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.