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Offprint Creation and Composition The Contribution of the Bavli Redactors (Stammaim) to the Aggada Edited by - Jeffrey L. Rubenstein Mohr Siebeck ‘This offprint cannot be purchased from a bookstore. Agada Unbound Inter-Agadic Characterization of Sages in the Bavli and Implications for Reading Agada by Devora Steinmetz ‘The project of writing biographies of rabbinic figures has boen abandoned in the academy with the growth of scholarly consensus that rabbinic sources cannot be used at face value to reconstruct history.' The relinquishing of the biographical program, though, has brought with it tendency not o pay attention to the con struction of particular sages within rabbinic literature as figures with distinctive personalities, dispositions, ideological stances, and perhags even life stories? ‘Scholars interested in the literary study of agada have tended to focus on the discrete agada as an independent literary unit whose meaning can be discerned ‘rom the information given within the boundaries ofthat agada itself with 0c- ‘casionalatteation paid tothe immediate literary context of the agada.* jsvusrions ofthe value of rabbinic texts for reconstructing history and the related (On p, 152 ofié arcs, Fraenkel Asocistes taking into account traditions fom outside the bounds of the agada (he doeso': 294 Devora Seine Intuitively, though, students of rabbinic texts sense that they “know” certain ‘sages, that there are sets of attributes that characterize certain prominent sages, whether these attributes are personality traits, beliefs or stances, practices or ‘experiences, or kinds of interreletionships with others. Whether or not some or perhaps expected, that one will read the gada with what one “knows” about that figure from other passages in mind. ‘This sense of familiarity should not be dismissed es an uncritical reversion to the notion that rabbinic sourees give us access to historical portrayals of rabbinic figures. Nor should reading an agada through the lens of other passages about the figures in the agada be construed as an illegitimate “reading in” of extemal information that violates the boundaries ofthe literary text. Indeed, while it may ‘be appropriate to read and analyze an ageda: ‘unit it seems inaccurate ven if one takes, in general, a iciency of text, the particular nature the proposition thata given textual unit, such tion from other rabbinic texts. story, oF novel, an agada does not have a clearly * For example, by analyzing ss * See. Boyarin, Camal Israel Sex Talmud Culture (Betsey, 1993), p.26, Agada Unbound 295 whether we should see each document 2s having fra boundari respected by the reader/interpreter relates to critical questions as well as to debates about the particular natue of rabbinic tex’. in the present article is limited to agadot within the Bevi, 4 point about particular transformations of traditional material within the Bavli itself. References to non-Bavli sources will be made inorder to demonstrate the subtle but significant shifts in traditional material in the Bavli and the way in which these sbifts convey new meanings and underscore issues that are critical to the Bavii. How and to what degree my argumentrelates to a particular view of 'Bavli assigns to certain sages specific tendencies vyed through the interelationship of a ange of reat these elements of characterization whole- reiterate earlier traditions about these sages. of traditional material, in recasting or adding cantly, in contextualizing traditional material lose new significances, the Bavli focusses and resents as characterizing certain sages. focus here on the figures of Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Eliezer, and Rabban, ‘demonstrate through a reading of a stall selection of interrelated tent stance in the Bavii and community, I will argue stance that the Bavli assigns to each ofthese sages leads to a flatened and, at times, faulty reading of particular agadot “To demonstrate the importance of taking the Bavli’s characterization of these figures into account in reading agada, I will revisit the much-discussed agada of tarur shel ‘akhnai, an agada that features each of these sages. In this agada, there Fudeis, 1 (Binghamton, been the primary proponent ofthe dex ‘or not passage must be ated inorder fr intragadic reading jastfied and what are the limits of reading across agodot are important quesdoas. In to bsablish the ‘my goal here isto highlight the imporance of inter-apadic characterization beyond the bounds of “closed” tery readings rather than to explore the limits of tis kin of reading. 296 Devore Stebmmote is a shift in the central figure standing opposite Rabbi Eliezer. Rabbi Yehoshua is the named sage opposing Rabbi Bliezer inthe story’ frst part, while Rabban Gauliel isthe figure who stands in opposition to Rabbi Eliezer inthe lst part? ‘Yet scholars have tended to ignore or downplay the shift in characters over the course of the agada. I wll argue that rereading the azada with due attention to the shift in characters raises new questions, demands a more auanced under- standing, and generates a different approach to some of the key issues ia the Bovis narrative Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Eliezer Bavli Chagiga 32-b juxtaposes two baraitot concerning sages who are visited by their students and who ask for news of teachings in the beit midrash. Bach of these baraitot bas parallels in tannaitic sources; the first, concerning Rabbi ‘Yehoshua, bas a parallel in tSotsh 7:9-13) and the second, concerning Rabbi Eviczes, has parallels in mYadaim 4:3 and tYad 2:16. The juxtaposition ofthese ‘wo stories, though, is unique to the Bavli, as is 2 small insertion in the second story that transforms the nature of Rabbi El response to news of the halakhic ruling of the eit midrash, Our Rabbis taught: An incident concerning Rabbi Yochanen ben Beroga and Rabbi Eleazar Chisma who went to pay thir respects to (lehagbil pene!) Rabbi Yehoshua at Pegi'in “He said to them: What new teaching was there inthe beit midravt today? They sid to hin: We are your students and your waters do we drink. He said to them: Nevertheless, itis impossible for there to be a bet mizrash without ‘anew teaching. Whose Shabbat was i? It was the Shabbat of Rabbi Eleazar ben Azacia. ‘And conceming what was the exposition today”? They sid o irs: Concerning te seetion of haghel. And what did he expound concerning if? “Assemble the people, the men and tae worten and the children” (Deut 31:12). Ifthe ‘men cam to lear, the women came to hea, but why do the children come? In erdes sat (er some ms. — lego) eva o thoes ta rig tem, ito them: There was a precious peer i your hands, and you sought to deprive ° in berween, Rabbi Akiva shares center stage with Rabbi Eliezer and, atthe ond of the iMachloget” in A Sagi and Z. Zohar, o66, Mechayous Yehuat! Michadesht, (Jerusalem, 2001), 851-875; son 4 for references to soccedary Hteratue Agada Unbound 297 And be also took up the text and expounded: “The words ofthe wise are as goads, lated are the words of masters of assemblies, given ftom one shep- 25a mail diminishes and does not increase, s0 too the words of the ‘Torah diminish and do not increase? The tot says ‘well planted’ just as a plant grows and increases, so the words ofthe Torah grow and increase, “Masters of assemblies” ~ these are tale! chathamim, who sit ia manifold agsecn- blies and occupy themselves with the Torah, these declaring impure and these declaring ‘pure, theve prohibiting and these permitting, these declaring unit and these declering ft. ‘aster ofall creation, as its writen: “And God spoke all these words” (Ex. too, make your ear like a hopper and acquire for yourself an understanding hear to hear the words of those who declare inspure and the words of those who declare pure, the ‘words of those who prohibit and the words af thoee who perm, the wards of those who to him: They voted and decided: in Amon and Moaw the ithe ofthe poor sto te given in he seventh yea He said to him: Yose,suetch out your bands and receive (negabei) your eyes. He seciched out his hands and received (vege) bs eyes. R. Ecos wept and sai: “The cities were conquered by thote who came up from Egypt, which were not conquered by tose who came up from Babylon; since the frst consecration was consoerated frit ime but was not conscorated for the future, and they let them in order that the poor might epend on them inthe seventh year It's taught: After his mind was came, he sui: Mey Yose's eyes retum to their pace. ‘Ad they reumed, ‘The Bev links the two baraitot by asking about the reticence of the sages in telling Rabbi Yehoshua about the chidush — the mew teaching ~ in the Beit mi- drash and explaining this reticence as a precaution taken on acc Eliezer’s rather shocking response to Rabbi Yose ben Duras the beit midrash.!° While in both the Mishna and the Tosefia Rabt hoston’s question in the Bavi (and parallels). The omission of Rabbi Yose bea