Simi Peters writes in the journal Tradition (43:2, Summer 2010 – link – registration required):
The question of how best to understand aggadot Hazal goes back as far as the Geonic period. While centuries of traditional Jewish scholarship resulted in a large body of halakhic literature and the development of well honed methodologies for halakha study, there is a relative paucity of sources on aggadic texts. Approaches to aggada also tend to be less systematic than approaches to halakha and not as completely articulated. This has led to the unfortunate neglect of serious aggada study in the traditional bet midrash. R. Yitzchak Blau’s book, Fresh Fruit and Vintage Wine, is an attempt to promote the study of aggadot Hazal by making them more accessible to a wide range of readers.
R. Blau makes a compelling case for the importance of incorporating aggada study into the contemporary Talmud classroom. One thought-provoking insight he offers is that the Sages themselves saw fit to integrate halakha and aggada in the body of the Talmud, an indication that they meant these texts to reflect on each other. He also argues convincingly that these ancient sources are particularly valuable in helping educators address present-day educational problems. Because aggadic material has a timeless quality, it is well suited to addressing contemporary issues, making it a boon for those teachers whose students find the halakhic portions of Gemara religiously uninspiring. R. Blau suggests that exposure to aggada “will enhance [students’] respect for Gemara and have a helpful trickle-down impact on their study of halakhic material.”
Fresh Fruit and Vintage Wine is an ambitious undertaking…