Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Talmudical Hermeneutics

Talmudical Hermeneutics refers to the science which defines the rules and methods for the investigation and exact determination of the meaning of the Scriptures, both legal and historical. Since the Halakah, however, is regarded simply as an exposition and explanation of the Torah, Talmud hermeneutics includes also the rules by which the requirements of the oral law are derived from and established by the written law. These rules relate to:

grammar and exegesis
  • the interpretation of certain words and letters and superfluous words, prefixes, and suffixes in general
  • the interpretation of those letters which, in certain words, are provided with points
  • the interpretation of the letters in a word according to their numerical value (see Gematria)
  • the interpretation of a word by dividing it into two or more words (see Noṭariḳon)
  • the interpretation of a word according to its consonantal form or according to its vocalization
  • the interpretation of a word by transposing its letters or by changing its vowels
  • the logical deduction of a halakah from a Scriptural text or from another law
Compilations of such hermeneutic rules were made in the earliest times. The tannaitic tradition recognizes three such collections, namely

  1. the 7 Rules of Hillel (baraita at the beginning of Sifra; Ab. R. N. xxxvii.)
  2. the 13 Rules of R. Ishmael (baraita at the beginning of Sifra; this collection is merely an amplification of that of Hillel)
  3. the 32 Rules of R. Eliezer b. Jose ha-Gelili. These last-mentioned rules are contained in an independent baraita (Baraita on the Thirty-two Rules) which has been incorporated and preserved only in later works. They are intended for haggadic interpretation, but many of them are valid for the Halakah as well, coinciding with the rules of Hillel and Ishmael.


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