Tosefta Shabbat: Introduction, Translation and Commentary

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Theology and Religion


The Tosefta tractate Shabbat is an important though underresearched early rabbinic text. Scholarship has long neglected it in favour of its 'older sibling', the Mishnah tractate Shabbat. But this neglect is unjustified: Tosefta Shabbat features a number of significant distinctive concepts within Sabbath law, such as a different conceptualisation of the 'domains' between which carrying is forbidden, or a more developed discourse on the permissibility of 'life saving' on the Sabbath. In addition, the tractate contains a sizable section on certain types of magic (the so-called 'Ways of the Amorites', chs. 6-7), which needs to be studied both in its own right and in relation to the composition as a whole. The tractate shows the rabbis' unfolding engagement with Sabbath law, and while some passages seem to presuppose the parallel in the Mishnah, there may be others in which the Tosefta has preserved older material: a detailed comparison is called for. In addition, the manuscript situation needs to be revisited, as recent finds of Tosefta fragments in Italy suggest that one of the two main textual witnesses for the Tosefta (Codex Erfurt) has been underrated in its value by scholars who have worked on the Tosefta. The only comprehensive analysis of Tosefta Shabbat so far is contained in Saul Lieberman's Tosefta Ki-Fshutah, a work written in dense Hebrew that is accessible only to a fairly small circle of experts. The aim of the present research is to produce the first comprehensive study ever of Tosefta Shabbat in a Western modern language, thereby contributing to making rabbinic discourse on the Sabbath available to a wider audience. The study will provide an introduction to the tractate and a detailed commentary on its structure, its concepts, and its language in general, as well as on individual phrases in particular. It will be based on a new translation of the tractate that takes full account of the manuscript evidence. The resulting volume will appear in the established Tosefta series published by Kohlhammer (Stuttgart).

Planned Impact

1. The research may have an impact on members of Christian churches, insofar as they may draw on the results of the research to inform their view and assessment of the Sabbath, a topic that regularly comes up in Christian catechesis, since it figures importantly in the Ten Commandments and in Jesus' own practice of healing non-acutely sick on this day.

2. It may in particular benefit participants in the Christian-Jewish dialogue, insofar as practitioners will better understand a core rabbinic text on an important Jewish institution. Typically, rabbinic texts feature more centrally in this dialogue than, say, texts from the Second Temple period.

3. It may also have an impact on Jewish communities and / or Jewish readers, insofar as it helps elucidate one textual witness for Sabbath law in Ancient Judaism.

4. Additionally, there may be a particular interest on the part of Seventh Day Adventists, a denomination with over 15 Mio. members worldwide. Members of this denomination celebrate the Sabbath and keep it in a way that is not identical, but shows some analogy, with the Jewish dicourse about rest and abstention from work. Seventh Day Adventist scholars, particularly from North America, engage in the elucidation of the Jewish Sabbath and take part in relevant sessions and seminars of the guild. My previous work on the Sabbath has also found interest amongst this group.

5. More generally, aspects of the research may be of interest to ethical theorists and political practitioners, insofar as it discusses elements of a praxis-orientated notion of time, in which work is regularly, and in a socially co-ordinated manner, interrupted by rest. Aspects of this notion appear to be of high socio-political relevance in the context of a 24/7 economy that has largely lost the sense of a distinction between times and of common (as opposed to individual) rest and leisure.


10 25 50

publication icon
Doering, L. (2016) Sabbath

publication icon
Doering, L. (2016) Havdalah

Description I have been able to elucidate a number of legal concepts in the text studied and to compare them with parallels in the Mishnah, yielding a complex picture of the relationship between the two texts.
Exploitation Route By further scholarly analysis and testing of the results that will be made available in the final publication.
Sectors Other

Description My research on the Sabbath has been taken up in Christian-Jewish dialogue, both in terms of publications and in terms of speaking engagements.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other
Impact Types Cultural

Description Cluster of Excellence "Religion and Politics", University of Münster
Amount € 190,000 (EUR)
Organisation German Research Foundation 
Sector Public
Country Germany
Start 11/2014 
End 10/2017