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There are times when the Talmud uses references to Tanach that do not seem to be proofs per se. They may not follow the middot and are more like hints. This has been discussed in answers to another question I asked.

For example, I was reading theories in the Talmud about the relationship between Ktav Ivri and Ktav Ashuri in the historical writing of sacred texts, eg. the Torah scroll. One of the places where it's mentioned is in Sanhedrin 21b (the end) and 22a. You can see how "the mishnah of this Torah" was read so as to imply a changed script. And the other references to Ezra ascending from Babylon, the writing Daniel saw on the wall, "that which was foretold would change," and "I have set God before me always"... They aren't plain readings and so seem more like hints for already-formed historical speculations and/or traditions rather than proofs.

One answer mentioned how in the Chumash העמק דבר , introduction to the Sefer Vayikro, the Netziv says:

“there are many droshos and halochos which Chazal did not learn in the Sifro through some difficulty in the biblical text but because of the traditions that they had from the Oral law” and this occurs frequently in Vayikro. He further says, “there is no tradition that is not hinted at in the biblical text” and “if these laws were not authorised from the Oral Law, they would not have been derived from the biblical text.” Even though this is about law, I guess it would also apply to history.

So I'd like to know...

1) How could he know that “there is no tradition that is not hinted at in the biblical text”? And would you agree that a high level of significance was placed in the hints? Even though they are only being used as anchors rather than proofs, the fact that they exist does seem to have a lot of resonance to the rabbis here. That gives me a foreign feeling and I want to understand how they really thought.

2) Maybe on top of just an interest in hints, they used seemingly random verses due to a desire to be thorough or find intricate connectedness. To take every theory and talk about whether it indeed could harmonise with all of the verses that had come to be seen as somehow relevant to the topic. For example, certain verses may have been part of the discussion for one reason or another, and then each opinion would talk about their interpretation of such verses... not as necessarily relevant to their own, not always as proof of anything (when they knew they weren't bringing the plain meaning), but just in the desire to show that their possible answer was engaging with every little place of the discussion in a unified way. Would this be considered a fair idea about their intentions, or not?

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2 Answers 2

There is a name for this. It is called an "asmachta"

Due to some grammatical and theological issues, the statement by the Netziv is misleading as translated.

When he writes: "“there is no tradition that is not hinted at in the biblical text” What he means is the following.

For every oral tradition that was not based on the text of the Torah, there is a pasuk which has been assigned to that oral tradition, as an aide to memory. (Rambam, intro to the Mishna)

Normally, if I am not mistaken, the first hint that something is an asmachta and not a proof text, is the fact that the verse is from Neviim or Ketuvim,and not a pasuk from the Torah. But sometimes pasuks from the Torah are used as an ashmachta as well.

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Like Avi said, this is called an Asmachta (אסמכתא), usually translated as "hints." The Talmud uses these is many cases, both for laws which are DeOraita (mentioned in the Torah) and DeRabbannan (rabbinic). For the DeOraita, the hint is used a memory device to remember the law. For the DeRabbannan, the are several opinions why the rabbis did this. Some say it was to lend weight and authority to the law, so that people would consider it to be as strong as a DeOraita. Others say it these Torah itself was hinting to these laws in these verses, and that it was divine will that these rabbinic enactments come to pass. Yet others hold that it was not the Torah that was hinting, but the rabbis, who somehow understood that this is what the verse was supposed to mean.

There were later rabbis who argued on these hints, and claimed that it the hint clearly went against the meaning of the verse, then it wasn't an authentic hint. (This did not appear to have any affect on the effectiveness of the rabbinic law in question.)

[ Source: אנציקלופדיה תלמודית Encyclopedia Talmudit ]

I have not read the Netziv, and will not comment on issue #1. Regarding issue #2: I think this would be a "fair" idea, although I'm very unsure it's what they were doing. Your interpretation, with its holistic "intricate connectedness" has a very modern feel to it. But, as they say, there are 70 faces to Torah, so maybe.

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