RBL 03/2007 Apothaker, Howard L.

Sifra Dibbura deSinai: Rhetorical Formulae, Literary Sturctures, and Legal Traditions Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 2003. Pp. 464. Hardcover. $49.95. ISBN 0878204520.

Carl Kinbar University of South Africa The modern study of Tannaitic texts, foundational to the formation of Judaism in the period immediately following the destruction of the temple in 70 C.E., has focused on the Mishnah and, at times, its relationship with the similar but much lengthier Tosefta. The Tannaitic midrash collections have not gone without attention, however. For example, in the past two decades, several scholars have produced important work on Sifra, the earliest commentary on the Scripture’s book of Leviticus.1 Arguably the most cogent and convincing of these is Howard L. Apothaker’s work on Sifra’s lengthy concluding section, Dibbura deSinai. Sifra, Dibbura deSinai consists of an introduction, part 1 (“Translation and Analysis”), part 2 (“Synthetic Analysis”), and appendices listing rhetorical formulae, halakic rules

1. Louis Finkelstein, Sifra on Leviticus (4 vols.; New York, 1983–91); Herbert W. Basser, In the Margins of the Midrash, Sifre Ha’azinu Texts: Commentaries, and Reflections (Atlanta, 1990); Jacob Neusner, especially Uniting the Dual Torah: Sifra and the Problem of the Mishnah (Cambridge, 1990); Günter Stemberger, “Zur Redaktionsgeschichte von Sifra” in Approaches to Ancient Judaism, New Series 1.1 (ed. J. Neusner; Atlanta, 1997), 39–81; Ronen Reichman, Mishna und Sifra: Ein literarkritischer Vergleich paralleler Überlieferugen (Tübingen, 1998). See also E. Z. Melamed, The Relationship between the Halakhic Midrashim and the Mishna and Tosefta [Hebrew] (Jerusalem, 1967), esp. 9–78 and 182–196.

This review was published by RBL 2007 by the Society of Biblical Literature. For more information on obtaining a subscription to RBL, please visit http://www.bookreviews.org/subscribe.asp.

and so forth primarily as “documents” in the Tannaitic period. Dibbura deSinai is to explore and analyze the interpretive and rhetorical characteristics of Sifra and thus to identify Sifra’s impetus and agenda.asp. Where that depiction intersects the description of rabbinic culture offered in the Mishnah and Tosefta. and the relationship between preclusions in Sifra and positive affirmations in Mishnah and Tosefta.bookreviews. Contra Jacob Neusner and others. Apothaker’s introduction (11–32) previews his goals. Mishnah. methods. (32) It is notable here and elsewhere that Apothaker refers to and conceives of Sifra. and eisegesis. in which the Scripture generates propositions that shape rabbinic culture. as I have indicated. in which Scripture is shown to be the only valid source of the propositions of rabbinic culture that are otherwise found apart from a scriptural source or justification.org/subscribe. He also discusses the textual basis for his translation and issues of dating and authorship. But what it has to say is always voiced according to the agenda of Sifra. Its subject of inquiry is neither Mishnah nor Tosefta but. .appearing in Dibbura deSinai. Apothaker identifies two complementary aspects of the Sifra’s reading of Scripture as exegesis. Scripture thus acts as both the source and justification for rabbinic culture and is also positioned in its every detail and apparent anomaly as essential to the formation and maintenance of rabbinic culture. Apothaker is convinced that Sifra operates for its own purposes and with its own agenda completely apart from its relationship with Mishnah and Tosefta as documents. Apothaker concludes that Scripture and its interpretation stand in the center of the Sifra’s enterprise and are positioned as both the source and justification for rabbinic culture. Sifra has something to say. an issue far from settled as This review was published by RBL 2007 by the Society of Biblical Literature. as others have suggested. The goal of Sifra. a text describing practices most relevant while the temple stood and to place it in the postdestruction context in which so much of its contents apparently had ceased to apply. For more information on obtaining a subscription to RBL. and conclusions and positions his work in the scholarship of Sifra (which he does with more specificity in part 2). either from a simple attempt to anchor halakah in Scripture or an attempt to explain Scripture’s repetitions and anomalies but from the need to explain “the anomaly of the text of Leviticus” (18). please visit http://www. Apothaker asserts that Sifra did not arise. Scripture and its authority to validate rabbinic culture as depicted in Sifra.

as well as examples of their use in combination with one another. .bookreviews. he also interacts in depth with other views of Sifra’s program. in his attempt to prove his point. takes up the bulk of this volume (33–336) and offers a translation and unit-by-unit analysis of Sifra Dibbura deSinai. “From where [that is. “The rhetoric of Sifra accomplishes the task of positioning divine revelation as necessary in its most minute and manifest detail as Israel’s necessary and only sufficient source of truth” (339–40). specifies that…”). For Apothaker. Apothaker’s simple yet most striking improvement over Neusner’s translation is that he not only marks the Mishnaic material in bold text and the Toseftan material in italics but also sets halakic material unique to Sifra in small caps. “[a scripture] teaches that…”). Apothaker works through examples of each of these devices and other less common stratagems. in several persuasive ways.” 337–409). For this reason. the formatting helps to substantiate Apothaker’s thesis that Sifra is neither derivative nor reactive. Along with the lucid and helpful analysis. from what scripture] do we learn that…”).” leaving open the issue of whether they were oral and/or written in their own time. Apothaker examines Sifra’s rhetorical formulae.asp. This demonstrates even to the casual reader that Sifra includes a substantial body of halakic material not found in the Mishnah and Tosefta. ratification (a portion of scripture is found sufficient because it endorses a specific proposition. Part 1 (“Translation and Analysis”). please visit http://www. and legal traditions. In part 2 (“Synthetic Analysis. however. he supports his central thesis. For more information on obtaining a subscription to RBL. to which manuscripts scribed about a millennium later bear witness. for example.orality studies are applied increasingly to the study of the early rabbinic period.” In this section.2 Nevertheless. for example. overemphasizes Sifra’s use of the rhetorical formula “Is 2. “One may erroneously conclude that … Scripture. Apothaker claims that Neusner. also theorizing about Mishnah and Sifra’s “parting of the ways. These works were eventually expressed in written texts. and preclusion (a portion of scripture is found necessary because it precludes a false proposition. Apothaker’s fresh translation differs at times from Neusner’s on technical matters such as paragraph divisions and the amount of explanatory information bracketed into the translation. This review was published by RBL 2007 by the Society of Biblical Literature. I prefer to call Tannaitic productions “works. literary structures. This is accomplished through three primary rhetorical devices: specification (a portion of scripture leads to a specific proposition or idea. that Sifra operates according to its own unambiguous agenda. for example. Apothaker comments on Neusner’s thesis that the main purpose of Sifra is to demonstrate that the logic underlying and permeating the Mishnah is insufficient in itself and that only Scripture provides a firm basis for halakah. it expresses a clear and unique agenda in early rabbinic culture. Although Sifra is situated clearly in the matrix of Tannaitic works.org/subscribe.

In their final stages. This review was published by RBL 2007 by the Society of Biblical Literature. Melamed specifically asserts that in parallels between Sifra and Mishnah-Tosefta. Apothaker’s heuristic paradigm of this complex redactional interrelationship is similar to some working theories about the redactional relationship of the Mishnah and Tosefta and very much in line with critical theories of preprint redaction brought into the world of rabbinic studies by Peter Schäfer (1986)3 and followed up (and often tempered) by others. Apothaker agrees with Stemberger that the material found now in our Mishnah and Sifra began with a common pool of material that was shaped in complex and layered processes. When Sifra uses citation formulae (such as wrm) Nkym) to introduce Mishnaic and Toseftan material. Even Neusner notices that the formula does not pervade Sifra. 182). Melamed argue for the historical primacy of the Mishnah over Sifra.…” This formula appears only nine times among the hundreds of units in Sifra Dibbura deSinai. primacy of at least some material in Sifra. please visit http://www. Simply put. the Mishnah and Sifra were shaped by two increasingly distinct agendas. In his chapter on the Mishnah and Sifra’s “parting of the ways” (401–9). these processes diverged into (at least) two streams that may have continued to interact with each other. taking the rhetoric of Dibbura deSinai as a whole.it not logical? … [No. For more information on obtaining a subscription to RBL. 3. it would be more sound to investigate the relationship between Sifra and the body of non-Sifraic Tannaitic halakah embedded within it. the framers of Sifra are less interested in undermining the Mishnah’s logic than they are in establishing the preeminent place of Scripture as the singular source of rabbinic culture. Dibbura deSinai that discuss the relationship between Sifra and Mishnah are marked. there would be no way for us to discern either the Mishnah or Tosefta as they are quoted or cited in Sifra. This would indicate a logical. The portions of Sifra. the Mishnah-Tosefta material is uniformly early and Sifra is late (Melamed 1967. Apothaker shows that some of the Mishnah and Tosefta’s halakah are clearly refined versions of material framed in a more elementary manner found only in Sifra. Nor does Sifra label or otherwise identify the Mishnah or Tosefta or differentiate between the two. yet this rhetorical device continues to drive Neusner’s overall view of the Mishnah-Sifra relationship. Z. if we had no Mishnah or Tosefta in our hands today. by a methodological flaw that at least partly undermines all theories assuming a clear identity of the Mishnah as known by Sifra. “Research into Rabbinic Literature: An Attempt to Define the Status Quaestionis” JJS 37 (1986): 139–52.org/subscribe. Thus. however. it makes no distinction between them. Both Neusner and E. if not also a historical. . thus] Scripture says. At some point. This article expressed ideas already well-developed among German textual critics in the 1970s and 1980s. Apothaker responds that.bookreviews.asp.

Nevertheless. Sifra. Apothaker has demonstrated that the center of Sifra’s program is to affirm Scripture and its interpretation as both the source and justification for rabbinic culture. Dibbura deSinai is work of vital scholarship marked by depth. please visit http://www. For more information on obtaining a subscription to RBL. This review was published by RBL 2007 by the Society of Biblical Literature.org/subscribe. Sifra. and painstaking scholarship. He has highlighted the interpretive dynamics and rhetorical devices that Sifra uses to further that agenda. not reactive. Sifra’s agenda is active.asp.bookreviews. clarity. By careful commentary and synthetic analysis. He has also successfully addressed the work of other scholars. . Dibbura deSinai clarifies Sifra’s place in the Tannaitic world and is thus a work that future scholars of Sifra will be obliged to engage.

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