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Michael Chernick

Michael Chernick is Professor Emeritus of Rabbinic Literature at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, New York School. He has authored three books on rabbinic hermeneutics, two in Hebrew לחקר) המידות כלל ופרט וכלל וריבוי ומיעוט and (לחקר מידת גזירה שווה and one in English, A Great Voice That Did Not Cease.



Developments in the Syntax and Logic of the Talmudic Hermeneutic Kelal Uferaṭ Ukelal

Issue: 22 (The twenty second issue)
The purpose of this study is to show that the logical content of a
Tann’ayitic hermeneutic changed and developed as it passed into the hands of
the ’Amor’ayim, the Tann’ayim’s successors, and then into the anonymous
stratum of the Babylonian Talmud. This hermeneutic was based on a very
specific syntactical order in a biblical verse, which was formed by an initial
inclusive clause, followed by a list of specifics, and then followed by a second
inclusive clause. This hermeneutic is called in Hebrew kelal uferaṭ ukelal. In
the Tann’ayitic period the hermeneutic required that the second inclusive
clause had to be more extensive than the first one. It appears that this new
degree of extensiveness suggested that the list of specifics was not definitive of
the initial inclusive clause and that other things might be implied by the second
one. The way that the rabbinic interpreter determined what these things might
be was by seeking the common characteristics that the items in the specifics
clause shared. By the time of the late Tann’ayim and early ’Amor’ayim the
requirement for the two inclusive clauses had changed. The formal syntax of
the hermeneutic remained, but inclusive clauses had to be equal in their degree
of inclusivity. The change in logic seems to be the result of viewing a second,
more inclusive clause as a distinct element that could be disconnected from the
first inclusive clause and the specifics that follow it. If the two inclusive
clauses were, however, the same or similar, the rabbinic interpreter could argue
that they belonged to the same categories and thus formed a legitimate kelal
uferaṭ ukelal. In the final period of the Talmud’s creation neither the syntactic
nor logical requirements were any longer needed to form a kelal uferaṭ ukelal.
Two artificially constructed inclusive clauses and some specifics could appear
in almost any order within a biblical verse and be considered a kelal uferaṭ
ukelal. It appears that the desire of the rabbinic interpreters of each era to
connect their halakot to the Torah was the force behind the changes we have