Sefer Ha-Aggadah, The Book of Legends

17415Imagine having a book which organizes all or most of the midrashic stories and legends into one volume ordered thematically to follow the Bible and important topics. Wouldn’t that be a resource too good to be true?

Well, its not because it is true and it does exist.

Hayyim Bialik (1873 – 1934), the national poet of Israel and perhaps the best known Hebrew poet in history collaborated with Y.H. Rawnitzky in 1911 to compile most of the rabbinic stories and legends and homilies into one volume organized so the non-expert can access them.

This is a monumental achievement when you realize the staggering breadth of rabbinic literature and the years and commitment it takes to master this literature. The Book of Legends is a shortcut worth knowing about. It won’t make any of us experts, but it will enable us to read with context and some clarity pieces of rabbinic thought which illuminate Jewish thought and often add dimension to our biblical understanding.

Schocken, a Jewish press, publishes the book in English only, and it is available on amazon for $50.37 — not bad considering the book has 984 pages of fairly small type.

In the beginning are short chapters explaining the meaning of aggadah and parables. The chapters from there are organized according to the Bible and topics with detailed headings and subheadings. The major headings include:
2. The Work of Creation and the First Generation
3. The Deeds of the Fathers
4. Israel in Egypt and the Departure from Egypt
5. Israel in the Wilderness
6. Judges, Kings, and Prophets
7. The Destruction of the First Temple
8. The Era Between the First and Second Temple
9. The Second Temple — Its Structure and Its Service
10. The Destruction of the Second Temple and the Land
11. The Deeds of the Sages
12. Israel and the Nations of the World
13. The Land of Israel
14. Language
15. Exile
16. Redemption and the Days of Messiah
17. In the Time to Come
18. Torah
19. Wisdom, Prophecy, and Song
20. Sabbath, Feasts, and Fasts
21. The Holy One, Blessed Be He, And Relations Between Human Beings and Him Who Is Everywhere
22. Good and Evil
23. Man and His Needs
24. A Man’s Household
25. Between Man and Man
26. Traits and Attitudes
27. The Community, the State, and Their Requirements
28. The World and All That It Holds
29. Matters Pertaining to Divination and Healing
30. Parables, Proverbs, and Sayings
31. A Miscellany


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Bible, Book Reviews, Judaism, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism, Talmud and Tradition and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Sefer Ha-Aggadah, The Book of Legends

  1. nshapiro85 says:

    How does this differ from “The Legend of the Jews”?

  2. tandi119 says:

    Can you let us know what Chapter 20 has to say about fasts? I am still interested in researching this topic, in light of the previous discussion about Luke 18, specifically… there any reference to ascetic Sabbath fasting?

    I found this article by Segal entitled, Sabbath: To Feast or to Fast?

    For those who read Hebrew, this would be of interest:

    Gilat, Yitzhak D. “On Fasting on the Sabbath,” Tarbiz 52, no. 1 (1982): 1-15.

  3. nshapiro85:

    It is similar. I do not have Ginzberg, but my rabbinics mentor told me about it when I spoke to him about The Book of Legends. Do you have Ginzberg? I’d love to have a summary or review of it. Perhaps you could email it to me or post it as a comment. If you write a good review, I’d consider posting it as a guest blog entry here.


  4. Tandi:

    The aggadic midrash on fasting in The Book of Legends focuses on fasting for the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av. It does not deal with the halakhah of fasting and Shabbat.

    My understanding (no time now to verify) is that fasting is now forbidden on Shabbat except when Yom Kippur is on Shabbat (maybe 9th of Av also).

    The proto-rabbinic practice of fasting on Tuesdays and Thursdays is well-established and is almost certainly what the Pharisee was referring to in Matthew. There is no reason to believe he meant fasting on Shabbat. I believe your mentor and teacher agrees with me on this one.


  5. nshapiro85 says:

    I don’t own a copy of it (but I’ve seen it in print form in my pastor’s office). But Sacred Text has it in full (I presume) online:

    I’ve read portions of it. It mostly runs as a narrative parallel to the biblical story, expanding on them according to Jewish traditions and stories.

  6. tandi119 says:


    The more my “mentor and teacher” is mocked, ostracized, and rejected, the more the situation reminds me of Yeshua and His disciples. : )

    Yes, Dan agrees with you re: Monday and Thursday fasting, yet he is open to new information if it should come forth.

    Check out this discussion at a Greek language forum. Apparently there are others, like Sven, worldwide who question the status quo re: mia ton sabbaton.



    (Re-posting this as I posted two links the first time, triggering comment moderation. The second link is available at the bottom of the page of the link above.)

    • Tandi119:

      It happens in written communication that people read sarcasm where it does not exist. I intended no sarcasm when I referred to your mentor and teacher.

      Mocked? Not by me. To mock is to belittle. I would say I sharply disagreed and stated my intention not to promote his material which I find objectionable.

      As for internet research, I should clarify what I meant. Some time ago I did make a disparaging remark. I did not mean you cannot find reputable, well-argued, well-researched information via the internet. I was referring to a common phenomenon in which people cite “authorities” from the internet who turn out to be self-styled experts unaware of existing research and yet who make pronouncements as though they should have a voice to compete with real experts. The information you found in Davies and Allison is fine and worthy of note.


  7. tandi119 says:

    Ridiculed “Internet Research” has turned up another reference to Gilat. I hope someone will check out this reference and report the findings.

    A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, by William David Davies, Dale C. Allison p. 312

    “Although we have not brought the fact into the discussion, fasting was traditionally forbidden by some Jews on the sabbath (cf. Jud 8:6; Jub. 50:12; SB 1, pp. 611-15), and this might have something to do with our pericope, to wit: at least Jesus’ critics could not complain that his disciples should have fasted all day. But was the prohibition widespread? See Y. D. Gilat, ‘On Fasting on the Sabbath’, Tarbiz 51 (1983), pp. 1-15.”

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