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Rabbinic Polysemy and Pluralism Revisited: Between Praxis and Thematization

  • Steven D. Fraade (a1)

Abstract

One of the most celebrated aspects of rabbinic literature is its adducing of multiple interpretations of scriptural verses and its valorizing of multiple legal opinions as expressed in debate among the rabbinic sages. This celebration has come from several quarters, with each finding in the purported rabbinic polysemy and pluralism support for agendas that could not possibly have been those of the ancient rabbis. For example, in the 1980s, some literary critics and philosophers found support in rabbinic midrash for their theories of indeterminacy of textual meaning in literature and language in general. Likewise, moving from the linguistic to the social domain, those seeking more harmonious relations among modern Judaism's competing denominations have found a pluralistic model to emulate in ancient Judaism, following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, when sectarian rivalry is thought to have been replaced by the “big tent” inclusiveness, marked by respectful debate among multiple opinions, of the rabbis at Yavneh.

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