Certain Biblical paragraphs are stated in a Theme-Development-Theme form.
In other words a broad general idea is stated first followed by the development
of this broad general theme in specific details. The paragraph-like unit is then
closed with a repetition of the broad theme.
The Theme-Detail-Theme form creates a unified paragraph.
The detailed section of this paragraph is therefore seen as
an extension of the general theme sentences.
Today's example illustrates
this as shown immediately below.
Verse Dt14-26 discussing what second tithe money can redeem states
- General: And you shall bestow that money for all your soul desires
- for oxen, or
- for sheep, or
- for wine, or
- for strong drink
- General: for all your soul desires
Because the General-Theme-General style is perceived as a paragraph, therefore,
we take the Detail phrase as a development of the general phrase. The logical
conclusion would be You can buy meats and plant derived drinks.
Quite startingly the Rambam, Second Tithes, 7:1-3, states that honey, milk and eggs
are also OK. The Rambam's logic is that You can buy items that grow from land-based
food (cattle, sheep) as well as items derived from land-based-food animals (wine but also honey,
milk and eggs). True, the Rambam categorizes and defends the law! But wouldn't it be more
logical to simply state meats and plant-based drinks.
Problems like this arise frequently in interpretation of the General Theme General
At the 20th MidWest Jewish Studies Conference I suggested that two style rules are operating
here: The Rabbi Ishmael Style rules as well as the Broad-Restriction style rules.
The broad-restriction style rules in this verse focus on the word all which broadens
the appicability of the verse. In the Talmud the Rabbi Ishmael rules are frequently contrasted with
the broad-restriction rules as two approaches to Biblical exegesis. However on our Rashi list we
classify the broad-restrictive rule, emanating from an analysis of the adverb all,
as an inference based on the special word rule, which is a subrule
of either the meaning or grammar rule. The Rishonim according to the approach I am suggesting
here combine the two rules in their legal decisions.
Here is how the two rules combine:
- The verse mentions examples of what you can redeem: cattle and penned animals.
- However since the theme-detail-theme style is used I am required to generalize
- If the verse
did not use the word all I would simply generalize the detail clause restrictively
and only allow animal meats but not honey, milk and eggs since these last three
items are animal-derived.
- But the word all broadens! Consequently in addition to animal meats we allow
animal derived products such as honey, milk and eggs.
- However we still prohibit water, salt and spices which are neither animal nor animal-derived.
- The subtlety in this derivation is that both restriction and broadening are used. Animals and
cattle are broadened to include derived products like milk, eggs, and honey but are also restrictively interpreted
so as to prohibit water, salt and spices which have nothing to do with animals.
This idea of combining the Talmud's broad restriction rule
with the Rabbi Ishmael Style rules, or, using the language of this
email newsletter, rules #2/3 special word meaning
with rule #6,Style, this combination,
seems to solve many problems in the Rabbi Ishmael style exegesii. The interested (or skeptical) reader should,
when studying a Rabbi Ishmael rule, study the verse to see if the word all is mentioned and if so I would
strongly expect that the the style generalizations are not as restrictive as they normally would be.