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Reviewed by:
  • Introducing Tosefta: Textual, Intratextual and Intertextual Studies
  • Peter J. Haas
Introducing Tosefta: Textual, Intratextual and Intertextual Studies, edited by Harry Fox and Tirzah Meachem. Hoboken, NJ: KTAV, 1999. 340 pp. $79.50.

The papers collected in this volume came out of a conference on Tosefta held at the University of Toronto in April 1993. Although the Conference was held on the tenth anniversary of the death of Saul Lieberman, whose Tosefta Kifshuta is a landmark in the study of this document, virtually no mention of this scholar or his work appears in the volume. Instead, the volume is dedicated to the memory of Menachem Rotman, a local Toronto personality, an excerpt of whose memoir opens the volume.

The Tosefta has always been something of a puzzle to scholars of classical Rabbinic literature. On the one hand it is very similar to the Mishnah in style, language and overall theme, while on the other hand, it is clearly not Mishnah but a different and distinct compilation. Again, on the one hand, it and its materials are cited often in both Talmuds, the Jerusalem and the Babylonian, while on the other, the citations are often different from what appears in our Tosefta. And so arguments have swirled around the nature of this document, its relation to Mishnah, the date and reason for its publication, its connection to the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds, and beyond these questions, to the broader issue of the very nature of the Tannaitic world and the Oral Torah it produced.

The essays collected here are written by some of the most prominent names in the field: Harry Fox, Jacob Neusner, Reena Zeidman, Shamma Friedman, Yaakov Elman, Tirzah Meacham, Judith Hauptman, Herbert Basser, and Paul Heger. Given the subtitle of the volume, one would have hoped that a common theme or approach would emerge from the symposium to illuminate a new, perhaps post-modern, direction for answering questions about the origin, nature, and purpose of the Tosefta. This hope is frustrated. What we find instead is that each essay approaches the document with its own questions and with its own method. No common discourse, or even set of assumptions, is apparent. The result is that the collection says pretty much everything and its opposite [End Page 125] about the document. For those readers looking for an overview of what it is possible to say about the Tosefta, this is the perfect book.

The collection opens with a long and rambling essay by Harry Fox. Despite its far- reaching argumentation and massive footnoting, it comes to surprisingly tame conclu sions: the Mishnah and Tosefta do not have to be approached as oral texts (p. 21) or that these are related texts but the details of that relationship are still not known (p. 23). The essay ends on the rather strange metaphor, picked up only somewhat near the end of the collection, that the Mishnah and other documents are like buckets of water pulled from the sea of Torah and then frozen in one form or the other.

Neusner’s essay follows, arguing that the Tosefta is in fact the first attempt at creating a Gemara. Using a set of exemplary texts, Neusner demonstrates that like the later gemaras, the Tosefta cites the mishnaic text and then comments upon and develops it. The presentation of the Neusnerian model is followed immediately by Zeidman’s essay, which argues strenuously, with its own set of examples, that the Tosefta is not just a commentary on the Mishnah at all, but an independent work that interacts vigorously with the Mishnah, the two documents having come into being in conversation with each other. So Tosefta is not posterior to Mishnah but contemporary with it. With this thought freshly in mind, we turn to Friedman’s essay, which posits that in fact we must take seriously the possibility that while the Tosefta as we have it might be later than Mishnah, much of the material it preserves in fact pre-dates the Mishnah. He comes to this conclusion because the formulation of certain pericopes as they appear in Tosefta seem to be earlier than the essentially same material as formulated in the Mishnah. So...

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