By Michael Fishbane
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Additional resources for Midrashic Imagination Jewish Exegesis, Thought, and History
Though the supremacy of the Mishnah as an exegetical form did not last long, the theological repercussions of its ascendancy as the authoritative code of Jewish law have been long felt. Theological claims about the extent of the divinity of the Oral Law were, as we have also seen, not uniform. Conceptions of such revelation ranged from the minimalistic, which proposed that only the principles or guidelines of the Oral Law were divinely revealed, to the maximalistic, which asserted that even the nonhalakhic elements of the entire Rabbinic corpus were revealed by God at Mount Sinai.
The obligation to recite the Shema in the first place had to be established before its proper time frame could be clarified. The Gemara was seemingly uncomfortable with a free-floating legal text that seemed to begin in media res, unanchored by scriptural support or reference. Thus, though the mishnaic strategy of organizing and classif}lng law gained ascendancy in the early centuries of the common era, the midrashic connection to Scripture was never fully neglected or severed. Indeed, as I have argued in Midrash, Mishnah, and Gemara,3 the Stammaim (the anonymous redactors of the Talmud) resuscitated and replenished the midrashic method (though not its precise literary form), leaving the apodictic mishnaic mode as an aberration in the overall history ofJewish exegesis.
It became part of history. From Midrash to Mishnah 37 Appendix I subsequently realized that the reluctance to embrace chate'u Yisrael may stem in part from the popular belief that nitkatnu hadorot, the spiritual diminution of the generations, constitutes an essential tenet of Judaism. Accordingly, the closer one lived to the giving of the Torah, the closer one was to the truth. The people of the First Temple, therefore, by virtue of their proximity to revelation possessed a purer, clearer vision of the nature of the Divine and His commandments than subsequent generations-an assumption that chate'u Yisrael denies.