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RBL 03/2007 Apothaker, Howard L.

Sifra Dibbura deSinai: Rhetorical Formulae, Literary Sturctures, and Legal Traditions Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 2003. Pp. 464. Hardcover. $49.95. ISBN 0878204520.

Carl Kinbar University of South Africa The modern study of Tannaitic texts, foundational to the formation of Judaism in the period immediately following the destruction of the temple in 70 C.E., has focused on the Mishnah and, at times, its relationship with the similar but much lengthier Tosefta. The Tannaitic midrash collections have not gone without attention, however. For example, in the past two decades, several scholars have produced important work on Sifra, the earliest commentary on the Scriptures book of Leviticus.1 Arguably the most cogent and convincing of these is Howard L. Apothakers work on Sifras lengthy concluding section, Dibbura deSinai. Sifra, Dibbura deSinai consists of an introduction, part 1 (Translation and Analysis), part 2 (Synthetic Analysis), and appendices listing rhetorical formulae, halakic rules

1. Louis Finkelstein, Sifra on Leviticus (4 vols.; New York, 198391); Herbert W. Basser, In the Margins of the Midrash, Sifre Haazinu Texts: Commentaries, and Reflections (Atlanta, 1990); Jacob Neusner, especially Uniting the Dual Torah: Sifra and the Problem of the Mishnah (Cambridge, 1990); Gnter Stemberger, Zur Redaktionsgeschichte von Sifra in Approaches to Ancient Judaism, New Series 1.1 (ed. J. Neusner; Atlanta, 1997), 3981; Ronen Reichman, Mishna und Sifra: Ein literarkritischer Vergleich paralleler berlieferugen (Tbingen, 1998). See also E. Z. Melamed, The Relationship between the Halakhic Midrashim and the Mishna and Tosefta [Hebrew] (Jerusalem, 1967), esp. 978 and 182196.

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appearing in Dibbura deSinai, and the relationship between preclusions in Sifra and positive affirmations in Mishnah and Tosefta. Apothakers introduction (1132) previews his goals, methods, and conclusions and positions his work in the scholarship of Sifra (which he does with more specificity in part 2). He also discusses the textual basis for his translation and issues of dating and authorship. The goal of Sifra, Dibbura deSinai is to explore and analyze the interpretive and rhetorical characteristics of Sifra and thus to identify Sifras impetus and agenda. Apothaker concludes that Scripture and its interpretation stand in the center of the Sifras enterprise and are positioned as both the source and justification for rabbinic culture. Apothaker identifies two complementary aspects of the Sifras reading of Scripture as exegesis, in which the Scripture generates propositions that shape rabbinic culture, and eisegesis, in which Scripture is shown to be the only valid source of the propositions of rabbinic culture that are otherwise found apart from a scriptural source or justification. Scripture thus acts as both the source and justification for rabbinic culture and is also positioned in its every detail and apparent anomaly as essential to the formation and maintenance of rabbinic culture. Apothaker asserts that Sifra did not arise, as others have suggested, either from a simple attempt to anchor halakah in Scripture or an attempt to explain Scriptures repetitions and anomalies but from the need to explain the anomaly of the text of Leviticus (18), a text describing practices most relevant while the temple stood and to place it in the postdestruction context in which so much of its contents apparently had ceased to apply. Contra Jacob Neusner and others, Apothaker is convinced that Sifra operates for its own purposes and with its own agenda completely apart from its relationship with Mishnah and Tosefta as documents. Its subject of inquiry is neither Mishnah nor Tosefta but, as I have indicated, Scripture and its authority to validate rabbinic culture as depicted in Sifra. Where that depiction intersects the description of rabbinic culture offered in the Mishnah and Tosefta, Sifra has something to say. But what it has to say is always voiced according to the agenda of Sifra. (32) It is notable here and elsewhere that Apothaker refers to and conceives of Sifra, Mishnah, and so forth primarily as documents in the Tannaitic period, an issue far from settled as

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orality studies are applied increasingly to the study of the early rabbinic period.2 Nevertheless, he supports his central thesis, that Sifra operates according to its own unambiguous agenda, in several persuasive ways. Part 1 (Translation and Analysis), takes up the bulk of this volume (33336) and offers a translation and unit-by-unit analysis of Sifra Dibbura deSinai. Apothakers fresh translation differs at times from Neusners on technical matters such as paragraph divisions and the amount of explanatory information bracketed into the translation. Apothakers simple yet most striking improvement over Neusners translation is that he not only marks the Mishnaic material in bold text and the Toseftan material in italics but also sets halakic material unique to Sifra in small caps. This demonstrates even to the casual reader that Sifra includes a substantial body of halakic material not found in the Mishnah and Tosefta. Along with the lucid and helpful analysis, the formatting helps to substantiate Apothakers thesis that Sifra is neither derivative nor reactive. Although Sifra is situated clearly in the matrix of Tannaitic works, it expresses a clear and unique agenda in early rabbinic culture. In part 2 (Synthetic Analysis, 337409), Apothaker examines Sifras rhetorical formulae, literary structures, and legal traditions, also theorizing about Mishnah and Sifras parting of the ways. In this section, he also interacts in depth with other views of Sifras program. For Apothaker, The rhetoric of Sifra accomplishes the task of positioning divine revelation as necessary in its most minute and manifest detail as Israels necessary and only sufficient source of truth (33940). This is accomplished through three primary rhetorical devices: specification (a portion of scripture leads to a specific proposition or idea; for example, [a scripture] teaches that), ratification (a portion of scripture is found sufficient because it endorses a specific proposition; for example, From where [that is, from what scripture] do we learn that), and preclusion (a portion of scripture is found necessary because it precludes a false proposition; for example, One may erroneously conclude that Scripture, however, specifies that). Apothaker works through examples of each of these devices and other less common stratagems, as well as examples of their use in combination with one another. Apothaker comments on Neusners thesis that the main purpose of Sifra is to demonstrate that the logic underlying and permeating the Mishnah is insufficient in itself and that only Scripture provides a firm basis for halakah. Apothaker claims that Neusner, in his attempt to prove his point, overemphasizes Sifras use of the rhetorical formula Is
2. For this reason, I prefer to call Tannaitic productions works, leaving open the issue of whether they were oral and/or written in their own time. These works were eventually expressed in written texts, to which manuscripts scribed about a millennium later bear witness.

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it not logical? [No, thus] Scripture says. This formula appears only nine times among the hundreds of units in Sifra Dibbura deSinai. Even Neusner notices that the formula does not pervade Sifra, yet this rhetorical device continues to drive Neusners overall view of the Mishnah-Sifra relationship. Apothaker responds that, taking the rhetoric of Dibbura deSinai as a whole, the framers of Sifra are less interested in undermining the Mishnahs logic than they are in establishing the preeminent place of Scripture as the singular source of rabbinic culture. Both Neusner and E. Z. Melamed argue for the historical primacy of the Mishnah over Sifra. Melamed specifically asserts that in parallels between Sifra and Mishnah-Tosefta, the Mishnah-Tosefta material is uniformly early and Sifra is late (Melamed 1967, 182). Apothaker shows that some of the Mishnah and Toseftas halakah are clearly refined versions of material framed in a more elementary manner found only in Sifra. This would indicate a logical, if not also a historical, primacy of at least some material in Sifra. In his chapter on the Mishnah and Sifras parting of the ways (4019), Apothaker agrees with Stemberger that the material found now in our Mishnah and Sifra began with a common pool of material that was shaped in complex and layered processes. At some point, these processes diverged into (at least) two streams that may have continued to interact with each other. In their final stages, the Mishnah and Sifra were shaped by two increasingly distinct agendas. Apothakers heuristic paradigm of this complex redactional interrelationship is similar to some working theories about the redactional relationship of the Mishnah and Tosefta and very much in line with critical theories of preprint redaction brought into the world of rabbinic studies by Peter Schfer (1986)3 and followed up (and often tempered) by others. The portions of Sifra, Dibbura deSinai that discuss the relationship between Sifra and Mishnah are marked, however, by a methodological flaw that at least partly undermines all theories assuming a clear identity of the Mishnah as known by Sifra. When Sifra uses citation formulae (such as wrm) Nkym) to introduce Mishnaic and Toseftan material, it makes no distinction between them. Nor does Sifra label or otherwise identify the Mishnah or Tosefta or differentiate between the two. Simply put, if we had no Mishnah or Tosefta in our hands today, there would be no way for us to discern either the Mishnah or Tosefta as they are quoted or cited in Sifra. Thus, it would be more sound to investigate the relationship between Sifra and the body of non-Sifraic Tannaitic halakah embedded within it. 3. Research into Rabbinic Literature: An Attempt to Define the Status Quaestionis JJS 37 (1986):
13952. This article expressed ideas already well-developed among German textual critics in the 1970s and 1980s.
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Nevertheless, Sifra, Dibbura deSinai is work of vital scholarship marked by depth, clarity, and painstaking scholarship. By careful commentary and synthetic analysis, Apothaker has demonstrated that the center of Sifras program is to affirm Scripture and its interpretation as both the source and justification for rabbinic culture. Sifras agenda is active, not reactive. He has highlighted the interpretive dynamics and rhetorical devices that Sifra uses to further that agenda. He has also successfully addressed the work of other scholars. Sifra, Dibbura deSinai clarifies Sifras place in the Tannaitic world and is thus a work that future scholars of Sifra will be obliged to engage.

This review was published by RBL 2007 by the Society of Biblical Literature. For more information on obtaining a subscription to RBL, please visit http://www.bookreviews.org/subscribe.asp.