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image of Review of Rabbinic Judaism

This paper argues that Rabbinic Midrash is a definable literary phenomenon that has its primary locus within the Rabbinic schoolhouses of late antiquity. It argues against the claim that much of our current Rabbinic Midrash originated in the Rabbinic sermons of late antiquity. While some rabbis may have delivered sermons in synagogues or to the "community" in different public settings, we shall see that there are few specific indications of that fact. When we find rabbis within the context of synagogues, they most often are not delivering sermons. And when rabbis "preach" to the community, it is often in cities known for their Rabbinic academies. It therefore is unclear exactly to whom these "sermons" were delivered.

Medieval and early modern sources indicate that Rabbinic sermons were a part of synagogue activity on Sabbaths as well as on special occasions, such as weddings and funerals. Even during these periods, however, the exact content of these sermons is in many cases far from certain. Also, changes that occurred within the Jewish communities and in their surrounding environments help to explain why Jewish sermons appear at that time. The existence of Rabbinic sermons during the medieval period accordingly does not testify to their presence in late antiquity.


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