Mekhilta Deuteronomy

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MEKHILTA DEUTERONOMY (md) is a halakhic Midrash of the school of R. Ishmael, the exact scope of which has not been determined, since the greater part of this Midrash is not extant. One of the Genizah fragments of md indicates that its first unit ended with Deut. 1:30, and its second unit began with Deut. 3:23, as does Sifre Deuteronomy (sd). This might indicate that its other sections, as well, were essentially parallel to those of sd. In four Genizah fragments md is divided into "parashot," each of which includes an average of four to five verses. In a later fragment, that originated in Yemen, the Midrash is divided into verses ("סל׳ פס׳" – end of verse), but this was probably not an original division, and was influenced by the common division of sd that was prevalent in Yemen.

Hoffmann was the first scholar to methodically demonstrate that R. David ha-Adani used md in his composition of Midrash ha-Gadol, and, following this premise, also began to reconstruct the former. Schechter then published four Genizah leaves of md, Re'eh, which he identified in Oxford and in Cambridge. On the basis of these leaves, and a reexamination of Midrash ha-Gadol, Hoffmann began a second reconstruction of md in his book Midrash Tanaim, which was published in two volumes (Berlin, 1908–09).

In this edition, still used by scholars to the present day, Hoffmann printed in one font all the passages from Midrashha-Gadol that differ in a pronounced manner from sd, and used a second font for all the Midrash ha-Gadol passages that resemble sd, and whose identification as md he regarded as doubtful. Several times during the course of his edition, however, Hoffmann changed the fonts marking the similar or varying passages (on pp. 1–24, 63–180, large type = a passage different from sd, small type = a passage similar to Sif. Deut.; on the other hand, on pp. 24–62, 180–252, large type = a passage similar to sd, small type = a passage different from sd).

There are many drawbacks to this edition. As has been proven from the Genizah fragments, a large portion of md was not quoted in Midrash ha-Gadol, and the part that was cited was on occasion reworked by Adani, or was corrupted by the copyist of the only manuscript of Midrash ha-Gadol that was available to Hoffmann. Hoffmann often included in his edition Midrashim that the author of Midrash ha-Gadol had undoubtedly copied from sd, bt, Mishnat R. Eliezer, the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides, and other sources. Hoffmann generally voices his doubts concerning the authenticity of such passages, but the reader must conduct his own examination of each passage with this issue in mind.

Several additional passages from md came to light after the publication of Midrash Tanaim. Schechter published a Genizah fragment consisting of two leaves from md, Re'eh. Kahana later succeeded in identifying two additional fragments, each of two leaves, from md, Devarim-Va-Etanan and Ha'azinu-Ve-Zot ha-Berakhah, along with a lengthy quotation from md, Ekev and Ha'azinu, that appears in an early collection in the Genizah. The second fragment that Schechter published from the Cambridge Genizah collection was the subject of a second, and more exacting, edition by Epstein, and new editions of Midrash ha-Gadol on Deuteronomy have been published, based on several manuscripts. These editions, and other manuscripts of Midrash ha-Gadol, enable us to correct many of the corruptions that entered Midrash Tanaim. A considerable number of expositions from md were inserted in the Western textual versions of sd, and others are preserved in quotations by medieval sages that have been discovered in recent years. It would seem, however, that the circulation of md was already quite limited in the medieval period.

The direct passages from md discovered to the present contain only some five percent of the Midrash, a fact that severely hinders its research. The most detailed description of md and its nature as a Midrash from the school of R. Ishmael was written by Hoffmann, after he completed his edition of Midrash Tanaim, and Epstein engaged in a concise discussion of md following the new edition of one of its passages. It should be mentioned that the halakhic material in the three fragments that were published by Schechter is notable for its lengthy and detailed expositions. The aggadic material of md also is characterized by a certain degree of lengthiness, in comparison to the parallel material in sd. At times the version of the aggadic exegeses in md is superior in its language, style, and content to that of the parallel expositions in sd, which occasionally suffer from non uniformity of style, vague expositions that lack inner logic, and a number of corruptions shared by all the manuscripts. Some of the differences between md and sd apparently are a consequence of the varying worldviews of the redactors of these Midrashim (see, e.g., the outline of the differing attitude by the redactors of these Midrashim to the non-Jewish peoples).


J.N. Epstein, Prolegomena ad Litteras Tannaiticas (Hebr.) (1957), 631–33, 711–23; idem, Studies in Talmudic Literature and Semitic Languages (Heb.), ed. E.Z. Melamed, vol. 2 (1988), 125–40; M. Hirshman, Tora for the Entire World (Heb.) (1999), 108–13; D. Hoffmann, Der Midrasch Tannaim zum Deuteronoium (Heb.) (1908–09); idem, "Uber eine Mechilta zu Deuteronomium," in: Jubelschrift des I. Hildesheimer (1890), 83–93; idem, "Zur Einleitung in den Midrasch Tannaim zum Deuteronomium," in: Jahrbuchder Judisch-Literarischen Gesellschaft, 6 (1909), 304–23; M. Kahana, "Citations of the Deuteronomy Mekhilta Ekev and Ha'azinu," in: Tarbiz, 56 (1987), 19–59 (Heb.); idem, "Halakhic Midrash Collections," in: The Literature of the Sages, vol. 3b (2006); idem, Manuscripts of the Halakhic Midrashim: An Annotated Catalogue (Heb.) (1995), 108–11; idem, The Genizah Fragments of the Halakhic Midrashim (Heb.), 1 (2005), 338–57; idem, "The Importance of Dwelling in the Land of Israel According to the Deuteronomy Mekhilta," in: Tarbiz, 62 (1993), 501–13 (Heb.); idem, "New Fragments of the Mekhilta on Deuteronomy," in: Tarbiz, 54 (1985), 485–551 (Heb.); idem, "Pages of the Deuteronomy Mekhilta Portions Ha'azinu and Zot ha-Berakhah," in: Tarbiz, 57 (1988), 165–201 (Heb.); E.Z. Melamed, The Relationship between the Halakhic Midrashim and the Mishnah … Tosefta (Heb.) (1967), 145–53; S. Schechter, "Genizah Fragments," in: jqr, 16 (1904), 446–52; idem, "The Mechilta to Deuteronomy," in: jqr, 16 (1904), 695–99; idem, "Mekhilta Deuteronomy the Portion of Re'eh," in: M. Brann and I. Elbogen (eds.), Festschrift zu siebzigsten Geburstag Israel Lewy's (1910), Hebrew Section, 188–92.

[Menahem I. Kahana (2nd ed.)]