Pesikta deRav Kahana

Speaking of Kalir, piyyutim, repentance, and angelology, when Prof. Isadore Twersky was having conferences on the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries at Harvard, an academic friend suggested that we need conferences on the 6th, 7th, and 8th centuries. The world of Pirke deRabbi, Midrash Mishlei, Yannai, the start of the Baghdad Gaonate and Alphabet of Ben-Sira. A world that is very dissimilar the world of the Tannaim and Babylonian Talmud. This is the world of anthropomorphism, and corporeality, and the texts that the Jewish philosophers were uncomfortable with accepting.

So I was glad to see that a new book in the library- Rachael Anisfeld,: Sustain Me With Raisin-Cakes: Pesikta deRav Kahana and the Popularization of Rabbinic Judaism. The book is literary-historical and not theological. I will leave it to the Talmudists to evaluate its value for the study of rabbinics.

She shows how Leviticus Rabbah and Pesikta deRav Kahana (PRK) are not the same as Tannaic Midrash. (The book should have also had Leviticus Rabbah in the title.)

She uses as her example that the content shows a God who is more intimate with humans, and shows a special indulgence for the people Israel. For example, repentance is about God moving from his seat of judgment to his seat of mercy and less about personal repentance. Even when repentance is discussed, God does everything in his power to exonerate Israel.

The homilies are in a personal and familial voice  – less exegetical

Since the book is literary, it does not develop these themes. There is still much to gain for a theological reader from Neusner’s volume on PRK and Arthur Marmorstein Old Rabbinic Doctrine of God.

She has a chart on the difference in technical terms between Tannaic midrash and Amoraic midrash. Some of the striking numbers are

Talmud lomar “Scripture teaches” 4504 times in Tannaic Midrash to 13 times in amoraic midrah. They are not directly interpreting Scripture.

On the other hand, phrases of direct communication by God increase.  There is knowledge from speaking in Gods name and directly invoking God. “The Holy One Blessed be He said” 36  in tannaic to 343 in amoraic.

The book does not offer an overview of the many other themes in PRK such as the longing to rebuild temple, visions of the end of days, revenge on the gentiles, and God himself needing to be saved

Hence, I am looking forward to reading the following article when the Fishbane Festschrift arrives in the library.

Marc Hirshman, “Yearning for intimacy: Pesikta d’Rav Kahana and the Temple”

pp. 135-146(12) Scriptural Exegesis: The Shapes of Culture and the Religious Imagination: Essays in Honour of Michael Fishbane

This chapter examines the ambience of the Pesikta d’Rav Kahana and its objectives by paying close attention to some of the Greek loanwords it uses and, more generally, to the nature of the language it employs in parables when speaking of the temple and the degree of intimacy indicated between God and Israel. The Pesikta d’Rav Kahana throbs with a longing for God’s presence in the temple. The longing for restoration is accompanied by a strong desire for retribution on the nations of the world, a motif that is a staple of most, if not all, of the piskaot. The king parables are employed to indicate God’s desire for a place (papilion) where intimacy with Israel is assured and secure. God secures a place among the Jewish elders, abandoning the angels above (sunkleten), in order to guide the discussion of calendar, the heart of the Pesikta’s concern.

2 responses to “Pesikta deRav Kahana

  1. From a non-academic perspective, does this world speak to a modern or post-Modern audience? Can people raised with philosophical conceptions of God accept or use these texts?

    I personally find these ideas very appealling emotionally. These ideas may serve to create an emotional/aesthetic space similar to poetry, architecture, or music. But something inside of me cannot swallow these ideas whole.

  2. No one says you should swallow these ideas whole.
    No one is swallowing the 16th or the 18th century whole. I await an anthology or conference for us to start asking these questions.
    But there is a quality about the 6-9th centuries that is already post-talmudic but pre-medieval that has a sense of wonderment for us. A book like Pirke derebbe Eliezer is like walking into an alternate rabbinic world.

    As a side point, does academic in your question mean “for antiquarian interest only?”

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