Sometimes I'll hear a Midrash and sometimes people might say, "Well, I don't know if it's meant to be taken literally."

When do we know when Midrashim are speaking metaphorically or when they are telling a real story?


  • 1
    I need to find it to be sure, but doesn't the Rambam criticize both those who take Midrashim literally and those who dismiss them outright?
    – Seth J
    Jan 5 '12 at 3:27
  • I think the aforementioned More Nevuchim. See answers below. @SethJ Jan 5 '12 at 3:28
  • I'm reading it. It's not so clear where the author is bringing the Rambam and where he is inserting his own ideas. And since it's anonymous ...
    – Seth J
    Jan 5 '12 at 3:30
  • @SethJ Hakdama to More Nevuchim. Beli Neder I'll take a look at it later. Jan 5 '12 at 3:33
  • 1
    I don't think this is a duplicate. It asks how to categorize individual midrashim, whereas the other question asks about "midrash" as a seemingly monolithic class (though some of the answers draw distinctions between different types of midrashim). (Can I ping @msh210 here?)
    – Fred
    Jan 5 '15 at 21:57

The answer Here here which he says Rambam in the Moreh and the Ramchal are speaking metaphorically

  • 9
    What does this mean? I can't parse this answer.
    – msh210
    Jan 5 '12 at 7:10

The Vilna Gaon (Even Shelema 8:26 citing his other works) says:

The Midrashim that seem to be nonsense (are not so). Within them is held all the secrets.

Just wanted to add this in.

  • 1
    even that is not in contradistinction to the Rambam and the Ramchal Jan 5 '12 at 3:13
  • 2
    How does this answer the question? The question wasnt which Midrashim contain wisdom; it was which are literal.
    – mevaqesh
    May 22 '17 at 23:11

Midrashim do not tell true events

In his work called Chelek, Maimonides writes that those who take Midrashim literary are "fools," while those who reject them out of hand are also "fools." Midrashim are imaginative parables, sermons designed to teach moral lessons. People should mine Midrashim for lessons about proper behavior.

  • The Rambam has no work called chelek. You mean his commentary to the chapter in Sanhedrin called Chelek. He also doesn't write what you say he writes. Read it again.
    – robev
    Jan 21 '20 at 1:47
  • Actually, he does.
    – Jonathan
    Jan 21 '20 at 5:31
  • You seem to have lifted your answer from a paragraph in this answer to a different question.
    – robev
    Jan 21 '20 at 13:02
  • Does it matter so long as I don’t copy word for word but teach the same basic truth? Is This not what Maimonides says anyway?
    – Jonathan
    Jan 21 '20 at 16:47
  • The Rambam there is coming to say that many medrashim are not literal, but that doesn't mean that all medrashim are non-literal. The question is, how do we know when to say that a story in the medrash that could be literal is and when to say that it is a parable.
    – Mordechai
    Jan 21 '20 at 19:39

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