R501 – Early Rabbinic Judaism 1: Introduction to Rabbinic Literature

Instructor:  Rabbi Dr. Vered Hillel
Location: Populi (https://mjti.populiweb.com)
Dates: October 23 – October 25, 2022

R501 and R502 comprise a two-course introduction to the development and core writings of early Rabbinic Judaism. These writings, especially the Mishnah and the Babylonian Talmud (or Bavli), played a decisive role in determining the shape of Jewish practice for subsequent generations. R501 introduces Rabbinic Literature in the context of Jewish history and society in Palestine of the late Roman and early Byzantine Empires. It provides an overview of Classis Rabbinic Literature, focusing on the origins, formation, and writings of the early rabbinic movement. The course provides an overview of Classic Rabbinic texts from the Mishnah, the foundation work of Jewish practice, and its companion text the Tosefta, to the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds, as well as the midrash collections, which are Judaism’s foundational works of biblical commentary and theology.

This is a Core Course required for the Master of Jewish Studies and Master of Rabbinic Studies degrees

In R501 students gain basic familiarity with the early rabbinic movement, which arose after the destruction of the Second Temple, and its writings. This distinct form of Judaism differed in significant ways from predestruction forms. On the one hand, this study frees students to understand pre-destruction groups, especially the Pharisees, on their own terms, avoiding the misunderstandings that arise from confusing them with the early rabbinic sages. On the other hand, studying the social dynamics, world view, and writings of the early rabbinic movement prepares students to understand Rabbinic Judaism as it has developed since this period.

Students who are familiar with this material will be better able to grapple with issues that came to the fore when Judaism began to fragment in the nineteenth century, and to reflect on the relationship between Rabbinic and Messianic Judaism.

Biblical Hebrew proficiency recommended but not required. (If you have any questions about this requirement, email the instructor at drvered@mjti.org.)

The student must have a computer and high-speed internet access.

This is an asynchronous course with one face-to-face video conference in week 1.

• Complete the required weekly reading on or before Monday of each week. Reading must be completed before entering the weekly discussion threads.
• Listen to all the audio lectures.
• Participate in the live video conference in week 1.
• Actively participate in the weekly Discussion Threads.
• Weekly Hevruta assignments.
• Write Final exam.


  • Fonrobert, Charlotte and Jaffee, Martin, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Talmudic and Rabbinic Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).
  • Katz, Steven, ed. The Cambridge History of Judaism IV: The Late Roman Rabbinic Period. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. (Free at Internet Archive:
  • Strack, H.L. and Stemberger, Gunter. Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (translated and edited by Markus Bockmuehl. Second edition & printing; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996. This edition required.
  • Course Pack of articles provided on Populi. Cost dependent on copyright permissions.



  • Fraade, Steven D. From Tradition to Commentary: Torah and Its Interpretation in the Midrash Sifre to Deuteronomy. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991. On the development of interpretative strategies in this halakhic midrash collection.
  • Jaffee, M. Torah in the Mouth: Writing and Oral Tradition in Palestinian Judaism,200 BCE-400CE. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. A study of oral tradition as it functioned in the rabbinic discipleship community.
  • Kehati, Pinchas. Mishnayot Kehati. New York: Feldheim, 2005. Text, translation and commentary. This lucid, traditionally-oriented work exposes the thought and structure of the entire Mishnah. If you own only one Mishnah translation or commentary, this should be it.
  • Peters, Simi. Learning to Read Midrash. Jerusalem: Urim Publications, 2004. An excellent overview of later, aggadic midrash, using both traditional and academic methodology.
  • Samely, Alexander. Forms of Rabbinic Literature and Thought: An Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • Urbach, Ephraim. The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs. Harvard University Press, 2001 Reprint.
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