The ancient rabbis (late first-sixth centuries C.E.) developed the notion that the revelation at Mt. Sinai consisted of two complementary parts: the written Torah (the Pentateuch) and the Oral Torah. The Oral Torah was believed to provide the interpretations and explanations that make God’s written revelation applicable to life in every age. In turn, this Oral Torah is traditionally divided between law (halakhah) and lore (aggadah). These are complementary, expressing the two genres of tradition that came to be redacted as rabbinic literature. H. N. Bialik, the “poet laureate” of modern Israel, has succinctly expressed the relationship between Jewish law and lore:

“Like ice and water, Halakhah and Aggadah are really two things in one, two facets of the same entity.”a

Rabbinic literature, and the related targums (Aramaic Biblical paraphrases) and liturgy (including piyyutim, or synagogue poetry), generally originated in the land of Israel and in Babylonia (modern Iraq). The process of literary redaction began in the early third century C.E. and continued well into the Middle Ages. Rabbinic texts and targums have their own compositional and redactional histories. The final redactor of each text often showed great originality. At the same time, these texts often contain traditions that reflect a date much earlier than the moment of final literary redaction.

The following are brief descriptions and rough dates of the literary sources cited in the accompanying article:


c. 200 C.E.

Abbreviation: M.

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