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


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 described.

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