Abstract: A familiar poem in bBerakhot 17a, famously attributed to "our rabbis of Yavneh," represents a highly sophisticated composition employing a number of complex and subtle rhetorical forms. In addition to the routine variations found in rabbinic texts generated through oral transmission, scribal activity, and other factors, some of the particular discrepancies in the manuscript evidence for this text may have been caused by the sheer subtlety of some of the poetic devices employed to construct its individual lines and the composite poetic structure as a whole. It appears in a series of five exemplary compositions in the second chapter of bBerakhot, within an apparently mnemonically ordered series of five customary or favourite sayings of chronologically varied, Palestinian and Babylonian sages. This deceptively simple poem subtly integrates form and content. It thematizes tensions between commonality (or, more precisely, male commonality) and social difference. It does so by juxtaposing common and different terms within and between the poetic lines. Its composite nature is demonstrable, but the overall composition is an artful synthesis of rhetorical form and didactic content.
Jewish Quarterly Review – University of Pennsylvania Press
Published: Feb 10, 2011