Hermeneutics (Drash)

A method for learning Torah, developed by the rabbis of the Talmud.

Print this page Print this page

Considerations of space permit only a brief outline of Rabbi Ishmael's thirteen principles. The earliest source in which they are found is the Midrash known as Sifra, the introduction to which begins with: "Rabbi Ishmael says, by means of thirteen principles the Torah is expounded' and then gives the following list.

1. Kal Vachomer (also known as a fortiori): The inference from the minor to the major: If A is so then A2 is certainly so.
2. Gezera Shava: An inference by a similar expression used in two different texts. A law found in one text applies also to the other text.
3. Binyan Av: A conclusion derived from a construction stated in a single verse or from one stated in two verses.
4. Klal Ufrat: A general statement followed by a statement of a particular instance. Only this particular instance is intended by the general statement.
5. Prat Ukhlal: A particular statement followed by a general statement. The general statement is intended to include instances other than that in the particular statement.
6. Klal Ufrat Ukhlal: A general statement followed by a particular statement followed by another general statement. Other instances than those in the particular statement are to be included but only if these are similar to that in the particular statement.
7. Klal Shehu Tzarih Lifrat: A general statement requires a particular statement for its meaning or a particular statement requires a general statement for its meaning. Here the general and the particular complement one another.
8. A general statement is followed by a particular statement but something new is mentioned in the particular. This new addition is to be applied to the general statement.
9. Particular instances of a general rule are treated specifically in details similar to those in the general rule; then only the relaxations, not the severities, of the general rule are to be applied in these instances.
10. When particular instances of a general rule are treated specifically in details dissimilar to those included in the general rule, then both relaxations and severities are to be applied in those instances.
11. When a particular instance of a general rule is singled out for completely fresh treatment, the details contained in the general rule must not be applied to this instance unless Scripture does so specifically.
12. The meaning of a passage can be derived either from its context or from a statement later on in the same passage.
13. When two verses appear to contradict one another, a third verse can be discovered which reconciles them. In addition to Rabbi Ishmael's thirteen, other hermeneutical principles are found in the Talmudic literature. For instance, it is generally accepted that the portions of the Torah are not arranged necessarily in chronological order, so that events related in a later passage have taken place before those related in an earlier passage. Another principle is that while there can be additional interpretations of a scriptural verse, the verse does not lose entirely its plain meaning.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.