By November 3, 2008 Read More →

Megillat Ta’anit: The Law and the Sadducees and the Boethusians

Greco-Roman Period
Megillat Ta‘anit is a list of days on which fasting and mourning were not permitted. To this list was appended a “scholion,” a commentary explaining each of the entries. The scholion, a compilation of Rabbinic traditions, was probably completed in the seventh or eighth century. Here, we see how the scholion understood the dispute of the Pharisees and Sadducees (and the related sect of the Boethusians) about the oral law.

“On the fourteenth of Tammuz the Sefer Gezerata 46 was removed”—because there was
written and deposited by the Sadducees a Book of Decrees (Sefer Gezerata) of who is
stoned and who is burned, who is to be killed and who is to be strangled. 47 And when
they would sit (in judgment) and a man would ask, then they would show him in the
book. If he would say to them, “From whence is it that this one deserves stoning, and this
one deserves burning, and this one deserves strangulation?” they did not know how to
bring a proof from the Torah. The sages said to them, “Is it not written, ‘According to
(literally, on the mouth of) the law that they shall teach you’ (Deut. 17-11)? This teaches
that we do not write laws (halakhot) in a book.”

Another interpretation- The Book of Decrees (Sefer Gezerata) in which the Boethusians
had “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” (Ex. 21-24, Lev. 24-20). If a man had
knocked out the tooth of his fellow, let him knock out his tooth. If he had blinded the eye
of his fellow, let him blind his eye. Let them be equal to each other. 48 “And they shall
spread the sheet out before the elders of the city” (Deut. 22- 17), the words as they
are written. 49 “And she should spit before him” (Deut. 25-9), that she should spit in his
face. 50

The sages said to them- “Is it not written, ‘The law and the commandment which I have
written to teach them’ (Ex. 24-12)? And it is written, ‘And now write for yourself this
song and teach it to the children of Israel; put it in their mouths’ (Deut. 31- 19). ‘Teach it
to the children of Israel- this is Scripture, ‘Put it in their mouths- these are the laws
(halakhot).” 51 They made the day on which they abolished it a holiday.

45. Trans. L. H. Schiffman.

46. The Sifer Gezerata, “Book of Decrees,” was understood here to be a compilation of laws of Sadducean
character. No book of this title is known, but such legal compilations are found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

47. Many scholars have accepted the interpretation of the scholion that this book was a Sadducean book of
penalties relating to capital crimes.

48. The Boethusians are portrayed as adopting a literal interpretation of the Bible according to which “an
eye for an eye” refers not to financial penalties but to the physical infliction of equivalent damage.

49. In regard to a claim of non-virginity made after a marriage, the Torah used this expression which
Rabbinic tradition understood figuratively, indicating investigation. The Boethusians are portrayed as
taking this literally.

50. The ceremony of halizah for avoiding levirate marriage requires spitting which the Rabbinic tradition
understood to be done “in front of” the man. The Boethusians took the expression “in his face” literally.

51. The oral law without which no literal interpretation can be considered authoritative.

Posted in: Uncategorized

Comments are closed.