Many readers are familiar with the 13 exegetical
principles of Rabbi Ishmael which occur in the daily prayer
books in the morning prayer. In this email newsletter I
have called these rules the style rules. It is
important to clarify what the Rabbi Ishmael rules focus
on. After all they are distinct from rules of meaning
grammar and alignment. What are they?
We have explained in our article
located on the world wide web at
that the Rabbi Ishmael style rules are rules governing the interpretation of examples. In other words
if the Biblical text gives a specific example, as a
law or narrative, does the Author intend that the law or
narrative exhaust its meaning in that particular example, or,
does the Author intend the example as a mere example which
should be understood by the reader as a paradigmatic
example which should be generalized.
Here is a good example. Dt25-04 states
don't mu9le an ox while threshing. The Rabbi
Ishmael generalization rule requires that we do not see this example as exhaustive of the law but rather as requiring generalization. Hence Jewish law interprets this
to mean Don't mu9le any animal while it is
doing its typical work. Actually the law prohibits not only mu9ling but any type of inteference with the animal eating.
In this particular case we used the generalization style. Sometimes however we use the restrictive style and interpret the example as exhaustive of the law--
the example is all the law says.
There are many other Biblical examples of the generalization method:
- The rape laws apply in all cases not just to field rapes (Dt22-25)
- The requirement not to mu9le working animals apply to all animals not just to oxen (Dt25-04)
- The burial-the-same-day-of-death laws apply to all people not just to executed criminals (Dt21-23)
Although the above laws are generalized Rashi uses the chosen examples
to illustrate community patterns and general prevalent practices.
- Rapes unfortunately typically happen more often in fields then in the city since no one is likely to respond to the women's screams
- The main working animal was the ox
- The laws emphasizes that even wicked criminals who are executed
still have Divine dignity and must be buried.
In a similar vein Rashi interprets twofold, verse Lv25-25a:
If your brother becomes poor, and has sold away some of his possession, and if any of his kin comes to redeem it, then shall he redeem that which his brother sold.
- These redemption laws apply to anyone who sold his property even if there was no prior poverty.
- The Bible describes what should be a typical scene:
It is proper business conduct not to sell ones property unless
one has become poor.