Monday, October 24, 2011

Filling the gaps -- the essence of Midrash

A couple of quotes from Daniel Boyarin on the nature of Midrash:
The text of the Torah is gapped and dialogical, and into the gaps the reader slips, interpreting and completing the text in accordance with the codes of his or her culture. . . . Midrash is a portrayal of the reality which the rabbis perceived in the Bible through their ideologically colored eyeglasses.
What I like about these quotes (from pg. 14-15 of his seminal Intertextuality and the reading of Midrash) -- despite the fact that they're just plain wonderfully clear! -- is that it opens the way towards an understanding of Midrash that can span both the ancient product of our rabbis and today's efforts to create contemporary Midrash. It puts the text of the Torah at its center and characterizes an important key aspect of that text that has shaped the way the Jews have related to their Holy texts through the millennia -- by charging into the 'gaps' to (incredibly!) both preserve the integrity of the ancient words, while also infusing them with free and contemporary meaning.

I am grateful to have been assigned to again read these words of Boyarin. One of the great gifts of this semester of my doctoral work is that I am privileged to study with two of the greatest contemporary readers of ancient Jewish texts -- Jeffrey Rubenstein and Elliot Wolfson. I'm enjoying it!

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