What is rabbinic literature? In short, it is the indigenous, orally transmitted culture of the Israelites – later, Jews – as it became taught and formalized after the canonization of the Hebrew Bible. The classic works of rabbinic literature are the Mishnah, Tosefta. the two Talmuds, and the Midrash collections.
What is the Mishnah? – The core of Judaism’s oral law, put into form around 215 to 250 CE.
Tosefta – A supplement to, and variant form of, the Mishnah. Edited after the time of the Mishnah, but before the two Talmuds.
What is the Talmud? – A multi-volume, encyclopedic record of the teachings of classical rabbinic scholars. It is written in the form of commentary on the Mishnah, and contains teachings from 250 CE to 550 CE.
What is the Midrash? – Classical rabbinic homilies on the Bible. Several collections were edited between 200 and 800 CE.
Collectively, the sages in all these classical works of rabbinic Judaism are known as Chazal, חז״ל. This is an acronym for “Ḥakhameinu Zikhronam Liv’rakha” – חכמינו זכרונם לברכה – Our sages, may their memory be blessed.
How do we teach rabbinic texts that challenge our sense of ethics? Teaching troubling texts.
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