Midrash (/ˈmɪdrɑːʃ/;[1] Hebrew: מִדְרָשׁ; pl. מִדְרָשִׁים midrashim) is biblical exegesis by ancient Judaic authorities,[2] using a mode of interpretation prominent in the Talmud. The word itself means "textual interpretation", or "study",[3] derived from the root verb darash (דָּרַשׁ‎), which means "resort to, seek, seek with care, enquire, require", forms of which appear frequently in the Hebrew Bible.

Title page, Midrash Tehillim

Midrash and rabbinic readings "discern value in texts, words, and letters, as potential revelatory spaces", writes the Hebrew scholar Wilda Gafney. "They reimagine dominant narratival readings while crafting new ones to stand alongside—not replace—former readings. Midrash also asks questions of the text; sometimes it provides answers, sometimes it leaves the reader to answer the questions".[4]

Vanessa Lovelace defines midrash as "a Jewish mode of interpretation that not only engages the words of the text, behind the text, and beyond the text, but also focuses on each letter, and the words left unsaid by each line".[5]

The term is also used of a rabbinic work that interprets Scripture in that manner.[6][7] Such works contain early interpretations and commentaries on the Written Torah and Oral Torah (spoken law and sermons), as well as non-legalistic rabbinic literature (aggadah) and occasionally Jewish religious laws (halakha), which usually form a running commentary on specific passages in the Hebrew Scripture (Tanakh).[8]

"Midrash", especially if capitalized, can refer to a specific compilation of these rabbinic writings composed between 400 and 1200 CE.[1][9]

According to Gary Porton and Jacob Neusner, "midrash" has three technical meanings:

  1. Judaic biblical interpretation;
  2. the method used in interpreting;
  3. a collection of such interpretations.[10]