THE CHALLENGE OF RECEIVED TRADITION: DILEMMAS OF INTERPRETATION IN RADAK'S BIBLICAL COMMENTARIES.
Rabbi David Kimhi (Radak) (1160-1235) lived in Narbonne, Provence. His father, R. Joseph Kimhi, died while Radak was still a young child (approximately ten years old), and it was therefore his elder brother, R. Moses Kimhi, who was principally responsible for his religious education. Radak was a biblical commentator and a grammarian, and also engaged in polemics with Christians. His commentary, which covers most of the Bible, integrates the "literalist" approach to the text which he imbibed from the Jewish scholars in northern France; philological and philosophical exegesis which he adopted from the Spanish scholars; and midrashic (homiletical) interpretations which were popular in Provence. Over the course of many centuries, he has remained one of the most popular and widely quoted commentators in Jewish biblical scholarship.
In recent years, Radak's teachings have become the subject of increased academic interest and many studies have addressed his commentary. Naomi Grunhaus's work joins this welcome trend. Her book focuses on Radak's attitude towards rabbinic midrashic literature. To this end she enlists all of Radak's known biblical exegesis, and undertakes a systematic comparison between his commentaries and his exegetical sources.
The first chapter reviews Radak's statements of principles and methodology, scattered throughout his work, concerning midrashic teachings. Grunhaus concludes, on the basis of these statements, that Radak holds the homiletical exegetical tradition represented in the rabbinic sources in high esteem.
In the second chapter the author examines the different ways in which Radak makes use of midrashic teachings as exegesis of the biblical text. She makes an important point in this regard, showing that in instances where Radak suffices with quoting the teaching, without offering an additional interpretation that addresses the plain meaning of the text, he views the rabbinic teaching as legitimate exegesis of the text. In so doing, Radak deviates from the path of the Spanish commentators who preceded him, who had denied any possibility that midrashic teachings could serve as legitimate interpretations. Another important observation she makes is that Radak perceives the biblical figures as conducting themselves in accordance with rabbinic law (even though the halakha would be written only many years after the events described in the Bible).
The third chapter focuses on Radak's polarized comments, that is, instances where he proposes two alternative interpretations, one addressing the plain level of the text, the other citing a homiletical teaching. This is a most important chapter: Grunhaus shows, in contrast to the conventional scholarly view, that these polarized comments indicate that to Radak's view, midrashic teachings play a critical educational role. She also demonstrates that in many instances the midrashic portion of these polarized comments is closely and integrally bound up with the biblical text. Another important observation she makes is that in most instances where Radak starts with a midrashic teaching and only afterwards explains the plain meaning of the verse, the midrashic element has already been cited previously by Rashi. It may be that Radak's aim, in these instances, is to highlight the difference between the well-known homiletical lesson and the literalist understanding that he proposes, as well as providing a rational alternative to Rashi's interpretation. In this chapter and elsewhere, the author adopts Sara Kamin's view that Rashi made no distinction between peshat and derash, and asserts that Radak, in contrast, did view these as two separate exegetical approaches. (My personal view is that Kamin's assumption is not to be accepted, and that Rashi, too, maintained a systematic distinction between them.)
The fourth chapter presents the argument that sometimes Radak cites rabbinic midrashic teachings alongside his literalist interpretations not only for exegetical purposes, but "for the benefit of devotees of homiletical interpretation." Sometimes the midrash comes to supplement the literalist interpretation, while at other times it is cited as support of it. Towards the end of the chapter the author cites instances where Radak expresses his positive view of midrashic teachings.
The final two chapters of the book deal with instances where Radak proposes alternatives to the homiletical interpretations of verses. The fifth chapter starts off by noting that in most cases Radak does not contend with the midrashic teachings, but rather agrees with them. At the same time, the author notes, Radak followed in the footsteps of his predecessors and sometimes disagreed with the rabbinic interpretations--especially in the homiletical sections. The chapter includes many examples of this phenomenon, divided into different types of dispute between the midrash and Ra-dak's interpretations.
The sixth chapter presents instances where Radak proposes alternatives even to halakhic (legal) homiletical teachings in the rabbinic tradition, and divides these into their different types.
The book concludes with an appendix in which Grunhaus presents a detailed analysis of one example of Radak's interpretation following her approach to his teachings, as well as a rich bibliography and detailed indexes. It should be mentioned that the notes, concentrated in the form of endnotes rather than as footnotes throughout the text, are an obstacle to a smooth and systematic study of the material.
In summary, the main contribution of this important study is to expose the attitude of Radak, one of the most important medieval biblical commentators, towards the ancient rabbinic tradition of homiletical teachings. According to the author, in most cases Radak cites these teachings with the aim of aiding the understanding of the biblical text. However, over the course of the book other reasons are revealed for such citations, and this in itself indicates the diverse use that Radak made of different types of midrashic teachings.
The book makes a significant contribution to advancing the study of Radak's commentary specifically, and of medieval biblical exegesis more generally, and for this the author is deserving of thanks. Her work is warmly recommended both for academic scholars and for readers seeking to expand their knowledge about the history of biblical exegesis in the Middle Ages.
Jonathan Jacobs Bar-Ilan University
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2014|
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