The unedited full-text of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia


Term denoting simple Scriptural exegesis, and derived from the verb "pashaṭ." "Pashaṭ" in late Biblical Hebrew, as well as in the Mishnah, means "to spread," "to stretch out," and is figuratively used, therefore, in the sense of giving a full and detailed explanation, since through such elucidations the contents of a given Scriptural passage are extended and amplified. In the Mishnah and in the Tosefta "pashaṭ" is used but once in its figurative meaning (Mishnah Suk. iii. 11; Tosef., Pes. x. 9); and that this is the correct interpretation of "li-peshoṭ" and "posheṭ" in both these passages, and not, as Maimonides' commentary on the Mishnah declares, "to recite once," is shown by the parallel passages in Pes. 119b and Suk. 39a, where the passage in the Tosefta reads: "R. Eliezer mosifbah debarim" (he added words), implying that R. Eliezer added his explanations and interpretations to the text (Abaye's explanation of this passage can not be reconciled with the wording of the Tosefta, which has "posheṭ" and not "mosif").

"Pashaṭ" originally had, therefore, the same meaning as "darash." A distinction between "peshaṭ" as the literal sense of Scripture and "derash" as the interpretation and derivation from Scripture could not have been made in antiquity for the simple reason that the Tannaim believed that their Midrash was the true interpretation and that their "derash" was the actual sense of Scripture, and therefore "peshaṭ" (see Midrash Halakah). Only later, in the period of the Amoraim, when on account of the development of hermeneutic principles the interpretations of the Midrash often seemed forced and artificial, did scholars come to the conclusion that the natural and simple sense of Scripture was different from that given in the Midrash; and a distinction was, accordingly, made between the simple literal sense, called "peshaṭ," and the interpretation, called "derash."

It is frequently the case, therefore, that, after a passage of Scripture has been interpreted, the question arises as to its literal meaning "peshaṭeh di-ḳera" (Ḥul. 6a; 'Er. 23b). A rule, which was not, however, universally known (comp. Shab. 63a), was laid down that the literal sense must not be completely changed by the interpretation of the derash (Yeb. 24a; comp. Tos. Yom-Ṭob with Yeb. ii. 8), although it is noteworthy that this restriction of the meaning of "peshaṭ" as contrasted with "derash" is accurately observed only in the Babylonian Talmud. In the Palestinian Talmud "peshaṭ" has kept its original meaning, and is synonymous with "derash," so that in the Palestinian Talmud (Shab. xvi. 15c and B. M. ii. 8d) the verb "pashaṭ" occurs in the same sense as "darash." In like manner, in the midrashim (e.g., Gen. R. xvii. 3; Ex. R. xlvii. 8), "peshaṭ" denotes the explanation of Scripture in general, and not merely its literal meaning. In cabalistic literature "peshaṭ," as the simple literal meaning, is distinguished from "remez" (mere inference), from "derush" (interpretation), and from "sod" (the esoteric force contained in the Scriptures). All four methods of hermeneutics are comprised under the name "pardes," formed by the initials of "peshaṭ," "remez," "derush," and "sod." In relation to the study of the Talmud, "peshaṭ," means a simple rational interpretation of that work in contrast to the subtle methods of Pilpul. The expression "pashuṭ gemara" is used also for the study of the Talmud with the commentary of Solomon Yiẓḥaḳi (Rashi) only, without the Tosafot or any later commentaries. The word "pesheṭel," which is derived from "peshaṭ," denotes the exact opposite of the latter, so that it is used like "ḥilluḳ," to signify the subtle treatment of a Talmudic-rabbinic theme.

  • Abraham Geiger, Zur Talmudischen Schriftdcutung, in his Wiss. Zeit. Jüd. Theol. v. 243.
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