J.Neusner ,Recensione di un libro di Michael Chernick sulla letteratura rabbinica

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Michael Chernick

A Great Voice that Did Not Cease.

The Growth of the Rabbinic Canon and its Interpretation.

Cincinnati, 2009: Hebrew Union College Press. 312 pp.

Michael Chernick, who teaches Talmud and Rabbinics at HUC-JIR in New York City, here explains the meaning and implications of certain fixed interpretative rhetorical formulas that recur in the analytical discussions of late antique Rabbinic literature, with stress on the hermeneutics of the law of the Talmud of Babylonia. The formulas guide the formation of the law on the foundation of scriptural interpretation. For example, take the formula, "Though there is no solid biblical proof for the matter under consideration, there is a less than solid support for it in the biblical text." Chernick explains, "By saying this, the interpreters tell us that we are dealing with something they are not able to derive in any direct sense from the authoritative word pf God."

Other rhetorical formulas are as follows: harmonization in "two contradictory verses expositions;" "if the biblical rule under discussion is inapplicable to subject A, apply it to subject B" (a huge chapter);"two scriptural passages that come to teach a single principle do not teach anything." The conclusions are these: "The Tannaim considered the Pentateuch their sole source of authority for Halakhah, while the Amoraim considered the entire Tanakh as a source for their legislation;" "the Tannaim...had no tolerance for contradictions in the Pentateuch;" redundancy and illogic were not tolerated. The research answers the question, "If the rabbinic theology of canon and revelation changed, what made that happen?"

An elaborate document by document examination of the usages of the formula throughout the late antique sources follows. The data are differentiated by documents and by the status — the temporal order — of the authorities to whom they are attributed. The elaborate survey of language and usage is differentiated mostly by attributions but also by documents. That means the historical conclusions about sequences of developments rest on the gullible attitude of relying for facts on attributions for the dating of opinions that has long prevailed in studies of the formation of the Rabbinic system and its law and theology. But, alongside, the evidence is sorted out by documentary location. So some expositions invoke the names of authorities, e.g., Raba, and other expositions divide the data by their occurrence in documents. That yields terminal confusion. Since Chernick aims at explaining change, that is, historical explanation, we must conclude that he has not accomplished his stated goal. His history of change rests on the facticity of attributions and paraphrases the Talmudic attributions and their consequences.

But that in fact and in consequence is not the main point that the book makes. The analysis of rhetoric and of analytical presuppositions does not depend on attributions but on the detailed evidence of the sources and on their governing usage and logic. Most of the book is reliable on the face of the matter and yields fine outcomes for interpreting the language and meaning of the rabbinic literature. The elaborate analysis of linguistic formulas and their usages and their meanings, yielding sensitive and compelling conclusions on the meaning of exegetical formulas in the Rabbinic canon, form the heart of the matter and produce well constructed expositions of formulaic language.

What he has accomplished in this important and exemplary work is the presentation of elaborate models of what a dictionary of the language of Talmudic and Rabbinic hermeneutics would look like if it covered more than the approximately dozen cases treated so elaborately here. Chernick has written a series of elaborate encyclopedic entries and has definitively solved the problem of explaining their meaning and use. His book deserves a place in every library of Talmudic study with special reference to hermeneutics and is a model of how to spell out the meaning and message of the interpretive processes of the ancient Rabbinic canon.

Jacob Neusner

Distinguished Service Professor of the History and Theology of Judaism

Senior Fellow, Institute of Advanced Theology

Bard College

Annandale-on-Hudson, New York 12504