Shifting borders of the Land and People of Israel in the Mishnah-Tosefta

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


Even though the Mishnah-Tosefta and the halakhic midrashim do not say who and what the rabbis are, they indirectly do say who and what they are not. Following a set of passages on the borders of the Mishnah, i.e. the concluding passages of tractates and especially the ending of tractate Oholoth, the paper investigates how the borders of Israel, both those of the Land and those of the People, are perceived by the Tannaim. This literary border patrol will shed light on a difference between rabbinic counter-identity as it is expressed in the body of Mishnah tractates on the one hand, and in their endings on the other. Whereas the body takes account of the ‘different other’ in theoretical terms irrespective of his historical existence, tractate endings unveil the ‘different other’ with whom the rabbis were in daily contact. My thesis is that a sharp, ‘digital’ distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is possible only on the theoretical level which disregard the median cases. It seems to me that the Mishnah has been edited unevenly and according to two opposing aims: on the one hand, it endeavours to create a ‘digital halakhah’ which is now represented by the strict, systematic, formulaic and therefore more solid Mishnah in the body, and on the other hand, it attempts to cover the median cases generated by the social reality which is now represented by the endings more susceptible to change. This paper argues that these two can be linked to the two historic stages of the development of Tannaitic halakhah. The well-woven web of the halakhic system comes undone and discloses the anomalies which the editorial process chose not to dissolve in the ‘digital halakhah’. Correspondingly, whereas the ‘different other’ of the body is basically a theoretical concept designed to fit into the halakhic system, the ‘different other’ of the endings is the neighbour flesh and blood with questionable halakhic status whose existence caused a real headache to the rabbis.
Period29 Jul 2013
Event titleThe 16th World Congress of Jewish Studies
Event typeConference
LocationJerusalem, IsraelShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Rabbinic law
  • Identity