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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
The halakic midrash to Exodus. The name "Mekilta," which corresponds to the Hebrew "middah" (= "measure," "rule"), was given to this midrash because the Scriptural comments and explanations of the Law which it contains are based on fixed rules of Scriptural exegesis ("middot"; comp. TALMUD HERMENEUTICS). The halakic midrashim are in general called "middot," in contrast to the "halakot," or formulated laws; and an interpreter of the Midrash was termed "bar mekilan" = "a man of the rules" (Lev. R. ). Neither the Babylonian nor the Palestinian Talmud mentions this work under the name "Mekilta," nor does the word occur in any of the passages of the Talmud in which the other halakic midrashim, Sifra and Sifre, are named (Ḥag. 3a; Ḳid. 49b; Ber. 47b; etc.). It seems to be intended, however, in one passage (Yer. 'Ab. Zarah 4:8), which runs as follows: "R. Josiah showed a mekilta from which he cited and explained a sentence." His quotation actually occurs in the Mekilta, Mishpaṭim (ed. Weiss, p. 106b). It is not certain, however, whether the word "mekilta" here refers to the work under consideration; for it possibly alludes to a baraita collection—which might also be designated a "mekilta" (comp. Pes. 48a; Tem. 33a; Giṭ. 44a)—containing the sentence in question. On the other hand, this midrash, apparently in written form, is mentioned several times in the Talmud under the title "She'ar Sifre debe Rab" = "The Other Books of the Schoolhouse" (Yoma 74a; B. B. 124b). A geonic responsum (Harkavy, "Teshubot ha-Geonim," p. 31, No. 66, Berlin, 1888) in which occurs a passage from the Mekilta (ed. Weiss, p. 41a) likewise indicates that this work was known as "She'ar Sifre debe Rab." The first person to mention the Mekilta by name was the author of the "Halakot Gedolot" (p. 144a, ed. Warsaw, 1874). Another geonic responsum refers to it as the "Mekilta de-Ereẓ Yisrael" (Harkavy, c. p. 107, No. 229), probably to distinguish it from the Mekilta of R. Simeon bar Yoḥai, which was generally known in the Babylonian schools (Hoffmann,"Zur Einleitung in die Halachischen Midraschim," p. 36).
Mekilta of R. Ishmael.
The author, or more correctly the redactor, of the Mekilta can not be definitely ascertained. R. Nissim b. Jacob, in his "Mafteaḥ" (to Shab. 106b), and R. Samuel ha-Nagid, in his introduction to the Talmud, refer to it as the "Mekilta de-Rabbi Yishmael," thus ascribing the authorship to Ishmael. Maimonides likewise says in the introduction to his Yad ha-Ḥazaḳah: "R. Ishmael interpreted from 'we'eleh shemot' to the end of the Torah, and this explanation is called 'mekilta.' R. Akiba also wrote a mekilta." This R. Ishmael, however, is neither an amora by the name of Ishmael, as Frankel assumed (Introduction to Yerushalmi, p. 105b), nor Rabbi's contemporary, Rabbi Ishmael b. R. Jose, as Gedaliah ibn Yaḥya thought ("Shalshelet ha-Ḳabbalah," p. 24a, Zolkiev, 1804). He is, on the contrary, identical with R. Ishmael b. Elisha, R. Akiba's contemporary, as is shown by the passage of Maimonides quoted above. The present Mekilta can not, however, be the one composed by R. Ishmael, as is proved by the reference to R. Ishmael's pupils and to other later tannaim. Both Maimonides and the author of the "Halakot Gedolot," moreover, refer, evidently on the basis of a tradition, to a much larger mekilta extending from Exodus 1 to the end of the Pentateuch, while the midrash here considered discusses only certain passages of Exodus. It must be assumed, therefore, that R. Ishmael composed an explanatory midrash to the last four books of the Pentateuch, and that his pupils amplified it (Friedmann, "Einleitung in die Mechilta," pp. 64, 73; Hoffmann, c. p. 73). A later editor, intending to compile a halakic midrash to Exodus, took R. Ishmael's work on the book, beginning with ch. , since the first eleven chapters contained no references to the Law (Friedmann, c. p. 72; Hoffmann, c. p. 37). He even omitted passages from the portion which he took; but, by way of compensation, he incorporated much material from the other halakic midrashim, Sifra, R. Simeon b. Yoḥai's Mekilta, and the Sifre to Deuteronomy. Since the last two works were from a different source, he generally designated them by the introductory phrase, "dabar aḥar" = "another explanation," placing them after the sections taken from R. Ishmael's midrash. But the redactor based his work on the midrash of R. Ishmael's school; and the sentences of R. Ishmael and his pupils constitute the larger part of his Mekilta. Similarly most of the anonymous maxims in the work were derived from the same source; so that it, also, was known as the "Mekilta of R. Ishmael" ("Mekilta de-Rabbi Yishmael"). The redactor must have been a pupil of Rabbi, since the latter is frequently mentioned (comp. Abraham ibn David in "Sefer ha-Ḳabbalah," in Neubauer, "M. J. C." p. 57, Oxford, 1887, who likewise ascribes it to a pupil of Rabbi). He can not, however, have been R. Hoshaiah, as A. Epstein assumes ("Beiträge zur Jüdischen Alterthumskunde," p. 55, Vienna, 1887), and as might be inferred from Abraham ibn David's reference; for Hoshaiah is mentioned in the Mekilta (ed. Weiss, p. 60b). Rab (Abba Arika) therefore probably redacted the work, as Menahem ibn Zerah says in the preface to "Ẓedah la-Derek" (p. 14b). Rab, however, did not do this in Babylonia, as Weiss assumes ("Einleitung in die Mechilta," p. 19), but in Palestine, taking it after its completion to Babylonia, so that it was called the Mekilta of Palestine "Mekilta de-Ereẓ Yisrael").
Quotations in the Talmud.
Baraitot from the Mekilta are introduced in the Babylonian Talmud by the phrases "Tena debe R. Yishmael" = "It was taught in the school of R. Ishmael," and in the Palestinian Talmud and the haggadic midrashim by "Teni R. Yishmael" = "R. Ishmael taught." Yet there are many baraitot in the Talmud which contain comments on Exodus, and which are introduced by the phrase "Tena debe R. Yishmael," but are not included in the Mekilta under discussion. These must have been included in R. Ishmael's original Mekilta, and the fact that they are omitted in this midrash is evidence that its redactor excluded many of the passages from R. Ishmael's work (comp. Hoffmann, c. p. 42).
The Mekilta begins with Exodus 12, this being the first legal section found in Exodus. That this is the beginning of the Mekilta is shown by the "'Aruk," s. , and by the "Seder Tannaim we-Amora'im" (ed. Luzzatto, p. 12, Prague, 1839). In like manner R. Nissim proves in his "Mafteaḥ" (to Shab. 106b) that the conclusion of the Mekilta which he knew corresponded with that of the Mekilta now extant.
In the editions the Mekilta is divided into nine "massektot," each of which is subdivided into "parashiyyot." The nine massektot are as follows: (1) "Massekta de-Pesḥa," covering the pericope "Bo" (quoted as "Bo"), Exodus 12:1-13:16, and containing an introduction, "petikta," and 18 sections; (2) "Massekta de-Wayeḥi Beshallaḥ" (quoted as "Besh."), ib. 13:17-14:31, containing an introduction and 6 sections; (3) "Massekta de-Shirah" (quoted as "Shir"), ib. 15:1-21, containing 10 sections; (4) "Massekta de-Wayassa'" (quoted as "Way."), ib. 15:22-17:7, containing 6 sections; (5) "Massekta de'Amalek," consisting of two parts, (a) the part dealing with Amalek (quoted as "Am."), ib. 17:8-16, containing 2 sections, and (b) the beginning of the pericope "Yitro" (quoted as "Yitro"), ib. 18:1-27, also containing 2 sections; (6) "Massekta de-Baḥodesh" (quoted as "Baḥ."), ib. 19:1-20,26, containing 11 sections; (7) "Massekta de-Neziḳin," ib. 21:1-22:23; and (8) "Massekta de-Kaspa," ib. 22:24-23:19; these last two massektot, which belong to the pericope "Mishpaṭim," contain 20 sections, consecutively numbered, and are quoted as "Mish."; (9) "Massekta de-Shabbeta," containing 2 sections, (a) covering the pericope "Ki Tissa" (quoted as "Ki"), ib. 31:12-17, and (b) covering the pericope "Wayaḳhel" (quoted as "Wayaḳ."), ib. 35:1-3. The Mekilta comprises altogether seventy-seven, or, if the two introductions be included, seventy-nine sections. All the editions, however, state at the end that there are eighty-two sections (comp. Weiss, c. p. 28; Friedmann, c. pp. 78-80).
Although the redactor intended to produce a halakic midrash to Exodus, the larger portion of the Mekilta is haggadic in character. From Exodus 12the midrash was continued without interruption as far as Exodus 33:19, e., to the conclusion of the chief laws of the book, although there are many narrative portions scattered through this section whose midrash belongs properly to the haggadah. Furthermore, many haggadot are included in the legal sections as well. The halakic exegesis of the Mekilta, which is found chiefly in the massektot "Bo," "Baḥ.," and "Mish.," and in the sections "Ki" and "Wayaḳ.," is, as the name "mekilta" indicates, based on the application of the middot according to R. Ishmael's system and method of teaching. In like manner, the introductory formulas and the technical terms are borrowed from his midrash (comp. Hoffmann, c. pp. 43-44). On the other hand, there are many explanations and expositions of the Law which follow the simpler methods of exegesis found in the earlier halakah (comp. Midrash Halakah).
The haggadic expositions in the Mekilta, which are found chiefly in "Beshallaḥ" and "Yitro," are in part actual exegeses, but the majority of them are merely interpretations of Scripture to illustrate certain ethical and moral tenets. Parables are frequently introduced in connection with these interpretations (e.g., "Bo," ed. Weiss, p. 1b; "Besh.," pp. 36a, b, 37a), as well as proverbs (e.g., "Bo," p. 2b; "Way.," p. 60b) and maxims (e.g., the apothegm of the ancient Zeḳenim, "Besh.," p. 62b; "Shir," p. 46b). Especially noteworthy are the haggadot relating to the battles of the Ephraimites ("Besh.," p. 28b) and to Serah, Asher's daughter, who showed Joseph's coffin to Moses (ib. p. 29a), besides others, which are based on old tales and legends.
It must also be noted that some of the tannaim mentioned in the Mekilta are referred to only here and in Sifre, Num., which likewise originated in R. Ishmael's school (comp. Hoffmann, c. pp. 38-39). On the earlier editions of the Mekilta and the commentaries to it see Weiss, c. pp. 25-26, and Friedmann, c. pp. 12-14. The following are more recent critical editions: J. H. Weiss, "Mechilta" (with introduction and commentary), Vienna, 1865; M. Friedmann, "Mechilta de-Rabbi Ismael" (with introduction and commentary), ib. 1870.
- Hirsch Chajes, Iggeret Biḳḳoret, p. 5a, Lemberg, 1840;
- Zunz, G. V. pp. 1-52, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1892;
- Z. Frankel, Hodegetica in Mischnam, p. 308, Leipsic, 1859;
- idem, in Monatsschrift, 1853, pp. 388 et seq.; 1854, pp. 149-158, 191-196;
- J. H. Weiss, Einleitung in die Mechilta, pp. 16-35;
- M. Friedmann, Einleitung in die Mechilta, pp. 9-80;
- D. Hoffmann, Zur Einleitung in die Halachischen Midraschim, pp. 36-45, Berlin, 1887;
- L. A. Rosenthal, Einiges über die Agada in der Mechilta, in Kohut Memorial Volume, pp. 463-484, ib. 1897.
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Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Mekilta'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/m/mekilta.html. 1901.
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