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Baraita on the Thirty-two Rules

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Title: Baraita on the Thirty-two Rules  
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Subject: Talmudical hermeneutics, Alphabet of Akiba ben Joseph, Mekhilta de-Rabbi Shimon, Mishnah, Sifra
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Baraita on the Thirty-two Rules

The Baraita on the Thirty-two Rules or Baraita of R. Eliezer ben Jose ha-Gelili is a baraita giving 32 hermeneutic rules for interpreting the Bible. It no longer exists, except in references by later authorities. Abul-Walid ibn Janaḥ is the oldest authority who drew upon this Baraita, but he did not mention it by name. Rashi makes frequent use of it in his commentaries on the Bible and the Talmud. He either briefly calls it the thirty-two rules (Hor. 3a) or designates it as the "Baraita (or sections פרקי) of R. Eliezer b. Jose ha-Gelili" (Gen. ii. 8; Ex. xiv. 24). Also the Karaite Judah Hadassi, who incorporated it in his Eshkol ha-Kofer, recognized in it the work of this R. Eliezer.


The beraita has not been preserved in an independent form, and knowledge of it has been gathered only from the recension transmitted in the methodological work Keritot, by Samson of Chinon. The beginning of the Baraita in this recension reads as follows: "Whenever you come across the words of R. Eliezer b. Jose ha-Gelili, make a funnel of your ear." Though this sentence already existed in the Baraita as known to Hadassi (see W. Bacher, in Monatsschrift, xl. 21), it is naturally a later addition taken from the Talmud (Ḥul. 89a); but it shows that the Baraita of the Thirty-two Rules was early regarded as the work of Eliezer b. Jose ha-Gelili. There are strong grounds for the supposition that the opening sentence of the Baraita ran: "R. Eliezer, the son of R. Jose the Galilean, said." This is the reading of Joshua ha-Levi and Isaiah Horowitz (see Bloch, p. 53); and it is believed that the name of the author did not drop out until the addition of the sentence from the Talmud. Consequently, no adequate reasons exist for doubting the authorship of R. Eliezer. In Vol. XXIII of the Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research (1954), Moshe Zucker sought to prove, from Geniza documents, that the Baraita of the 32 Rules was written by Shemuel b. Hofni Gaon (d. 1013) as part of the introduction to his commentary to the Torah. This conclusion has been challenged by A. Greenbaum, 'The Biblical Commentary of Samuel ben Hofni Gaon' (Mosad HaRav Kook 1978).

Rabbinical Eras

Distinction must, however, be made between two different constituent elements of the Baraita. The enumeration of the 32 hermeneutic rules in the first section constitutes the real Baraita as composed by R. Eliezer; and the explanations of each rule in the following 32 sections form, as it were, a Gemara to the real Baraita. In these 32 sections sayings are cited of the tannaim R. Akiba, R. Ishmael, R. Jose, R. Nehemiah, R. Nehorai, Rebbi, Ḥiyyah, and of the amoraim Johanan and Jose b. Ḥanina. Although these names, especially the last two, show that portions of the Baraita were interpolated long after Eliezer b. Jose, yet no general conclusions may be drawn from it with regard to the whole work.

The terminology is prevailingly tannaitic, even in the second portion. W. Bacher (Terminologie der Jüdischen Schriftauslegung, p. 101) correctly remarks that the exclusively tannaitic expression "zeker le-dabar" is found at the end of section ix. (compare also the archaic phrase "hashomea' sabur" for which "at sabur" is usually said). The second part, therefore, leaving later interpolations out of consideration, may also have sprung from the tannaitic period, probably from the school of R. Eliezer. It is noteworthy that the old scholars make citations from the Baraita that are not found in its present form, thus casting a doubt upon the correctness of the present recension (see Reifmann, pp. 6, 7).


The 32 rules are those applied in haggadic interpretations (הגדה is the right reading and not התורה). This entirely characterizes the method of the Baraita; for although it incorporates the most important halakic rules of interpretation, which originated in the schools of R. Akiba and of R. Ishmael (Hillel), the Baraita deals principally with the syntax, style, and subject-matter of the Bible. Such treatment is of first importance for the interpretation of the Scriptures; but in the Halakah it is of subordinate value. The Baraita, then, written about 150 CE, may be regarded as the earliest work on Biblical hermeneutics, since Philo's fantastic allegories can hardly be regarded as such.

Following are two examples from the Baraita, which illustrate its method.

  • Section ix. (on the elliptical phraseology of the Bible) says: "I Chron. xvii. 5 reads, 'I have gone from tent to tent, and from tabernacle' (וממשכן). It should read: 'and from tabernacle to tabernacle' ('u-mimishkan el mishkan'); but the Bible here employs ellipsis."
  • Section xxi. says that sometimes a clause that ought to stand at the end of sentences, conveying one idea, is interposed between them. Thus, the correct place for verse 17 of Psalm xxxiv. would be after 18. According to the last rule, whole chapters of the Bible should be transferred. Thus, Gen. xv. chronologically precedes xiv.

These examples suffice to show that in Palestine scholars early began to devote themselves to a rational Bible exegesis, although free play was at the same time yielded to haggadic interpretation.

Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography

  • W. Bacher, Agada der Tannaiten, ii. 293-298;
  • Bloch, in Kobak's Jeschurun, ix. 47-58 (a polemic against a treatise by A. Berliner on the Baraita. This treatise is not mentioned by name, and is not otherwise known to the writer of the present article);
  • Wolf Einhorn, Sefer Midrash Tannaim, 1838 (an extract from this work occurs in his introduction to his commentary on Rabbah, Wilna, 1878);
  • A. Hildesheimer, in the Supplement to the third Program of the Rabbinical College of *Eisenstadt, 1869;
  • Katzenellenbogen, Netibot 'Olam, 1st ed., 1822, and 2d ed., with annotations by Mattityahu Strashun and Samuel Strashun, 1858;
  • Königsberger, in Monatsblätter für Vergangenheit und Gegenwart, 1890-91, pp. 3-10, 90-94, and the Hebrew Supplement, pp. 1-16;
  • Reifmann, Meshib Dabar, 1866.

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