Over the years, scholars have adopted two parallel approaches to studying midrash aggadah. One approach, investigates questions relating to the compilations themselves, and the other approach focuses on the composition of the smaller, nuclear, midrashic units. The petiḥta or proem has been studied extensively by adherents of both approaches. In this paper, I argue that a flexible model is the one most appropriate for describing the petiḥta: a model which simultaneously utilizes both approaches.
In the course of this paper, I studied one derasha, a petiḥta, and its subsequent evolution in several different compositions (Leviticus Rabbah; Tanḥuma Aharei Mot; Tanḥuma Va-Etchanan). By conducting that comparative study of the derasha, I achieved a fuller understanding of it both in terms of the proem as a product of oral discourse and in terms of the proem’s literary redaction within the context of the midrashic compositions. Ultimately, a better understanding of the petiḥta’s formulation and its Sitz im Leben contributes to our understanding of its contents and allows us to reveal the message that either the darshan or the redactor was attempting to convey.
Joseph Heinemann“The Proem in the Aggadic Midrashim: a Form-Critical Study,”Scripta Hierosolymitana22 (1971): 100-22; idem “The Petihtaot of the Aggadic Midrash—Their Origin and Function” Proceedings of the Fourth World Congress of Jewish Studies (1965): 43-47 [Hebrew]; idem “The Amoraim of Israel as Artists of Sermon” Hasifrut 25 (1977): 69-79 [Hebrew].
Martin S. Jaffee“The ‘Midrashic’ Proem: Towards the Description of Rabbinic Exegesis,”Approaches to Ancient Judaism4 (1983): 95-112; Richard S. Sarason “The ‘Petihtot’ in Leviticus Rabba: ‘Oral Homilies’ or Redactional Constructions?” JJS 33 (1982): 557-67; idem “Toward a New Agendum for the Study of Rabbinic Midrashic Literature” in Studies in Aggadah Targum and Jewish Liturgy in Memory of Joseph Heinemann (ed. Ezra Fleischer and Jakob J. Petuchowski; Jerusalem: Magness Press 1981) 55-73 [Hebrew].
Joseph Heinemann“Chapters of Doubtful Origin in Leviticus Rabbah,”Tarbiz37 (1968): 339-54[Hebrew]; idem “Profile of a Midrash: the Art of Composition in Leviticus Rabba” JAAR 39 (1971): 141-50; Jacob Neusner “Appropriation and Imitation: The Priority of Leviticus Rabba Over Pesiqta Derab Kahana” PAAJR 54 (1987): 141-68. There are two arguments which support Heinemann’s claim that the parasha was originally found in Pesiqta de Rab Kahana: (1) Leviticus Rabbah ’s twenty-first parasha also deals with the same seder and it is highly improbable that the redactor created two parashot on the same seder; (2) The parasha concludes by focusing on Yom Kippur: “ולמה הוא מזכיר מיתתן ביום הכיפורים אלא מלמד שכשם שיום הכיפורים מכפר כך מיתתן שלצדיקים מכפרת.” [= “So why does he make mention of their death [in connection with] the Day of Atonement? It is to teach that just as the Day of Atonement achieves atonement so the death of the righteous achieves atonement.”] See also: Chaim Milikowsky “Textual Criticism as a Prerequisite for the Study of Rabbinic Thought: On God Not Giving Recompense for Fulfilling Commandments and on the Immutability of the Created World” in Tiferet leYisrael: Jubilee Volume in Honor of Israel Francus (ed. Joel Roth Menahem Schmelzer and Yaacov Francus; New York: Jewish Theological Seminary 2010) 134 n. 11.
Jacob Elbaum“On the Character of the Late Midrashic Literature,”Proceedings of the Ninth World Congress of Jewish Studies(1986): 57-62 [Hebrew]; idem “From Sermon to Story: the Transformation of the Akedah” Prooftexts 6.2 (1986): 97-116.