Aggadah (Hebrew, narrative) is rabbinic teaching which is not halakhah and which stories, legends, history, and witticism. The rabbis themselves state that the aggadah is not authoritative and insist that no halakhah may be derived from aggadot, but it is held in high esteem concerning insight and piety. This is emphasized by the comment, “Do you want to know him who created the world?” read the aggadah. Aggagadic literature was developed in Palestine from the era of the second Temple until the end of the Talmudic period.
Within the literature are expressed ideas and sentiments of the tannaim
and the amoriam and draws on old myths and legends as well as popular teachings.
For example, Rabbi Hillel was supposed to know “the conversations of
trees and clouds, and of the beasts and animals,” while Rabbi Meir
was said to have known 300 fox fables.
Discourses on the rabbinical biblical teachings were preserved, and sermons
apparently were delivered at Festivals, after the reading of the Torah scroll in synagogues on occasions of family joy and sorrow and at other public functions. Such discourses preserved in aggadic literature were subsequently employed later rabbis.
In aggadic history of the literature some of the accumulative additions
seem highly fanciful to later readers. For example, the contrast between
Esau and Jacob in Genesis 27:22 is seen as a contrast between Esau’s and
Jacob’s descendants, namely the Romans and the Jews.
Theological doctrines as well were discussed, and sages attempted to
answer such questions as to whether the heaves or the earth were the first
to be created, how proselytes should be treated or whether Israel’s salvation
was dependent on prior repentance. Much later mystical speculation also
is drawn from aggadic teaching.
Although the aggadah lacked the authority of the halakhah it was the
literature from which evolved over a period of nearly a thousand years the
treasury of Jewish thought and feelings which formed the Hebrew people.