Rabbinic literature, in its broadest sense, can mean the entire spectrum of rabbinic writings throughout Jewish history. However, the term often refers specifically to literature from the Talmudic era, as opposed to medieval and modern rabbinic writing, and thus corresponds with the Hebrew term Sifrut Hazal (Hebrew: ספרות חז"ל "Literature [of our] sages," where Hazal normally refers only to the sages of the Talmudic era). This more specific sense of "Rabbinic literature"—referring to the Talmudim, Midrash (Hebrew: מדרש), and related writings, but hardly ever to later texts—is how the term is generally intended when used in contemporary academic writing. On the other hand, the terms meforshim and parshanim (commentaries/commentators) almost always refer to later, post-Talmudic writers of rabbinic glosses on Biblical and Talmudic texts.
This article discusses rabbinic literature in both senses. It begins with the classic rabbinic literature of the Talmudic era (Sifrut Hazal), and then adds a broad survey of rabbinic writing from later periods.
The Mishnah and the Tosefta (compiled from materials pre-dating the year 200 CE) are the earliest extant works of rabbinic literature, expounding and developing Judaism's Oral Law, as well as ethical teachings. Following these came the two Talmuds:
Midrash (pl. Midrashim) is a Hebrew word referring to a method of reading details into, or out of, a biblical text. The term midrash also can refer to a compilation of Midrashic teachings, in the form of legal, exegetical, homiletical, or narrative writing, often configured as a commentary on the Bible or Mishnah. There are a large number of "classical" Midrashic works spanning a period from Mishnaic to Geonic times, often showing evidence of having been worked and reworked from earlier materials, and frequently coming to us in multiple variants. A compact list of these works [based on (Holtz 1984)] is given below; a more thorough annotated list can be found under Midrash. The timeline below must be approximate because many of these works were composed over a long span of time, borrowing and collating material from earlier versions; their histories are therefore somewhat uncertain and the subject of scholarly debate. In the table, "n.e." designates that the work in question is not extant except in secondary references.
Extra-canonical rabbinical literature ("n.e." designates "not extant")
Meforshim is a Hebrew word meaning "commentators" (or roughly meaning "exegetes"), Perushim means "commentaries". In Judaism these words refer to commentaries on the Torah (five books of Moses), Tanakh, Mishnah, Talmud, the responsa literature, or even the siddur (Jewish prayerbook), and more.
Classical Talmudic commentaries were written by Rashi. After Rashi the Tosafot were written, which was an omnibus commentary on the Talmud by the disciples and descendants of Rashi; this commentary was based on discussions done in the rabbinic academies of Germany and France.
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