DARSHAN (Heb. דַּרְשָׁן), a professional or qualified expounder of Scripture. Originally a darshan expounded both halakhically and aggadically on all Scripture. *Ben Zoma, called "the last of the darshanim" (Sot. 9:15), is mentioned in one passage as a halakhic darshan (Ber. 1:5) and in another, where, with his colleague *Ben Azzai, he is referred to as a darshan, the exposition is mystical (Gen. R. 5:4). As the term *Midrash, which was originally applied both to Midrash Halakhah and Midrash Aggadah, came to refer to the latter only, so the term darshan came to be applied specifically to the homiletical interpreter of the Torah. The verse in Ecclesiastes (7:5) "It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise" is thus applied to darshanim in contrast to "the song of fools" referring to the *meturgemanim who "raise their voice in song to make themselves heard by the people" (Eccl. R. ad loc.). Eleazar b. Simeon was eulogized as a "reader of Scripture, a Mishnah teacher, a paytan, and a darshan" (Lev. R. 30:1). In the Middle Ages, the word came to be applied to the professional preacher or the person who was an expert in preaching. In some of the larger Eastern European communities, a person was appointed to be the official preacher of the community, in contrast to the rabbi and the dayyan who occupied themselves with halakhah. Both the official and the itinerant preacher were usually given the title of *maggid.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.