Mekhil­ta De-Rab­bi Shi­mon Bar Yohai

W. David Nel­son, trans.
  • Review
By – December 19, 2011

Every­one loves a detec­tive sto­ry, espe­cial­ly, it seems, schol­ars of rab­binic lit­er­a­ture. The piec­ing togeth­er of the Mekhil­ta de-Rab­bi Shi­mon Bar Yohai is just such a tale. It was in 1870 that schol­ars first posit­ed the exis­tence of a text that had vir­tu­al­ly dis­ap­peared from rab­binic mem­o­ry in the medieval era. Slow­ly, and work­ing in suc­ces­sion, a text was final­ly pro­duced in 1955 which has sat­is­fied most as accu­rate. And with David Nelson’s trans­la­tion into Eng­lish, that text is now avail­able to a broad public. 

This Mekhil­ta, like its bet­ter known coun­ter­part, The Mekhil­ta of Rab­bi Yish­mael, is a halachic midrash on the Book of Exo­dus. Though not wide­ly con­sid­ered to be the uni­fied work of its named author, it is cer­tain­ly one of the old­est midrashic com­pi­la­tions, dat­ing from the Tan­naitic peri­od, the cen­tu­ry and a half fol­low­ing the destruc­tion of the Sec­ond Tem­ple. It rep­re­sents some of the ear­li­est attempts by the rab­bis to draw the out­lines of Oral Law from the writ­ten text of the Torah, and thus to save their fast van­ish­ing world. 

Nelson’s trans­la­tion is writ­ten pri­mar­i­ly for schol­ars and seeks clar­i­ty and pre­ci­sion over smooth­ness; it is pre­sent­ed in fac­ing pages to the Ara­ma­ic orig­i­nal. Min­i­mal anno­ta­tions are giv­en. This is an impor­tant and use­ful work, but clear­ly intend­ed only for the seri­ous stu­dent. Crit­i­cial intro­duc­tion, indicies. 

Jeff Bogursky reads a lot, writes a lit­tle and talks quite a bit. He is a media exec­u­tive and expert in dig­i­tal media.

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