The Character and Source of Megillat Ta`anit

Meir Bar-Ilan

The purpose of this article is to study one of the Talmudical texts known as Megillat Ta`anit (The Scroll of Fasts), a text whose very title indicates it was written on a scroll unlike other Talmud texts that reflect oral tradition.

Megillat Ta`anit is made up of a list of several items arranged according to the Jewish calendar. Each of the items indicates the day or days when, according to the author, it was forbidden to mourn or to fast. After each day there is an explanation that gives the historical background for including the day(s) in the list. This article will analyse the scroll, the Aramaic headings and the Hebrew commentary of the Tannaim, in order to show that the essence of the scroll is the list of headings only and not the commentary accreted already in Talmudic times.

Analysis of the headings reveals that the scroll was composed in the Temple in Jerusalem as a manual for determining the ritual in the Temple. This document was accepted as part of the spiritual inheritance of the Tannaim and they were the ones who added the commentaries (in Hebrew) that were not always faithful to the original or to the historical background.

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last updated: October 14, 1996 - November 2005