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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Question 4.14:
What is the midrash halachah and the midrash agadah?


Medrash is the material associated with the text of the Torah that isn't in the text itself. These can be halachic thoughts or aggadic (non-halachah) ones. The medrashei halachah predate the mishnah, and were the original attempt to record the Oral Torah, and come from the generations right before the Mishnah. There were two schools of medrashei halachah, Rabbi Yishma'el's and Rabbi Akiva's. They had different basic assumptions about the text, and different means of associating rulings to the text.

Medrashei Aggadah are generally later recordings, such as Medrash Rabba (the greater medrash; volumes are named "Bereishis Rabba", "Ruth Rabba", and the like) or Yalqut Shim'oni (Simeon's Selections). However, the material in the compilation dates back to the mishnaic era. These are sometimes similar in form to medrashei halachah, deriving things hermeneutically from the text. They are also sometimes written in the form of parables. This is so as to balance the need of recording the Oral Torah during traumatic shifts of exile with the need of keeping the Oral Torah oral. Because so much of medrash is in the form of parables, people loosely use the word "medrash" to refer to aggadic (non-halachic, ie philosophical and ethical) material from the Talmud(s) told in this manner.

(Note: "Midrash" is proper Aramaic grammar. "Medrash" is proper Yiddish and yeshiva jargon.)

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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