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Halakha and Aggada in Rabbinic Literature

Mon, December 17, 10:30am to 12:00pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Federal 1 Complex

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


Halakha and Aggada in Rabbinic Literature

Jeffrey L. Rubenstein, NYU, Session Organizer

Recent scholarship has questioned and problematized the traditional distinction between halakhah and aggadah. In particular, scholars have recognized the normative aspects of aggadah, narrative tendencies of halakhic material, and the complex interweaving between the two “genres” to the point where identification and separation can be difficult. Whether halakha and aggadah should be conceptualized as genres, modes of discourse, or by some other conceptual rubric is also open to question. This session explores these and other questions with three papers that discuss the relationship between, and nature and function of, halakha and aggada in the Tannaitic Midrashim (Steven Fraade), the Mishnah (Moshe Simon-Shoshan), and the Babylonian Talmud (Yonatan Feintuch).

Steven Fraade’s paper, argues that the categories halakha and aggada should not be abandoned, as some scholars have recommended, as the distinctions between them are "native" to early rabbinic literature in a way that other imposed dichotomies are not. Rather, the very porousness of the categories should be highlighted, as they are in several early rabbinic texts. Fraade analyzes Tannaitic midrashich texts that themselves emphasize the dynamic intersection of the two modes of midrashic discourse, and argues that "difference" can and should be celebrated without it becoming "dichotomy."

Moshe Simon-Shoshan’s paper claims that aggadic material in the Mishnah has a different status than the aggada in the classical midrashim and the Talmudim. The limited aggadic material in the Mishnah does not appear in separate sections but is almost always integrated into the halakhic discussion. The aggadic passages help to construct the literary, political, moral and theological framework of Mishnaic halakhah. They invoke and construct the wider authority of the rabbis, remind the reader of the broader ethical responsibilities of Jews beyond the halakhah, and invoke the covenantal basis of rabbinic law.

Yonatan Feintuch’s paper presents various models of halakha-aggada relationships in the Babylonian Talmud with close readings and careful analysis of sugyot to develop a taxonomy of these differing relationships. He examines the status of aggada vis-à-vis the halakhic discussion in which context it appears as arises from the structure of the sugya and its redaction. Feintuch questions whether there can be one general answer to the question of the relationship between halakha and aggada or whether a more diverse and complex answer is necessary.

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