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Sifrei (Aram. סִפְרֵי) Numbers

SIFREI (Aram. סִפְרֵי) NUMBERS

SIFREI (Aram. סִפְרֵי) NUMBERS (sn) is a midrash halakhah of the school of R. *Ishmael. The Aramaic word sifrei means "books," and this name was also given to a halakhic Midrash on Deuteronomy. In the past a halakhic Midrash on Exodus was also similarly named. sn consists of Midrashim on 11 biblical units: Num. 5:1–7:19, 7:84–8:4, 8:23–29:14, 10:1–10, 10:29–12:16, 15:1–41, 18:1–19:22, 25:1–14, 26:52–56, 27:1–31:24, and 35:9–34. A comparison of the material that is expounded with what is not teaches that most of the halakhic passages are the subject of exegesis, while a majority of the literary sections were disregarded by the Midrash. This criterion is not absolute, since several narrative sections, such as the complaint by the people in the wilderness or the act of Phinehas at Shittim, were expounded, while several halakhic topics lack any exegesis, such as the commandment to dispossess the inhabitants of the land and the destruction of the cult places (bamot).

sn was formerly divided into two books, each named after their beginning. The first was called "Sefer va-Yedabber," after the initial word of the first verse that is expounded in Num. 5:1: "The Lord spoke [va-yedabber] to Moses, saying," and the second apparently was named "Sefer Zot," because it opened with the words "This is [zot] the statute of the Torah" (Num. 19:2). Each of these two books is divided into secondary topics, and each topic is further divided into "baraitot." The numerical sum of the baraitot is listed at the end of each subject, in the interim division of each of the two books, and at the conclusion of each of the two books themselves. Another division of sn is by verses ("סליק פסוקא" – "the completion of the verse"), but this would seem to be a later apportionment. The division according to the Babylonian Torah portions in several second-rate textual versions is not original.

The scientific edition of sn, the editing of which was the result of thorough consideration, was published by H. Saul *Horovitz in Leipzig in 1917. The body of the edition is generally based on the editio princeps published in Venice 1546, with corrections and additions following two manuscripts – Vatican 32 and London 341 – and numerous citations from sn in Yalkut Shimoni, Midrash Ḥakhamim, the commentary on sn by Rabbenu Hillel, and in several medieval Midrashim. The text itself is accompanied by an apparatus listing textual variants and another consisting of a concise commentary that also contains references to the parallels. The edition begins with a lengthy introduction that includes, inter alia, a characterization of the hermeneutical method of sn. This is the first critical edition of any work from the tannaitic literature, and Horovitz began the preparation of his editions of Mekhilta of R. Ishmael and Sifrei Deuteronomy only following its completion.

When all is said and done, however, this initial edition suffers from several limitations. Additional direct textual versions of sn were discovered after the publication of Horovitz's edition, most importantly ms. Oxford 151, ms. Berlin Tubingen 1594.33, eight leaves of ms. Firkovich ii a 269, Yalkut Talmud Torah by R. Jacob ben Hananel Sikili, which quotes extensive portions of sn, several commentaries on sn by Rishonim, Midrashim by Rishonim who made use of sn, and more. In determining the text of sn, Horovitz relied heavily upon the reworked and emended text of Midrash Ḥakhamim, which he considered to be the best textual version of sn; while ms. Vatican, the oldest manuscript of sn, was regarded by him to be a manuscript of lesser quality. Horovitz's erroneous appraisal of the manuscripts reflects a confusion between the textual versions of sn, on the one hand, and its parallels, on the other, and from an unawareness of several basic principles of talmudic philology that were developed only after the publication of his edition. Note should also be taken of his partial listing of textual variants and the tendency to harmonization that is evident in many of his interpretations.

As was mentioned above, the best manuscript of sn is Vatican 32, whose superiority to the other textual versions is expressed in various ways, such as: traces of the early division of sn, remnants of tannaitic language, rare or difficult words that were emended in other textual versions, original terminology, the style of the exegeses, the Mishnah of sn that other textual versions frequently emended in accordance with the extant Mishnah, baraitot that were not reworked in accordance with their parallels in tb, occasionally surviving remnants of early halakhot, a version of the Bible different from the masoretic text, and "foreign" texts whose exceptional nature is more clearly evident in this version. Along with its original formulations, ms. Vatican also contains many homoiteleuton, interchanged letters, and even a small number of emendations and adaptations. Obviously, other textual versions must be employed as well, both in order to reconstruct the original versions of sn and to study their evolution in the medieval period.

A number of Rishonim composed commentaries on sn, most of which also interpret Sifrei Deuteronomy. The most important of these works are the commentaries of Rabbenu Hillel, the commentary attributed to Rabad, the commentary in ms. Mantua 36, and that by R. Soliman Ohana. The especially outstanding commentaries on sn by *Aḥaronim include those by R. David *Pardo, R. Meir *Friedmann (Ish Shalom), and R. Naphtali Zvi Judah *Berlin.

An exceptional feature of sn is the relatively large number of "foreign" texts that it incorporates, some of which are inserted in the middle of expositions, interrupting their continuity; while the placement of others does not follow the order of the Pentateuch. Some of these foreign texts are cited in sn in the name of R. *Judah ha-Nasi or were attributed to him in other talmudic parallels. Most of Judah ha-Nasi's other dicta in sn, which harmonize with the course of the expositions, were included as a last opinion presented in the conclusion of the exegesis. This fact leads us to believe that the initial redaction of sn was followed by the insertion of another stratum from "the school of Rabbi." Attention should also be paid to the fact that sn hardly contains expositions in the name of tannaim from the generation after R. Judah ha-Nasi, which is possibly indicative of the relatively early redaction of this halakhic midrash. The brevity of the exegeses in sn, in comparison with the other halakhic midrashim, and the relative paucity of associative expansions in this midrash would seem to support this suggestion.


English: J. Neusner, Sifre to Numbers: An Analytical Translation (1986), piska'ot 1–115. German: D. Borner-Klein, Der Midrasch Sifre zu Numeri (1997), 1–385; K.G. Kuhn, Sifre zu Numeri (1934; 1959). Spanish: M.P. Fernandes, Midras Sifre Numeros (1989).


Ch. Albeck, Introduction to the Talmuds (Heb., 1969), 123–27; idem, Untersuchungen ueber die Halakhischen Midraschim (1927), 105–7; M. Bar-Asher, "A Preliminary Study of Mishnaic Hebrew as Reflected in Codex Vatican 32 of Sifre-Bamidbar," in: Te'uda, 3 (1983), 139–65 (Heb.); H.W. Basser, Pseudo-Rabad Commentary to Sifre Numbers (1998); D. Borner-Klein, Der Midrasch Sifre zu Numeri (1997), 389–777; J.N. Epstein, Introduction to the Mishnaic Text (Heb., 1948), 733–35, 747–51; idem, Prolegomena ad Litteras Tannaiticas (Heb., 1957), 588–624; M. Hirshman, "Rabbinic Universalism in the Second and Third Centuries," in: hrt, 93 (2000), 101–15; M. Kahana, "The Biblical Text as Reflected in ms Vatican 32 of the Sifre," in: Y. Sussmann-D. Rosenthal (eds.), Talmudic Studies, 1 (Heb., 1990), 1–10; idem, "The Commentary of Rabbenu Hillel to the Sifre," in: Kiryath Sepher, 63 (1990), 271–80 (Heb.); idem, The Genizah Fragments of the Halakhic Midrashim, 1 (Heb., 2005), 187–213; idem, "Halakhic Midrash Collections," in: The Literature of the Sages, vol. 3b (2006); idem, "Manuscripts Commentaries on the Sifre," in: Studies in Memory of the Rishon Le-Zion R. Yitzhak Nissim, vol. 2, 95–118 (Heb.); idem, Manuscripts of the Halakhic Midrashim: An Annotated Catalogue (Heb., 1995), 89–94; idem, "Marginal Annotations of the School of Rabbi Judah the Prince in Halakhic Midrashim," in: S. Jafet (ed.), Studies in Bible and Talmud (Heb., 1987), 69–85; idem, Prolegomena to a New Edition of the Sifre on Numbers (Heb., 1982); idem, "To Whom Was the Land Divided," in: Gedenkschrift for Mordechai Wiser (1981), 249–73 (Heb.); E.Z. Melamed, The Relationship between the Halakhic Midrashim and the Mishnah & Tosefta (Heb., 1967), 123–41; Y.M. Ta-Shema, "An Unpublished Franco-German Commentary on Bereshit and Vayikra Rabba, Mekhilta and Sifre," in: Tarbiz, 55 (1986), 61–75 (Heb.).

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

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