From:  Signer, Michael A.  "How the Bible Has Been Interpreted in Jewish Tradition.” In New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 1, 65-82.  Nashville: Abingdon, 1994.

Please note that some of the italicized words are English transliterations of Hebrew words; that the bold hot-link numbers in parenthesis are links to endnotes (click on the number to jump to the endnote page); and the numbers in red brackets refer to the upcoming page number of the article.  The latter will help for citation purposes.


        From the return of the community after the Babylonian exile in the sixth century BCE, the Bible and its interpretation played a central role in the life of the Jewish people. In Neh 8:1-8, Ezra reads from the book of the Law of Cod. He is surrounded by the priests who translate and interpret it to the people. These two activities of reading the word of Cod and making the divine message comprehensible so that it may be applied in the life of Israel provide the boundaries for all descriptions of biblical studies in Judaism. Generations of teachers and students have demonstrated concern for the sacred character of its words and their transmission. In addition, they have continually reinterpreted these words in the light of their contemporary milieu. This dynamic approach to the possibility of interpreting the word of Cod has provided Judaism with the opportunity for renewal throughout its history.
        The term Bible is somewhat alien to Jewish religious discourse. Scripture is referred to as Miqra', "what is read" or Kitbe Qodes, "sacred writings". The most frequently used word is Tora, "teaching". When referring to the entire corpus of biblical books, Jews use the Hebrew acronym TNK, which represents the threefold division of the canon into Tora (the Five Books of Moses), Nebi'im (Prophets - Joshua-2 Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve Minor Prophets, and Ketubim, Writings - Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1-2 Chronicles). This order of the books, which appears in the Babylonian Talmud tractate Baba Batra 14b, indicates that for Jews the canon of Scripture ends with a narration of the return of the Jewish community to its homeland by the order of Cyrus.
        All three sections of Scripture are called "Torah" in an effort to maintain the unity within divine revelation. However, it is clear that the Five Books of Moses have, since antiquity, been understood as the most sacred. Passages from the Prophets or Writings are always interpreted to harmonize with the Pentateuch.
        The scroll of the Pentateuch has been part of the liturgical life of the synagogue since the classical rabbinic period. There is a body of laws that govern the material to be used for writing, how it is sewn together, and how it is used during worship. By contrast, the prophetic books and hagiographa, which were written on scrolls during the Tannaitic and Amoraic periods (the first five hundred years of the Common Era), have been read from codices in the synagogues since the Middle Ages.
        Torah is understood as the "Tree of Life" that provides a path for Jews to fulfill the will of their creator. Until the modern period, the task of interpretation [66] was assumed by the Rabbis. Their exegesis was developed through many genres: Midrash (Homilies), Perush (Commentaries), Piyyut (religious poetry), Legal Codes and Responsa (responses to questions), and philosophical and mystical treatises. It would be fair to conclude that no genre of post-biblical Jewish literature is unrelated to the explication of Scripture.
        At the core of Jewish scriptural interpretation is the conviction that the Hebrew language is sacred because it is identified with the divine speech. For this reason the Rabbis, as early as the second century CE, attempted to define the limits of interpretation. There were those who believed that every word or, indeed, every letter could form the basis for interpretation. These rabbis, whom we might call "maximalists," thought that even the decorations or crowns on the letters should be interpreted. In contrast, other rabbis thought that "Scripture speaks in human language." The position of the "minimalists" was that God had accommodated human beings, endowing them with reason, and had revealed Torah in terms that required a logical approach to exegesis. From their perspective, Scripture was subject to the same rules of interpretation as any language. Words could not be fragmented, or twisted out of context. The tension between "minimalist" and "maximalist" types of interpretation can be translated in two technical terms used throughout the history of Jewish exegesis:  Peshat, or "plain meaning" and Derash, or "homiletical meaning". In the medieval and modern periods, there has been a preference to claim that Peshat has represented the higher aim of Jewish interpretation. However, a survey of Jewish biblical exegesis indicates that Derash has been a constant impetus for creativity. It may be claimed that what was Peshat for one generation became Derash for the next. As a religious community, Jews sought to ground the reinterpretation of their traditions within the context of Scripture and its language. Therefore, both Peshat and Derash in dialectical tension provide vital elements for interpretation.
        One can chart the most significant reformulations of Judaism throughout its history by noting the developments within scriptural interpretation. In each era there are three significant spheres of exegetical activity. The first is at the lexical or philological level. The ancient Rabbis and their successors were concerned with the interpretation of Scripture so that it could be appreciated by the community. In the medieval and modern periods one can discern that translation of the Bible into the contemporary vernacular is a significant part of exegetical activity. The second area is a focus on the sequence or coherence of the biblical text. Innovations in grammar and syntax made this a particularly creative field of Jewish exegesis. This area brought contemporary concerns into tension with classical rabbinic explanations of Scripture so that Peshat and Derash could be harmonized. The third domain of exegetical reformulation concentrated on harmonizing the traditional concerns of Scripture with elements of contemporary culture. As philosophical or scientific developments in non-Jewish culture became the subject of controversy, the genre of biblical interpretation became a significant locus for Jewish self-expression and polemics about the boundaries of the secular world and sacred text.

        The Rabbis, who emerged as religious leaders after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CF, provided the lenses through which the Jewish people have viewed the biblical text. From their perspective, Moses received both a written and an oral Torah at Sinai. The latter was a complete revelation of all possible interpretations of the written document.  The interpretations of the written law - while known to Moses - were to be "discovered" by subsequent generations of teachers who would make them known to their students. Torah study became the process for resolving the contradictions between the contemporary world of the interpreters and the written and oral law.
        Rabbinic Judaism is, therefore, a religion of a dual canon constituted by written and oral Torah wherein the structure of Jewish interpretation since the beginning of the third century CE has been [67] grounded on the presumption that revelation of both Torahs was simultaneous. The Rabbis simply worked out the revelation that had taken place at Sinai "in proper order." One rabbinic text interpreted Eccl 12:11, "The words of the Sages are like goads [Kaddorbanot] which are given from one shepherd" in the following way:          The "play" of rabbinic interpretation is evidenced in the document that the Rabbis considered fundamental to oral law, the Mishnah (teaching or repetition). As the passage cited previously from Tanchuma indicates, Miqra and Mishnah constituted a single revelation. According to rabbinic tradition, Mishnah was compiled by Rabbi Judah the Patriarch, based on the oral traditions of his predecessors who were called "Tannaim." Some modern scholars have emphasized the independence of the Mishnah from the biblical text with respect to its formal structure and language. From the perspective of the history of Judaism, the Mishnah is a seminal document for all subsequent interpretations of Scripture regarding religious practice.
        Moreover, it is possible to discern motifs congruent with the biblical canon within the six divisions (Sedarim) of the Mishnah (3). Although the Mishnah has a complex textual tradition that indicates that there were various arrangements of its six divisions, there is a strong conjunction between the order in which the Sedarim were traditionally studied and biblical motifs from the creation of the world in Genesis through the eschatological themes of the restoration of the Temple.
        The correlation of biblical and mishnaic themes commences in the first order, Zeraim, which focuses on appropriate times for acknowledging the divine through prayer, and on the holiness of the land of Israel through appropriate giving of tithes. This set of legal practices is linked to the pentateuchal themes of Genesis and Deuteronomy, which focus on the creation of the earth, its seasons, and the role Israel has undertaken as the covenanted people of God. The next order, Moed, begins with a description of the sabbath laws and continues with explanations of the biblical festivals: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. This order develops the pentateuchal themes of how the people of Israel serve God both within and beyond the borders of the Land. Neziqin concentrates on laws of property and personal injury, while Nashim provides details on the legal procedure for marriage, divorce, and adulterous relationships. These Sedarim rooted solidly in the legislative sections of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, contribute a more profound characterization of the place of human interaction in the Jewish community.
        From the idea of the earth and its creatures and their obligation to the divine, the Mishnah shifts ground to a discussion of how human beings ought to behave toward one another. In the remaining two Sedarim, which delineate the laws of Qodashim (Holy Things) and Tohorot (Purities), the Mishnah describes practices that relate to the Temple cult and priestly activities. Later generations of Rabbis would draw upon these orders for such practical issues as the ritual slaughter of animals for human consumption and other dietary laws, or the laws of women's menstrual purity. Even though many of the laws delineated in the Mishnah were no longer in practice since the Temple had been destroyed for more than a century, the Rabbis included them. This was most likely because of their hope that the Temple would be restored and the exile brought to a conclusion. One rabbinic tradition states, "Scholars who occupy themselves with the halakhot [laws] of the Temple are regarded by Scripture as if the Temple had been rebuilt in their time." The Mishnah thereby encompasses all scriptural concerns from the creation of the world to the hope for the coming of the messiah and the vindication of the people Israel.
        The Mishnah indicates the centrality of Scripture in religious practice. Tractate Berakhot (Blessings) provides evidence that the Rabbis had fixed, "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One" (Deut 6:4) as a significant liturgical text that was recited in the evening and morning prayer together with other passages from the Torah. In tractate Megilla (Scroll) is a description of the appropriate Torah lections for the festivals and special sabbaths. Furthermore, the legal [68] passages in Exodus 21-23 provide the basis for an elaborate conceptual scheme of torts and damages in tractates Baba Qama, Baba Metzi'a, and Baba Batra. The Rabbis traced their own legitimacy as divinely sanctioned interpreters of Torah in tractate Abot Although there are profound formal differences between the Mishnah and Scripture, the two documents complement each other.
        Mishnah provided the primary text of interpretation in the rabbinic academies in Palestine and Babylon from the third until the sixth or seventh centuries (4). Those rabbinic expositions, called Gemara, focus on the source of authority or reasoning within the Mishnah. Together the Mishnah and the Gemara constitute what the Rabbis called "Talmud" (5). Two categories of interpretation develop in the Talmuds written in both Israel and Babylonia. One method, known as Halakha, focuses on the development of a body of ritual and civil legal practice for the Jewish community. Although the Gemara does not define a unified body of law, its dialectical arguments illustrate a variety of approaches to any single issue. In the Talmud many discussions of the Mishnaic text can be understood as the attempt to find the appropriate biblical warrant for the Mishnah. The second method, no less important, was the development of the Aggadah. In these passages the Rabbis allow their imagination to function freely, developing theological and ethical principles. Biblical narratives are developed to reveal the intention of obscure biblical texts, or passages the Rabbis found incompatible with their understanding of the texts. For example, the call of Hosea to marry a harlot (Hos 1:2) is introduced by the Rabbis in the form of a dialogue between the prophet and God. Hosea expresses anger and disappointment at the behavior of the people. He urges God to abandon them to the punishment of exile. God then decides that Hosea must discover for himself how profound God's bond with Israel might be, and orders him to marry a woman of harlotry (Pesig. R. 87:a-b). Halakhah and Aggadah, though not specifically distinguished in the text of the Talmuds, parallel the legal and narrative unity of the Bible and thereby constitute the woof and warp of the oral Torah. The Talmud became the primary text for Jewish religious life and praxis in Judaism.
        The collection of biblical interpretations known as Midrash constitutes the other major genre of biblical interpretation from the classical period. The word midrash encompasses both a method of expounding the biblical text and a name for a collection of these discourses. Michael Fishbane has demonstrated that midrash draws upon techniques of interpretation already present in the biblical text itself (6). Yet the collections of midrash as they have been transmitted by the tradition constitute a separate literary genre. Joseph Heinemann has argued that midrash derive from the homilies that were part of the religious life in the synagogue, which were sometimes called Bet Midrash (House of Study) (7).
        Collections of midrash may have been composed as early as the third century, but most of them seem to originate from the fifth to the eighth centuries CE. In contrast to the Gemara on the Mishnah, which was composed in both Palestine and Babylon, midrashim appear to be the product of Jewish communities in Palestine. There are some remarkable parallels between the midrashim and patristic literature, both Greek and Syriac, in hermeneutical methods. Origen and Jerome both reveal an awareness of midrashic literature.
        Midrashic literature moves in two main directions: creative historiography and creative philology. In creative historiography, the Rabbis fill out the biblical narrative by supplying details, identifying persons, and drawing anachronistic pictures of the living conditions of biblical characters. We may learn, for example, that Abraham's "fear" in Gen 15:1 is the result of his victory over the Canaanite kings in Genesis 14; or that Moses sat in the rabbinic academy listening to the discourses of Rabbi Akiba. Creative philology permits the Rabbis to make their own divisions of the words and sentences of the biblical text that lay before them. In this manner they discover that when Abraham celebrated the weaning of Isaac (beyom higamel), he was really giving a feast in honor of his circumcision on the eighth day (bayom he + gimmel = 8).
        Most introductions to rabbinic literature classify [69] midrash collections according to "Halakhic" or "Tannaitic" midrashim and "Exegetical" or "Homeletical" midrashim. The basis for the first category rests on the assumption that these collections relate to the earliest period of rabbinic activity, which was oriented toward deriving laws "Halakhah" directly from the biblical text (Tanna is the term rabbinic literature uses to describe the teachers mentioned in the Mishnah). The second category is organized according to either the feasts or the special sabbaths of the Jewish calendar. Scholars have questioned the assumptions supporting these classifications. Halakhic midrashim also contain large sections of Aggadah. The textual history of the exegetical and homiletical midrashim indicates that their present arrangement has been modified throughout their transmission.
        The "Halakhic" midrashim form a continuous commentary on the Pentateuch from Exodus to Deuteronomy. Mekhilta comments on portions of Exodus and includes treatment of both legal and narrative passages. The rabbinic commentary on Leviticus is called Sifre and bears a close relationship to Mishnah, indicating that the laws of sacrifice may be derived directly from the Torah itself, without a process of abstraction or deductive reasoning employed by Mishnah. Sifre on Numbers elucidates both narrative and legal portions of the book, omitting Numbers 13-14 and 16-17. She is also the name for the Halakhic midrash on Deuteronomy, which seems to have been exclusively a commentary on legal passages, with aggadic portions added later. The Halakhic midrashim are quoted in the Babylonian Talmud, and often have parallel passages in the homiletical midrashim.
        The collections of midrashim considered homiletical are arranged under the title Midrash Rabbah ("The Great Midrash") on the Five Books of Moses and the five scrolls. They were composed at different periods and have distinct literary histories. What unites these collections is their formal similarity. They appear to be structured by the order of verses in the biblical text. Other homiletical midrashim such as Pesikta d'Rav Kahana, Pesikta Rabbati, and Tanhuma derive their structure from the special feasts and sabbaths of the Jewish calendar.
        Some scholars believe that these midrashim may represent collections of homilies that were preached in the synagogues in Palestine. These sermons begin with a proem, or Petihah, which commences with a verse from the Ketubim (Writings) and is expounded with illustrative biblical texts or newly composed parables leading up to the verse from the weekly Torah reading. Scholars assert that the verses from the Prophets may represent the Haftarah, or prophetic lection, for that Sabbath. The complexity of these proems (several proems may appear for a single verse), indicates that in Palestine synagogues divided the weekly reading of Torah over a three-to four-year cycle, as distinguished from Babylonia, where the Torah was divided into fifty-four portions and read in a single year.
        After the proem, the rabbinic homily might expound several verses from the weekly portion. The sermon concludes with a Hatima, or conclusion. The Hatima is formulated by reversing the order of the proem. Beginning with the verse from the weekly Torah portion, the midrash advances to verses from the Prophets. In these prophetic verses, the rabbinic voice disappears from the Midrash, and it appears that God alone is speaking directly to the audience. Comfort and consolation are the prophetic message of the Hatima. Often, the preacher contrasts the situation in "this world" with the "world to come," allowing the prophetic words to illuminate the bright and glorious future for the Jewish people.
        Midrash as a literature encouraged the continuing dialogue between the Jewish people and their past as embedded in the biblical texts. It permitted the past to be eternally present when Jews gathered in the synagogue for study and prayer. James Kugel has expressed the power of Midrash in its relationship to Scripture.         God's revelation to Israel on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19) is transformed from a moment of singularity for Israel into a universal revelation. In Mekhilta, the [70] Rabbis claim that Torah was given in the wilderness and in fire and in water. Just as they are free to all the inhabitants of the world, so also the words of Torah are free to all. Israel freely chose to undertake the commandments after God offered them to all the other nations (9). Midrash understands Israel's biblical history with its tragic exile through the text of Cant 1:5: "1 am black but beautiful" (author trans.). Israel is darkened by the exile, but beautiful in the eyes of God. Midrash reveals the rabbinic imagination emboldened to reformulate the letters, sentences, and books of Scripture, merging the Jewish people in any era into the scriptural drama.
        The Talmud and midrashim constitute the two principal genres of creative biblical interpretation during the classical period. However, during this era synagogue life with its weekly Torah and prophetic readings gave birth to yet another channel of interpretation. These public readings were accompanied by an Aramaic translation: the Targum. The principal Targum texts are the Targum Onqelos, Yerusalml, Neofiti on the Pentateuch, and the Targum of the Prophets.
        This practice of vernacular translation is attested in the Mishnah (10). It was to be read after every verse of the lection from the Pentateuch and after every third verse of the reading from the Prophets. The Targums are not literal translations of the Hebrew, but often contain paraphrases or literary embellishments. One of their primary purposes seems to have been to harmonize the biblical text with rabbinic interpretation as expressed in the Talmud. The Rabbis' avoidance of biblical anthropomorphism is reflected in the Targum's rendition of "And God said," by the locution, "A word came from before the Lord." The Targum to the Prophets is characterized by aggadic expansion of the biblical text.
        By the third century it was suggested that the Hebrew text of the weekly lection be read twice in Hebrew and once in Aramaic (11). This practice has continued in some traditional Jewish communities into the modern period. In the Middle Ages, the Aramaic Targum was supplemented in Arabicspeaking lands by Saadia Gaon's translation. In Europe there were translations into Old French, Judaeo-German, and Ladino (Judaeo-Spanish). This focus on the transmission of the biblical text to the people in their own vernacular symbolizes the effort to make the biblical lessons available to the people in the language they could understand.
        Mishnah, Talmud, Midrash, and Targum constitute the classical texts of rabbinic biblical interpretation. As "classics" they engender a long tradition of interpretation themselves. Subsequent generations of Jewish literature draw upon the formal aspects of Talmud and Midrash to create their own expositions of Scripture. Two characteristics distinguish the compositions of the classical period. First, they are compilations rather than the work of a single author. They feature the traditions of all the Rabbis, rather than the work of any one of them. Second, they have a utopian and atemporal nature. The classic texts of the Rabbis do not emphasize the time or place when something happened. When the Mishnah narrates an incident about an individual, it begins with the words, "A story about .  The transcendent presentation of time and space in these texts may have reinforced the Rabbis' estimation that written and oral Torah were the twin repositories of divine wisdom.

        Jewish biblical studies in the medieval period begin with the division of the world of late antiquity into Islamic and Christian cultures. From the eighth and ninth centuries, focus on the Bible moves beyond the genres of Talmud, Midrash, and Targum into the development of commentary (Perush). Individual authors writing commentaries on individual books replace collective or pseudonymous authorship of anthologies. Each section of the canon - Torah, Prophets, Hagiographa - has its own history of exegesis. The preponderance of commentaries was written on the Pentateuch, but works from the Hagiographa, such as Psalms and Song of Songs, generated many works of interpretation.
        In their writings, medieval exegetes maintain a reverential attitude toward the authority of the ancient Rabbis. They share with their forebears a belief in the simultaneous revelation of the written and oral Torah, and the obligation to carry on the task of eliciting their complementary nature. However, medieval authors reveal the exigencies of their own intellectual milieu. Toward that end, they [71] engage in arguments with one another, and in polemics with both Islamic and Christian scholars. Religious apologetics and controversy become a significant focus in medieval exegetical writings.
        Despite the shared religious goal of expounding the biblical text, the study of the Bible by Jews during the medieval period was influenced by geographic and cultural factors. Jewish authors who lived in areas of Islamic culture in the East, North Africa, and Spain from the eighth until the fifteenth centuries developed a different approach to the Bible than those who resided in Europe during the same period. The assimilation of the linguistic and philosophical heritage of Hellenistic civilization by Arabic writers made a profound impression upon the Jews who lived among them. Appropriation of these disciplines extended to the fact that commentaries on Jewish sacred scripture were composed in Arabic by acknowledged rabbinic authorities. Ideas and concepts from these arabic commentaries would find their way into the Hebrew lexicon due to the efforts of the twelfth-century immigrants from Spain to Provence.
        In European centers of Jewish learning, where the literature of biblical exegesis emerged only in the eleventh century, rabbinic Hebrew was utilized exclusively. Although philosophical speculation and interest in grammar and lexicography were by no means absent, the European Rabbis did not develop the technical vocabulary that their colleagues appropriated from Islamic culture. They did not write dictionaries or grammars of the Bible. They composed commentaries and collections of Midrash.
        After the fifteenth century, Jewish biblical exegesis developed a greater sense of homogeneity. After their expulsion in 1492, Spanish Jews, known as Sephardim, had thoroughly assimilated the writings of the northern European Rabbis, called Ashkenazim. Jewish authors from the European centers moved eastward into Poland and the Ukraine. The language of biblical exegesis until this later medieval period was exclusively Hebrew. Much of the creative spirit in biblical studies moved from the genre of commentary (Perush) to homiletics (Derush). Important developments in the field of Jewish mystical literature, Kabbalah, have significant bearing on the language and thought of biblical exegesis.
        The first major exegete of rabbinic Judaism in the medieval period was Saadia ben Joseph al-Fayyumi (882-942). His intellectual activity was stimulated by a major challenge to the fundamental principle of rabbinic Judaism, that the oral Torah was divinely revealed to Moses at Mount Sinai and the Rabbis were its legitimate inheritors. After the rise of Islam in the seventh and eighth centuries, the studies of oral and written Torah continued in the rabbinic academies of the newly conquered lands. The heads of the Talmudic academies in Baghdad continued the activity of their predecessors, spreading the interpretation of rabbinic Judaism. Their efforts to consolidate the teachings of previous generations of Rabbis extended to written Torah. They canonized the Targum of Onqelos (Aramaic translation) and began to compose codes of law.
        By the eighth century, however, some Jewish authors challenged the divine origin of the oral Torah, one of the primary assumptions of rabbinic Judaism. These theologians, who were later called Karaites, a name derived from Hebrew Miqra, or Scripture, insisted that divine revelation was to be found only in the Tanakh. The oral Torah was exclusively the creation of the Rabbis, lacking divine sanction. Therefore, Karaite exegetes claimed that all Jewish ritual practice must be derived exclusively from the text of Scripture based on rules of grammar and syntax. Karaite biblical hermeneutics led to religious practices that diverged from those of the Rabbis with respect to laws of Sabbath, marriage, and diet. Commentaries by Karaite authors were written in Arabic on the Pentateuch, the Prophets, and the Hagiographa. These exegetical works focused on grammar and syntax, often challenging rabbinic interpretations that were founded on loose association with the biblical text itself.
        Saadia ben Joseph's writings on the Bible represent a defense of the divinely revealed character of the Oral Torah as the only legitimate interpretation of written Torah. He promoted this justification of the rabbis by creating new genres in scriptural exegesis. At the lexical level, he wrote the first dictionary of the Hebrew Bible (HB), Sefer HaEgron. More important, he prepared a translation of the Hebrew Scripture into Arabic (Tafsir). Saadia demonstrated the importance of translation for biblical studies. His goal was to translate Scripture into the vernacular and make it comprehensible to Jews and non-Jews. This results in a translation that permits the reader to enter the textual world of the biblical context. He is determined always to transmit the [72] sense of a passage, no matter how difficult it might be in the original. This requires him to translate according to context within the sentence. Often the use of the conjunction and is expanded into complex sentences with adverbial conjunctions or other subordinate clauses. These smooth and readable translations were based on Saadia's conclusion that one should translate according to the plain meaning except under specific circumstances, such as (a) when experience or sense data contradict the plain meaning; (b) when reason contradicts the plain meaning; (c) when two verses contradict each other; (d) when the written text contradicts the rabbinic tradition; (e) when Scripture uses anthropomorphism.
        To accompany his translations, he wrote commentaries (Sharkh), sometimes in two versions, on the Pentateuch, Psalms, Proverbs, and Job. An introduction preceded each of these commentaries, focusing on the fundamental idea of the book and how this idea was coherent with its rhetorical form. In his insistence on the congruity of rhetorical form and theological content, we can see that the principles of translating the biblical text became the foundations for Saadia's introduction to his commentaries. The contents of Scripture are constituted through narratives about the past through which Jews are led to the service of God. In addition, Scripture provides promises that are validated only when they are fulfilled.
        For Saadia, the Pentateuch focuses on the importance of educating humanity about its obligations to God. These obligations, or commandments, are formulated in three types of locutions. At times they are framed as a simple command that does not reveal its purpose. Commandments expressed in this manner provide an opportunity for obedience to the One who gave them. A second type of commandment is revealed together with its reward and punishment. In this formulation of commandment, Saadia discerns a higher level than the first, because we have a choice to obey or disobey. The most important formulation of divine commandment in the Pentateuch appears in the form of a narrative that reveals what happened to those who obeyed and experienced success, or those who disobeyed and were punished.
        Improvement of the moral and spiritual character of the Jewish people constitutes the central theme of Saadia's investigations of the books in the Hagiographa. In his introduction to Proverbs, Saadia calls it the book of knowledge or wisdom. The central theme of the book is discerned in recognizing twelve topics and their opposites, which helps the reader to acquire wisdom or knowledge. The division of a biblical book into topics also provides the framework in his introduction to the book of Psalms. Saadia claimed that there were five basic forms of speech: direct address, interrogation, narrative, commandment or admonition, and prayer or petition. These five elementary forms yield eighteen rhetorical modes that constitute "the totality of edification." Saadia concludes that what is common to all forms of speech in Psalms is that they focus on commandment and prohibition, what humanity is obliged to do and what is prohibited. The book of Job provides an occasion for Saadia to explore the theme of theodicy. Human suffering ultimately serves a pedagogic purpose. In the speeches of Job's comforters, Saadia discerns two ways of understanding suffering. People suffer so that they might change their evil ways or as punishment for their sins. Saadia rejects these formulations, and argues that suffering comes as a test for the individual, who will be rewarded in the end. Each of Saadia's commentaries, in its introduction and exegesis of individual chapters, presents a coherent monograph on a specific theme.
        Complementing his translation and exegetical works, Saadia wrote The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, a philosophical treatise presenting his theology of the coherence of scriptural revelation and rabbinic tradition of Judaism. Although the form of the book is entirely philosophical, the major themes within this treatise focus on Scripture: creation, commandment, reward, and punishment. Saadia asserted that scriptural revelation is entirely congruent with human reason when the latter is properly used. He argued that the report of reliable witnesses or tradition is a source of knowledge equivalent to what can be learned by the senses or through logical deduction.
        The consistency of Saadia's views throughout the variety of genres makes him one of the most significant exegetes of the Bible in Judaism. His commentaries were well-known in Arabic-speaking Jewish communities. To those Jews who read only Hebrew, his commentaries were transmitted by quotations in the writings of Jewish exegetes in Spain.
        Biblical studies continued in Spain. During the tenth and eleventh centuries, the authors wrote in Arabic. They drew upon the rich traditions of Arabic language, with its well-developed disciplines of philology, [73] lexicography, and poetics. In addition, they were heir to the philosophical polemics and religious apologetics that had been developed in the eastern Mediterranean. Karaite exegesis presented a continuing challenge for these authors to justify rabbinic interpretation of Scripture.
        In the tenth and eleventh centuries, a specialization in grammar and lexicography dominated the exegetical efforts of Jewish authors in Spain. They produced dictionaries and grammars of biblical texts. For example, Menahem ibn Saruq (c. 960) wrote a dictionary, while Jonah ibn Janah (c. 950-1040) composed a systematic work on the Hebrew language, focusing on problems of metathesis (exchange of letters within a single word), syntax, and poetics. Biblical commentaries written during this period focus almost exclusively on linguistic problems.
        Abraham ibn Ezra (1092-1167) wrote commentaries on almost all books of the Bible, often producing two recensions of a commentary to the same book. By his extensive quotation, Ibn Ezra transmitted much of the Arabic writings of his predecessors to audiences who read only Hebrew. Ibn Ezra subtly shifts from specialization in linguistic problems to the synthetic effort to apply the insights derived from philological study to the classical literature of the rabbis.
        In his introduction to the commentary on the Pentateuch, Ibn Ezra describes his program for Scripture exegesis in comparison to other contemporary Jewish, Karaite, and Christian methods. He builds his method on the foundation of human reason. Reason, for ibn Ezra, is the "angel" that mediates between God and humanity. Therefore, understanding any obscurity in Scripture commences with an investigation of its language, which is designed to accommodate human beings. This leads him to focus on the written text of Scripture as it had been transmitted by tradition, and limit the use of rabbinic exegesis that relied on changes in the orthography of the Hebrew text.
        When the biblical text contradicts human experience, Ibn Ezra attempts to harmonize them. At times he relies on a solution that suggests that the chronological distance between scriptural language and the contemporary reader accounts for the difficulty. On other occasions he relies on metaphor to explain away these contradictions. For example, he maintained that God's request for Hosea to marry a harlot was in conflict with the pattern of divine behavior in the Bible, and that these passages could be explained as occurring only in a vision. His insistence on the rational and historical basis for explaining what happened to biblical characters led him to deny the validity of narrations created by the Rabbis to explain the events in Scripture. For example, he cast doubt on Jeremiah's authorship of Lamentations, denying that it was the book burned by Jehoiakin.
        Ibn Ezra did not argue for the exegete's complete reliance on historical and rational explication. Rabbinic tradition provided the only reliable guide to explain Jewish law. The lack of complete explanations for all the commandments in the Pentateuch was a clear indication that the oral Torah was required. In his introduction to the Pentateuch commentary, Ibn Ezra demonstrates that the lack of details for calculating the monthly and yearly calendar implies the necessity for further rabbinic elaboration. The use of grammar alone to explicate these scriptural passages would lead to erroneous interpretation were it not for the comprehensive rules for the calendar, which were provided by the Rabbis. The conclusions of the Rabbis could be set aside only if one could demonstrate that a legal decision was based on an opinion of one sage. In all other cases, Ibn Ezra's exegetical system insisted on the rigorous use of grammar within the framework of classical rabbinic literature.
        We now turn from Ibn Ezra's mid-twelfth-century synthesis of the exegetical achievements of Jewry under Islamic culture to the developments within the northern European or Ashkenazi communities. Jewish scholars began to settle the areas in the Rhineland and present-day Alsace-Lorraine, and Champagne as early as the ninth century, emigrating from northern Italy. By the eleventh century, the first literary works of the Ashkenazi Rabbis emerge, focusing on the explication of the Talmud and the composition of liturgical poetry.
        The Jews who inhabited these regions also seem to have been in contact with learned Christians who inquired about the meaning of passages in Hebrew Scriptures. In the late eleventh century, Gilbert Crispin, Abbot of Westminster, composed a "dialogue" with a learned Jew from Mainz about the interpretation of Scripture. The goal of the dialogue was to convince the Jewish interlocutor about the truth of Christianity. By contrast, Stephen Harding, Abbot of Citeaux, described a meeting at the abbey where Jews were invited to respond to his inquiries [74] about the Hebrew basis for textual problems in the Vulgate. The contrast between his description of an intellectual encounter and the missionary spirit of Crispin's Dialogus provides the background to Jewish exegetical developments in Ashkenaz.
        In the exegetical writings of Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac of Troyes (1040-1105), known as Rashi, the HB receives its classical Jewish garment. Having studied at the Rhineland academies, Rashi transmitted the accumulated learning of the Ashkenazi Rabbis to the soil of France. He was profoundly interested in explicating the complex dialectics of the Talmud into an orderly argument that students could follow. As one who composed liturgical poetry, Rashi was aware of the multiple meanings of biblical words when they were used in different semantic contexts.
        In Rashi's exegetical framework, Scripture and the Rabbis constitute a single world. Therefore, one may derive the meaning of one from the other. His commentaries fuse rabbinic literature and the HB into a seamless text. At the same time, they insist upon discovering the Peshuto shel Miqra, bringing out the plain meaning of the biblical text in a narrative order that reduces the number of rabbinic midrashim relevant to a specific passage in Scripture.
        Both the integrity of rabbinic interpretation and its defense in the presence of Christian argument shape Rashi's exegesis. His prefatory remarks to Gen 1:1 provide an excellent example of these concerns. Citing a passage from Midrash Tanhuma, he raises the question of why the Pentateuch begins with the creation narrative rather than the mandate of the Passover (Exod 12:1) which was the "first commandment God gave to Israel." Rashi's response was grounded on a passage in Ps 111:6, which asserts that God declared his mighty acts to Israel, providing them with an inheritance among the nations. Thus if the nations of the world accused Israel of robbing the seven Canaanite nations of their territory, Israel could respond that all the earth belongs to God, who created it and gave it to whoever was upright from the divine perspective. By God's will it passed to the Canaanites, and by God's will it was given to Israel. The apologetic nature of this passage is patent. Rashi focuses on interpreting the creation narrative as an argument that the Pentateuch is not simply a book of divine mandates that regulate Israel's conduct, but the revelation of a covenant between God and the Jewish people.
        The interpretation of the Song of Songs provided another opportunity for Rashi to present a hermeneutical framework grounded on the language of Scripture itself, but indicated that the rabbinic allegorical interpretation of the Canticle of God's love for Israel was correct. He asserted that Solomon had composed the Canticle through the power of the Holy Spirit to show that Israel would endure one exile after another, and would mourn for its former glory when it was God's chosen among all the nations. Israel would then recount God's merciful acts and her own misdeeds. Solomon composed this narrative on the example of a young widow who longs for her husband, recounting his youthful love for her. Her husband mourns for her, recalling her beauty and the powerful bonds of love between them, and says that her exile is not permanent and that he will return to her in the future. The commentary itself explicates both the narrative of the lovers and the stages in the relationship between God and Israel from the creation of the world until the end of Israel's exile in the messianic era.
        Rashi's commentary on Psalms reveals his exegetical method of relocating passages, which the Rabbis interpreted in an eschatological manner, within the framework of the Bible itself. Psalm 2 had been interpreted as a description of the messianic battle at the end of history by the rabbis. Rashi repeats their explanation, but also provides a Teshuba le Minim, a refutation of the heretics. He asserts that the opening verses of the Psalm refer to 2 Sam 5:17, in which the Philistines gather to overthrow David, who had been crowned in Jerusalem. Rashi ascribes Ps 2:10-12 to the "Prophets of Israel" who rebuke the nations of the world to turn aside from their evil ways and obey God. This exegetical technique responds to Christian interpretation by a positive Jewish assertion that the passages in question contain a positive promise of the future redemption of Israel.
        Rashi's younger colleague, Rabbi Joseph Kara, and scholars in the generation of Rashi's grandson, Rabbi Samuel ben Meir, continue to develop his exegetical techniques. Their search for the Peshuto shel Miqra, or plain meaning, often leads them to more intense focus on the biblical text, which, in turn, diminishes their effort to harmonize rabbinic interpretation with Scripture. Some of the rabbis, such as Rabbi Joseph of Orleans, engage in refutations of Christian typological interpretation.
[75]         The commentaries written by Christian scholars, such as Hugh, Richard, and Andrew at the Abbey of St. Victor in Paris, during the twelfth century reflect contact with the exegesis of Rashi and his disciples. Particularly in the exegesis written by Andrew of St. Victor one can discover "traditions of the Hebrews" in Latin translation that have direct parallels in the commentaries of Rashi, Rabbi Joseph Kara, and Rabbi Samuel ben Meir. It is remarkable that Andrew at times accepts these Jewish interpretations, preferring them to those of the Church Fathers or the writings of his own teachers. Andrew's pupil, Herbert of Bosham, who was part of the scholarly community of Thomas a Beckett, indicates a greater capacity for utilizing rabbinic literature in his own commentary on the psalter. Christian utilization of Rashi and his pupils continues into the writings of other scholars, such as the fourteenth-century Franciscan, Nicholas of Lyra.
        Ashkenazi Rabbis of the thirteenth century turned their efforts toward a more dialectical study of the Bible. Rashi became their point of departure from the biblical text. They then use various passages from both Scripture and rabbinic literature to resolve the contradictions they discern behind Rashi's question. For example, they might dispute Rashi's argument in the introduction to his Torah commentary, mentioned above, that Exod 12:1 was the first commandment God gave to Israel. These Rabbis were known as Tosafot, "those who added." They did not compile independent commentaries on biblical books, but their interpretations were transmitted as parts of anthologies. In addition to compiling anthologies of Tosafot commentaries, these same scholars composed new anthologies of classical midrashim on the books of Scripture, such as the Yalqut Shim'oni.
        The creativity in biblical studies among the Rabbis in northern Europe during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries had its parallel in Iberia and the Mediterranean world. However, the rise of the Reconquista from the north and the invasion of the intolerant Almohades from the south changed the intellectual atmosphere. Emigration meant that new centers of study would flourish in Egypt, Provence, and in the new Christian monarchies of Spain.
        Moses Maimonides (1135-1205), known in most circles as a philosopher, did not write in the genre of biblical commentary. However, one could argue that the entire scope of his writings focuses on Scripture, providing various approaches for its proper interpretation. Moreover, subsequent generations of Jewish students of Scripture drew upon his writings as the basis for their own work.
        The introduction to the Commentary on the Mishnah, written in Arabic, weaves both biblical text and rabbinic midrash into a coherent narrative of how the divine Word was transmitted from Moses through Aaron and the elders to the children of Israel. In his Book of the Commandments, Maimonides provides one of the first attempts to delineate precisely which of the scriptural admonitions constitute the rabbinically prescribed number of 613 positive and negative commandments. In the Mishneh Torah, the first effort to codify the written and oral Torah, Maimonides presents an accounting of how each category of Jewish law had developed from pre-scriptural times through the age of the rabbis.
        Building a bridge between the God of Moses and Aristotle would seem to be the purpose of Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed. However, the reconciliation between philosophical perspectives and Jewish revealed tradition shaped the Guide into a treatise on the hermeneutics of Scripture. Maimonides stated, "The first purpose of this Treatise is to explain the meaning of certain terms occurring in the books of Prophecy. [The] second purpose [is] the explanation of very obscure parables occurring in the books of the prophets but not explicitly identified as such."
        Consistent with these purposes, the first part of the Guide provides a lexicon of biblical terms that are used with respect to God, and suggests how they might be understood. Part two offers an exposition of the nature of biblical prophecy with particular emphasis on the unique character of Moses. Maimonides concluded the Guide with a discussion on divine providence (which is presented as a commentary on the book of Job) and an examination of the character of divine legislation or commandments.
        In Maimonides' hermeneutical system, all of the divine commandments had an inner meaning. With his emphasis on the significance of the "inner meaning" of Scripture, allegorical interpretation moves to the core of proper biblical exegesis and is not simply an apologetic embellishment. This approach to Scripture emphasizes the necessary connection between learning, moral perfection, and knowledge of God.
        Provence and northern Spain inherited the linguistic and philosophical traditions of the previous [76] generations as well as the challenge of Maimonides' synthesis of Aristotle with Judaism. Philosophical interpretation had to be defended against those Rabbis who argued that the divine Word as transmitted in written and oral Torah was sufficient. These rabbis asserted that too much allegorization would have led Maimonides to deny concepts such as creation ex nihilo or the resurrection of the dead. Turning the Torah into parables would undermine observance of the commandments; perhaps even worse, it would validate Christian claims to the true interpretation of Jewish Scripture.
        The Kimchi family, Joseph (c. 1105 - c. 1170) and his two sons, Moses (d. c. 1190) and David (c. 1160 - c. 1235), moved to Narbonne from Spain and wrote commentaries on Scripture, responding to the rabbis who attacked philosophical and allegorical methods. Rabbi Joseph Kimchi composed The Book of the Covenant to defend Jewish interpretation of Scripture against Christian typological exegesis. The use of rationalism in this treatise demonstrates how philosophical methods could be used to support traditional rabbinic understanding of legal and prophetic passages. Rabbi David Kimchi, known as RaDaK, asserted that rationalist approaches to understanding the miracles in Scripture or prophecy were simply an extension of the original efforts of the classical Rabbis. Wherever possible, RaDaK argued that rigorous examination of biblical language yielded the most satisfactory explanations of figurative language. In addition, rational inquiry provided the best answers to Christian typological interpretations. For RaDaK, philosophy was one more weapon in Israel's arsenal for reclaiming the truth of its interpretation of Scripture despite its condition of exile. In his commentary on Jer 9:23, RaDaK asserts that Israel's covenant with God was the covenant of reason.          The most extensive exegetical writings of the Kimchi family come from David. He wrote a systematic treatise on the textual criticism of the Bible, Et Sofer (The Scribe's Pen), which describes manuscript variants and the problems of the Massorah. In addition he wrote a grammar book, Sefer Mikhlol (The Compendium), containing both a dictionary and a description of Hebrew grammatical rules. He wrote commentaries on Genesis, all the Prophets, Psalms, Proverbs, and Chronicles. In addition, he wrote allegorical commentaries on the Garden of Eden, Cain and Abel, and the first chapter of Ezekiel. These commentaries reflect the approach developed by his father, and also by Abraham ibn Ezra, where rigorous philological analysis is combined with a rationalist approach. He maintains a strict division between the pursuit of plain meaning and homiletical meaning. However, he uses the Talmudic Aggadah to develop moral and ethical lessons.
        Like his father, David Kimchi actively pursued polemics against Christian allegorical interpretations of the HB. Many of these polemical interpretations appear in his commentary on the book of Psalms. Many of David Kimchi's works were translated into Latin and were influential for Christian Hebraists in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
        Maimonides' emphasis on "inner meaning" of Scripture stimulated the growth of an alternative nonphilosophical method of biblical hermeneutics in both Provence and Spain during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. This method of interpretation, known as Kabbalah ("received tradition"), was associated with esoteric traditions of the classical Rabbis. The Kabbalists asserted that Scripture had an inner meaning that was to be discovered through their theosophic teachings rather than by philosophical categories.
        The teachers of these kabbalistic doctrines were well-known rabbinic authorities who wrote commentaries on the Talmud, produced codifications of Jewish law, and answered inquiries on how Jewish law should be practiced. In writing their treatises they drew upon the language of classical rabbinic midrash rather than philosophical language that was translated from Arabic into Hebrew. Their primary concerns were with a profound understanding of how God was manifest in the universe and how the observance of the commandments bound the Jewish people to the cosmos.
        The key to kabbalistic systems was grounded in the axiom that Scripture was the language of God. Therefore, its words and letters were more than conventional means of communication. They represented a concentration of energy and express a [77] wealth of meaning that could not be fully translated into human language.
        Rabbi Moses ben Nachman (1194-1270), known as Nachmanides, wrote a commentary on the Pentateuch that is one of the first literary witnesses to the kabbalistic approach to Scripture. In his introduction, he argues that the "entire Torah consists of the names of God, and that the words we read can be divided in a very different way." Nachmanides suggested that the Torah was originally revealed as a continuous string of letters. Moses was then presented with the divisions of these words so that the text could be read as the commandments. However, he was also given an oral tradition that transmitted the esoteric reading of the text as a sequence of divine names. The reader of Scripture who had studied the esoteric tradition could have access to both levels of meaning. However, Nachmanides set his own task as an interpreter of the Torah according to the traditional modes of rabbinic plain meaning and Aggadah, drawing upon the commentaries of Rashi and Abraham ibn Ezra, and occasionally alluding to those passages that were pregnant with esoteric meaning.
        By the end of the thirteenth century, Jewish biblical interpretation continued its role as the vehicle for expanding upon philosophical or kabbalistic themes. Levi ben Gershom (1288-1344) in Provence promoted his philosophical and ethical teachings in his biblical commentaries. Rabbi Bachya ben Asher of Saragossa wrote commentaries on the Pentateuch. Bachya ben Asher introduced a four-level division for the interpretation of scriptural verses: peshat, or "plain meaning"; derash, or "rabbinic aggadah"; derekh hassekhel, or "philosophical"; and sod, or "kabbalistic." Under Bachya ben Asher's influence, or perhaps from the surrounding Christian culture, the fourfold interpretation of Scripture, also known by the acronym pardes, "the garden", became a popular schema for the composition of biblical commentaries after the fourteenth century.
        The later medieval period, from the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries, witnessed another development in biblical commentary. Marc Saperstein has demonstrated that the sermons delivered in synagogues were rewritten into commentaries on Scripture (12). These "commentaries" became the literary vehicles for expanding on philosophical, kabbalistic, or moral themes. They provide a window into the theological concerns, ritual practices, and moral problems of the communities throughout the Jewish dispersion.

        At the dawn of the modern era, the eighteenth century, Jewish society was fragmented into three geographical and cultural areas: Western Europe, Eastern Europe (the former kingdom of Poland, which had been divided between Russia and Austria-Hungary), and the Ottoman Empire. This division has significance for the study of the Bible, because it indicates the distance that modern Western European thought had to travel before entering all elements of Jewish society. As civil emancipation became a possibility for Jews in France and Germany, they were enjoined to consider seriously the possibilities offered. by non-Jewish culture and society. Their co-religionists in Eastern Europe were not presented with the same political possibilities, but the importance of Western European thought was recognized. In the Ottoman Empire, Jewish religious thinkers would not contend with the challenges of modernity until the twentieth century.
        Only in Western Europe, particularly in Germany, was the Bible perceived as a cultural bridge between Jews and non-Jews. Before the Western European Enlightenment, external cultural influences were either absorbed or integrated into Jewish biblical studies in an indirect manner. As we have seen, Jewish exegetes in the Middle Ages sometimes responded to Christian study of the HB with direct polemical attacks. In the modern period, Jewish students of the Bible entertain the philological and historical discoveries generated by Christian biblical scholars without hostility, and often as a stimulus to their own work. The extent of this cultural integration evoked a serious debate among the Jews because it demanded a sundering of the context for biblical studies from the oral Law. From the perspective of traditional rabbinic Judaism, this dichotomy between oral and written Law constituted heresy. Beyond the theological issue, many traditional Rabbis recognized that by using nontraditional Hebrew sources Jews would be led away from the Jewish community and Jewish observance. This ambivalence toward separating the HB from its connections with rabbinic literature characterizes Judaism from [78] the eighteenth century through the modern period. It leads to a division into what we might call "biblical studies," which integrates the philological and historical insights with the heritage of pre-modern Jewry, and "biblical research," which focuses exclusively on the attempt to illuminate the HB within the context of its own world. Biblical research has absorbed Jews within the university community or within liberal seminaries. It has had an influence on the world of biblical studies through its work in translations.
        Moses Mendelssohn (1729-86) presents the first example of the tension that modernity introduced for Jewish biblical studies. His desire was to produce a translation of the HB into elegant German and combine it with a commentary in Hebrew (Biur). The primary purpose of this translation was to open the gateway to general culture for the Jewish community, and lead them toward an aesthetic outlook. He set about the task by gathering a group of like-minded scholars, assigning them commentaries. As the editor, Mendelssohn provided a unifying tone for both biblical translation and commentary.
        In his introduction to the Commentary on the Torah, Mendelssohn asserted that his goal was to focus on the language and grammar of Scripture. This emphasis had been lost to Jewish biblical commentary since the thirteenth-century scholar Rabbi David Kimchi. Primarily this grammatical method allowed Mendelssohn to demonstrate the essential correctness of Jewish traditional explanation of Torah. Christian scholars, he claimed, did not "recognize the traditions of our Sages and do not keep the Massorah." Therefore, they are not bound by vowel points and accents. For them, the Jewish Scripture is just a "historical work." The sages, however, established the Massorah to preclude the need for conjecture. Jews cannot simply modify the text of the Torah "for a grammarian's conjecture." Mendelssohn presents a defense of traditional Jewish understanding of the Pentateuch by emphasizing its linguistic foundation.
        The translation and commentary on Psalms permitted Mendelssohn greater latitude with respect to the aesthetics of biblical language. Here, Mendelssohn acknowledged his debt to Herder's Vom Geist der ebraeischer Poesie (1782-83) and R. Lowth's De sacra poesi habraeroum (1753). He focused on the parallelism of the psalms, hoping to accustom the reader to the lyric poetry of the Jews without seeing the prophetic and mystical sides.
        Mendelssohn and his colleagues seem to have reached their audience. Subscription lists indicate that Jews in Western European cities who were predisposed to assimilation into the larger society were not alone in purchasing them. Many Jews in smaller communities, particularly in Galicia, and the Eastern European Pale of settlement also supported the translation and commentary. This success met with condemnation from some of the leading Rabbis, such as Akiba Eger and Yehezkiel Landau. They attacked Mendelssohn's translations for making Hebrew subordinate to German and leading Jews into assimilation and apostasy.
        The opening to Jewish students of the universities in Berlin, Jena, and Halle in the nineteenth century brought a new generation to the study of oriental languages. By the 1820s a Society for the Scientific Study of Judaism (Wissenschaft des Judentums) commenced publication on a critical examination of Jewish history and literature. The principal activity of the advocates of scientific study of Judaism was in post-biblical Hebrew literature or the oral Torah rather than the Bible. Those who advocated religious reform within Judaism focused their efforts on changing the liturgy or Jewish ritual laws. Scripture seemed to be beyond their interests.
        However, by mid-century the idea of progress became very much a part of the ideology of the reformers. A platform promulgated by Rabbis in Frankfurt "recognized the possibility of unlimited progress in Mosaism." Inevitably, the reformers and advocates of Wissenschaft des Judentums began to react to the results of historical criticism by Christian scholars in their own writings. Rabbi Abraham Geiger (1810-79), founder of the Reform Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin, was the first scholar to incorporate the modern systematic study of biblical books into the program of Wissenschaft des Judentums and made it a part of his seminary curriculum. In his work on the History of the Text of the Hebrew Bible (Urschrift and ubersetzungen der Bibel in ihrer Abhengigkeit von der inneren Entwicklung des Judentums, 1857), Geiger articulated the integration of historical-critical studies and Jewish theology. He argued that the history of the biblical text was linked to the history of the Jewish people; and it was possible to reconstruct the inner history of Israel's faith from the external history of the biblical [79] text. What exegesis and midrash achieved at a later period was accomplished through manipulation of the biblical text. In this manner, Geiger constructed a coherent thesis that assumed a different Hebrew Vorlage behind the translations and versions, rather than ascribing them to copyists' errors. He associated the textual variants with the divergent social, political, and intellectual groups of Second Temple Judaism.
        Geiger also wrote an Introduction to Biblical Writings (1871-73) in which he argued that the prophetic books form the nucleus of the Bible; that the Pentateuch was a later work composed from various sources and united by a single redactor; and that the historical experience of the exodus was limited to the tribes of Joseph. This introduction, derived from his course at the rabbinical seminary in Berlin, was consistent with Geiger's idea that the Prophets who proclaimed the centrality of ethical monotheism and Israel's universal mission constituted the core of the HB.
        Reactions to the reformers' ideas about Scripture came from rabbis in both Eastern and Western Europe. Meir Loeb ben Jehiel Michael (1809-79), known by the acronym Malbim, wrote a commentary on the books of the HB, whose explicit purpose was to oppose the "rabbis, preachers and readers who butcher Judaism in their commentaries." Malbim asserted that the oral Torah was divinely revealed. Therefore, every word in the biblical text was necessary. More important for Malbim was that the sages of the Jewish tradition had utilized a linguistic approach since antiquity, which they called Peshat. Therefore, all interpretations of the rabbis were grounded on a linguistic foundation and were more authentic than the explanations offered by those Jews who used modern historical methods.
        Malbim's attitude toward historical criticism was not completely shared by his Orthodox colleagues in Western European countries like Germany and Italy. They focused their arguments on efforts to tamper with the unity of the Pentateuch, while they were willing to utilize modern scholarly methods on the other parts of the HB. Samuel David Luzzatto (1800-65) in Padua translated the Pentateuch into Italian and wrote a Hebrew commentary, affirming a belief in the divinely revealed character of the Torah. It displays great reverence for Rashi and argues that one need not take Genesis literally, but may understand its narratives as model lessons for moral values. In his commentary on Isaiah, he was less fideistic. He reviewed the arguments against the unity of Isaiah and rejected them purely on their merit. Luzzatto, however, found merit in the argu
ments that denied the Solomonic authorship of the book of Ecclesiastes.
        In Frankfurt-am-Main, Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-88) opposed any historical dimension in the analysis of the Pentateuch. His translation and commentary asserted that Torah, like nature, is a fact. No principle revealed in Torah may be denied, even when it is beyond the power of human understanding. The central principle of Torah is that it is beyond history, not contingent upon the will of society or any individual. In Hirsch's commentary on the Pentateuch and on Psalms, one may discern his use of allegory to advance his theological interpretation of Torah or Law as the eternal truth of Judaism. Hirsch's colleagues at the Hildesheimer Rabbinerseminar in Berlin were in complete solidarity with his views on the Pentateuch. However, they were more moderate in their view of the benefits that could be derived from modern scholarly methods. Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer declared that "Bible commentary demanded investigation from a new point of view and required the use of valuable linguistic material." Rabbi David Zvi Hoff-man wrote commentaries on Genesis, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, attacking the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis. He articulated the axiom of the divine revelation of Torah, asserting that the written Torah can be understood only in conjunction with the oral haw. Like Mendelssohn, he declared that the Masoretic Text (MT) and its vowel points were an inviolable integrity. From Hoffman's perspective, Scripture was the word of God in content as well as expression. Therefore, one could recognize only those aspects of modern scholarship that did not question its integrity or sanctity.
        Another instructor at the Hildesheimer Rabbinerseminar, Rabbi Jakob Barth, utilized academic research to separate the authorship of Isaiah 40-66 from the rest of the book. In addition to his linguistic analysis, he also adduced proof from the Talmud (Tractate B. Bat, l 5a) that some passages in Isaiah had been written by Hezekiah. Orthodox Jewish scholars would accept the results of historical explanations in biblical books outside the Pentateuch, especially when they could be justified by sacred rabbinic texts.
        It is clear that intra-religious polemics and ideology had a definite impact on the acceptance of non-Jewish biblical studies in the Jewish community. Both Reform and Orthodox Jewish scholars [80] were drawn into the debate about the theories developed by Old Testament (OT) scholars in the universities. In the early years of the twentieth century, Solomon Schechter, who had taught at Cambridge University and become a leader of Conservative Judaism, exposed a theological dimension of the Graf-Wellhausen documentary hypothesis. The post-exilic dating of the Priestly document with the "legalism" of its content was, in Schechter's words, grounded in the "Higher Antisemitism." Thus what proposed itself as "objective scholarship" was grounded in anti-Jewish apologetic. Schechter articulated the sentiments of even those Jews who did not object to historical studies, but who were highly suspicious of apologetics masked as scholarship.
        Schechter's statement about biblical historical studies had broader implications for the Jewish tradition. It affirmed the gap that separated Christian scholars who read the HB from their Jewish counterparts. The statement also adumbrated radical changes that have taken place in the twentieth century Jewish community and shaped the way in which Jews interpret their Scripture. Among these changes we might specify the massive migration to America at the beginning of the century; the rise of Zionism as a movement of Jewish self-renewal; the Holocaust; and the founding of the state of Israel.
        From the perspective of these changes in the Jewish community, it would seem appropriate to describe biblical interpretation in the twentieth century as oscillating between explaining the Bible only in its historical context and reassembling aspects of the rabbinic tradition. The academic environment of the university and liberal rabbinical seminary have stimulated work by Jewish scholars, who have contributed to the historical approach. Rabbis in both Europe and North America have written commentaries on the Pentateuch and other parts of the HB that are used in both synagogue worship and study programs. These commentaries, while presenting some of the results of historical research, emphasize the rabbinic tradition.
        By 1894 the Jewish Publication Society of America (JPS) undertook a revision of an earlier translation by Rabbi Isaac Leeser (1853). The committee was chaired by Marcus Jastrow, a professor at Columbia University. The committee was reconstituted in 1907 with Max L. Margolis of Dropsie College serving as the principal translator. By 1917, the committee had approved the work of Margolis. The JPS translation (1917) served as the principal text in American Jewish synagogues and institutions until 1955, when a committee for revision was constituted under the leadership of Harry M. Orlinsky, who taught at Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion. Orlinsky's committee was composed of scholars who taught in seminaries and universities - E. A. Speiser (Pennsylvania) and H. L. Ginsberg (Jewish Theological Seminary of America) - and Rabbis B. J. Bamberger (Reform), Max Arzt (Conservative), H. Freedman (Orthodox). They completed their work on all three sections of the HB by 1979. The JPS committee's efforts reflect a "descriptive translation" that draws upon the rich background of ancient Near Eastern culture to produce a text accessible to the modern reader. Wherever possible, the translators attempt to reduce theological implications. Therefore, in Gen 1:2 the Hebrew ruah 'elohim is translated as "a wind from God sweeping over the water." The reader becomes aware of passages that are difficult to translate by a notation indicating "translation uncertain."
        Another significant effort in Jewish biblical translation was the collaboration by two Jewish scholars in Germany, Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929) and Martin Buber (1878-1964). Their collaborative translation was motivated by their common project of a renewal of Jewish identity in Germany as well as by their individual theological and philosophical investigations. By the time of Rosenzweig's death in 1929, they had completed the Pentateuch; Buber continued the work in Germany until 1938, when he left for Israel. The translation was completed between 1950 and 1961.
        The Buber-Rosenzweig translation has its foundation in Buber's philosophical assumption of the dialogue as a primary human way of knowing. The Bible is, in Hebrew, Miqra, "that which calls out or exclaims." It can be understood only by the reader who is to become a partner in the dialogue; one who expects the texts to be as relevant today as it was to previous generations. Poor translation, rather than historical criticism, threatened the relationship of the individual with Scripture. The scholarly task was to restore the original structure of the text that points to its underlying plan. Then the text could resume its perennial function of teaching.
        Buber's approach was to discover the living unity of the text rather than atomizing it into a series of unrelated literary strands. By focusing on the particularities [81] of biblical language and rhetoric, Buber and Rosenzweig sought to be faithful to its unique voice. In contrast to Mendelssohn's effort to elevate Hebrew to elegant German, they attempted to mold the German to the starkness of Hebrew.
        In addition to his work of translation, Buber wrote a number of books on the history of ideas in Hebrew Scripture. A number of other academicians in Israel and the United States also contributed to this historical genre. Yehezkiel Kaufmann (1889-1965), Umberto Cassuto (1883-1951), and Joseph Klausner (1874-1965) wrote on the history of ancient Israelite religion. While they utilized the same historical methods as non-Jewish scholars, they advocated a reconstruction based on Jewish peoplehood and nationalism. The history of biblical research in Israeli and American universities reflects the dynamic relationship between the demands of a scholarly discipline and changing perspectives on the continuity between the biblical and rabbinic periods.
        In shifting our perspective from the international academy to the synagogues in North America, it would be fair to conclude that most Jews have not been touched by the results of biblical studies. The cycle of weekly Torah and prophetic readings have provided Rabbis with opportunities to share their theological perspectives. The use of Scripture as a basis for moral and ethical exhortation is common to the homiletics of Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Rabbis. To some extent the emphasis of Reform Judaism on the prophetic literature yielded an emphasis on issues of social justice. However, the renewal of ritual observance during the 1970s and 1980s among all philosophies of American Jewry required biblical commentaries that also promoted a retrieval of insights from the rabbinic and medieval periods. One can discern this integration of biblical studies with the insights of Jewish religious ideas in the commentaries of Nahum Sarna (b. 1923) (13).
        Two commentaries on the Pentateuch that are currently used in North American synagogues reveal this tendency to balance modern and pre-modern perspectives. Rabbi J. H. Hertz (1872-1946), a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and later Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth, completed a one-volume commentary on the Pentateuch and Haftarah (prophetic passages). Hertz presented his reader with a commentary that combined an emphasis on "plain meaning" with the insights from the best of Jewish and European culture. Dante and T. H. Huxley are quoted, together with Rashi and Nachmanides. There is a strong emphasis on moral and ethical issues. Hertz condemns social evils. He adopts the insights of Samson Raphael Hirsch and David Zvi Hoffman to indicate that the sacrifices prescribed in Leviticus are symbols of human gratitude and dependence upon God.
        Hertz's commentary employs a strong apologetic attack on any attempt to suggest that Scripture and modern science contradict each other. However, any scholarly opinion that criticizes the unity of the Pentateuch or the antiquity of its sources receives lengthy rebuttal. These counterarguments are often presented in the supplementary notes appended to each book of the Pentateuch. The reader of the Hertz Pentateuch is, therefore, inured to any concept of historical development. The insights of Jews and non-Jews are presented to polish the image of the perfect revelation God gave to Moses at Mount Sinai.
        A contrasting perspective on the nature of a commentary on the Pentateuch for the synagogue was presented by W. Gunther Plaut (b. 1912) and Bernard Bamberger (1904-80), both Rabbis of the Reform movement: The Torah: A Modern Commentary (14). Plaut was the principal architect of the commentary, while Bamberger wrote the commentary on Leviticus.
        Where Hertz was hostile to comparisons of the Pentateuch to its ancient Near Eastern background, Plaut invites them. Each book of the Pentateuch has an introduction written by William Hallo, summarizing the contributions of historical studies to a modern understanding of the Pentateuch. Hertz emphasizes the divine inspiration of the Pentateuch. Plaut's introduction argues that "the Torah is ancient Israel's distinctive reference of its search for God." It records the meeting of the human and the divine, the great moments of encounter. Therefore, the text is touched by an ineffable essence. For Plaut, "God is not the author of the text, the people are. God's voice may be heard through theirs if we listen with the human mind." Consistent with Reform Judaism's emphasis on personal autonomy in religious [82] life, he asserts, "The Commentary is neither an apology for nor an endorsement of every passage. It will present the modern readers with tools for understanding and leave the option to them (15)."
        The Plaut-Bamberger commentary carries out its plan to both educate and inspire the modern Jewish reader. Breaking with the traditional rabbinic divisions of the Pentateuch into the weekly portions read on the Sabbath, it is divided by literary units. Each unit contains a general introduction, followed by the Hebrew text and the JPS translation, with either Plaut's or Bamberger's philological notes. A discussion of theological and halakhic issues follows the text, translation, and notes. Each unit concludes with excerpts from Jewish and non-Jewish sources relating to the most significant themes. There is an emphasis on moral and ethical issues, but the relationship between the Pentateuch and Jewish law and practice are discussed without apology.
        In concluding our survey of biblical interpretation within the Jewish tradition, it seems appropriate to retrieve the rabbinic image of Torah study as Pardes, an orchard. Many Rabbis understood the letters of Pardes as an acronym describing hermeneutical approaches to the text: Peshat, plain meaning, Remez, allusion or allegory, Derash, homiletical, and Sod, mystical. By the end of the Middle Ages, Jewish interpreters of the Bible wrote their commentaries, offering systematic explanations of each verse according to its appropriate level. Each approach, however, was understood as a point of entry into the orchard of divine delights.
        For the rabbis, medieval Jews, and even Jews of modernity to read Scripture in the synagogue or in private study is to enter the richness of the Jewish people's encounter with the divine. Michael Fishbane has indicated that interpretation of the divine Word has been an integral part of Jewish life even during the biblical period itself (16). Given this perspective, one could argue that the fruits of modern biblical scholarship permit modern Jews to appreciate parts of the orchard that previously have been obscured. Each generation of Jews has added to the beauty of the orchard. They have responded to the wisdom of an early rabbinic teacher who claimed, "Turn it, and turn it again, for everything is contained in it."
Classical Period
Halivni, D. Weiss. Midrash, Mishnah and Gemara: The Jewish Predilection for Justified Law. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986. A discussion of the relationship between the written Torah and the literary expressions of oral Torah.
Neusner, J. The Oral Torah: The Sacred Books in Judaism. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1991. Neusner examines the interrelationships between the documents that transmit rabbinic Judaism.
Strack, H. L., and G. Stemberger. Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash. Translated by M. Bockmuehl. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992. This book provides an introduction to rabbinic literature, its genres and their histories with extensive bibliography.

Medieval Period
Bather, W. "Biblical Exegesis," The Jewish Encyclopedia (1906) III:1962-1974. Bather's article focuses on the linguistic emphasis of medieval Jewish exegetical writings.
Banitt, M. Rashi: Interpreter of the Biblical Letter. Tel Aviv: Chaim Rosenberg School of Jewish Studies, Tel Aviv University, 1985. Rashi's exegesis is examined within the context of medieval French culture.
Funkenstein, A. Perceptions of Jewish History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. Funkenstein presents medieval Jewish exegesis in relationship to both Islamic and Christian civilizations.
Saperstein, M. Jewish Preaching: 1200-1800. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989. The introduction provides a history of the relationship between biblical exegesis and Jewish preaching with comparisons to Christianity.
Talmage, F. "Keep Your Sons from Scripture: The Bible in Medieval Jewish Scholarship and Spirituality." In C. Thoma and M. Wyschograd, Understanding Scripture: Explorations of Jewish and Christian Traditions of Interpretation. Mahwah, N.J.: 1987, 81-101; and "Apples of Gold: The Inner Meaning of Sacred Texts in Medieval Judaism." In A. Green, ed. Jewish Spirituality: From the Bible Through the Middle Ages. New York: Crossroad, 1986, 313-55. These two essays by Talmage constitute an excellent introduction to the place of Scripture in medieval Judaism.
Walfish, B. Esther in Medieval Garb: Jewish Interpretation of the Book of Esther in the Middle Ages. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993. This volume represents an innovative approach to the study of exegesis on a single book of Scripture.

Modern Period
Altmann, A. Moses Mendelssohn: A Biographical Study. Birmingham: University of Alabama Press, 1973. In chapter 5, Altmann provides an analysis of the intellectual and social milieu of Mendelssohn's translation.
Fishbane, M. Garments of Torah. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989. Essays on ancient, medieval, and modern Jewish biblical hermeneutics emphasize elements of continuity within the Jewish tradition.
Ochs, P., ed. The Return to Scripture in Judaism and Christianity: Essays in Postcritical Scriptural Interpretation. Mahwah, N.Y.: Paulist, 1993. The efforts by Jewish scholars in modernity to reintegrate elements from the entire spectrum of Jewish interpretations are described.
Orlinsky, H. M. Essays in Biblical Culture and Bible Translation. New York: KTAV Publishing, 1974. A collection of articles that focus on modern Jewish approaches to exegesis and its practitioners.