Traditions of the Rabbis from the Era of the New Testament: Feasts and Sabbaths: Passover and Atonement, Vol 2A

Traditions of the Rabbis from the Era of the New Testament: Feasts and Sabbaths: Passover and Atonement, Vol 2A

by David Instone-Brewer

The second volume of early rabbinic traditions and their relevance to the New Testament

In this second volume of his monumental study of early rabbinic traditions and their relevance to the New Testament, David Instone-Brewer provides significant insights into Jewish thought and practice prior to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 c.e.


The second volume of early rabbinic traditions and their relevance to the New Testament

In this second volume of his monumental study of early rabbinic traditions and their relevance to the New Testament, David Instone-Brewer provides significant insights into Jewish thought and practice prior to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 c.e.

For each rabbinic tradition considered -- here, the Feasts and Sabbaths -- the supporting Hebrew source text is provided side by side with an English translation. Instone-Brewer also presents evidence that exists for accurately dating these sources, which is a critical task recently advanced by modern dating techniques. He goes on to thoroughly discuss the meaning and importance of each rabbinic tradition for Second Temple Judaism, also analyzing any echoes or direct appearances of the tradition in the New Testament writings.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Praise for the Traditions of the Rabbis from the Era of the New Testament project:

Jacob Neusner

— Bard College, New York
"A brave initiative and a fruitful one, this massive effort to recover a Judaic context for interpreting the Gospels builds on a generation of work and marks a new and promising development."

William Horbury
— Cambridge University
"This work gives valuable help towards understanding the New Testament in its Jewish setting. It presents older rabbinic texts of importance for New Testament interpretation, in Hebrew as well as English, following the order of the Mishnah. The commentaries are notably concise and helpful."

Craig A. Evans
— Bulletin for Biblical Research
"On every page, one is impressed with Instone-Brewer's learning and balanced judgment. . . . An invaluable resource."

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Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
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Feasts and Sabbaths

Passover and Atonement
By David Instone-Brewer

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 2011 David Instone-Brewer
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8028-4763-8

Chapter One

Tractate Shabbat: The Sabbath

Definitions and Outline

Torah said that on the Sabbath (Shabbat, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) it was forbidden to do labor (melakhah, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 'occupation, business'), and this restriction included anyone among your family, servants or animals (Exod.20.10f; Deut.5.14). This labor included gathering and cooking (Exod.16.23-29; Num.15.32), lighting fires (Exod.35.3), and "going out" (yatza, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) of your "place" (maqom, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Exod.16.29). Nehemiah reinforced the Sabbath laws by prohibiting buying and selling (Neh.10.31).

From these texts the rabbis concluded that the labor prohibited on the Sabbath included lighting or extinguishing a fire, cooking or heating, going out, and commerce. The definition of "going out of your place" (Exod.16.29) is dealt with mainly in the next tractate, Érubin, which discusses ways to extend your private domain (rashut, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) by using a community marker (érub, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 'conjunction') – a deposit of food jointly owned by a group of households. The Torah prohibition on 'going out' was deemed to include 'taking out' (hotzi, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], hiphil of yatza, 'go out'). This extension of the Torah is already found in Jeremiah 17.22 ("do not take out a burden from your house") which also helped to define "your place" in Exodus as a "house" or a private domain.

This rule about taking out developed into further rules about bringing in (hakhnasah, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), lifting (natal, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 'to lift,' discussed at m.Shab.17.1,4), carrying (tiltel, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], discussed at m.Shab.4.2), rescuing (hitzil, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], hiphil of natzal, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 'to remove,' discussed at m.Shab.16.1), throwing, and the quantities which could be moved. At Qumran there was a further restriction on bringing up (ho'il, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], hiphil of ya'al, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 'to go up') which included bringing up an animal out of a pit and bringing up an offering to the altar. The rules about fires and cooking developed into rules about whether cooking could be started before the Sabbath so that it finished by itself during the Sabbath (which is also discussed in the tractate Bétzah), and rules about saving objects from fires on a Sabbath, and thence to rules about saving life. Other types of labor which were not specifically named in Scripture also came to be prohibited, especially healing and writing, though circumcision and life-saving medical labor such as midwifery were allowed. The list of activities that were identified as labor continued to grow through the centuries, even though Mishnah had a fixed list of 39.

The Prophets regarded the Sabbath as supremely important in both positive and negative ways. The Sabbath was a time to "delight in the Lord" (Isa.58.13f) and the Sabbath will be kept perfectly in the eschatological Temple (Ezek.44.24), and the destruction of Israel was due, at least partly, to breaking the Sabbath (e.g. Jer.17.1927). Given the cultic and eschatological importance of the Sabbath, it is not surprising that there are more references in this tractate to reparations by sin-offering (hattat, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) than in any other tractate outside the order Kodashim ('Offerings').

High Festival Days (the "Holy Convocations" of Torah), which are the most important days of festivals, are special types of "Sabbaths" (Lev.23.3f, 24). Torah prohibited "any servile-labor" (abad, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) on these days, but did not specifically prohibit "labor" (melakah), as on a Sabbath. This distinction is discussed in the tractate Bétzah which concludes that on a High Festival Day, unlike on a Sabbath, food can be prepared if it is necessary for that day. In general, anything prohibited on High Festival Days is "all the more" prohibited on Sabbaths (m.Betz.5.2).

m.Shab.1–4: Start of the Sabbath: lights and fires

In order to avoid accidentally breaking the Sabbath, the rabbis instituted several safeguards, such as not taking out tools during the Sabbath, not starting jobs just before the start of the Sabbath, and making sure a lamp is lit and food is tithed before the Sabbath begins. There was much debate about whether you could initiate cooking and other labor just before the Sabbath began so that it would finish by itself during the Sabbath. The prohibition on taking out developed into prohibitions of bringing in, lifting and eventually carrying.

m.Shab.5–11: During the Sabbath: moving goods

Taking out goods "from your place" was only one of 39 types of labor, but it was very difficult to avoid, so it attracted much debate. The rabbis had to define what and how much could be taken out, and concluded that you could not even wear something that could be used as a tool or was heavy. The minimum prohibited amount was whatever would complete the smallest task, such as one mouthful of animal feed. You could bypass the prohibition by moving an object without taking it out, e.g. by throwing it. The term "your place" was understood as 'your private domain' – the definition of which is discussed mainly in the tractate Érubin.

m.Shab.10–24: Other labor: writing, healing, saving, lifting, commerce etc.

"Labor" was defined as any completed task which endured, and this could be as small as writing two meaningful letters, or anointing with medicine. Emergency labor was permitted, such as midwifery, circumcision, rescuing a Torah scroll from a fire, or rescuing other necessities such as food for one day. Lifting objects is permitted, so long as you do not take them out of the domain, but tools cannot be lifted except to perform a task they were not designed to perform. Commerce and hiring cannot be enacted, or even contracted, on a Sabbath.

Dating the eighteen rulings of the Shammaites

The tractate Shabbat starts with a miscellany of rulings (1.1-3) only some of which relate to the Sabbath. They are followed by a statement that "These are some of the rulings which they stated ... [when] they took a vote and the School of Shammai outnumbered the School of Hillel, and they decreed eighteen rules on that very day" (1.4). The number of rulings preceding this can be totaled between 22 and 13 depending on whether each individual item is counted as a single ruling or is combined with other items to form a single ruling, but it is not obvious how they were intended to total precisely 18 rulings. This is puzzling because the editor(s) of Mishnah could assume that readers would want to learn about all the 18 School rulings. The School traditions formed the foundation of rabbinic law at Yavneh, as seen in the tractate Eduyyot and as implied by their use throughout Mishnah. In the vast majority, the Hillelite position held sway, so these 18 which followed the Shammaite position were of extraordinary interest. It is therefore likely that the editor(s) would want to identify the eighteen. The puzzle concerning the identity of these eighteen ruling can be solved in three main ways:

1) It may be possible to identify the 18 rulings among the miscellany of 1.1-3. A baraytah in b.Shab.12a-13b assumes that at least some of the 18 are in this section ("One may not search his garments by the light of a lamp, nor read by the light of a lamp, and these are of the halakhot stated in the upper-room of Hananiah b. Hezekiah b. Garon"). The number of rulings can be counted in different ways, depending on whether you count a short list (such as the bathhouse and tannery) as a single ruling or as separate rulings. These lists sometimes appear to have grown over time – the bathhouse and tannery rulings, for example, appear to have been added to the ruling about a barber at 1.2. This means that a group of rulings may be independent in that they were added at separate times, but they may be co-dependent in that they are inspired by and connected to a single foundational ruling.

The number of rulings in 1.1 is stated as "four" plus "four." The fact that they are numbered may help to confirm that the editor(s) are aware that the total is important. In 1.2 there are two foundational rulings ("A man should not sit down before the barber" and "If they began they do not break off"), from which the rest have developed. Similarly 1.3 has three foundational rulings which have each been elaborated ("A tailor should not take out," "one should not search clothes in the light of a lamp" and "a man suffering discharge should not eat with a woman suffering discharge"). This makes a total of 13 (8+2+3) rulings at a foundational stage of the editing. At later stages, rulings were added or subdivided, so that the number of rulings in 1.2 could be counted as 4, 5, 6 or 7 and the number in 1.3 could be counted as 4 or 5. Therefore it is possible to make a total of 18, but in order to do so, some detailed rulings need to be divided into individual components while other detailed rulings need to be counted as single rulings.

2) It is possible that other rulings elsewhere should be added to these in order to total 18, as implied by saying "these are some of the 18." This was the view of later rabbis who collected other traditions in which the Shammaites had prevailed (y.Shab.1.4 II; b.Shab.13b-14b), on the assumption that the Shammaites had prevailed only on this one occasion. One rule in Mishnah is specifically identified as part of these eighteen – m.Miq.4.1, about leaving utensils to fill when Sabbath starts. This ruling is identified as one of the 18 by Meir and it is also listed as one of the 18 in Tosephta (t.Shab.1.19 – dealt with below). Tosephta also lists a ruling about overshadowing by an ox-goad as one of the 18 (t.Shab.1.18 – this is dealt with in tractate Oholot). It is possible that these two came to be associated with the 18 Shammaite rulings in order to explain why they were later considered to be imperfect (the first is virtually overturned at m.Miq.4.1 and the second is 'corrected' at m.Ohol.16.1). Or they may possibly have been part of the original 18.

3) The remainder of the 18 rulings may consist of the rulings that follow in 1.5-8, which consists of between 5 and 9 rulings depending on how individual items are counted. However, it is clear that the editor(s) meant them to be counted as five, because they have preserved them within the normal structural formulae in a series of five rulings. If this same numbering is applied to the rulings in 1.1-3 (i.e. counting the original rulings rather than all those which developed from them) there are 13 rulings which precede 1.4. Adding the following five may therefore make the 18 which 1.4 referred to.

Therefore 1.1-4 may originally have been a unit on its own which contained "some of the 18" and that the following five were added to make up the number. The final amalgamated list, which had already become a unit, was inserted at the start of this tractate. It was inserted here because the final half of the unit helps to define a private domain and taking out on a Sabbath.

All this would explain the unusual way in which the tractate opens – with a collection of miscellaneous rulings (1.1-3) instead of with rulings which help to define or introduce the subject under discussion. By contrast, Tosephta Shabbat opens in a more conventional way, with definitions of private and public domains. Miscellanies are perfectly normal in Mishnah, but they usually occur at the end of tractates (where loosely-related sayings can be appended) or as part of a group of rulings which are linked by a common phrase or theme so that they formed a single memorable unit. However, the miscellany at m.Shab.1.1-3 fits neither of these patterns. The rulings do not have any unifying pattern or phrase which would cause them to be transmitted as a memorable unit, and although they form a collection of loosely-related rulings which we might expect to find at the end of the tractate, not all of them relate to the Sabbath. This collection of historically important rulings from the Schools might be considered worthy of forming the foundations of a tractate, and the fact that they form an important collection would be a reason to include rulings which did not relate to the Sabbath.

This solution is not without problems because the rulings of m.Shab.1.1-3 are anonymous, unlike most School disputes which follow a clear format ("The School of Shammai say ... but the School of Hillel say ..."). However, this does not mean that they did not originate from School disputes, especially as Tosephta records the last dispute (the one concerning suffering discharge) as a School dispute. We do not know when the School disputes were edited into their common format, so it is possible that the disputes of m.Shab.1.1-3 have survived in an earlier unedited form. It is also possible that post-70 generations deliberately blurred the Shammaite origin of the rulings in m.Shab.1.1-3 because they agreed with them, so they did not want to record them as Shammaite. This would conform to the general principle that later generations followed rulings which were anonymous and rulings by Hillelites.

M.Shab.1.1–11: Just before the Sabbath begins

Summary of Mishnah: Various rulings where Shammaites outvoted Hillelites: You should not take out tools of your trade just before the Sabbath, even as small as a needle or quill (1.3), start activities just before the time of prayer (1.2), take out even a beggar's morsel from a house through the window on a Sabbath (1.1), nor use a light even for finding fleas or for reading (1.3). Hillelites (but not Shammaites) allow you to start jobs which finish on their own during the Sabbath, such as dyeing and drying (1.5-6) or trapping animals (1.6), and to help a gentile start a job which he will continue on the Sabbath (1.7-9). Some authorities allow you to start cooking if it will finish by itself during the Sabbath (1.10-11).

A later editor of Mishnah has assumed at m.Shab.1.9 that both Schools also agreed one could prepare rollers for a press just before the Sabbath. This follows and is based on a story by Rn. Simeon b. Gamaliel that his father sent clothes to be laundered on the day before the Sabbath, the last stage of which involved wringing with rollers. If this refers to Simeon b. Gamaliel I [T1] it is possibly evidence that the ruling originated before 70 CE, but it is more likely to be Simeon b. Gamaliel II [T4]. This ruling is supposedly referred to by Shammaites in t.Shab.1.21, but it is part of a discussion about the rule concerning dyes and vetches which looks like it was crafted by a later editor. Therefore there is insufficient evidence that this ruling originated before 70 CE.

The following traditions contain elements (marked in bold) for which there is evidence of an origin before 70 CE.

m.Shab.1.1: Giving food to a beggar on a Sabbath

Taking out on the Sabbath: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [There are] two [prohibitions] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] which are four for [someone] inside, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and two which are four for [someone] outside: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] How? [If] the beggar stands outside [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and the householder inside [the house]: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [1a] [If] the beggar stretched [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] his hand inside, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and he put [his bowl] into the hand [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] of the householder, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [1b] or he lifted [a gift] from within [his hand]: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [then] the beggar takes [it] out [of the house], [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [so he is] liable, and the householder is exempt. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [2a] [If] the householder stretched [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] his hand outside, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and he put [a gift] into the hand of the beggar, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [2b] or he lifted [a bowl] from within [his hand]: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [then] the householder brings [it] in [the house], [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [so he is] liable and the beggar is exempt. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [3a] [If] the beggar stretched his hand inside, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and the householder lifted [a bowl] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] from within [his hand], [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [3b] or he put [a gift] into [the bowl], [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and [the beggar] takes [it] out]side]: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [then] both of them are exempt. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [4a] [If] the householder stretched [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] his hand outside, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and the beggar lifted [a gift] from within [his hand], [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [4b] or [if the householder] put [a gift] into [the bowl], [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and [the beggar] brings [it out of the house]: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [then] both of them are exempt. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]


Excerpted from Feasts and Sabbaths by David Instone-Brewer Copyright © 2011 by David Instone-Brewer. Excerpted by permission of William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

David Instone-Brewer is senior research fellow in Rabbinicsand the New Testament at Tyndale House, Cambridge, and amember of the Divinity Faculty at the University ofCambridge and the British Association of Jewish Studies.His other books include Divorce and Remarriage in theBible: The Social and Literary Context (Eerdmans).

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