Introduction to Judaism and Disability: Portrayals in Ancient Texts from the Tanach through the Bavli continued . . .

The next group of texts to be redacted were the halakhic midrashim, also called tannaitic midrashim, on the Books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These works relate rabbinic law to Torah texts, according to the order of those texts, unlike the Mishnah, which organized its teachings thematically. These works, Mechilta d'Rabbi Yishmael (on Exodus), Sifra (on Leviticus), and Sifre (Numbers and Deuteronomy) were probably redacted around 300 C.E. (see Kraemer 1995, 80; Strack and Stemberger 1991, 273; Neusner 1990, 32; Herr 1971a, 1269). Mechilta d'Rabbi Ishmael (hereafter, "Mechilta") contains some of the oldest material found in the midrash collections, though its complicated redactional history makes an accurate dating of the whole quite difficult. Sifre to Deuteronomy (Sifre D.) is most often thought to be a tannaitic midrash compilation, but it is not a homogeneous work, and different component sections of this work originated in different periods and circles (Fraade 1991, 298). Sifra to Leviticus and Sifre to Numbers, like the other tannaitic midrashim, probably date from the second half of the third century and underwent further development (Strack and Stemberger 1991, 287, 292).

The aggadic midrashim of the period under study-Genesis Rabbah, Leviticus Rabbah, Lamentations Rabbah, Pesikta d'Rav Kahana, and Tanhuma-approach Scripture differently than do the halakhic midrashim. Genesis Rabbah, the exposition of the first book of the Torah, was brought to its final form in Israel in the fifth century, probably in its first half (Strack and Stemberger 1991, 304). This was a period of crisis in Jewish history. With Constantine's conversion in 312 C.E., Rome had accepted Christianity. At that stage, Judaism was a protected religion; Jews could not be forced to violate Shabbat. Then, in 360 C.E., Julian (whom Christians call "the apostate") reaffirmed paganism and threw off Christianity. As part of his program to embarrass the Christians, in 368 he gave the Jews permission to rebuild the Temple, thereby disproving Jesus' prediction (Matthew 24:2) that no stone on stone of the Temple would remain. However, Julian died within the year, and the Jews' hopes for the reinstitution of the Temple cult were dashed. Now Judaism became a persecuted religion; Israel's rights to security and freedom were limited. Synagogues were destroyed, and Jews lost the right to convert slaves they had purchased. In contrast, Jews who became Christians enjoyed the protection of the state. By around 410, Jews' institution of self-government in the land of Israel, the rule of their patriarch, came to an end. In short, it was a very difficult time. Neusner (1990, 141-70) sees the sages' reinterpretation of the Book of Genesis in Genesis Rabbah as their attempt to understand Israel's relationship with Rome. (5) Leviticus Rabbah, the contents of which were finalized closure around 400-500 C.E., comprises a set of thirty-seven topical essays (Neusner 1986a, 57, 59-72). Lamentations Rabbah is an early midrash, originating in the land of Israel and probably composed in the first half of the fifth century (Strack and Stemberger 1991, 310). Pesikta de-Rav Kahana is a homiletic midrash for the festivals and special sabbaths. Its origin was in the land of Israel and it was composed in the fifth century, "approximately contemporaneous with Leviticus Rabbah" (Strack and Stemberger 1991, 321). Tanhuma is a homiletic midrash on the entire Torah that combines halakhic and aggadic midrashim. It was composed in the land of Israel and probably existed in substantially its present form around 400 (Strack and Stemberger 1991, 332).

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