Baraita of 32 Rules

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BARAITA OF 32 RULES , baraita giving 32 hermeneutic rules to be used in the aggadic interpretation of Scripture. Rashi makes frequent use of the Baraita of 32 Rules in his commentaries on the Bible and Talmud, referring to it by this name or as the baraita of Yose b. Eleazar, the Galilean. Until the 19th century it was known only from being quoted in the 14th century Sefer Keritot, the methodological work of *Samson b. Isaac of Chinon.

The baraita now appears at the beginning of the Midrash Mishnat R. Eli'ezer (discovered and published by H.G. Enelow (1933), 10ff.); and at the beginning of Midrash ha-Gadol to Genesis (ed. by M. Margaliot (1947), 22ff.). Although ascribed to Yose b. Eleazar, who lived about 150 c.e., many examples of the application of its rules are attributed to later tannaim and even to the amoraim Johanan, and Yose b. Ḥanina. It is therefore probable that the original baraita merely listed the rules, the examples being added later as a kind of Gemara. The Midrash ha-Gadol version contains the introductory statement, "These are the rules whereby the aggadah is to be understood," clearly indicating that these rules were to be applied only to the aggadah and not to the halakhah. The baraita deals mainly with the syntax, style, and subject matter of Scripture, and after each rule gives one or more examples of its application. Although the 13 halakhic rules of R. Ishmael (see *Hermeneutics) are included in the baraita, all the examples given are taken from aggadic passages, even Ishmael's rules being applied with less rigor. Under ribbui ("addition") for instance, the example given is that the word "and" in Genesis (Gen. 21:1) teaches that all the barren women in the world were blessed with children at the same time as Sarah. The word "also" in "I also saw in my dreams" (Gen. 40:16) teaches that in addition to his own dream the chief baker saw in his dream the interpretation of the chief butler's dream. Some of the rules are almost word games. Number 29 is gematria computing the numerical value of words. The numerical value of Eliezer, servant of Abraham, for instance, is 318. Hence, it is inferred that when Abraham went to war with 318 men to save Lot (Gen. 14:14) the reference is to Eliezer only. Number 30 is atbash, the substitution of the last letter of the alphabet for the first, of the penultimate letter for the second, etc. Thus לֵב קָמָי (Lev-Kamai; Jer. 51:1) becomes כַּשְׂדִים (Kasdim; Chaldees). Number 31 is notarikon, the interpretation of each letter of a word or its breaking up as an anagram or acrostic. Thus אַבְרֵךְ (avrekh; "Abrech") applied to Joseph (Gen. 41:43) becomes the two words av ("father," in wisdom), and rakh ("tender" in years), describing the qualities of Joseph. Lieberman points out that some of these eccentric methods of interpreting texts were common literary devices among the Greeks, and were also used by them and by the rabbis in the interpretation of dreams. Being current literary devices, they were well-known and used by the rabbis both in aggadic interpretation and in finding some support in the biblical text for a decision. They were never used however, to derive halakhic decisions from the text. Lieberman finds support for this view in an anonymous Midrash, appended to the Baraita of 32 Rules in the Midrash ha-Gadol. Commenting on "For a dream cometh through a multitude of business" (Eccles., 5:2), the author says, "If the contents of dreams, which have no effect, may yield a multitude of interpretations, how much more then should the important contents of the Torah imply many interpretations in every case."


Zunz, Vortraege, 90; Bacher, Tann, 2 (1890), 293–8; H.L. Strack, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (1945), 95–98, 289–96; S. Lieberman, Hellenism in Jewish Palestine (1950), 68–78.

[Barnet David Klien]