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Learning to Read Midrash

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by: Simi Peters

Learning to read midrash is a valuable skill for students of Tanakh. For teachers, it is of vital importance. And yet our attempts to study midrash are often stymied by the lack of tools for grappling with this complex realm of Torah study. 

Even those familiar with midrashic sources may have difficulty defining exactly what midrash is or understanding the connection between a particular midrash and the biblical text it discusses. Readers may also find certain midrashim disturbingly implausible, such as the talmudic description of the angel Gavriel affixing a tail to Queen Vashti (Megila 12b). Are such accounts meant to be taken literally? If not, what are we to make of them? 

Learning to Read Midrash presents a systematic approach to the study of midrash. Each of the readings presented in this book attempts to reconstruct the reasoning behind midrashic commentary on biblical narrative. The goal of the book is to convey a sensitivity to the language and meanings of the Tanakh, and to develop a reverent appreciation for the language and teachings of Hazal (the Jewish sages). 

The introduction to this work defines what midrash is, discusses why it can be so difficult to understand and explains how the Jewish sages (Hazal) used midrash to interpret the biblical text. The main sections of the book explore two genres of midrash, the parable (mashal) and the midrashic story, and utilize detailed readings to demonstrate how to “translate” the language of Hazal into contemporary terminology. 

The texts analyzed in this work are drawn from a wide range of sources and deal with some of the most fascinating and complex biblical stories, including the Akeda (binding of Isaac), the sin of David and Batsheva, the book of Yona, and Moshe at the burning bush. 

Simi Peters is on the faculty of Nishmat – the Jerusalem Center for Advanced Jewish Studies for Women, ATID – the Academy for Torah Initiatives and Directions, and Darchei Bina Seminary. Simi also serves as Text Consultant to the JCCA of North America’s Ethical Start Pirkei Avot Curriculum Project and was a Jerusalem Fellow. She has an M.A. in Linguistics and has been teaching Tanakh and Midrash for many years. Simi, her husband David, and their children live in Jerusalem.

Hardcover, 310 pages
ISBN 965-7108-57-8
publication: January 2004 


Praise for Learning to Read Midrash

“I have found the author’s analytical approach to the various midrashim fascinating, insightful and in keeping with a true Torah perspective.... I highly recommend this work [Learning to Read Midrash] for those who want to devise a method for studying Midrash that will bring them both to a deeper understanding of the Midrash and, ultimately, to a greater closeness with Hashem ....” 
-Rabbi Zev Leff
[Rabbi Zev Leff is the Rabbi of Moshav Matityahu and the Rosh Hayeshiva of Yeshiva Gevoha Matityahu] 

I’m writing to recommend a unique book from one of my teachers that has just been published. It is called “Learning to Read Midrash,” and helps provide you with a basic methodology for accessing midrashic literature. The author, Simi Peters, is a gifted teacher and writer who draws on traditional and academic sources to really bring the material alive. Her class at my yeshiva last year, Nishmat, first thing on Sunday mornings (!!??) has been one of the highlights of my learning here in Israel. 
-Jenny Oser 

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