Kultur- und Religionsgeschichte Südasiens
Cultural and Religious History of South Asia



Forschungsgruppe | Research group

„Thinking Rite“: Towards Talmudo-Mīmāṃsā

Thinking Rite
Mali, Meshel and Mishra (Jerusalem, 1.1.2020)

Naphtali Meshel
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Anand Mishra
Heidelberg University

Hillel Mali
NYU School of Law

The textual tradition of Mīmāṃsā associated with Vedic sacrificial rituals and the Talmudic tradition related to the Biblical sacrificial rituals evidently developed in isolation from one another in antiquity and evolved along separate trajectories in subsequent centuries. Yet the joint group of researchers from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and SAI jointly read selected passages from two important texts from these traditions — Śābara-bhāṣya (ca. 3rd c. CE), a Sanskrit Commentary on the Mīmāṃsā Sūtra of Jaimini (ca. 3rd c. BCE) and Zebahim (52b) from the Babylonian Talmud (compiled ca. 6th c. CE).

In reading these texts side by side, despite their vast cultural, religious, historical, geographical and linguistic dissimilarities, the aim is neither to establish a shared historical origin, muss less to demonstrate that one tradition influenced the formation and development of the other. The goal is also not to suggest the existence of underlying universals based on the initial intuition of some striking similarities between these two textual traditions in terms of content and style, e.g. their discursive and dialectic nature; employment of hermeneutical tools for textual deduction (Sanskrit pramāṇas, Hebrew middôt) that are fixed in number, formal and often counterintuitive; or occasional thematic overlap where the same precise non-obvious question is addressed and the same solution is offered. Rather the main aim is to open up and explore the intellectual space between these two textual/ritual traditions and to investigate the perspective of Mīmāṃsā’s instrumentality for understanding ancient Jewish sacrificial literature.

The ancient Israelite sacrificial system is arguably the most elaborate intellectual edifice preserved in Talmudic literature. And yet, the rabbinic tradition never developed a sui generis discipline dedicated specifically to the field of knowledge of sacrificial ritual as elaborate as Mīmāṃsā. Mīmāṃsā, on the other hand, was developed specifically in the context of Vedic texts and Vedic ritual; yet the analytic and hermeneutic tools that it formulates, alongside the operative categories that it develops, may be applicable more widely to other ritual and textual systems as well.

While a wholesale application of Mīmāṃsā to non-Vedic rituals and texts is out of question, operative categories and modes of analysis abstracted from it offer a unique set of tools, without parallel in the ancient or modern scholarly traditions, for understanding sacrificial ritual systems outside the purview of classical Mīmāṃsā literature. A rough analogy here would be Pāṇini’s system of Sanskrit grammar, which was developed for analyzing and describing Sanskrit, and wholesale application of the rules and meta-rules of this system to any other language is out of question, but the abstraction of modes of analysis and operative categories from the Pāṇinian system proved to have strong explanatory power for linguistic systems in general.


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