The Mishnah – 22

Most of the Tannaitic literature belongs to the halachic genre, and is made up of laws, as opposed to the aggadic genre, which is made up of stories, legends, sayings and ideas. In many educational settings in the Jewish world today, which are not committed to a halachic way of life, this literature is therefore neglected, with biblical texts largely preferred, as well as some aggadic stories gleaned from the literature of the sages.

In his classic essay “Halachah and Aggadah“, Hayim Nahman Bialik (considered Israel’s national poet, though he died before the foundation of the state) decries the focus of his generation on Aggadah, and the neglect of Halachah. He advocates a renewal of the study of Halachah, both as a literary genre, and as a way of life – not necessarily the traditional Halachah of the Shulchan Aruch, but the concept of commitment to a way of life.

We will read an excerpt of Bialik’s essay both to see how deeply grounded some modern-day figures in the Israeli literary world are in the world of the ancient texts, and to understand Bialik’s claim that Halachah and Halachic literature should not be abandoned as irrelevant in this day of Aggadah. Then we will study some of the texts from the Mishnah to which Bialik refers, and end by discussing whether these texts can be used in our classrooms.


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Israel and Babylonia – 23

A Jewish diaspora has existed since the times of the First Temple. The balance of power between Eretz Yisrael and the diaspora was in a constant flux, depending on the sizes of the communities, their economic and political wellbeing, and the existence of a temple which served as the religious center for the Jewish world. In this unit we’ll look at Eretz Yisrael-diaspora relations in the time of the second Temple and after its destruction, always keeping in mind the (somewhat striking) parallels with phenomena we observe today. As an example of a large and powerful community (somewhat like the North-American Jewish community today?) we will examine in more detail the Babylonian community. We’ll look at the two Talmuds, one from Babylonia and the other from Eretz Yisrael, to see the differences and why they emerged, and examine one particular story which appears in both Talmuds, with subtle but telling difference.


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