Ishmael b. Phiabi Burned Two: A New Text from the Geniza on a Pharisee-Sadducee Debate

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One of the few disagreements among different Second Temple groups documented in writings that present both opposing viewpoints concerns the level of impurity of the priest who burns the red heifer. A baraita in Tosefta Parah (3.6) reports a dispute between a high priest, Ishmael ben Phiabi, and the Pharisees over this issue, and includes arguments offered by each side to support its view. In the case recorded, the ashes of the red heifer were discarded, a matter of grave consequence considering how infrequently, according to rabbinic tradition, the ashes of the red heifer were prepared. Scholars who have dealt with this passage have pointed to serious difficulties in the readings, but all of their proposed solutions involve either unsupported textual emendations or strained interpretations of the words as they stand. This paper examines a new version of the story discovered in an early Geniza fragment of the Tosefta that contains several significant variants which taken together lead to a definitive reading of the arguments presented by the various sides. The new version of the story enables us to better understand this dispute within the framework of the halakhic thought of the rival groups, the Dead Sea sect and the Pharisees, and to analyze the dialogue ascribed to the opponents in terms of the nominalism-vs.-realism discourse.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)357-377
Number of pages21
JournalThe Jewish Quarterly Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (grant number 1292/18) and by the Beit Shalom Fund, Kyoto, Japan. I would like to thank Professor Adiel Schremer and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.


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