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Rabbinical Works: Terms & Definitions
Rabbinical and Mishnaic Glossaries Terms and Definitions

Josephus The historian known to posterity by the Latinized name Josephus was a member of Jerusalem's priestly aristocracy who, at age 30, was taken hostage in the great Jewish revolt against Rome [66-70 CE] & spent the rest of his life in Roman circles as a protégé of three emperors [Vespasian, Titus & Domitian]. His constant need to explain his role in the unsuccessful Jewish uprising that climaxed with the destruction of the Jerusalem temple led him to publish four works [in Greek] that are our prime source for information about events that shaped the history of Jews of the second temple period. Joseph bar Matthew [Greek: Matthias], as Josephus was originally known, was born soon after Caligula became Roman emperor [37/38 CE]. He was one of two sons of a Jewish priest who claimed descent from the Hasmonean family of priests who had won Jewish independence from the Greco-Syrian empire two centuries earlier.
http://virtualreligion.net/iho/josephus.html

List of Abbreviations Used in Reference to Rabbinic Writings by Alfred Edersheim. The Mishnah is always quoted according to Tractate, Chapter (Pereq) and Paragraph (Mishnah), the Chapter being marked in Roman, the paragraph in ordinary Numerals. Thus Ber. ii. 4 means the Mishnic Tractate Berakhoth, second Chapter, fourth Paragraph. The Jerusalem Talmud is distinguished by the abbreviation Jer. before the name of the Tractate. Thus, Jer. Ber. is the Jer. Gemara, or Talmud, of the Tractate Berakhoth. The edition, from which quotations are made, is that commonly used, Krotoschin, 1866, 1 vol. fol. The quotations are made either by Chapter and Paragraph (Jer. Ber. ii. 4), or, in these volumes mostly, by page and column. It ought to be noted that in Rabbinic writings each page is really a double one, distinguished respectively as a and b: a being the page to the left hand of the reader, and b the reverse one (on turning over the page) to the right hand of the reader. But in the Jerusalem Gemara (and in Yalkut [see below], as in all works where the page and column (col.) are mentioned) the quotation is often - in these volumes, mostly - made by page and column (two columns being on each side of a page). Thus, while Jer. Ber. ii. 4 would be Chapter II. Par. 4, the corresponding quotation by page and column would in that instance be, Jer. Ber. 4d; d marking that it is the fourth column in b (or the off-side) of page 4. The Babyl. Talmud is, in all its editions, equally paged, so that a quotation made applies to all editions. It is double-paged, and quoted with the name of the Tractate, the number of the page, and a or b according as one or another side of the page is referred to. The quotations are distinguished from those of the Mishnah by this, that in the Mihnah Roman and ordinary numerals are employed (to mark Chapters and Paragraphs), while in the Babylon Talmud the name of the Tractate is followed by an ordinary numeral, indicating the page, together with a or b, to mark which side of the page is referred to. Thus Ber. 4a means: Tractate Berachoth, p. 4, first or left-hand side of the page.
http://philologos.org/__eb-lat/list.htm

Midrash Hebrew term for "Interpretation" or "Exposition." The word generally used for any written or oral commentary on a biblical text. The original purpose of midrash was to resolve problems in the Hebrew text of the Bible. As early as the 1st c. CE rabbinic principles of hermeneutics & philology were used to bring the interpretation of difficult passages in the literal text of scripture into line with the religious & ethical values of the teachers. This method of interpretation was eventually expanded to provide scriptural pretexts to justify oral tradition. Thus, midrash exposes the values & worldview of the rabbinic interpreter & audience rather than the original intention of the author of the biblical text. There are two types of midrashim: halakhic midrash [focusing on the legal implications of a biblical passage] & haggadic midrash [non-legal expositions designed for general edification]. Haggadic midrashim may, like later commentaries, follow the narrative of a biblical text or they may be composed as homilies, following the lectionary cycle of the synagogue. The literary production of rabbinic midrashim began during the period of the formation of the Mishna [2nd c. CE].
http://virtualreligion.net/iho/midrash.html

Mishna The Hebrew term meaning "Repetition." The oral Torah of the Pharisees was not recorded in a set written form before the 2nd c. CE. Instead this body of tradition was preserved primarily through recitation & memorization. Standardization of the form & content of rabbinic tradition became necessary after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem [70 CE]. For the conscious mission of the rabbinic Academy was not only to preserve but to promote the authority of its interpretation of Torah for Jews everywhere. The Pharisaic principle of consensus was invoked to make the Academy's majority opinions the basis of normative Jewish religious observance. To promote further consensus, rulings were codified by topic & committed to memory by regular repetition. Thus, the leading rabbis of the Academy came to be referred to as the tannaim ["repeaters"].
http://virtualreligion.net/iho/mishna.html

Pirqe Aboth Hebrew: "Sayings of the Fathers" The only tractate in the Mishna that is devoted entirely to transmitting non-legal opinions. Aboth catalogs the wisdom sayings of rabbinic sages, including several of the 2nd temple period, without providing any connecting narrative frame. It was probably composed before & originally published independently of the Mishna, since it does not fit well in its current location in Neziqin, the order of tractates concerned with civil & criminal law. It is the only Mishna tractate that has no later commentary in the Talmud.
http://virtualreligion.net/iho/aboth.html

Rabbinic Academy Since the Pharisees lacked a central authority, prior to the destruction of the temple there was no fixed form or content to the oral instruction communicated by each rabbi. Yet, during the early 1st c. CE, two schools of interpretation became influential among Judean Pharisees: the school of Shammai & the school of Hillel. After the destruction of Jerusalem [70 CE], Johanan ben Zakkai, the last of Hillel's disciples established an Academy at the Judean seaport of Jabneh (Greek: Jamnia), with the aid of the remnants of the school of Hillel & some Shammaites. Since the former chief institutions of Judean religion, temple & Sanhedrin, were no longer in existence, this rabbinic Academy acted as the supreme authority for the regulation of Jewish life. Yet, recognition of its authority by other Jews was neither immediate nor universal prior to the end of the 1st c. CE.
http://virtualreligion.net/iho/academy.html

Talmud Hebrew term for "Learning" or "Study." The word acquired a technical sense among Jews as reference to the collections of discussions & debates among generations of rabbis who studied the Mishna. The core of the Talmud is the text of the Mishna itself. Thus, it retains the Mishna's order of tractates. The supplementary discussions, which add material not found in the Mishna, are called the Gemara ["Completion"]. A rabbi whose opinions are cited in the Gemara but not the Mishna has been traditionally called an amora ["speaker"]. Collectively, these later generations of rabbis are referred to as the amoraim. The Gemara includes a lot of anecdotal material ['aggada] about the early tannaim whose opinions were accepted as authoritative in the Mishna. While obviously legendary & often fanciful these anecdotes represent the genre of ancient Jewish story-telling that is absent from the Mishna. Whatever questions there may be about the value of these reports for reconstructing an accurate historical impression of their subjects, the stories about various rabbinic heroes offer a window into the worldview of ancient Jews that provides a cultural sidelight on early Christian stories about Jesus & his disciples.
http://virtualreligion.net/iho/talmud.html

Talmudic Tractates The Mishna & later rabbinic collections & commentaries on oral Torah [talmudim & tosefta] are arranged in six general "orders" [sedarim], each of which contains several named tractates [massektoth] reporting tannaitic traditions vaguely related to a central theme. The bulk of the traditions recorded in the Mishna have to do with rules of behavior [halakah]. But these are frequently interspersed with other types of sayings, anecdotes & traditional lore ['aggada]. The only tractate in the Mishna that is devoted entirely to transmitting non-legal opinions is Pirqe Aboth ["Sayings of the Fathers"], which catalogs the wisdom sayings of rabbinic sages, including several of the 2nd temple period. Aboth was probably composed before & originally published independently of the Mishna, since it does not fit well in its current location in Neziqin, the order of tractates concerned with civil & criminal law. Pericopes in this sourcebook were excerpted from the following 25 tractates. This catalog covers over a third of the 63 tractates in standard editions of the Mishna & Talmud.
http://virtualreligion.net/iho/tractates.html

Tannaim Term used to designate rabbinic scholars of the first two centuries CE. Prior to definitive publication of the Mishna, rabbinic tradition had been transmitted primarily orally, with a heavy emphasis on memorization of precepts formulated by eminent Jewish sages of previous generations. The tanna committed to memory the opinions not only of his own teacher(s) but of other rabbinic sages whose decisions were regarded as worthy of respect. These traditions were rehearsed in teaching students and in debate with other scholars over issues of common concern. A tanna's scholarly reputation depended to a large measure not only on the scope & accuracy of his memory, but on his ability to invoke elements of accepted tradition to resolve disputed questions and problems raised by new situations. The school of Hillel, which dominated the rabbinic Academy after the Romans terminated the institutions that had governed Jewish life during the 2nd temple period, tended to recall materials that illustrated the acumen of their founder [Hillel], his disciples [Johanan ben Zakkai in particular] & the circle of scholars closest to those who claimed descent from him [especially Judah ha Nasi]. Thus, the tannaim were not only the conservers of the oral Torah of the Pharisees; in recalling & interpreting the vast body of aphoristic rabbinic tradition, they developed the intellectual tools & authoritative rabbinic texts that became normative for later generations of Jews. Their precepts are not limited to those codified in the Mishna, Tosefta & biblical Midrashim but continued to circulate orally among the generations of scholars that composed the Talmud.
http://virtualreligion.net/iho/tannaim.html

Torah The Hebrew word for "Teaching" or "Instruction." After the Babylonian exile [6th c. BC], the term was used by Jews to designate a written text containing commandments [mitzwoth] of God. By extension, Torah became the collective term for the five scrolls [Greek: Pentateuch] of Hebrew scripture that were traditionally ascribed to Moses. These scrolls were the textbooks for all Jewish education as well as the basic source for Jewish law. Scribes [sopherim] who copied & interpreted these scrolls eventually identified 613 distinct commandments credited to God.
http://virtualreligion.net/iho/torah.html

Tractates The Mishna & later rabbinic collections & commentaries on oral Torah [talmudim & tosefta] are arranged in six general "orders" [sedarim], each of which contains several named tractates [massektoth] reporting tannaitic traditions vaguely related to a central theme. The bulk of the traditions recorded in the Mishna have to do with rules of behavior [halakah]. But these are frequently interspersed with other types of sayings, anecdotes & traditional lore ['aggada]. The only tractate in the Mishna that is devoted entirely to transmitting non-legal opinions is Pirqe Aboth ["Sayings of the Fathers"], which catalogs the wisdom sayings of rabbinic sages, including several of the 2nd temple period. Aboth was probably composed before & originally published independently of the Mishna, since it does not fit well in its current location in Neziqin, the order of tractates concerned with civil & criminal law.
http://virtualreligion.net/iho/tractates.html



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