views updated May 18 2018


MIDRASH (Heb. מִדְרָשׁ), the designation of a particular genre of rabbinic literature containing anthologies and compilations of homilies, including both biblical exegesis (see *Hermeneutics) and sermons delivered in public (see *Homiletics) as well as aggadot (see *Aggadah) and sometimes even halakhot (cf. *Midreshei Halakhah), usually forming a running commentary on specific books of the Bible.

The term Midrash itself derives from the root drsh (דרש) which in the Bible means mainly "to search," "to seek," "to examine," and "to investigate" (cf. Lev. 10:16; Deut. 13:15; Isa. 55:6; et al.). This meaning is also found in rabbinic Hebrew (cf. bm 2:7: "until thou examine [tidrosh] thy brother if he be a cheat or not"). The noun "Midrash" occurs only twice in the Bible (ii Chron. 13:22 and 24:27); it is translated in the Septuagint by βίβλοs, γράφη i.e., "book" or "writing," and it seems probable that it means "an account," "the result of inquiry (examination, study, or search) of the events of the times," i.e., what is today called "history" (the word history is also derived from the Greek root ίστορὲω which has a similar meaning). In Jewish literature of the Second Temple period the word Midrash was first employed in the sense of education and learning generally (Ecclus. 51:23), "Turn unto me, ye unlearned, and lodge in my house of Midrash," which the author's grandson translated into Greek, "house of instruction or of study"; compare the similar development of the Latin studium which originated in the verb studeo which means "to become enthusiastic," "to make an effort," "to be diligent," etc. and only in a secondary sense, in the post-Augustan era, in the sense of learning (with diligence and the noun studium passed through the same stages of meaning; cf. Ger. studium; Fr. étude, etc.).

Darosh both in its nominal and verbal forms is sometimes found in the literature of the *Dead Sea sect as the designation for a certain method, a special technique of learning things – in halakhah and in aggadah – through rigorous study and painstaking, searching inquiry into the verses of the Bible. This method of Midrash was both ideologically and halakhically one of the fundamentals of the life of the sect: "and that his deeds appear in accordance with the Midrash of the Torah as followed by the holy upright men" (Damascus Covenant 8:29–30; cf. the Manual of Discipline 8:25–26: "If his way is perfect in company, in Midrash, and in counsel"; cf. also ibid. 6:24 and 6:6). The nature of this Midrash is testified to by the explicit words: "When these become a community in Israel with such characteristics they separate themselves from the company of the wicked men to go thither to the wilderness to make clear there the way of the Lord, as is written [Isa. 40:3], 'and in the wilderness clear ye the way… make plain in the desert a highway for our God,' that being the Midrash of the Torah [which] he commanded through Moses, to do in accordance with all that is revealed in every era and as the prophets revealed through his holy spirit" (Manual of Discipline 8:12–16); i.e., the Midrash of the Torah is the lesson derived from the verse (4:21–5 5:11). A different method of interpretation is the *pesher, although the Midrash could also contain pesharim (see 4q 174 Florilegium, 1–2, i 14–19, in: J.M. Allegro, Discoveries in the Judean Desert, V: Qumran Cave 4, i (1968), p. 53f.). This technique of biblical exegesis which is largely similar to that customary among the Greek grammarians, the students of the classical texts of Homer, and among the Roman rhetoricians, the exponents of Roman law, is found among the Jews for the first time in the Dead Sea sect (see particularly Book of *Jubilees). Nevertheless these earlier forms of exegesis must be distinguished from rabbinic midrash as a fully developed literary form (cf. *Midreshei Halakhah: Literary Nature and Relation to Early Midrash). Suggestions to the effect that the Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum (pseudo-Philo) is a Midrash are without foundation.

Midrashic Literature

It is very possible that the earliest Midrash to come down is the Passover *Haggadah, the earliest and chief element of which is a Midrash to Deuteronomy 26:5–8 (cf. Sif. Deut. 301). A great part of the midrashic aggadah of the tannaitic period is included side by side with the midrashic halakhah in the halakhic Midrashim (cf. *Midreshei Halakhah: The Aggadic Material). On the other hand there are no independent works devoted only to midrash aggadah from the tannaitic era (see however *Seder OlamRabbah and the *Baraita de-Melekhet ha-Mishkan). All the extant literary works devoted primarily to midrash aggadah were apparently compiled originally in Ereẓ Israel during the amoraic and post-amoraic periods. While the Babylonian Talmud contains a vast amount of aggadic midrash (cf. the Midrash on the Book of Esther in Meg. 10b–17a, and on Lamentations in Sanh. 104a–b), it's literary structure follows the earlier tannaitic model, including both midrash halakhah and aggadah (as in the midreshei halakhah), and integrating both of them into an appropriate context following the order of the tractates of the Mishnah, as was done in both the Mishnah and the Tosefta (see *Mishnah: Aggadah in the Mishnah).

From the point of view of the period of their arrangement and collection the aggadic Midrashim can be divided into three groups: early, middle, and late. The determination of the time of the editing and arranging of the various Midrashim is by no means a simple matter. It is nearly impossible to determine with even approximate certainty the period when a Midrash or aggadic work was compiled (see *Pirkei de-R. Eliezer). However, it is possible to arrive at a relative date, that is, to determine the relation of a particular Midrash to others (see Table: Midreshei Aggadah). To do this one cannot rely on the historical allusions alone or merely on the names of the sages mentioned in the Midrash, nor can one rely on the first mentions of the Midrash and its first citations, since all the Midrashim contain much material from different and extended eras. The lack of historical allusions after a definite period do not suffice to testify to its compilation immediately after that period, just as the lack of mention of a Midrash and of its citation until a certain period does not prove that it was edited at the date nearest to the beginning of that period. In neither case can one rely on the argumentum a silentio. A more reliable method for determining priority and lateness among Midrashim is the relationship between the various Midrashim – the use one makes of another – as well as their relationship to other sources. This procedure, however, involves a number of very complex issues, and no consensus has yet been reached on how it should be applied in practice (see *Genesis Rabbah: The Redaction of the Midrash). Moreover, even after one arrives by use of this method at a provisional determination regarding precedence, other additional factors must be taken into account (literary forms, language, style, etc.).

The Early Midrashim (the Classical Amoraic Midrashim)

This period, from which it seems only seven Midrashim have come down, is the golden age of the aggadic Midrashim. The most developed and perfect literary forms and constructions are already found in the oldest aggadic Midrash, Genesis Rabbah, proving that many generations of development preceded the literary crystallization. Since in general such perfect and developed literary constructions and forms are found neither in the halakhic Midrashim nor in their aggadic section (although here and there mere beginnings can be found), it is probable that the main development of the literary forms came in the amoraic era. Toward the close of this period the assembling, collecting, and editing was begun.

Among its most perfect forms, one should mention the classical proem at the beginning of a complete Midrash or of a chapter, which served fundamentally as the introduction to a homily delivered in public. The classical proem is a prelude to a homily on a certain verse by citing a verse from another source (in most cases from another book, or even from a different section of the Bible, usually the Hagiographa) and connecting it with the chief verse of the homily, the proem concluding with the verse with which the homily itself begins. Thus, for example, the proem to Lamentations 1:1 begins with a verse from the Pentateuch, while the proems to the Pentateuch Midrashim open with a verse usually from the Hagiographa. The proem, scarcely found in the tannaitic literature, was greatly developed and perfected in the time of the amoraim, in order to attract, stimulate, and rouse the curiosity of the audience and to emphasize the unity of the biblical books. When gathering and assembling the material the compilers and editors of the Midrashim followed the method of the actual preachers of the homilies and placed the proems at the beginning of the Midrashim and of the various sections. They did not always have proems readily available and in consequence created artificial proems themselves (combining different sayings and a number of homilies together). Sometimes they greatly enlarged the proems so that a simple proem became compound, i.e., it included a number of homilies independent in themselves. Classical proems in their pure form are almost wholly confined to the early Midrashim: Genesis Rabbah; Leviticus Rabbah; Lamentations Rabbah; Esther Rabbah l; *Pesikta de-Rav Kahana; Song of Songs Rabbah; and Ruth Rabbah. These Midrashim all consist of a collection of homilies, sayings, and aggadot of the amoraim (and also of the tannaim) in Galilean Aramaic and rabbinical Hebrew, but they also include many Greek words.

It seems that all these Midrashim were edited in Ereẓ Israel in the fifth and sixth centuries c.e. Two types can be distinguished: exegetical and homiletical. The exegetical Midrash (Genesis Rabbah, Lamentations Rabbah, et al.) is a Midrash to one of the books of the Bible, containing comments on the whole book – on each chapter, on every verse, and at times even on every word in the verse. The homiletical Midrash is either a Midrash to a book of the Pentateuch in which only the first verse (or verses) of the weekly portion is expounded (in accordance with the early *Triennial cycle that was current in Ereẓ Israel, e.g., *Leviticus Rabbah), or a Midrash that is based only on the biblical and prophetic reading of special Sabbaths and festivals, in which, also, only the first verses are expounded (eg., Pesikta de-Rav Kahana). In both cases, in contrast to the exegetical Midrashim, the homiletical Midrashim contain almost no short homilies or dicta on variegated topics, but each chapter (or section) constitutes a collection of homilies and sayings on one topic that seem to combine into one long homily on the specific topic.

Aggadic WorksMidrashimDate C.E.The Era
1. Tanḥuma Midrash (Yelammedenu). 2. All based on the work of Moshe ha-Darshan. 3. These are anthologies Note: Names in Italics are homiletical Midrashim; the rest are exegetical.
Genesis Rabbah400–500Classical Amoraic Midrashim of the Early Period (400–600)
Leviticus Rabbah
Lamentations Rabbah
Esther Rabbah I
Apocalyptic and Eschatological MidrashimPesikta de-Rav Kahana500–640
Songs Rabbah
Ruth Rabbah
Megillat AntiochusTargum Sheni640–900The Middle Period (640–1000)
Midrash Petirat Moshe ("Death of Moses")Midrash Esfah
Tanna de-Vei Eliyahu ("Seder Eliyahu")Midrash Proverbs
Pirkei de-R. EliezerMidrash Samuel
Midrash Agur (Called "Mishnat R. Eliezer")Ecclesiastes Rabbah
Midrash YonahMidrash Ḥaserot vi-Yterot
Midrash Petirat AharonDeuteronomy Rabbah¹(775–900)
Divrei ha-Yamim shel MosheTanḥuma¹
Otiyyot de-R. AkivaTanḥuma (Buber)¹
Midrash Sheloshah ve-Arba'ahNumbers Rabbah ii¹
Midrash Eser GaluyyotPesikta Rabbati¹
Midrash va-Yissa'uExodus Rabbah ii
Va-Yeḥi Rabbah¹
The Manuscripts of the Tanḥuma
Yelammedenu Midrashim¹
Throne and Hippodromes of SolomonMidrash Tehillim I900–1000
Midreshei ḤanukkahExodus Rabbah I
Midreshei YehudithAggadat Bereshit
Midrash HallelAggadat Shir ha-Shirim (Zuta)
Midrash TadsheRuth Zuta
Ecclesiastes Zuta
Lamentations Zuta
Midrash Aseret ha-DibberotMidrash Shir Hashirim1000–1100The Late Period
Midrash KonenAbba Guryon(1000–1200)
Midrash AvkirEsther Rabbah ii
Alphabet of Ben SiraMidrash Tehilim ii
Midrash va-Yosha
Sefer ha-Yashar
Pesikta ḤadtaPanim Aḥerim le-Esther (version 1)1100–1200
Midrash TemurahLekaḥ Tov (c. 1110)3
Midrash Aggadah²
Genesis Rabbati²
Numbers Rabbah²
Yalkut Shimoni31200–1300The Period of the Yalkutim (anthologies)
Midrash ha-Gadol31300–1400
Yalkut Makhiri31200–1500
Ein Ya'akov31400–1500
Haggadot ha-Talmud3

The Difference Between the Early Midrashim and Later Midrashim

In the Midrashim of the middle period a decline is already discernible in the developed literary constructions and forms, especially in the proem, which is not the classical proem but merely an inferior and artificial imitation. After the Muslim conquest there is a gradual strengthening in the influence of the pseudepigraphic and the apocalyptic literature of the Second Temple era (see *Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha), which had been disregarded by the talmudic rabbis (particularly because of the controversy with Christianity; see *Church Fathers). This influence is apparent both in content and form. In content, there is an increase not only in homilies which refer to angels and demons, the garden of Eden and hell, but even complete topics from apocalyptic literature. In form, there is an increase in the type of aggadic work which does not belong to the genre of Midrash at all. This type is not a compilation but a unified work impressed with the seal of the author, who is a narrator but chooses to attribute his words to the ancients and to ascribe to them statements which they never made (see *Tanna de-Vei Eliyahu). The increase of pseudepigraphic matter can also be seen in authentic Midrashim. In contrast to the early Midrashim there was also an increase of Midrashim and aggadic works in which the aggadah is connected with halakhah in a variety of forms, some of which are merely transferred from Second Temple literature (e.g., Pirkei de-R. Eliezer) and some are the result of internal development by the sages (e.g., Tanḥuma Yelammedenu). In addition there is also a difference in language. The Galilean Aramaic of the early Midrashim progressively disappears, as does rabbinical Hebrew. Instead there is progressive use of artificial Hebrew, apparently pure and polished and becoming freer from the influences of Aramaic or the admixture of Greek words.

The Middle Period

To the period from the Muslim conquest (c. 640 c.e.) to the end of the tenth century belong many variegated midrashic and aggadic works. In addition to the exegetical and homiletical types of Midrash, the above-mentioned composition by a single person belongs to this period. The most important group of Midrashim of this period – all of which are homiletical – are those of the Tanḥuma Midrash (*Tanḥuma Yelammedenu) group in which the old and the new are used indiscriminately. Of the exegetical Midrashim, particular mention may be made of Ecclesiastes Rabbah, Midrash Samuel, Midrash Proverbs (greatly influenced by the apocalyptic and Heikhalot literatures), Midrash Tehillim i, Exodus Rabbah i, and the series of smaller *Midrashim (Midreshei Zuta) to four of the five *scrolls. In all these too, marks of the old and the new, both in content and in form, appear together. Among the aggadic works the most important are: Seder Eliyahu Rabbah and Seder Eliyahu Zuta; Pirkei de-R. Eliezer (compiled apparently close to 750); Midrash Agur, also called Mishnat R. Eliezer; and a further series of smaller compositions. In most of them external influences from the Muslim (Pirkei de-R. Eliezer) or Byzantine (The Throne and Hippodrome of Solomon, etc.) eras can be seen.

The Late Period

To the period of the 11th and 12th centuries belong the very latest Midrashim. Of these special mention should be made of Midrash Abba Guryon, Esther Rabbah ii, Midrash Tehillim ii, and the series from the school of *Moses ha-Darshan that already border on the anthologies with regard to their period of composition as well as to content. In these Midrashim there is hardly a trace of even an imitation of the classical proem, the Hebrew is completely medieval, and the pseudepigraphic influence both in content and form is still more pronounced. Among the aggadic works of this period particular mention must be made of the Sefer ha-Yashar (see *Midrashim, Smaller in supplementary entries, vol. 16) where the Muslim influence is most recognizable.

The Yalkutim (Anthologies)

From the beginning of the 12th century, scholars in various countries assembled anthologies from various Midrashim and aggadic works. To these belong such works as the *Midrash Lekaḥ Tov (or the Pesikta Zutarta) to the Pentateuch and the five *scrolls (of Tobiah b. Eliezer); the *Yalkut Shimoni to the whole of the Bible (assembled in Germany at the beginning of the 13th century); *Midrash ha-Gadol to the Pentateuch and scrolls; and the *Yalkut Makhiri to various biblical books. Anthologies of the aggadot in the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds were also collected, especially close to the beginning of the age of printing. Most of the anthologies quote their sources with the original wording and indicate them (an exception being the Midrash ha-Gadol).


Zunz-Albeck, Derashot; H.L. Strack, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (1945), pt. 2; A.G. Wright, The Literary Genre Midrash (1967); J. Bowker, The Targums and Rabbinic Literature, and introduction to Jewish interpretations of Scripture (1969); G. Vermes, Scripture and Tradition in Judaism (1961); Ginzberg, Legends; S.M. Lehrman, The World of the Midrash (1961). add. bibliography: J. Fraenkel, Darkhei ha-Aggadah ve-ha-Midrash. (Heb.; 1996); idem, Midrash ve-Aggadah (1996); idem, Sippur ha-AggadahAḥdut shel Tokhen ve-Ẓurah (Heb.; 2001); Stemberger, Introduction (1996), 233–46, 276–325; M. Bregman, The Tanḥuma-Yelammedenu Literature (Heb.; 2003).

[Moshe David Herr]


views updated Jun 27 2018


A common term in Jewish literature for a homiletic discussion of a text of Sacred Scripture for the purpose of applying the text to a present situation. In this article the usage of the word, the characteristics of midrash, types of midrash, and examples of it will be treated.

Usage of the Word. The Hebrew noun midrāš occurs three times in the OT: in two Chr 13.22 and 24.27 as the title of a literary work of unknown nature, and in Sir 51.23, where the term, bêt midrāš, "house of study, school," occurs for the first time, if the reading is genuine. In the Qumran literature published to date, the term midrāš means "juridical investigation" as well as "study" and "interpretation [of the Scriptures]," and is used also as a title for a work of Biblical interpretation. In the subsequent rabbinic literature the word midrāš was used almost exclusively in the sense of "Biblical interpretation": (1) a single comment on a Biblical text was called a midrāš, as well as a collection of such interpretations (plural: midrāšîm ); (2) from the 3d century a.d. onward, with the increasing interest in the plain sense (p eša ) of Scripture, the term midrash also came to signify the earlier, predominantly homiletic exegesis as distinguished from the later scientific exegesis, and thus midrash sometimes designates that Biblical interpretation that seeks to go beyond the literal sense to find hidden and more profound senses of Scripture (see hermeneutics, biblical). The word midrash has modernly come to designate a literary form and is thus used as a technical term to describe rabbinic exegetical literature of the 2d to 13th century a.d. (see midrashic literature) and material in earlier Jewish literature and the NT that manifests similar characteristics.

Characteristics of Midrash. A midrash's primary focus is on a Biblical text. Its purpose is homiletic, i.e., practical and religious, rather than speculative. It seeks to make the text relevant here and now. It sees in the text the Word of God as valid and meaningful for every age and attempts to point out its implications for the present. Midrashic discussion is free; it may be based on the literal sense or it may make applications never intended by the original author.

Types of Midrash. Based on content, midrash is divided by the Jews into halakah (legal discussions of the Bible) and haggadah (nonlegal, didactic exposition). A third classification, pesher, has been suggested recently to provide a category for the Biblical commentaries (p ešārîm ) composed by the qumran community. However, the terms haggadah and halakah as defined by the Jews are exhaustive and exclude a third classification from content. Pesher is actually haggadic midrash.

Based on form, midrash can be a single interpretative statement, or a collection of such statements in a homily or in a verse-by-verse scriptural commentary. Midrash can also be a rewritten version of a Biblical narrative. This type supplies to the text of the Bible aids for understanding its story and adds imaginative embellishments to the narrative to make it more vivid, ample, and edifying. Because of the imaginative element in some midrashim, fictional embellishing of history has been erroneously equated with midrash. It cannot be overemphasized that midrashic embellishments are those made on a scriptural text. Fictional material with no connection with a Biblical text is called by the Jews free haggadah. Some exegetes equate anthological style with midrash, i.e., the use of Biblical phraseology to express one's thoughts. The equation, however, should not be automatic. Sometimes the Biblical allusions used are merely contributing to a new composition, and no attention is fixed on their original meaning (e.g., in Prv 1; 89; Wis 19); this is not midrash. On the other hand, sometimes the Biblical allusions and texts not only provide words and images for the new composition, but they do so in such a way that the finished product contributes to an understanding of the original texts. Such anthologies are midrashic [e.g., 1QS 8.410 (see dead sea scrolls) and some of the echoes of Jeremiah in Dn 9.119].

Examples. Midrash as a literary form originated in the postexilic period as a result of an increased emphasis in Judaism on the Scriptures and the gradual fixing of the Biblical text. Isolated midrashic statements and sections are found in the late books of the OT (Sir 7.2728; 1 Mc7.1617), the apocrypha (Testament of Nephtali 8.8), the Qumran literature (CD 4.1419; 6.411), the NT (Gal4.2131; Heb 3.74.11; 7.110), and in abundance in the Palestinian targums. Verse-by-verse midrash can be seen in the peshers from Qumran, and narrative midrash (or "rewritten Bible") in the Genesis Apocryphon. Jn6.3160 is an example of a midrashic homily, and Wis 11.219.22 is an example of a homily with midrashic elements.

Bibliography: g. vermes, Scripture and Tradition in Judaism (Leiden 1961). r. bloch, Dictionnaire de la Bible suppl ed. l. pirot et al. (Paris 1928) 5:126381. m. kadushin, The Rabbinic Mind (New York 1952).

[a. g. wright]


views updated May 23 2018


Midrash, from the Hebrew root DRSh (to search out), refers to the characteristic hermeneutics of the rabbis in the classical age and beyond. The term was first used by Ben Sira (second century b.c.e.) in a compound word meaning "my house of study" (Ben Sira 51:23), but it is employed commonly to refer to a particular hermeneutic posture, only by the rabbis themselves.

Rabbinic midrash begins with the text of Hebrew scripture, assuming scripture to be the product of divine revelation and hence a source of potentially infinite instruction. Legal texts are interpreted, often employing technical hermeneutic methods, to derive or support rabbinic law. Narrative texts are read with creative imagination to yield new models for Jewish piety or conduct, often rendering biblical texts relevant to a new era.

In medieval rabbinic culture, halakhic (legal) study was valued above midrashic discourse. However, despite the lower status of the midrashic enterprise, old midrashim were compiled into new collections, and new midrashim were composed. Some have argued that because midrash had few direct normative consequences, it was the mechanism through which the rabbinic imagination was realized.

The great freedom exhibited by midrashic readings—and midrashic support of multiple readings of the same base text—has allowed midrash to gain surprising popularity in contemporary circles. Literary theorists have turned to midrash as an exemplar of the claim that a text's meaning (even a divine text) is indeterminate and, further, that the author's intent does not control meaning. Because of the evident innovative possibilities of a midrashic approach, many contemporary Jews have returned to the Hebrew Bible to write "modern midrash." Particularly notable as part of this phenomenon are new feminist midrashim.

See alsoJudaism.


Hartman, Geoffrey H., and Sanford Budick. Midrashand Literature. 1986.

Neusner, Jacob. The Midrash:AnIntroduction. 1990.

David Kraemer


views updated Jun 27 2018

Midrash (Heb., ‘interpretation’). Type of Jewish literature mainly concerned with the interpretation of biblical texts. The aggadic midrashim seek to derive a moral principle or theological concept from scriptures, while the halakhic midrashim aim to explain the full meaning of a biblical law.


views updated May 18 2018

Midrash an ancient commentary on part of the Hebrew scriptures, attached to the biblical text. The earliest Midrashim come from the 2nd century ad, although much of their content is older.


views updated Jun 27 2018

midrash Jewish commentary on the Hebrew scriptures. XVII. — Heb. midhrāš, f. dāraš investigate, search.