SIFREI (Aram. סִפְרֵי; Heb. סְפָרִים; "books") on Deuteronomy (sd), primarily a midrash halakhah of the school of R. Akiva, encompasses six sections from Deuteronomy: 1:1–30; 3:23–29; 6:4–9; 11:10–26:15; 31:14; 32:1–34:12 (the end of Deuteronomy). Each of these six units opens with the initial verse of a weekly Torah portion according to the custom of the Land of Israel, but the principle that guided the redactors of sd for the inclusion of Midrashim for these specific sections is unclear.
The editio princeps divides sd into piska'ot (סליק פיסקא – "the conclusion of the piska"), like the division of the printed edition of sn. Most of the manuscripts contain a division into verses (סליק פסוקא – "the conclusion of the verse"). In a number of places, there is an alternative division into chapters (סליק פירקא – "the conclusion of the chapter"), and in a relatively large number of locations, the unclear abbreviation פ׳ appears. In most of the complete manuscripts, however, the division is not regular, as it is in sn, and no division markers are preserved in several remnants from Genizah codices; some of the added notations of piska'ot in the relatively complete division of the printed edition disrupt the continuity of the expositions. At the same time, sd preserves several remnants of another, presumably earlier, division into "baraitot" and a later division into the Babylonian weekly Torah portions.
Most scholars regard the central unit of sd, that uninterruptedly expounds the halakhic passages in Deut. 12:1–26:15 (= piska'ot 59–303) as belonging to the school of R. Akiva. It is also accepted that the midrashim on the passages "Hear, O Israel" (Deut. 6:4–9) and "If, then, you obey" (Deut. 11:13–21) (= piska'ot 31–36; 41–47) contain clear signs pointing to an association with the school of R. Ishmael. The affiliation, however, of the aggadic sections in the first and last parts of sd is the subject of disagreement. Hoffmann initially thought that the entire first part of the midrash (piska'ot 1–58) is from the school of R. Ishmael, while the last part (piska'ot 304–357) belongs to that of R. Akiva. He later changed his opinion and also attributed the last aggadic section, beginning with piska 304, to the school of R. Ishmael. This view was fundamentally also held by Epstein, but he considered the aggadic section from the school of R. Ishmael at the beginning of sd as encompassing only piska'ot 1–54. Epstein placed the changeover point from the school of R. Ishmael to that of R. Akiva at the end of piska 54, under the influence of a Geniza fragment of Mekhilta on Deuteronomy, from the school of R. Ishmael that was discovered by Schechter and resembles sd, piska 54, but completely diverges from the latter beginning with piska 55. Goldberg reexamined this question and concluded that the aggadic sections at the beginning of sd (piska'ot 1–54, excluding the passages of "Hear, O Israel" and "If, then, you obey") and at its end are from the school of R. Akiva, in accordance with his general view that all the lengthy aggadic sections in Ḥm belong to this school. It has been noted, however (see *Midrashei Halakhah, (3) The Aggadic Material), concerning the aggadic material in Ḥm, that most of the outstanding characteristics of the two schools do not find expression in the aggadic material and that there is in fact a high degree of similarity between the aggadic material contained in the parallel midrashim deriving from the two schools of tannaitic midrash. This similarity is quite noticeable in the aggadic material common to sd and Mekhilta Deuteronomy. In light of this, the "seam" at the beginning of piska 55 is to be viewed as a transition from the aggadic material that does not belong to either of the schools to the halakhic material from the school of R. Akiva.
L. Finkelstein published the scientific edition of sd, completed in Berlin in 1939, a month after the outbreak of World War ii. Finkelstein based his edition mainly on five almost complete direct textual versions that include both sn and sd – the editio princeps and four manuscripts, six short Genizah fragments, Midrash Ḥakhamim, Yalkut Shimoni, and additional indirect textual versions. As regards the text, Finkelstein writes in his introduction: "For the most part, I chose the versions of ms. Rome, and I rejected it only where it was clear that another version was better and superior to it." In regard to the spelling in his edition, Finkelstein explained in his introduction that "the textual version of Sifre was redacted in the Land of Israel, and was obviously written in the Land of Israel spelling, or to be more precise, in the Galilean spelling. Many times a yod or a vav was added as an aid to vocalization, and the plural is usually marked with a nun, in place of a mem. For the convenience of the reader, I did not pay attention to these fine points and seemingly superfluous letters. In the main, I printed words in their usual spelling, although from the aspect of, and for the study of, Hebrew spelling, as well as for pronunciation, [not even] the crowns of letters nor the 'point of a yod' should be waived." To aid the reader, the textual variant section also lists textual versions that support Finkelstein's text, and not only the versions that differ from it. In the section of commentary and references to parallels, Finkelstein also made use of Horovitz's literary estate, citing him verbatim within brackets.
The first booklets of this edition were printed individually and were reviewed by Epstein and then Lieberman. Epstein harshly criticized Finkelstein's eclectic method of determining the text, in which he also incorporated, without any clear marker in the text itself, the versions of Midrash ha-Gadol that were taken from the second Midrash (md) and other parallels, and also the emendations that the editor added on his own, and opposed to all the textual versions. Epstein similarly faulted the method of spelling adopted by Finkelstein in his edition, which frequently diverges from all the manuscripts. In addition to the methodological objections, Epstein also discussed a large number of topics, versions, and interpretations that were set forth in the edition. In conclusion, Epstein stressed that, despite all its drawbacks, "at long last we have the foundation of the text of Sifrei on which we can build, and the content and the builder are to be congratulated." Lieberman's criticism is more sympathetic. He, too, complained that Finkelstein emended the text in opposition to the manuscripts, but he emphasized the important contribution made by Finkelstein and the advantages of the edition in diverse areas, primarily the small number of corruptions it contains in relation to the size of the book, the stress placed on the mutual relations between the manuscripts that it presents, the large number of quotations from the literature of the Rishonim, the numerous references to talmudic and extra-talmudic parallels, and the up-to-date references to the scholarly literature.
A photocopy edition of Finkelstein's work was published in New York in 1969. In his introduction to this edition, Finkelstein notes, with refreshing candor, "I would still like to correct the mistakes that arose during the copying of the changes; and also the textual version, where I was so audacious as to emend the text in opposition to all the accepted versions, which should not be done, but I was childish at the time." He also directed the reader to quotations from sd in Yalkut Talmud Torah and Pseudo-Rabad that became available to him during the conclusion of his work and afterwards, and that should be taken into account.
All this compels the reader of Finkelstein's edition to check the textual variants and commentary sections constantly and thoroughly, in order, with their aid, to reconstruct the manuscript versions and to examine the editor's considerations in his determination of the text. Most of the direct and indirect textual versions of sd, as well as its commentaries, also include Sifrei Numbers, as is the case for ms. Vatican 32, the best textual version of Sifrei Numbers and sd. Although Finkelstein wrote that he had preferred its versions, in practice he digressed from it many times, and, in general, did not determine the text in accordance with this manuscript in most of the problematic passages, where he definitely should have remained faithful to its versions. Additionally, new texts of sd have since been discovered, in addition to the list of addenda that Finkelstein included at the beginning of his second edition, the most important of which are: some 45 leaves from the Cairo Genizah, Yehudah Nachum collection, and the archives of Modena and Nonantola, 13 leaves in ms. jts Rab. 2392, and copious citations from sd in the Yemenite midrash in ms. Cincinnati 2026.
Dozens of expositions from the corresponding Midrash (Mekhilta Deuteronomy) were added to the central section ofsd (belonging the school of R. Akiva) in several manuscripts of the latter. These irregular expositions can be identified by their clear exhibition of characteristics of the school of R. Ishmael and especially by their presence in only a few textual versions, at times in a different place in each manuscript, as they interrupt the continuity of the original exegeses of sd. Some are explicitly labeled as "tosefta" (addition) in the commentaries of Rabbenu Hillel and other Rishonim. Finkelstein published these additions in his edition in small print, and Epstein also devoted a special discussion to them, in which he disagreed with several of Finkelstein's hypotheses regarding the origin of a number of expositions in sd as unoriginal marginal annotations. Now, with the discovery of additional Genizah fragments and Yemenite manuscripts, we see that these additions made their way from the marginal annotations only to the Western manuscripts of sd, while the Eastern textual versions of this Midrash lack these additions.
Regarding the unique nature of sd, Finkelstein observed that it still contains a significant number of early halakhot that follow the view of Beit Shammai and earlier remains from the Second Temple period, possibly even from the period of the prophets. An exacting study of Finkelstein's proofs teaches that many do not withstand the test of critical examination and that sd does not contain more early halakhot than the other Ḥm. For a summary of the opinions concerning the redactors of sd, see the study by Epstein; for his commentaries on the Midrash, see the description of Sifrei Numbers.
English: R. Hammer, Sifre: A Tannaitic Commentary on the Book of Deuteronomy (New Haven-London, 1986); J. Neusner, Sifre to Deuteronomy: An Analytical Translation (Atlanta, 1987). German: H. Bietenhard, and H. Ljungman, Der tannaitische Midrasch Sifre Deuteronomium (Bern, 1984). Spanish: T. Martines, Sifre Deuteronomio: comentario al libre de Deuteronomio, vols. 1–2 (Catalonia, 1989–1997).
Ch. Albeck, Introduction to the Talmuds (Heb., 1969), 127–29; idem, Untersuchungen ueber die Halakhischen Midraschim (1927), 84, 107–11; H.W. Basser, Midrashic Interpretations of the Song of Moses (1984); idem, Pseudo-Rabad Commentary to Sifre Deuteronomy (1994); J.N. Epstein, "Finkelstein L., Siphre zu Deuteronomium," in: Tarbiz, 8 (1937), 375–92 (Heb.); idem, Introduction to the Mishnaic Text (Heb., 1948), 731–33; idem, "Mechilta and Sifre in the Works of Maimonides," in: Tarbiz, 6 (1935), 343–82 (Heb.); idem, Prolegomena ad Litteras Tannaiticas (Heb., 1957), 625–30, 703–24; L. Finkelstein, Sifra on Leviticus, vol. 5 (1992), 40–88, 53*–101*; L. Finkelstein (ed.), Sifre on Deuteronomy (Heb., 1939); S.D. Fraade, From Tradition to Commentary: Torah and Its Interpretation in the Midrash Sifre to Deuteronomy (1991); idem, "Sifre Deuteronomy 26 (ad Deut. 3.23): How Conscious the Composition?" in: huca, 54 (1983), 254–301; idem, "The Turn to Commentary in Ancient Judaism: The Case of Sifre Deuteronomy," in: P. Ochs (ed.), The Return to Scripture in Judaism and Christianity (1993), 142–71; A. Goldberg, "The School of Rabbi Akiva and the School of Rabbi Ishmael in Sifre Deuteronomy, Pericopes 1–54," in: Te'uda, 3 (1983), 9–16 (Heb.); I.B. Gottlieb, "Language Understanding in Sifre Deuteronomy" (Ph. D. diss., New York University, 1972); idem, "Midrash as Philology," in; jqr, 75 (1984), 132–161; M. Kahana, "The Commentary of Rabbenu Hillel to the Sifre," in: Kiryath Sepher, 63 (1990), 271–80 (Heb.); idem, The Genizah Fragments of the Halakhic Midrashim (Heb.), 1 (2005), 227–337; idem, "Halakhic Midrash Collections," in: The Literature of the Sages, vol. 3b (2006); idem, Manuscripts of the Halakhic Midrashim: An Annotated Catalogue (Heb.; 1995), 97–107; S. Lieberman, "Siphre zu Deuteromium ed. L. Finkelstein," in: Kiryath Sepher, 14 (1938), 323–36 (Heb.); E.Z. Melamed, The Relationship between the Halakhic Midrashim and the Mishnah & Tosefta (Heb., 1967), 79–93, 142–45.
[Menahem I. Kahana (2nd ed.)]
"Sifrei." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 17, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/sifrei
"Sifrei." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved December 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/sifrei