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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

Other Developments in Rabbinic Interpretation

Taking Contradictory Verses into Account

Various passages in both Talmuds show methodological concerns that parallel those of Rava. For instance, there is the phenomenon of a sort of “round‐robin” of queries designed to elucidate how an interpreter deals with the verses or phrases which seem to counter his own interpretation, or for which his own interpretation does not account. The Talmud of the land of Israel presents a dialogue between the schools of Shammai and Hillel. The school of Shammai maintains that not only is labor on the Sabbath prohibited, but one may not even initiate a process that proceeds automatically, on its own, during the Sabbath. The school of Hillel, however, permits this. The Talmud inquires into the scriptural support for the two positions.

Mishnah: The school of Shammai say: Ink, dyes and alkaline plants may not besteeped [in water in order to further the dyeing process] unless they can be dissolved while it is still daylight [before the Sabbath begins], but the school of Hillel permit it.

Talmud: And what is the reason of the school of Shammai [to prohibit]? “Six days shall you labor and do all your work” (Exod. 20.9 )—complete all your work while it is still daylight [before the Sabbath, that is, during the six days of the week, and not on the Sabbath].

And what is the reason of the school of Hillel? “Six days shall you labor…and [the seventh] day” (Exod. 20.9–10 )—[that is, you may complete your work on the seventh day—the Sabbath—so long as it is done as the automatic continuation of a process that began before the Sabbath] (y. Shab. 1:5 [3 d–4 a]).

How do the school of Hillel interpret the [verse used by the school of Shammai to justify] their reason? “Six days shall you labor and do all your work” [but not on the Sabbath]—this refers to working actually done by hand [and not automatically].

And how do the school of Shammai interpret the [verse used by the school of Hillel to justify] their reason? “Six days shall you labor…and on [the seventh] day”—this refers to [the following permitted process]: One may open a water‐canal to a garden on the eve of the Sabbath [that is, before the Sabbath begins,] and [the garden] is watered [automatically] on the Sabbath.

Thus, each position must not only be justified on the basis of its own independent interpretation of the relevant biblical verses, but it must account for the verses or phrases employed by its opponents. This form of debate eventually made its way into nonlegal contexts, more often in the Babylonian Talmud. Ultimately, the legal point was seen to hinge on a methodological disagreement as to the proper interpretation of the biblical verse. This formal disagreement served to underline the essential biblical basis of these disputes.

Assessing Analogies

Since much of rabbinic interpretation is based on some form of analogy, there are cases in which the Rabbis were faced with competing analogies, and had to decide which to choose. When these choices were made early on, and appear later without explicit justifications, redactors must somehow account for them. Thus, for example, one midrashic text on Deut. 15.12 and Exod. 21.2 (“six years must he serve”) proposes that a Hebrew slave may serve not only his master but his master's son, but not his master's heir.

Who whispered to you to include the son [in the “he shall serve” of the verse, as one whom the slave must serve] and to exclude the heir? I include the son who takes his father's place in regard to affiancing a Hebrew maidservant [as laid down in Exod. 21.9–10 ] and a field of inheritance [as per Lev. 25.25–28 ], and I exclude the heir who does not take the father's place [that is, the place of the master, who in this case is not the son of the father but merely his heir] and for a field of inheritance (Sifre Re'eh 118, ed. Finkelstein, pp. 177–178).

Thus, the rule regarding whom a Hebrew slave must serve may be likened to one in which only the son has a part, or to one in which (as in the case of Num. 27.6–11 , which sets out the order of inheritance, though the son has priority) other heirs have a place. In this case, since the son has an exclusive right in the cases enumerated, he is assumed to have exclusive rights here too, and not merely priority as in the case of inheritance.

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