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Tosefta Bava Kamma: A Structural and Analytic Commentary with a Mishna-Tosefta Synopsis.

Tosefta Bava Kamma: A Structural and Analytic Commentary with a Mishna-Tosefta Synopsis. By ABRAHAM GOLDBERG, Jerusalem: THE HEBREW UNIVERSITY MAGNES PRESS, 2001. Pp. ix + 297. [Hebrew]. $17.

Professor Abraham Goldberg has had a distinguished career of more than half a century devoted to teaching and researching the literature of the Mishnah, Tosefta, and other branches of tannaitic literature. An ongoing focus of his research has been the attempt to describe the approaches of later rabbis to the received traditions of earlier generations. As applied to individual teachers, he has argued that consistent hermeneutical techniques can be discerned in the rulings of the Ushan generation of sages, in the diverse ways that they interpreted the stratum of oral law that had been formulated by their master Rabbi Akiva. Some of these sages tended to expand the scope of the earlier texts, others to limit them, while still others tried to harmonize them with non-Akivan traditions. (Instances of this theory may be found in the current work in several passages listed in the index entries on p. 233.)

Furthermore, Goldberg proposed a dynamic and functional conception of the relationship between the genres of Mishnah and Tosefta, according to which each generation produced its own stratum of commentary and ancillary material as a supplement to the official version of the Mishnah that had been transmitted from the previous generation. Because the subsequent generation would incorporate this material into its own Mishnah, the Mishnah and Tosefta collections that have come down to us capture the state of the traditions as they existed at the time of the Mishnah's final redaction in the early third century. Goldberg tried to argue his theories in his extensive critical commentaries to the Mishnah tractates Shabbat and 'Eruvin (see his restatement of the theory on pp. 21-22).

The present volume is his first to focus principally on the Tosefta. The scope of its investigation is in fact much more limited than that of its predecessors. Because the tractate Bava Qamma has already been edited (posthumously) in a text-critical edition with an extensive commentary by S. Lieberman, Goldberg has chosen not to deal with either text-critical questions or with the full explanation of the contents. He has confined himself to structural and literary comparisons between the Mishnah and the Tosefta, and to providing a systematic typology of the diverse relationships between the two collections, tasks that Lieberman did not undertake systematically in his own commentary.

Although the current work is not designed primarily to be a study of talmudic interpretations of tannaitic traditions, Goldberg does pay careful attention to the approaches taken by the Amoraim, and tries to uncover consistent positions with respect to their use of the Tosefta as a source of authoritative interpretation of the Mishnah. As far as it goes, Goldberg's presentation is clear and concise. His remarks on specific lines of text are summarized at the conclusion of each chapter, though he often seems overly ready to formulate general rules on the basis of one or two occurrences of a feature. A rather unconventional index does a very effective job of calling the reader's attention to phenomena that have broader significance to the study of tannaitic literature.

But for all its usefulness, the present volume's value as a work of scholarship is severely compromised by its limited use of previous research. Based on Goldberg's presentation, you might easily receive the impression that the only authors who have written about tannaitic literature were J. N. Epstein, H. Albeck, S. Lieberman, and Goldberg himself. In reality, many other scholars have raised important methodological issues that should have been addressed in a serious academic study. To take a few notable examples: Abraham Weiss's important Hebrew monograph "Studies in the Law of the Talmud on Damages" makes a powerful case for the claim that the order of material in the Mishnah reflects two alternative interpretations of the ancient list of the four "principal types of damages," a thesis that ought to have been at least mentioned in a study of this sort (cf. Goldberg's analysis of the data on p. 2, n. 2). S. Friedman's contention that the Tosefta preserves earlier versions of traditions than the Mishnah should also have been addressed, for example, in connection with some of the archaic linguistic forms in the opening passages in the Mishnah and Tosefta. The frequent discussions about relationships between Mishnah, Tosefta, and midrashic sources might have benefited from consultation of H. I. Levine's studies on halakhic midrash and Mishnah Bava Qamma. Notwithstanding Goldberg's assertion that his is one of the first attempts at a Mishnah-Tosefta synopsis, there is much to be learned from previous kindred endeavors, ranging from Boaz Cohen's 1935 comparative study of the tractate Shabbat through subsequent work by B. DeVries, J. Neusner, A. Houtman, Y. Ellman, and several others.

The most insightful observations in this study are those that relate to the literary character of the Tosefta and Mishnah. The author studiously examines apparent discrepancies in the ordering of material in the two compendia, and in most cases he demonstrates how the Tosefta's arrangement can be explained as arising from reasonable editorial considerations based on the nature of the material and interpretative objectives, while making allowances for the rabbinic propensity for associative digressions. Of particular interest are Goldberg's comments about how the divisions into chapters, especially where they entail variations between Mishnah and Tosefta, can affect the understanding of the contents. In a similar vein, he draws our attention to the Tosefta's practice of introducing bodies of moralistic and aggadic passages, to a greater degree than in the Mishnah, as a way of demarcating discrete literary units. In several passages, the author points out how the citation of relevant material from other tractates in the Mishnah (sometimes with additional interpretation) was intended to serve as an effective form of commentary.

Despite the above-mentioned weaknesses in the areas of bibliographical completeness and engagement with recent scholarship, the present volume recommends itself as the work of a major authority on tannaitic literature who has grappled through a long scholarly career with the complex challenges raised by the comparison between the Mishnah and Tosefta. Whether or not one accepts every one of Goldberg's theories, it is always clear that they are the products of profound erudition and imaginative engagement with the texts. Tosefta Bava Kamma is most profitably read as a companion to the corresponding volume of Lieberman's Tosefta Ki-Fshutah commentary, as Goldberg focuses on the broader issues of literary structure that were of peripheral concern to Lieberman. In a manner that is comparable to the Tosefta itself, Goldberg's monograph serves at once as a commentary and as a supplement to Lieberman's masterpiece.


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Author:Segal, Eliezer
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 2003
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