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Halevy, Halivni and The Oral Formation of the Babylonian Talmud
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the
requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
All rights reserved
Halevy, Halivni and The Oral Formation of the Babylonian Talmud
Ari Bergmann This dissertation is dedicated to a detailed analysis and comparison of the theories on the process of the formation of the Babylonian Talmud by Yitzhak Isaac Halevy and David Weiss Halivni. These two scholars exhibited a similar mastery of the talmudic corpus and were able to combine the roles of historian and literary critic to provide a full construct of the formation of the Bavli with supporting internal evidence to support their claims. However, their historical construct and findings are diametrically opposed.
Yitzhak Isaac Halevy presented a comprehensive theory of the process of the formation of the Talmud in his magnum opus Dorot Harishonim. The scope of his work was unprecedented and his construct on the formation of the Talmud encompassed the entire process of the formation of the Bavli, from the Amoraim in the 4th century to the end of the saboraic era (which he argued closed in the end of the 6th century). Halevy was the ultimate guardian of tradition and argued that the process of the formation of the Bavli took place entirely within the amoraic academy by a highly structured and coordinated process and was sealed by an international rabbinical assembly. While Halevy was primarily a historian, David Weiss Halivni is primarily a talmudist and commentator on the Talmud itself. Halivni offers his bold construct of the history of the formation of the Bavli in the context of his commentary Meqorot Umesorot, which spans almost the entire Babylonian Talmud. Halivni explains the process of the formation of the Bavli as taking place well after amoraic times in a massive unstructured process of reconstruction. This dissertation will demonstrate that both of the theories of Halevy and Halivni are in need of careful analysis and revision. Halevy’s construct despite providing valuable scholarly insights is tainted by a strong ideological agenda. On the other hand, Halivni, as a literary critic, provides insightful literary analysis and his conclusions on the uniqueness of the stam have been firmly established in contemporary scholarship. However, when analyzing Halivni’s theory one must distinguish between his literary conclusions and his historical construct. The later is a constantly evolving theory, and it has presented numerous problems as it has developed over time, mainly in the introductions to Meqorot Umesorot.
The body of this dissertation consists of three chapters, each focusing on a different model for the formation of the Bavli. Chapter One focuses on Halevy, beginning with his biography and continuing with an in-depth analysis of the scope and purpose of his Dorot Harishonim and the ideological import of his research. The second chapter addresses the theory of Halivni on the formation of the Bavli. After a biographical sketch of Halivni’s life, I review the scope and purpose of Meqorot Umesorot with a special emphasis on his scholarship ki’peshuto, followed by a detailed analysis of his model and the evidence he offers in support of it. The third chapter proposes an alternative model for the formation of the Talmud which combines aspects of Halevy’s and Halivni’s theories. I propose a model that includes a fixed oral text, accompanied by an oral fluid commentary. This dual form of transmission accounts for the diverse structure and style of the apodictic material and the dialectical interpretative argumentation of the stam. The fixed apodictic text, the proto-Talmud follows the basic contour of Halevy’s model, while the understanding of the stam follows many aspects of Halivni’s description of the reconstruction of the dialectical argumentation by the Stammaim. By applying form criticism to determine the Sitz im Leben of talmudic transmission and teaching, combined with recent scholarship on the various forms of oral transmission, I propose a framework which allows for a developmental model which integrates the perceptive historical
While a dissertation has only one author, a scholar is the product of the wisdom and generosity of many. Since I joined Columbia University nine years ago, I have benefited most of all from my guide and mentor Professor David Weiss Halivni. I still remember the first day I attended his class, his Critical Formation of Talmudic Texts; it was then when I realized that I had found a new teacher and guide. Over the years, Professor Halivni has been a constant source of inspiration and guidance, both as a scholar and teacher and also as a mensch. Over the past five years our relationship has extended beyond the walls of the university, across the oceans, to our weekly learning sessions. His unparalleled breadth of knowledge and mastery of all of rabbinic literature, as well as his keen literary insights, are generously shared with any student or colleague who seeks his wisdom. He has been a great influence on my life and my thinking. I hope that the mark he has left on me is visible in these pages.
I owe an immeasurable debt to the faculty and colleagues at the Department of Religion at Columbia. The inspiring and enlightening classes, seminars and discussions have greatly broadened my horizons and deeply impacted my views. Professor Alan Segal, my first advisor whose untimely passing saddened us all, was an inspiring and dedicated counselor. His classes and seminars were amazingly enjoyable events.
During my first years as a student at Columbia’s Liberal Arts program, I had the privilege to study under the guidance of my MA advisor, Professor Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi. Anyone who ever attended one of his seminars knows that it was an unforgettable experience. His vast knowledge, eloquence and wisdom, both as a teacher
challenging reading groups opened my eyes to new and challenging areas of Jewish studies and approaches.
This dissertation has specifically benefited from the wisdom and generosity of many teachers, colleagues and friends who were kind enough to lend me their vast knowledge and to illuminate many places where my own vision and understanding failed.
Special among them, however, is Aaron Amit, a friend and guide, whose insightful questions, comments and edits throughout the entire process have vastly improved my work. His dedication and commitment knew no bounds. This dissertation would not have been the same without his invaluable input. Zvi Septimus’ incisive ideas, comments, and edits also greatly broadened and improved my project. I look forward to many years of enjoyable study sessions together. David Samuels and Cara Rock-Singer read portions of this dissertation and their valuable comments have added a much valuable dimension. I also wish to thank Professors Robert Somerville, Michael Stanislawski, Beth Berkowitz and Jeffrey L. Rubenstein for graciously serving on my committee and for their advice and encouragement throughout.
The period of research and writing a dissertation is long and stressful, often requiring the understanding, support and indulgence of family and friends. I have been blessed with children and grandchildren who have been a great source of inspiration, joy and motivation. Their cheering and participation have made this entire journey that much more enjoyable. My father was my first and deepest source of inspiration. I regret that he is not here to enjoy this moment. I am sure that he would have much appreciated and cherished my endeavor. My mother’s belief and faith in her children has given me the confidence to embark upon such an arduous journey. My father in law, Jacob Dolinger, has lovingly shared his wisdom and insight, and has encouraged and guided me from the beginning of my pursuit. My friends, associates and havrutot have all been an integral
own work. The participants of my weekly Sabbath classes have provided me with the challenge and inspiration to develop many of the ideas presented in this dissertation. They are all true partners in my project.
I would like to dedicate this dissertation to Iona, my wife and partner of the last 31 years. Her unwavering support, encouragement and selfless patience made this entire odyssey possible. Her care, love and dedication have been the guiding light of my life.
About her I can truly say what Rabbi Akiva said of his wife, “what is mine is really hers.”
The Babylonian Talmud, known simply as the Bavli, is the collaborative effort of generations of sages and the foundational legal and ethical document of rabbinic Judaism.
Maimonides, in his Introduction to the Mishneh Torah writes; “whatever is already mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud is binding on all Israel... and those sages...
constituted the total body or the majority of Israel’s wise men.”1 Since the Bavli represents the activity of generations of sages and underwent a gradual process of formation it contains multiple literary strata. Most sugyot consist of material representing three layers—a tannaitic layer, consisting of baraitot or quotes from the Mishnah often begin the discussion, an amoraic layer, consisting of memrot and other amoraic traditions ——————————— 1 Moses Maimonides, Mishneh Torah (Bnei Berak: Mahadurat Shabtai Frankel, 1999), Introduction 3–4 as found in Moses Maimonides, A Maimonides Reader, in Library of Jewish Studies, trans. Isadore Twersky (New York,: Behrman House, 1972), 38. On Maimonides’ view of the Bavli see Shamma Friedman, “The Rambam and the Talmud (Hebrew),” Dine Israel 26–7: 221–39 Gerald J. Blidstein, “Where Do We Stand in the Study of Maimonidean Halakhah?” in Studies in Maimonides, ed. Isadore Twersky (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Center for Jewish Studies, 1991), 1–29; Jacob S.
Levinger, Darkhe Ha-Mahashavah Ha-Hilkhatit Shel Ha-Rambam: Mehkar `al Ha-Metodah Shel Mishneh Torah (Jerusalem: The Hebrew University Magnes Press, 1965), 155–89; Hanina Ben-Menahem, “The Second Canonization of the Talmud,” Cardozo Law Review 28, no. 1 (2006): 46–51; Binyamin Ze’ev Benedict, HaRambam Leloh Sti’ah Min Hatalmud (Jerusalem: Mosad ha-Rav Kook, 1985); Shamma Friedman, “‘Wonder Not at a Gloss in Which the Name of an Amora is Mentioned’: The Amoraic Statements and the Anonymous Material in the Sugyot of the Bavli Revisited (Hebrew),” in Melekhet Mahshevet: Studies in the Redaction and Development of Talmudic Literature, ed. Aaron Amit and Aharon Shemesh (Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 2011), 123–36. Appropriate in this context are the words of Ephraim E. Urbach: “The process which fused the decisions, halakhot and sevarot of Sages and scholars from generation to generation created a collective authority which can be seen as the sum total of the recognition enjoyed by those sages and scholars” (Efraim Elimelech Urbach, The Halakhah: Its Sources and Development [Israel: Massada, 1986], 347).
1 often comment on and expand upon the tannaitic material, and finally an editorial layer, consisting of the words of the stam ha’talmud frame and organize the discussion.2 The later two strata are the primary components of the talmudic sugyot.
The primary difficulty of the reader of Talmud is to differentiate between the attributed statements of the Amoraim and the stratum which comprises the anonymous dialectical discussion surrounding these amoraic dicta.3 Jeffrey L. Rubenstein describes
the differing styles of the two strata:
These strata differ in form and style: Amoraic dicta (meimrot) are brief and “apodictic” a term Halivni borrows from biblical studies, and by which he means both terse and categorical. These typically consist of pronouncements of legal rulings or succinct explanations of an earlier source. The anonymous Talmud, by contrast, is verbose, expansive, and contains the Talmud’s intricate and complex dialectical argumentation. It may include series of objections, solutions, rhetorical questions, and contrived and spurious propositions, sometimes extending over a full folio or more.4 The anonymous stratum not only encompasses the majority of talmudic material but actually creates the framework of the sugya5 into which the attributed amoraic statements are inserted. The structure of the Talmud is therefore essentially anonymous yet the lack of attribution in such a vast work which contains traditions that celebrates the value of attribution is ironic.6 As David W. Halivni remarks: “The authority of hora’ah is ——————————— 2 See Judith Hauptman, “The Three Basic Components of the Sugya: The Tannaitic Passages, the Amoraic Statements and the Anonymous Commentary (Hebrew),” in Melekhet Mahshevet: Studies in the
Redaction and Development of Talmudic Literature, ed. Aaron Amit and Aharon Shemesh (Ramat Gan:
Bar-Ilan University Press, 2011), 39–55.
3 Halivni notes that these terms are not found in the writing of the Geonim but are commonly used by the 12th century ashkenazic commentators, like the tosafits and R. Asher ben Jehiel, the Asheri See David Weiss Halivni, Mevo’ot Lemeqorot Umesorot: Iyunim Behithavut Hatalmud (Jerusalem: The Hebrew University Magnes Press, 2012), 42.
4 David Weiss Halivni, The Formation of the Babylonian Talmud, Introduced, Translated and Annotated Jeffrey L. Rubenstein (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), xxi–ii.
6 This idea is quoted in several passages in the Bavli. The statement: “ whoever says [a ruling] in the name of the one who originated it brings deliverance into the world, as it says ‘and Esther told the King