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Mekhilta. The Mekhilta is an important commentary on Exodus. It is essential to note that there are two separate versions of this midrash collection. One is "Mekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael" and the other is "Mekhilta de Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai". The former is the one that most Jews use today, but the latter is the text that was used by many medieval Jewish authorities. While the latter (ben Yohai) text was popularly circulated in manuscript form from the 11th to 16th centuries, it was lost for all practical purposes until it was rediscovered and printed in the 19th century.
Mekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael. This is a halakhic commentary on Exodus, concentrating on the legal sections, from Exodus 12 to 35. It derives halakha from Biblical verses. This midrash collection was redacted into its final form around the 3rd or 4th century CE; its contents indicate that its sources are some of the oldest midrashim, dating back possibly to the time of Rabbi Akiva. The midrash on Exodus that was known to the Amoraim is not the same as our current mekhilta; their version was only the core of what later grew into the present form.
Mekhilta de Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai. Based on the same core material as Mekhlita de Rabbi Ishmael, it followed a second route of commentary and editing, and eventually emerged as a distinct work. The Mekhlita de Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai is an exegetical midrash on Exodus 3 to 35, and is very roughly dated to near the 4th century CE.
Sifra. A comprehensive halakhic commentary on Vayikra (Leviticus), which works through all of Leviticus verse by verse. References in the Talmud to the Sifra are ambiguous; It is uncertain whether the texts mentioned in the Talmud are to an earlier version of our Sifra, or to the sources that the Sifra also drew upon. However, we do know that the references to the Sifra from the time of the Geonim and after are to the text that is extant today. The core of this text developed in the mid-3rd century as a critique and commentary of the Mishnah, although subsequent additions and editing went on for some time afterwards.
Sifre Numbers. A mainly halakhic midrash on Bamidbar (Numbers). It also includes a long haggadic piece in sections 78-106. References in the Talmud, and in the later Geonic literature, indicate that the original core of Sifre was on Numbers, Exodus and Deuteronomy. However, transmission of the text was imperfect, and by the middle ages, only the commentary on Numbers and Deuteronomy remained. The core material was redacted around the middle of the 3rd century.
Sifre Zutta (The small Sifre). A Halakhic commentary on Bamidbar (Numbers). The text of this midrash is only partially preserved in medieval works, while other portions were discovered by Solomon Schecter in his research in the famed Cairo Geniza. It seems to be older than most other midrash, coming from the early 3rd century. Terminology alert: Maimonides refers to this work as Mekhlita (de rabbi Ishamel) in his Sefer Ha'Mitzvot.
Sifre Deuteronomy. An exegetical and halakhic midrash on Deuteronomy. Redacted near the late 3rd century.
Midrash Tannaim (also known as Mekhilta on Deuteronomy). This was a Halakhic midrash on Deuteronomy, of which only fragments exist today. Only portions of it can be reconstructed from quotes in other extant works, including Genizah fragments.
The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.
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