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Midrash Lekaḥ Tov


MIDRASH LEKAḤ TOV (Heb. מִדְרַשׁ לֶקַח טוֹב), a late 11th-century Midrash on the Pentateuch and Five Scrolls by Tobias b. Eliezer. The author called it Lekaḥ Tov ("good doctrine") on the basis of its opening verse (Prov. 4:2): "For I give you good doctrine" which he chose with allusion to his name (for the same reason he begins his interpretations of the weekly portions of Scripture and of the Scrolls with a verse containing the word tov, "good"). The book was called Pesikta by later scholars, and also, in error, Pesikta Zutarta. Tobias lived in the Balkans (Buber), and his Midrash contains allusions to contemporary historical events and specific reference to the martyrs of the First Crusade of 1096 (in the portion Emor and in his commentary on the verse "Therefore do the maidens love thee," Song 1:3). Zunz defined the Midrash as a composition which is "half exegesis and half aggadah," but even in the "half aggadah" the exegetical commentary aspect is conspicuous. Tobias took the ideas he needed from the Babylonian Talmud, the halakhic Midrashim, and the early aggadic Midrashim (including some no longer extant), as well as from the early mystical literature and used them as the basis of his Midrash. He did not however quote them literally nor as a rule did he mention their authors. He translated Aramaic passages as well as Greek and Latin terms into Hebrew; abridged the language of the early authors; and even combined their sayings and refashioned them. He tended to quote scriptural verses from memory, which explains the many variations from the standard text.

The work also contains hundreds of explanations by Tobias himself, some in the style of the midrashic literature and some giving the literal meaning. He expounds the keri and the ketiv, the *masorah, *gematriot, and *notarikon and also gives many mnemotechnical devices in the manner of the rabbis. His literal explanations are based on the rules of grammar, vocalization, accentuation, etc. It is noteworthy that he explains anthropomorphic verses and statements as parables and frequently repeats: "The Torah speaks in the language of men." This tendency is without doubt an aspect of his violent struggle with the Karaites which finds expression in the Midrash in many places. His practical aim is also conspicuous when he deals with certain halakhot whose performance was apparently neglected in his time. Tobias' Midrash was frequently quoted soon after it was written, but until the end of the last century only the Lekaḥ Tov to Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy had been published (first edition, Venice, 1746). It was published in full, Genesis and Exodus by S. Buber (1884); Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy by Meir Katzenellenbogen of Padua (1884) from the Venice edition with corrections; the Song of Songs was published by A.W. Greenup (1909); Ruth by I. Bamberger (1887); Lamentations by J. Nacht (1895), and again by Greenup (1908); Ecclesiastes by G. Finberg (1904); Esther by Buber in the Sifrei de-Aggadata al Megillat Esther (1886).


S. Buber, Midrash Lekaḥ Tov (1884), introd.; Zunz-Albeck, Derashot, 145f., 441–3; L. Ginzberg, Ginzei Schechter, 1 (1928), 253–97.

[Jacob Elbaum]

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