Brachot 35 – 13 rules of exegesis

The 6th chapter starts with a complex discussion. The Talmud wants to ascertain the basis for making blessings before eating food. We take this for granted, however the Talmud goes back and forth using various forms of halachic exegesis. In simple terms the Talmud concludes that one is prohibited from deriving benefit from this world without a blessing (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Hayim 210:1).

Returning to the multiple halachic exegesis utilised in this piece of Talmud I thought it would be useful to list the 13 rules of exegesis we say every day as part of the shacharit prayer service.

Thirteen Rules of Rabbi Ishmael

These rules are found in the siddur, from the “Introduction to Sifra” by Ishmael ben Elisha, c. 200 CE. These are known as the Thirteen Rules of Exegesis:

1. Kal va-Chomer (a fortiori): We find a similar stringency in a more lenient case; how more so should that stringency apply to our stricter case!

2. Gezera shava, similarity in phrase: We find a similar law in a verse containing a similar phrase to one in our verse. This method can only be used in a case where there is a tradition to use it.

3. Binyan av, either by one or two Scriptures: We find a similar law in another case, why shouldn’t we assume that the same law applies here? Now the argument may go against this inference, finding some law that applies to that case but not to ours. This type of refutation is valid only if the inference was from one Scripture, not if it was from two Scriptures.

4. Klal ufrat, a generality and a particularity: If we find a phrase signifying a particularity following that of a generality, the particularity particularises the generality and we only take that particular case into account.

5. Prat ukhlal, a particularity and a generality: If the order is first the particularity and then the generality, we add from the generality upon the particularity, even to a broad extent.

6. Klal ufrat ukhlal, a generality, a particularity and a generality: If there is a particularity inserted between two generalities, we only add cases similar to the particularity.

7. Klal shehu tzarich lifrat, a generality that requires a particularity, and a particularity that requires a generality: If it is impossible to have the more general law without more specific examples or more specific cases without the statement of the general law, the above three rules don’t apply.

8. Every thing that was within the general rule and was excluded from the rule to teach us a rule, we don’t consider this rule as pertaining only to this excluded case, but to the entire general case.

9. Anything that was included in a general rule, and was excluded to be susceptible to one rule that is according to its subject, it is only excluded to be treated more leniently but not more strictly.

10. Anything that was included in a general rule and was excluded to be susceptible to one rule that is not according to its subject, it is excluded to be treated both more leniently and more strictly.

11. Anything that was included in a general rule and was excluded to be treated by a new rule, we cannot restore it to its general rule unless Scripture restores it explicitly.

12. A matter that is inferred from its context, and a matter that is inferred from its ending.

13. The resolution of two Scriptures that contradict each other [must wait] until a third Scripture arrives and resolves their apparent contradiction.

There are other lists of rules of exegesis including:

1. the Seven Rules of Hillel (baraita at the beginning of Sifra)

2. the thirty-two Rules of R. Eliezer b. Jose ha-Gelili.

It is interesting to note that some scholars have observed a similarity between these rabbinic rules of interpretation and the hermeneutics of ancient Hellenistic culture. For example, Saul Lieberman argues that the *names* (e.g. kal vahomer) of Rabbi Ishmael’s middot are Hebrew translations of Greek terms, although the methods of those middot are not Greek in origin [1]

[1] Lieberman, Saul. “Rabbinic interpretation of scripture” and “The hermeneutic rules of the aggadah” in Hellenism in Jewish Palestine (NY, 1950) See also, Daube, David. “Rabbinic methods of interpretation and Hellenistic rhetoric” HUCA 22 (1949) 239ff.


About bookabazza

I am an Osteopath and University Lecturer who is trying to keep up with the 7 year daf yomi cycle. I thought I would try and share a few small thought on the daf each week.
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