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Biblical Exegesis: Jewish Views


The shift from rabbinic hermeneutics to medieval exegesis is marked by discrimination between different types of interpretation. It has been suggested, though not established, that this occurred, in the Arabic-speaking world, under the impetus of Karaism which, by rejecting the authority of rabbinic tradition, forced proponents and opponents alike to consider the literal meaning of the biblical text. The development of Arabic grammar and rhetoric may also have encouraged systematic study of the literal meaning.

The first major figure of medieval biblical exegesis is the Babylonian rabbinic leader Saʿadyah Gaon (d. 942), who, like his successors, engaged in translation into Arabic and commentary written in the same language. Saʿadyah insisted on literal interpretation, but discussed four circumstances in which deviation from the obvious literal meaning of the biblical text is justified: (1) when the literal meaning contradicts reason (e.g., "God is a consuming fire" [Dt. 4:24] must be interpreted metaphorically); (2) when the literal meaning contradicts sense-experience (e.g., Eve was not the "mother of all living beings" [Gn. 3:21] but rather the mother of human life); (3) when the literal meaning contradicts another biblical passage (e.g., "Thou shalt not test the Lord" seemingly contradicts "Test me and see," thus necessitating reinterpretation); (4) when the literal meaning contradicts the oral tradition (e.g., "Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother's milk" [Ex. 23:19, 34:26; Dt. 14:21] is to be interpreted in conformity with the rabbinic view that this verse refers to all cooking of milk with meat).

The polemical thrust in Saʿadyah's exegesis manifests itself in various ways. For example, his insistence that Psalms is a prophetic rather than a devotional book is meant to controvert Karaite dismissal of rabbinic liturgy as a superfluous innovation.

Saʿadyah and the writers who succeeded him over the next century, under the sway of Islam, were to a great degree eclipsed, whether because they wrote in Arabic rather than Hebrew or as a result of their prolixity, by the popularity of Avraham ibn ʿEzraʾ. In fact, what influence they exerted was largely due to their citation by Ibn ʿEzraʾ. Included among these are commentators like Shemuʾel ben ofni (d. 1013), Yehudah ibn Balʿam, Mosheh ha-Kohen ibn Giqatilla; grammarians like Yehudah ibn Hayyuj and Yonah ibn Janah; and Karaite exegetes like Yefet ben ʿEli, who are generally treated neutrally by Ibn ʿEzraʾ, except with regard to crucial polemical texts such as Leviticus 23:15, which divided the Karaites from the Rabbinites.

The peripatetic Ibn ʿEzraʾ wrote on almost all of the Bible, often writing multiple commentaries on the same book, not all of which have been published. Occasionally engaging in philosophical asides (e.g., Ecclesiastes 5 and 7), he is nonetheless committed to the straightforward interpretation of the text, governed by the principles of grammar. He is often skeptical of Midrashic elaboration upon the narrative, typically remarking, "If it is a tradition, we shall accept it." Regarding legal matters, he asserts his agreement with the oral law whenever its views are no less plausible than possible alternatives; otherwise, he accepts the oral law only as a normative legal tradition that has been attached to the verse.

The quest for exegetical simplicity led Ibn ʿEzraʾ to criticize some earlier approaches to the text. Thus he rejects Ibn Janna's view that the same Hebrew word can express contradictory meanings, as well as his willingness to transpose words or to substitute words for those in the text. By the same token, he sees no need to employ the rabbinic listing of tiqqunei soferim (euphemistic emendations of phrases referring to God). He is troubled neither by variations of phrase, so long as the meaning is conserved (for example, he considers the differences between Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 4 insignificant), nor by orthographical inconsistencies.

Ibn ʿEzraʾ has been regarded as a precursor of the Higher Criticism which began with Barukh Spinoza (16321677). Several cryptic passages in his commentary (e.g., on Gn. 12:7, Dt. 1:2) allude to anachronisms in the Torah that have since been interpreted either as signs of a post-Mosaic hand (as first suggested by Yosef Bonfils in the fourteenth century) or as consequences of prophetic familiarity with the future. Attention has also been given his obscure remarks about the postexilic historical setting of Isaiah 4066.

Franco-German Exegesis

The commentary of Rashi (Shelomoh ben Yitsaq, 10401105) to the Torah is the most influential work of Jewish exegesis. Combining philological sensitivity with generous quotations from rabbinic literature, it became, at the popular level, almost inseparable from the biblical text itself: until the nineteenth century no text of the Pentateuch was published with any commentary that did not include Rashi's as well. Rashi's popularity, as well as his laconic presentation, inspired hundreds of supercommentaries. The most important of these (e.g., Eliyyahu Mizrai and Yehudah Löw in the sixteenth century, David ha-Levi in the seventeenth, and the eclectic Shabbetai Bass) constitute a significant contribution to biblical exegesis in their own right. The contemporary leader of Lubavitch Hasidism, Menaem Mendel Schneerson, has devoted the lion's share of his voluminous output to an investigation of Rashi's nuances.

Rashi several times distinguishes the literal meaning (pesha ) from the homiletical (derash ), identifying his own method, despite its heavy use of aggadah, with the former (e.g., on Gn. 3:8). His interpreters have generally inferred from this that all comments not explicitly labeled as Midrashic (and perhaps even these) are evoked by some peculiarity in the text that Rashi seeks to resolve. Reworking of and deviation from standard rabbinic exegesis occur both in narrative and in legal passages (for the latter, see, for example, Exodus 23:2). In his philology, Rashi is limited by his dependence on those grammarians who wrote in Hebrew (Menaem ben Saruq and Dunash ibn Labrat), employing, for example, the doctrine of the two-letter root, later superseded by the idea of a three-letter root. Among Rashi's predecessors, mention must also be made of Menaem ben elbo.

Among Rashi's contemporaries and successors, Yosef Qaraʾ and Shemuʾel ben Meir (Rashbam) are the most influential. The latter, who was Rashi's grandson, reflected on the innovation in the study of pesha (see digression at Genesis 37:2): earlier generations, in their piety, had been concerned with the legal and moral lessons of scripture, leaving room for the "ever new facets of pesha that are every day discovered." Rashbam is more reluctant than Rashi to erect his exegesis on rabbinic tradition, and he is more prone to seek exegetical alternatives in the legal passages (e.g., his preface to Exodus 21). Thus he asserts that day precedes night in Genesis 1:5, in contradiction to the halakhic exegetical tradition.

Other Franco-German scholars of note are Yosef Be-khor Shor, Eliʿezer of Beaugency, and Rashbam's brother Yaʿaqov Tam (primarily for his grammatical remarks). Their works were overshadowed by Rashi's and did not enjoy wide circulation. More often republished are various collections of tosafistic exegetical works (e.g., Daʿat zeqenim ) that are homiletical in nature and often refer to Rashi. Also noteworthy are the many biblical exegetical comments found in tosafot to the Talmud. A significant manifestation of biblical study is found in Jewish-Christian polemical literature, such as the anonymous Sefer nitstsaon yashan.

Medieval Philosophical Exegesis

Philosophical concerns play a role in the work of Saʿadyah (who participates in Kalam philosophy) and the Neoplatonist Ibn ʿEzraʾ. Baye ibn Paquda's ethical treatise Duties of the Heart and Yehudah ha-Levi's Kuzari also contain remarks pertinent to biblical study. It is, however, with the Guide of the Perplexed of Moses Maimonides (Mosheh ben Maimon; 1135/81204) that the philosophical approach to scripture becomes central. Maimonides' doctrine of religious language leads him to reinterpret anthropomorphisms and anthropopathisms more rigorously than his predecessors. In addition to his interpretations of such sections as Genesis 1, Ezekiel 1, and Job, his concern for the symbolic functions of biblical imagery finds expression in an elaborate doctrine of prophecy and a tendency to allegorize many narratives. Lastly, his views on the "reasons for the commandments" occasionally emphasize the literal sense of the text at the expense of its normative application (e.g., the literalist rationale for the lex talionis in Guide 3.41), and more than occasionally justify the commandments in utilitarian terms relevant to the historical situation of Israel at the time of Moses (e.g., the purpose of the incense is fumigation of the Temple; many sacrificial and agricultural commandments are intended to counteract idolatrous practices).

The philosophical emphasis in Jewish biblical commentary flourished during the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries. Maimonides' views spread in commentaries on the Prophets and Psalms written by both David Kimi (known as Radak; early thirteenth century) and Menaem Meʾiri (late thirteenth century) of Provence. His terminology and concerns deeply affect the work of the antiphilosopher Yitsaq Arama (early fifteenth century) and the more ambivalent exegete and commentator on the Guide, Isaac Abravanel. Maimonides is also discussed by Moses Nahmanides (Mosheh ben Naman, thirteenth-century Spain) and the exegetical tradition stemming from him. Yosef Albo's Sefer ha-ʿiqqarim (Book of principles), in which the greatest doctrinal affinity is to Albo's teacher asdai Crescas, a trenchant critic of Maimonides, should be cited for several homiletical sections.

The prolific Yosef ibn Kaspi (fourteenth-century Provence and Spain) displays a Maimonidean interest in the allegorization of prophetic stories (e.g., Jonah and the fish) along with strikingly original speculations (e.g., on the differences between Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles ).

Levi ben Gershom (Gersonides; fourteenth-century Provence), a major Jewish philosopher, and more consistent an Aristotelian than Maimonides, is a major biblical commentator as well. Limiting divine providence, he offered rationalistic explanations of the stopping of the sun by Joshua and maintained that it was not Lot's wife but Sodom that became a pillar of salt. Like Maimonides before him, he interprets the Song of Songs as an allegory of God and the individual soul, not, as Rashi and Ibn ʿEzraʾ did, as an allegory of God's relationship with the Jewish people. Following Maimonides, he unraveled the speeches of Job and his friends as presentations of philosophical positions on providence. Gersonides affixed to his commentaries a list of toʿaliyyot ("lessons") to be derived from scripture.

Eclectic Commentaries: ThirteenthFifteenth Centuries

David Kimi combines philological-grammatical perspicuity with liberal quotations from rabbinic literature, discussions of the Targum and its variants, fealty to Maimonides, and references to Rashi, Ibn ʿEzraʾ, Yosef Kimi, who was his father, and his brother Mosheh (author of pseudo-Ibn ʿEzraʾ on Proverbs and Ezra-Nehemiah ). Given the paucity of Rashi on Prophets, it is not surprising that Kimi is perhaps the most popular of medieval exegetes on the Prophets. A polemical contention with Christianity frequently comes to the fore, for example, contra the christological reading of the Immanuel prophecy (Is. 7). He evinces serious concern for variations in the received Masoretic text.

Nahmanides, like Rashi, is a major Talmudist who devoted himself to a commentary on the Torah; its impact over the centuries is second only to Rashi's. He attends to philology and law and comments on theological issues and psychological factors. Reaching the Land of Israel in his old age, he is occasionally able to draw upon an acquaintance with its geography and realia. A qabbalist, he is the first major commentator in whose work qabbalistic hints are common. Thus, by the fourteenth century, in the aftermath of Maimonides and Nahmanides, we encounter the fourfold division of biblical interpretationPaRDeSin which remez (hint) and sod (esoterica) join the familiar pesha and derash. Nahmanides frequently quotes and discusses Rashi, particularly in legal sections, less frequently, Ibn ʿEzraʾ, toward whom he adopts an attitude of "open rebuke and hidden love." He cites Maimonides, sometimes lauding his views, but on several crucial matters he disagrees sharply, for example, on the meaning of the sacrificial cult (Lv. 1:9) and the role of angels in prophecy (Gn. 18:1).

Nahmanides also employs typological interpretation to explain apparent superfluities in Genesis. While this method has its roots in Midrash ("the acts of the fathers are a sign for the sons"), it does not enjoy the popularity among Jewish medieval commentators that it attained in Christian exegesis. Of the Spanish commentators of import who flourished in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, several were strongly influenced by Nahmanides. Baye ben Asher includes a larger quota of homiletical and qabbalistic material. Yaʿaqov ben Asher's Perush ha-tur ha-arokh avoids such digressions. Nissim of Gerona, whose 12 Derashot (Twelve homilies) and commentary to Genesis 123 are occasionally critical of Nahmanides, nonetheless belongs to his sphere of influence.

Isaac Abravanel (Spain and Italy, d. 1508) represents the last stage of classic medieval commentary. Loquacious in style, he makes liberal use of the work of his predecessors, ranging over the philological, philosophical, and homiletical approaches. His psychological-political sense is keen; his philosophy, while tending toward fideism, is rooted in an extended and passionate involvement with Maimonides' Guide; philological originality, however, is not his strong suit. His prefaces to the biblical books are more elaborate than his predecessors', often devoting detailed attention to the authorship and provenance of the text; here he is willing to challenge rabbinic ascriptions, for example, attributing the Book of Joshua to Samuel instead of Joshua.

Abravanel makes use of such Christian scholars as Jerome and Nicholas of Lyra. His piety finds clear expression in his eschatological emphasis. Against Ibn Giqatilla, who interpreted most prophecies of redemption as references to the Second Temple period, and Ibn ʿEzraʾ, who took a middle view, Abravanel is eager to read all such prophecies as messianic and is quick to respond to christological interpretations (e.g., Is. 7, 34).

The SixteenthEighteenth Centuries

The centuries following the expulsion of the Jews from Spain have been erroneously characterized as a stagnant era for Jewish biblical study. M. H. Segal, in his survey of Jewish Bible study, includes only the Metsuddat David and Metsuddat Tsion (by the Altschuler family, late seventeenth-century Germany), a generally unoriginal selection from Rashi, Ibn ʿEzraʾ, and Kimi that became a standard accompaniment to the study of the Prophets and Hagiographa. Jewish exegesis of this period, unlike that of Rashi, Ibn ʿEzraʾ, Maimonides, and Kimi, does not exercise an impact on Christian scholarship. It innovates little of value as regards philology and grammar, beyond the achievements of the medievals (more specifically, the elevenththirteenth centuries). Moreover, the lack of willingness to develop alternatives to previous commentaries and rabbinic tradition brings innovation in reading the legal sections to a virtual standstill (despite the isolated examples culled by contemporary scholars). Typical of this change, which reflects the failure of the leading Talmudists of the period to make the Bible a major preoccupation, is Ibn Kaspi's preface to Exodus 21, in which he disclaims his own competence and defers to Rashi's exegesis of the legal matters.

Pace Segal, however, one cannot gainsay several contributions of the period. ʿOvadyah Sforno (sixteenth-century Italy), writing on the Torah and other biblical books, stresses both literal and philosophical interpretation. He follows Nahmanides in regarding the stories of Genesis as a typological "blueprint" of history. He is particularly concerned about the placement of legal sections among narrative units (e.g., the laws pertinent to the Land of Israel that follow the story of the spies, Nm. 15). Other major figures generally present their comments within a homiletical framework, with a not-infrequent mystical tendency. Efrayim of Luntshits's Keli yaqar, the work of a sixteenth-century Polish preacher, and the mystically oriented Or ha-ayyim of ayyim ibn Attar (eighteenth-century Morocco) have become enshrined in many editions of Miqraʾot gedolot, the standard rabbinical Bible textbook, as have excerpts from the commentaries of the sixteenth-century Greek preacher Mosheh Alshekh. The aforementioned works find their continuation in nineteenth- and twentieth-century homiletical literature, of which the most outstanding examples are the classic works of the Hasidic movement, such as Yaʿaqov Yosef of Polonnoye's Toledot Yaʿaqov Yosef and Elimelekh of Lizhensk's Noʿam Elimelekh in the eighteenth century, and Sefat emet (by Alter of Gur) or Shem mi-Shemuʾel (by Shemuʾel of Sochatchov) in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century.

It should be noted that this period also marks the heyday of the major supercommentaries on Rashi, which apparently offered an outlet to rabbis interested in extending the medieval methods of study.

Traditional Developments in the Modern Period

Beginning in the late eighteenth century there is a renewal of interest, evident from several Torah commentaries, in the interaction between traditional rabbinic exegesis and extra-traditional exegesis. This renewal may derive from increased availabililty of the full panoply of rabbinic exegesis (i.e., Sifraʾ, Mekhiltaʾ, Sifrei, the Jerusalem Talmud, and eventually Mekhiltaʾ de Rabbi Shimʿon and Sifrei Zuaʾ ), which drew attention to hermeneutical results other than those preserved in the Babylonian Talmud. Whatever its sources, it is clearly motivated by a desire to defend the authenticity of the oral law against its skeptical ("enlightened" or Reform) detractors by showing the connection between the "text and tradition" (the title of Yaʿaqov Mecklenburg's nineteenth-century commentary Ketav ve-ha-qabbalah ).

One may distinguish between two types of works produced by these authors. The eastern Europeans, such as Eliyyahu ben Shelomoh Zalman, known as the gaon of Vilna (now Vilnius; d. 1796), Naftali Tsevi Berlin (d. 1892), and Meʾir Simah of Dvinsk (now Daugavpils; d. 1926) often present their own novel interpretations. Those who were most exposed to the aforementioned external challenges, in Germany (Mecklenburg and Samson Raphael Hirsch) or Romania (Malbim), are reluctant to propose legal interpretations contrary to tradition. Eliyyahu ben Shelomoh Zalman's treatment of the Bible is displayed in his commentary to Proverbs, to sections of other books, and in notes to others. He seeks an integration of all dimensions of Torah study, from the literal to the mystical. This involves the unification of oral and written laws but also precipitates an awareness of the differences between them. As an example of the latter one may point to his comment on Leviticus 16, where he recognizes two strata: 128 (referring to Aaron and oblivious to the Day of Atonement) and 2934 (referring to the high priest and specifying the Day of Atonement). Both are, of course, Mosaic: the former pertaining to Aaron's priesthood; the latter, to the period after his death. Like his eastern European successors, he interprets many verses as allusions to the value of Torah study.

Berlin, in his Haʿameq davar on Torah as well as his commentaries to halakhic midrashim and the Sheiʾltot of Aaʾi Gaon (eighth century), continues to cultivate both the unification and differentiation of pesha and derash. His work on narrative sections is distinguished by psychological perspicuity that is enhanced rather than diminished by his reliance on the qabbalistic typology that identifies the patriarchs with particular sefirot. Meʾir Simah's Meshekh okhmah is valued both for its insightful homiletical pieces and for his comments on, and alternatives to, classic rabbinic tradition.

Connected with these developments are such works as Barukh Epstein's Torah temimah, an anthology of rabbinic material with eclectic notes (1903) and Menaem Mendel Kasher's Torah shelemah, a heavily annotated encyclopedia work of the same nature. In addition one must note the aforementioned Hasidic exegesis and the homiletical literature produced by the Musar movement (e.g., Natan Finkel's Or ha-tsafun ), generally interpreting the text in the light of Midrash to derive a lesson illustrative of rigorous moral standards. There is also a quasi-exegetical literature seizing the text as an opportunity for halakhic analysis (e.g., Beit ha-Levi by the nineteenth-century Yosef Dov Soloveichik; Tsafenat paʿanea by the early-twentieth-century Yosef Rosin). Samson Raphael Hirsch, who as rabbi in Frankfurt contended with Reform, maintained in his German commentaries to Torah and Psalms that the written law was dependent on the oral, as a set of notes is dependent on the lecture. Rabbinic hermeneutic, then, is less a matter of correct philology than of access to a code. In seeking to interpret the text, both narrative and legal, and justify tradition regarding the latter, Hirsch resorted to an idiosyncratic etymological method (occasionally used by Mecklenburg as well), whereby phonetically similar consonants are interchanged in order to locate the "essential" meaning of the word. Hirsch strongly criticized Maimonides' approach to "reasons for the commandments." Instead he offered a system of symbolic interpretation in which, for example, the upper half of the altar represents the higher nature of man, while the lower half symbolizes the lower aspects of human nature. Hirsch's rationales, unlike those dominant in the medieval literature, sought to explain not only the general purpose of the laws but their particular features as well, including those that are derived through rabbinic interpretation.

In contrast with Hirsch, Malbim proclaimed rabbinic hermeneutics to be the correct grammar of biblical Hebrew. From his premise about the perfection of biblical Hebrew he concludes that the Bible contains no redundancies of style or language: every seeming redundancy must be explained. Thus, Malbim (following Eliyyahu ben Shelomoh Zalman and others) discovers many fine distinctions among the synonyms in biblical parallelism, rejecting the approach of Kimi and the Metsuddot that "the content is repeated in different words." Malbim's identification of rabbinic exegesis with philology is symbolized in his commentary to biblical law, where his independent commentary becomes, instead, a commentary to the corpus of halakhic midrashim, insofar as the latter provides the literal meaning of scripture.

Illustrative of the differences between Malbim and some of his major medieval predecessors is his treatment of qeri (vocalization) and ketiv (Masoretic text). Ibn ʿEzraʾ had viewed the qeri as instructive of how the ketiv is to be read. Kimi had proposed that qeri /ketiv in the Prophets generally reflects alternative textual traditions, both of which were retained by the editors ("the men of the Great Assembly") out of uncertainty. Abravanel had gone so far as to suggest that the plethora of qeri /ketiv in Jeremiah derives from that prophet's orthographic deficiencies. For Malbim, however, both qeri and ketiv are divinely ordained and so must be interpreted.

Both Hirsch and Malbim had enough awareness of biblical criticism to address such problems as the doublets in biblical narrative through literary analysis. They are both oblivious, however, to the data provided by comparative Semitics or knowledge of the ancient Near East. David Tsevi Hoffmann (d. 1922), the last great traditional biblical exegete of western Europe, is fully aware of contemporary biblical scholarship and its ancillary disciplines. In his German commentaries to Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Genesis and in Die wichtigsten Instanzen gegen die Graf-Wellhausensche Hypothese he marshaled his arguments against non-Mosaic dating of the Torah. A leading Talmudic authority, he concentrated on biblical law, attempting to establish that the laws ascribed to the P and D sources could best be understood within the context of Israel's desert experience, in the order narrated by the Torah, and that these laws were available in their present form during the First Temple period.

Enlightenment and Its Aftermath

The second half of the eighteenth century also marks the entry of Jewish exegesis into the world of general European culture. The founding father of the Jewish Enlightenment was Moses Mendelssohn (d. 1786), whose elegant German translation of the Torah was the first by Jewish hands; the translation was accompanied by a commentary (the Biʾur ) authored by Mendelssohn and his associates. This commentary follows in the footsteps of the classical medieval exegetes but is quite conservative in accepting rabbinic tradition regarding the legal sections; it is also concerned with aesthetic features of the text. That the Biʾur was banned in many Orthodox circles had little to do with its content.

Nineteenth-century scholars like the Italian Shemuʾel David Luzzatto (d. 1865) accepted the principles of contemporary biblical scholarshipup to a pointreluctant as they were to apply critical results to the text of the Torah. Luzzatto was willing to propose emendations outside the Torah. He stoutly resisted the thesis of postexilic authorship for Isaiah 4066 on internal, not merely theological, grounds (though, by the turn of the century, Hoffmann's Orthodox colleague Jakob Barth recognized internal evidence for the later dating). Resistance to the Documentary Hypothesis continued, beyond Orthodox circles, into the twentieth century. The German Liberal rabbi Benno Jacob insisted on the literary integrity of the Torah and rejected textual emendation. The notes to British Chief Rabbi Joseph Hertz's popular English translation of the Pentateuch contain a lively attack on Higher Criticism. Umberto Cassuto and M. H. Segal, both professors at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, rejected the Documentary Hypothesis without accepting the Orthodox position: Cassuto spoke of the post-Mosaic writing down of oral traditions, while Segal posited a significant number of interpolations. Their stances have been furthered by their more conservative student Y. M. Grintz. Such views maintain an attraction and influence among Jewish students of the Bible.

Contemporary Trends

Philosophical and literary contributions have also affected contemporary study. Yeezkel Kaufmann's insistence on the radical success of biblical monotheism is a theological as well as historical thesis. The literary sensitivity exhibited by Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig's German translation, particularly the notion of Leitworten, and Buber's own biblical studies have exerted an important influence, as has Meʾir Weiss's method of "total-interpretation." It is too early to assess the impact of Abraham Joshua Heschel's The Prophets, André Neher's theological studies, or Joseph B. Soloveitchik's (mostly unpublished) existential homilies.

The last generation has also seen a revival of interest, on the part of Jewish biblical scholars, in traditional exegesis. The teaching and writing of Nehama Leibowitz have made the traditional corpus attractive beyond the Orthodox camp. This development has further encouraged literary and theological concerns. It is not surprising to find scholars like Moshe Greenberg and Uriel Simon who, like Segal before them, combine research in the Bible with research in the history of exegesis. Thus the turn toward literature and, to a lesser extent, theology and the significant place accorded to Jewish exegesis have created a scholarly style that transcends, to some degree, the gap in belief between Orthodox and non-Orthodox.

Within the modern Orthodox community, two developments must be marked. The Daʿat miqraʾ series (which does not include the Torah) offers a semipopular commentary that incorporates the data of modern investigations into the framework of traditional scholarship. The somewhat idiosyncratic work of Mordecai Breuer proclaims that the Torah, from a human point of view, speaks in multiple voices whose relation to one another must be clarified, along the lines of Hoffmann. Breuer also seeks to investigate textual variants with an eye to grasping the meaning of the canonized text.


While several modern exegetical works have appeared in Western languages, such as those of Samson Raphael Hirsch and David Hoffmann, which were published in German, most of the primary literature has appeared in Hebrew. However, several primary sources are available in English translation. A mildly bowdlerized translation of Rashi's commentary on the Pentateuch was prepared and annotated by M. Rosenbaum and A. M. Silbermann under the title Pentateuch with Targum Onkelos, Haphtaroth and Rashi's Commentary, 5 vols. (New York, 1934). C. B. Chavel's Ramban (Nachmanides): Commentary on the Torah, 5 vols. (New York, 19711976) is a complete and annotated translation of Nahmanides' commentary on the Pentateuch.

Other medieval biblical exegetes whose works have been translated into English include Avraham ibn ʿEzraʾ on Isaiah (The Commentary of Ibn Ezra on Isaiah, translated by Michael Friedländer, vol. 1, London, 1873); David Kimi's commentary on Isaiah (The Commentary of David Kimi on Isaiah [1926], translated by Louis Finkelstein, reprinted, New York, 1966), as well as his work on Hosea (The Commentary of Rabbi David Kimhi on Hosea [1929], translated by Harry Cohen, reprinted, New York, 1965), and on Psalms, chaps. 120150 (The Commentary of Rabbi David Kimi on Psalms CXX-CL, translated by Joshua Baker and E. W. Nicholson, Cambridge, 1973); Levi ben Gershom's commentary on Job (Commentary of Levi ben Gerson on the Book of Job, translated by A. L. Lassen, New York, 1946).

A complete listing of all editions of exegetical works written prior to 1540 is to be found in M. Kasher and Jacob B. Mandelbaum's Sarei ha-elef, 2d ed., 2 vols. (Jerusalem, 1978). Nehama Leibowitz's studies on each book of the Pentateuch have been translated into English and adapted by Aryeh Newman in six volumes (Jerusalem, 19721980) and provide an excellent guide to traditional Jewish commentary. Moshe Greenberg's Understanding Exodus (New York, 1969) integrates a generous amount of traditional exegesis.

M. H. Segal's Parshanut ha-miqraʾ, 2d ed. (Jerusalem, 1971) is a fine survey of Jewish exegesis. Ezra Zion Melamed's Mefarshei ha-miqraʾ, 2 vols. (Jerusalem, 1975), covers Rashi, Shemuʾel ben Meʾir, Ibn ʿEzraʾ, Kimi, Nahmanides, and the exegesis of rabbinic Targum in detail.

Some aspects of exegesis between Saʿadyah and Ibn ʿEzraʾ are dealt with by Uriel Simon in Arbaʾ gishot le-sefer Tehillim (Ramat Gan, Israel, 1982). The exegesis of the medieval Franco-German Jewish scholars is described by Samuel Pozananski in his edition of Eli'ezer of Beaugency's Perush Yeezqeʾl ve-Terei ʿAsar (Warsaw, 1909).

An extensive bibliography of recent literature can be found in the Entsiqeloppedyah miqraʾit (Jerusalem, 1982), in the lengthy entry on biblical exegesis that appears in volume 8 (pp. 649737).

Shalom Carmy (1987)

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