How Do We Know This?

Midrash and the Fragmentation of Modern Judaism

By Jay M. Harris

Subjects: Religion
Series: SUNY series in Judaica: Hermeneutics, Mysticism, and Religion
Paperback : 9780791421444, 379 pages, November 1994
Hardcover : 9780791421437, 379 pages, November 1994

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Table of contents



1. Introduction

2. Midrash Halakhah and the Bavli

3. Midrash and the Yerushalmi

4. Midrash in the Middle Ages

5. At the Dawn of a New Age

6. Midrash and Reform

7. The Traditionalists Strike Back

8. Midrash and Orthodoxy

9. Conclusion





This book is a study of rabbinic legal interpretation (midrash) in Judaism's rabbinic, medieval, and modern periods. It shows how the rise of Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Judaism in the modern period is tied to distinct attitudes toward the classical Jewish heritage, and specifically, toward rabbinic midrash halakah.

What has gone unnoticed until now is the extent to which the fragmentation of modern Judaism is related to the interpretative foundations of classical Judaism. As this book demonstrates, spokespersons for any form of Judaism that engaged modernity on any level had to explain the basis for their rejection or continued acceptance of the authority of rabbinically developed law. Inevitably and invariably, this need led them to address anew what were long-standing questions regarding the ancient interpretations of biblical law. Were they compelling? Were they reasonable? Were they still relevant? Each form of Judaism fashioned its own response to these challenges, and each argued forcefully against the responses of the other denominations.

Jay M. Harris describes the fragmentation of modern Judaism in terms of each denomination's relationship to classical Judaism's system of interpretation in part two of this book.

Jay M. Harris is the Harris K. Weston Associate Professor of Humanities at Harvard University.


"This is a seminal, suggestive, and comprehensive study of a vital aspect of Jewish religious thought. It is enormously significant and cuts across a wide cross-section of fields of study. " — Marc Hirshman, University of Haifa

"Harris follows in the good step of some recent scholars who display a healthy skepticism toward ancient sources. Few of them have applied this hermeneutic method to the texts. Harris is a pioneer in this regard. " — David Weiss Halivni, Hebrew University of Jerusalem