ה׳ במרחשון ה׳תשע״ב (November 2, 2011)

Hullin 129a-b – Megillat Ta’anit – The oldest example of the Oral Torah in writing

 

 

In an attempt to prove his point regarding a question of ritual defilement, Rabbi Yehoshua points to a rule that appears in Megillat Ta’anit. In Megillat Ta’anit we find the tradition taught that on the “small Passover” – that is, on the 14th day of Iyyar when the Passover sacrifice was brought by those who were impure or were situated such that they could not bring the sacrifice on the 14th of Nissan as required (see Bamidbar Chapter 9) – no mourning or eulogies were permitted. Rabbi Yehoshua concludes by means of an a fortiori argument that on the Pesach holiday itself there is no question that eulogies are forbidden. Thus he argues that in a case where a limb from a living animal defiles, certainly if it is from a dead animal it must defile, as well.

 

Megillat Ta’anit is a little known collection of statements about minor holidays and fasts that commemorate events which took place during the Second Temple period. On the minor holidays, fasting and eulogies were forbidden. Most of the events that are commemorated are from the period of the Hasmonean monarchy – a prime example being the story of Hanukkah – although there are also events from earlier and later periods included, as well.

This work is set up chronologically, and it includes the date and a brief account of the incident written in Aramaic, followed by a fuller description of the event in Hebrew.

 

It appears that this work is the oldest example of the Oral Torah being committed to writing; of the Mishnah do not only discuss the rulings that appear in it, but also the language that was used. (Although it is not part of the standard texts of Talmud, the Steinsaltz Talmud includes it as an addendum to the volume that contains Masechet Ta’anit).