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.