acquired the status of the targum and was circulated widely in Jewish communities throughout the world. Some scholars now theorize that, although not descended from the "Proto-Palestinian Targum," Targum Onkelos was originally composed in the Land of Israel in the second century c.e. and subsequently transferred to the Jewish centers in Babylon, where its Aramaic underwent a process of "easternization." Attributed to Onkelos, reputed nephew of the Roman emperor Hadrian and a convert to Judaism; the name is probably a corruption of Aquila. Onkelos translates the Torah in comparatively literal fashion, though frequently diverging from the literal in order to avoid anthropomorphisms or for other doctrinal reasons or when translating songs or highly metaphorical passages.

Targum (pseudo)-Jonathan (Yonatan)

Because of a (relatively late) misunderstanding, this targum was for a while wrongly attributed to Jonathan b. Uzziel (first centuries b.c.e.–c.e.); its present scholarly name reflects the consensus that it is not Jonathan's targum but an anonymous compilation (it is sometimes also called Targum Yerushalmi 1). This targum apparently took shape over a long period of time: while it is clearly related to the other Palestinian targums, it likewise has obvious affinities to Targum Onkelos, so that it might best be described as a hybrid of these two traditions to which a great deal of further material from rabbinic midrash has been added. For this reason, assigning any date to this work is likely to be misleading. There is little doubt that, despite the few, obvious post-Islamic references found in it, Pseudo-Jonathan's, basis goes back far earlier. The final version of this Targum may have been composed around the eighth century, though it includes materials from much earlier times. An unofficial free Aramaic translation of the Torah, erroneously ascribed to Jonathan ben Uzziel through misinterpretation of the initials "T.J." (= Jerusalem Targum). That scholar is the reputed author of the Targum to the Prophets.

See Segal, David ha-Levi.
A word in Hebrew and Arabic that refers to an uninhabited mound whose formation is the result of repeated human occupation and subsequent destruction in the past.
Temple Scroll
The longest document found at Qumran, this text presents itself as God's words to Moses on Mt. Sinai; in it, a variety of biblical laws are restated, often modified slightly or accompanied by some new material. The laws involved cover a range of topics: the Temple itself and its environs, the sacrifices to be offered within it and the calendar of its ritual observances, the Temple's physical layout, matters of ritual purity in general, laws governing the king and other officials, laws of warfare and other military matters, miscellaneous matters of civil law, and a good deal more. The date of the Temple Scroll’s composition has been the subject of much speculation. The text has been preserved in copies by different hands, the oldest of which has been dated to the late second or early first century b.c.e., so that the actual composition of the work ought probably to be dated still earlier; some have suggested a date in the third century b.c.e. or even earlier.
textual criticism
The branch of biblical scholarship that has as its intent the restoration, as nearly as possible, of the original form of the biblical text. Textual critics seek to uncover "textual corruptions" or places where errors have crept into the original text, intentionally or accidentally, during its transmission.
One of the authors of three post-Septuagint translations of the Bible into Greek; the others are Aquila and Symmachus. All that survives of these three versions are scattered fragments and citations here and there. The date and interrelationship of these three translations is in dispute, but they all seem to belong to the second century c.e. They themselves differ in translation "style," Aquila's being rather literal, Theodotion's and Symmachus' somewhat freer. As revisions of the Septuagint version, they shed light on the later development of interpretive traditions.
The study of the origins of God(s).
The study of God and the relations between God and the universe.
An encounter between a deity and a human being in which the deity becomes temporarily visible or apparent in some way.
Study of the nature of the Godhead.
Tirat Kesef
A supercommentary on Sefer ha-Mivhar, written by the Karaite scholar Joseph Solomon ben Moses Lutzki (d. 1844). He was raised in Poland and settled in the Crimea where he became hazzan (rabbi) of the Karaites.
Hebrew: "law" or "teaching." The first five books of the Hebrew Bible, the Five Books of Moses, or the Pentateuch.
Torah Temimah
Anthology of talmudic interpretations of the Torah, and penetrating analyses of them, arranged in order of the biblical verses, by Baruch ha-Levi Epstein of Pinsk (1860–1942).
Torat Kohanim
See Sifra.
Collections of supplementary comments to the Talmud arranged according to the order of the talmudic tractates, relying heavily on Rashi's talmudic commentary. It is composed of expansions and elaborations by Rashi's disciples and their descendants of their teacher's works (France and Germany, twelfth to fourteenth centuries).
Generation of talmudic interpreters after Rashi. Best known as exponents of pilpul, hair-splitting dialectical exegesis of Talmud.
Tosefet Berakhah
Supplementary comments by the author of Torah Temimah.
Heb., "supplement." A compilation of tannaitic rulings either omitted from the Mishnah or containing material parallel or supplementary to it. These texts are referred to as baraita ("extraneous material") in the Talmud. The collected work is arranged according to the six orders of the Mishnah (pl. Tosafot).
Short for 'Arba'ah Turim, "the four rows"—a four-volumed, systematized compendium of Jewish law by Jacob ben Asher (?1270–1340).
Heb., "righteous one." A general term for a righteous person in Jewish tradition. More specifically, the spiritual leader of the modern Chasidim, popularly known as rebbe.
Tz'enah Ur'enah
A Yiddish Torah interpretation, first published in 1618, generally thought to have been written for women by Jacob ben Isaac Ashkenazi of Yanof.
A Semitic language, closely related to Hebrew, used in the ancient city-state of Ugarit (Ras Shamra), on the Syrian coast, in the second millennium b.c.e. The language is only known in the form of writings found in Ugarit since the city was discovered in 1928. These writings have been extremely important for scholars of the Bible in clarifying Hebrew texts and have revealed more of how Judaism used common phrases, literary idioms, and expressions employed by surrounding gentile cultures. Ugaritic is written in a cuneiform consonantal alphabet. To the casual observer, it appears similar to Mesopotamian cuneiform, but is not related. It is the oldest example of the family of West Semitic scripts that were used to write Phoenician, Hebrew, and Aramaic. The Ugaritic language is attested in texts from the 14th through the 12th century b.c.e. The city was destroyed in 1180–70 b.c.e.
Vilna Gaon
Eliyahu of Vilna, eighteenth-century rabbi, known as the Gr’a. Among the greatest Torah scholars of his time, a child prodigy who went on to be the central figure among the Mitnagdim, “Opponents,” the Lithuanian rabbis who sternly opposed the Chasidic movement. Extraordinarily prolific author whose works include Torah commentary, halakhic writings, and philosophy, Lithuania (1720–1797).
From the Latin words versio vulgata, meaning "common translation." The translation of the Bible from the Hebrew Tanakh into Latin made by the Church father Jerome about 405 c.e. It became the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church.
Wisdom Literature
Books exhorting to moral behavior and discussing theological problems on the basis of experience. Three books in the Hebrew Bible have been called "wisdom literature": Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. Also two examples of wisdom literature appear in the apocryphal/deuterocanonical books: Ben Sirach (also known as Ecclesiasticus or simply Sirach) and the Wisdom of Solomon.
Yalkut Shimoni
A twelfth-century collection of midrashic material on the Bible anthologized from earlier sources, many of them now lost, attributed to Shim'on ha-Darshan, thirteenth century, and to Shimon Ashkenazi.
yetzer ha'ra
The inclination to do evil.
yetzer ha'tov
The inclination to do good.
Yitzkhak, Rav
Second- to third-century Palestinian amora and a prominent teacher in the talmudic period.
An early Hebrew liturgical poet, many of whose works have been recovered thanks to discoveries from the Cairo Geniza. Yannai's precise time period and biographical data are unknown; dates from the fifth to seventh century c.e. have been proposed.
Collection of homiletical midrashim on the Torah. See Midrash Tanchuma.
The consonants of the name Yahweh, or the "Tetragrammaton," the Israelite personal name for God. Out of reverence, and as a way of assuring that they will not take God's name "in vain," Orthodox and other observant Jews never pronounce God's name, using the term "haShem," "the Name," in secular situations or "Adonai," "Lord," in liturgy. Most printed Bibles translate "Yahweh" as "lord."
Yohanan Ben Zakai
Perhaps the greatest of the first generation of tanna’im, founder of the yeshiva at Yavneh and the Sanhedrin, of which he was the first president.
Greek, "to be enthusiastic." A general term for one who exhibits great enthusiasm and dedication to a cause. Specifically, a member of a Roman-period Jewish group that advocated Judaea's independence from Rome.
Ziyyoni, Menahem
Kabbalist and Bible commentator. Cologne (late 14th–early 15th century).
"Book of Splendor." One of the central works of Jewish mysticism, authored by Moses de Leon (twelfth century) in Spain, but pseudoepigraphically attributed to the Palestinian tanna Shimon bar Yokhai (second century c.e.).
Heb., “pairs.” The political system in the late first millennium b.c.e. where civil authority was shared with scholars. The term “zugot” refers to the two heads of the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was the successor to the Great Assembly, and it functioned as the legislative body of the Jewish people. At the head of the Sanhedrin was the Nasi (President) and second to him was the Av Bet Din (Father of the Assembly). For a period of about two hundred years, the zugot were the spiritual guides of Jewish life and the transmitters of the Oral Law.

Copyright © 2015 S.R.