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
    Commented Jan 5, 2012 at 3:27
  • I think the aforementioned More Nevuchim. See answers below. @SethJ Commented Jan 5, 2012 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
    Commented Jan 5, 2012 at 3:30
  • @SethJ Hakdama to More Nevuchim. Beli Neder I'll take a look at it later. Commented Jan 5, 2012 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
    Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 21:57

3 Answers 3


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 Commented Jan 5, 2012 at 3:13
  • 2
    How does this answer the question? The question wasnt which Midrashim contain wisdom; it was which are literal.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented May 22, 2017 at 23:11

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
    Commented Jan 5, 2012 at 7:10

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
    Commented Jan 21, 2020 at 1:47
  • Actually, he does.
    – Jonathan
    Commented Jan 21, 2020 at 5:31
  • You seem to have lifted your answer from a paragraph in this answer to a different question.
    – robev
    Commented Jan 21, 2020 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
    Commented Jan 21, 2020 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
    Commented Jan 21, 2020 at 19:39

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