Sifrei Ha-Minim

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SIFREI HA-MINIM (Heb. סִפְרֵי הַמִּנִּים; lit. "books of the sectarians"). In Tosefta Shabbat 13:5, et al., it is stated that gilyonim (lit. "sheets of parchment") and sifrei ha-minim, may not be saved from fire on the Sabbath, but should be left to burn even if they contain Divine Names. On a weekday, however, according to Yose ha-Gelili, these Names should be cut out and the rest burned. For, according to R. Tarfon, unlike ordinary idolators who do not know God and therefore do not deny Him, *minim ("sectarians") are those who recognize God but nonetheless deny Him. R. Ishmael adds that these books bring enmity between Israel and their Father in Heaven, presumably because they cause them to stray from the true path; minim should therefore be shunned (referring to Ps. 139:21–22). By gilyonim is meant Gospel texts, as is explicitly stated in the uncensored version of Shabbat 116a by Meir (second century) and Johanan (third century), who, satirically punning on the term Evangelion, call it aven gillayon (gilyon; "scroll of falsehood") and avon gillayon (gilyon; "scroll of sin") respectively (see Rabinovitz, Dik. Sof., 260, n. 60). For this reason, despite biblical citations and Names of God contained in these Gospel texts, they are left to be burned.

The term sifrei ha-minim is, however, somewhat more problematic. Bacher (in rej, 38 (1899) 38–46), followed by Buechler and others, interprets it as meaning Torah scrolls written by minim (cf. Sif. Num. 16; see A. Buechler, Studies in Jewish History (1956), 272). But the term as found in Ḥagigah 15b (see Dik. Sof., 59, n. 3) and in Sanhedrin 100b (Dik. Sof., 303, n. 10) clearly cannot bear this meaning, but means heretical writings. Moore (Judaism, 1 (1946), 86f., 243f.), S. Lieberman (Tosefta ki-Feshutah, 3 (1962), 206f.), and others, suggest that sifrei ha-minim refers to Christian writings which abound in (reinterpreted) biblical citations. A new interpretation has been suggested by M. Margalioth, who published a newly recovered "book of magic from the talmudic period" (Sefer ha-Razim, 1966). It is a strange Hebrew treatise of Judeo-heathen character and is dated by the editor to the third or fourth centuries c.e. (p. 23–28). Margalioth concludes that when the Talmud speaks of sifrei ha-minim or sifrei kosemin ("books of diviners"; Tosef., Ḥul. 2:20, etc.), it refers to such a class of syncretist magical literature. However, his early dating of this text is still somewhat uncertain, and his explanation, though attractive, remains doubtful.

The sifrei ha-minim in Tosefta, Yadayim 2:13, mentioned there together with books of the Apocrypha, have no sanctity and therefore "do not render the hands that touch them ritually unclean." A comparison of this passage with that of Yadayim 4:6 and other related texts demonstrates conclusively, however, that the correct reading is sefer hamiras, meaning Homeric literature (see S. Lieberman, Hellenism in Jewish Palestine (1950), 105–14, especially 106 n. 39). However, this ruling remains true of sifrei haminim too.


S. Hahn, in: Emlékkönyv Dr. Mahler (1937), 427–35.

[Daniel Sperber]