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Pesikta de-Rav Kahana

PESIKTA DE-RAV KAHANA (Aram. פְּסִיקְתָּא דְרַב כָּהֲנָא), one of the oldest of the homiletic Midrashim. The word pesikta means "the section" or "the portion." The Pesikta de-Rav Kahana contains homilies on portions of the Torah and haftarah readings for the festivals and special *Sabbaths. There are two editions of this text which are similar in the following order of contents: Chapter 1, on Torah readings for Ḥanukkah; Chapters 2–6, on Torah readings for the special *Sabbaths and Parashat ha-Ḥodesh; Chapters 7–12, on Torah readings for *Passover and *Shavuot; Chapters 13–22, 24, 25, on readings for the 12 haftarot of the three Sabbaths of "reproof " (before the Ninth of *Av) and the seven Sabbaths of "consolation" (after the Ninth of Av); and an additional two (this section is often referred to in rabbinical literature as "The Midrash דש״ח נו״ע אר״ק שד״א," an acronym consisting of the first letters of each of the *haftarot (see Tos. Meg. 31b)). Chapters 23 to the end consist of Torah readings for *Rosh Ha-Shanah and the *Day of Atonement; haftarah readings for the Sabbath of Repentance, seliḥot; Torah readings for *Sukkot, Shemini Aẓeret.

In 1832 L. *Zunz, in an ingenious work of scholarship, demonstrated the existence of Pesikta de-Rav Kahana, as distinct from the *Pesikta Rabbati and the Pesikta Zutarta, although there was no text or manuscript available to him. On the basis of references and readings in the medieval Yalkut Shimoni and especially in the Arukh, Zunz even went so far as to propose an order of contents of 29 chapters. Chapter 1, on Rosh Ha-Shanah, was followed by the festivals and special Sabbaths in the normal cycle of the year. It has since been demonstrated, on the basis of its language and of rabbis and place names mentioned, that the Pesikta is a Palestinian text, probably of the fifth century. In 1868 Solomon Buber published an edition of the Pesikta based on four manuscripts. The discovery of these manuscripts represented a remarkable confirmation of Zunz's basic proposition – the existence of the Pesikta. However, the arrangement of chapters in Buber's edition, as indicated above, begins the cycle of the year with the chapter on Ḥanukkah.

The confirmation of the original structure of the Pesikta was made possible by the discovery of a new Oxford manuscript of the 16th century. It is the only one of the manuscripts which has a table of contents beginning the cycle of the year with the chapter on Rosh Ha-Shanah, almost exactly as Zunz surmised in his arrangement of the order of chapters.

The name of the work is somewhat obscure. Zunz and Buber believe that the authorship was attributed to Rav Kahana because of a reading in the 12 chapters beginning with the Sabbath after the 17th of Tammuz. The first chapter in this unit opens as follows: "'The words of Jeremiah' (Jer. 1:1) R. Abba b. Kahana opened…." An alternative theory that is suggested now is based on the opening lines in the chapter of Rosh Ha-Shanah in two manuscripts which open with a reference to Rav Kahana. If the Pesikta begins with Rosh Ha-Shanah, it is correct to assume that the name Pesikta de-Rav Kahana was based on a version which made its first reference to this amora in its opening lines.

There are six known manuscripts of the Pesikta (three from Oxford, and one each in Carmoly, Casanatense, and Safed). An analysis of their contents in terms of the Palestinian tradition of the portion of Torah which is read on a particular festival, or the reading for a second day (non-Palestinian; see *Festivals), yields the conclusion that the new Oxford manuscript, which begins with Rosh Ha-Shanah, is a consistently closer reflection of the tradition of Palestine where the Pesikta originated.

This manuscript, reflecting an old, original source, has many excellent readings on individual words and phrases. However, its special importance derives from the order of chapters which renders it possible to establish the original structure of the Pesikta. It is almost exactly the same as the remarkable prediction made by Zunz, at a time when a copy of the Pesikta was not available. However, in the new Oxford manuscript, an excerpt of the chapter on Shavuot and the chapter on *Simḥat Torah come at the very end of the manuscript, after the chapter for the last Sabbath of the year. This would indicate that these two chapters for the second day of a holiday, observed outside of Palestine, were not part of the original Pesikta, which is of Palestinian origin. In all probability, a later scribe came upon these two chapters, which are similar in style (although definitely of later origin) to the Pesikta, and attached them as an addendum to the manuscript. Each of the six manuscripts has such addenda within a chapter or complete chapters attached which are not to be found in the other manuscripts. This practice by scribes of adding material similar to the books which they were copying was not uncommon in ancient times.

It may therefore be concluded that the original order of the Pesikta chapters followed the cycle of the Jewish calendar, beginning with Rosh Ha-Shanah and concluding with the Sabbath before Rosh Ha-Shanah, as found in the new Oxford manuscript and anticipated some 130 years ago by Zunz.


Pesikta de-Rav Kahana, ed. by B. Mandelbaum (1962), introd.; Zunz, Vortraege; Pesikta de-Rav Kahana, ed. by S. Buber (1868), introd.; Midrash Va-Yikra Rabbah, ed. by M. Margulies, 5 (1960), xiii; Goldberg, in: KS, 43 (1967/68), 68–79.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.