Megillat Ta’anit and Its Scholion (Commentary)
Although the name Megillat Ta’anit may remind readers of Megillat Esther, unlike Esther, it is only a list of dates, and not a narrative work. It is written in Aramaic, and dates to the end of the Second Temple period. It includes about thirty-five occasions, arranged according to the order of the yearly calendar, with a brief mention of the event that happened on each date. The document’s purpose is halakhic, as stated in the opening line:
These are the days on which one must not fast, and on some of them one must [also] not deliver eulogies.
The document thus forbids the community from fasting on these dates because various happy events occurred on them.
The Scholion (Commentary)
Already in an early period, a tradition of interpretation, written in Hebrew, became attached to Megillat Ta’anit. Scholars call this the “scholion” (the Greek word for comments or interpretations). The scholion identifies and explains the events mentioned in the original work (hereafter: “the megillah”). Thus, it supplements each of the dates in the megillah with various types of stories, legends, and homilies that are directly or indirectly relevant to the holidays.
The scholion includes large sections that have parallels in the Talmud and in rabbinic literature in general, but nearly half of it is unparalleled in other extant source. Its early form is preserved in two main versions, which I have named “O (א)” and “P (פ),” as well as a hybrid version that is an amalgamation of the two. This hybrid version, which appears in most of the manuscripts of Megillat Ta’anit as well as in the printed editions, is full of internal contradictions, discordant wording, and awkward seams.
Megillat Ta’anit and the Scholion in the Talmuds
Nearly ten different passages in the Babylonian Talmud (Bavli), and one long discussion (and two other brief references) in the Talmud Yerushalmi from the Land of Israel, discuss Megillat Ta’anit, from various aspects and for various purposes. The discussions in the Bavli include some texts that seem to parallel the scholion, implying that Babylonian Talmudic sages and editors of Talmudic sugyot already had some version of the scholion.
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March 1, 2015
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Prof. Vered Noam is Professor in the Department of Jewish Philosophy and Talmud at Tel Aviv University. She holds a Ph.D. in Talmud from the Hebrew University, and in 2020, she became the first woman to ever win the Israel Prize for Talmudic Studies. Noam is the author of Megillat Ta’anit (YBZ 2003, Hebrew), From Qumran to the Rabbinic Revolution (YBZ 2010, Hebrew), Shifting Images of the Hasmoneans (Oxford, 2018), and (with Tal Ilan) of Josephus and the Rabbis (YBZ 2017, Hebrew).
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