Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Talmud - the Lifeblood of Judaism


[the first page of a lifelong journey]

The essense of Judaism is the Talmud. The basis of all Jewish law is the Talmud and these laws govern every aspect of a Jew's life. An Orthodox Jew's greatest aspiration is to be an expert in the Talmud and most adult Orthodox Jews study the Talmud daily. An Orthodox Jewish woman's highest aspiration is to marry a Talmudic scholar and to encourage her husband's study.

Studying the Talmud can however be daunting to modern students.

First of all, I believe that the Talmud is not a complete book. What happened is that the rabbinical law was originally passed down orally from generation to generation. Jews would spend every spare moment reviewing and repeating the laws of the Torah as it is stated "thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up" (Deut. 6:7).

Eventually, however, a brief summary of the rabbinical law had to be recorded in order to prevent the loss of legal details. This was the Talmud, compiled in what is now Iraq about 500 CE. The Talmud is therefore not an encyclopedia of Jewish law - it is a memory aid for people who are already fluent in Jewish law. Even after mastering the languages (a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic) the modern reader is often lost and hopelessly confused when attempting to study the Talmud. The commentaries of Rashi and Tosofos help to some degree, however they were also written for an audience which already had a high level of Talmudic knowledge.

Thank God, a new edition of the Talmud has now been published which solves this problem - the Schottenstein edition from Artscroll publishers. This edition includes a translation with a commentary embedded in it and lengthy footnotes, which makes the Talmud intelligable to the modern English speaking reader. With 72 volumes, it dwarfs the Encyclopedia Brittanica at 32 volumes.

Nevertheless, the style of the Talmud is unique. The earlier Talmudic sages were experts in finding meaning in tiny nuances of Scripture, an art which was afterwards lost. The later Talmudic sages were experts in finding meaning in tiny nuances of the comments of the earlier sages. Today we no longer have the insight and expertise to understand the criteria used by the Talmudic sages for their analysis and therefore we must simply accept their conclusions as facts, even if the reasoning behind their conclusions may be obscure. The validity of the Talmud rests upon the assumption that earlier generations, being closer to the revelation at Mount Sinai, were on a proportionally higher level of spirituality and scholarship.

For the sincere Orthodox Jew, the Talmud is his lifelong love, his mobile holy sanctuary, his refuge from all sadness and persecution, his source of all inspiration. Other religions have their huge cathedrals, mosques or temples. For the Jew, exiled and persecuted, with everything physical taken from him, the Talmud is his monument to spirituality.

22 comments:

Mr. Cohen said...

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GodAwful said...

"Today we no longer have the insight and expertise to understand the criteria used by the Talmudic sages for their analysis and therefore we must simply accept their conclusions as facts, even if the reasoning behind their conclusions may be obscure."

Of course we do. We don't need any special insight to conclude that most of the talmud is a hodgepodge of primitive obsolescence.
It certainly hasn't provided much cheer or providence for you.

"For the Jew, exiled and persecuted, with everything physical taken from him, the Talmud is his monument to spirituality."
I suppose this is an anesthetizing refuge for people smitten by the affliction of Chareidi fundamentalism. Is your family still thrilled with your loss of employment and expulsion from nursing school?
Yessir, that talmud sure is the beacon of spirituality. Its done wonders for you.

jewish philosopher said...

"a hodgepodge of primitive obsolescence"

You mean compared to that citadel of pure atheism, North Korea, where countless thousands of innocent people including children are starving at this moment in death camps?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camp_22

"I suppose this is an anesthetizing refuge for people smitten by the affliction of Chareidi fundamentalism."

Antisemitism has always existed; I knew that when I signed up. Check out Esther 3:8-9:

And Haman said unto king Ahasuerus: 'There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from those of every people; neither keep they the king's laws; therefore it profiteth not the king to suffer them. If it please the king, let it be written that they be destroyed; and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of those that have the charge of the king's business, to bring it into the king's treasuries.'

http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt3303.htm#8

We're still here; the Persian empire not so much.

NC-FF said...

I do a chavrusa every week learning keddushin. I find it fulfilling connecting to our Jewish roots and because it is intellectually challenging.

My chevrusa, who is outwardly orthodox, does it for the same reason.

For me it has nothing to do with God, who, if he exists, couldn't give a FF if I learn about what rabbis said 2000 years ago.

At the same time I earn a living, unlike the leech-parasite heredim in Israel who live off the dole while loitering in fake yeshivas all day and multiplying like cockroaches at night.

jewish philosopher said...

"For me it has nothing to do with God, who, if he exists, couldn't give a FF if I learn about what rabbis said 2000 years ago."

Argument from incredulity.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_ignorance#Argument_from_incredulity_.2F_Lack_of_imagination

"the leech-parasite heredim in Israel"

You mean like the vehemently secular kibbutzim, which have received billions in subsidies?

http://www.israeleconomy.org/nbn/nbn309.htm

"while loitering in fake yeshivas all day"

I spend 9 years studying in Israeli yeshivas and 15 years more recently working for a large corporation in New York City. I would say that the work ethic was pretty similar.

NC said...

"Argument from incredulity."

We're all just expressing our opinions and motivations, but why don't you make a two-columned table, evidence pro and con, of the idea that god gives a FF?

The Heredim in Israel contribute nothing to the economy, other than unemployment and child payments. Their biggest consumption is of disposable plates and cutlery.
They drag the economy down. In the founding years of the state it was a marginal minority but now it is a major segment of society. Terrible.

Maybe some yeshivas are legitimate, (mostly the Zionist ones) but the rest are just fictitious entities created to help collect subsidies and give their "students" army exemptions.

When the kibbutsim became unprofitable they sold their assets and most are now private enterprises.

jewish philosopher said...

The evidence in favor of a Biblical God is overwhelming, as I've explained.

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2006/12/truth-of-judaism.html

As far as Israeli yeshivas go, Israel is a democracy. If you live there and aren't happy with the government, send your Member of Parliment a letter. Americans also gripe constantly about "pork barrel" spending, except for those receiving it.

jewish philosopher said...

Bear in mind that begging has always been a venerable Israeli tradition. The yeshivas are small potatoes compared to all the other recipients.

http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RL33222.pdf

http://www.haaretz.com/news/more-than-70-of-donations-in-israel-come-from-foreign-philanthropists-1.2545

NC said...

The heredi parties are politically extremely effective. Because of social pressures for conformity they vote as a block. So getting poltical change is a problem. I am arguing more at moral and ideological level.

I agree that Israel has relied too much on donations. It is now a relatively rich country with per capita GDP around $30000, so it shouldn't need donations. Within the poltical system it should prioritize its resources like every country does.

On the other hand, rich Jews around the world love to have their names on bronze plates adorning new hospital wings, academic departments and holocaust museums. They also get a tax benefit while supporting their favorite cause. I'm not sure this should be discouraged...

jewish philosopher said...

Probably no other country has ever received so much money per capita in donations, from governments and from individuals, as has Israel. Israeli secular institutions, such as kibbutzim, have received billions of dollars in assistance. Therefore to begrudge the yeshivas the few dollars they receive seems a little bigoted.

Anonymous said...

The difference, JP, is that Israeli secular institutions, such as kibbutzim, are generally pretty self sufficient and even produce goods and services which help grow the Israeli economy. Kibbutz Levi, for example, gets all sorts of donations. They also operate a beautiful hotel with a view of the Kinneret (very popular among Jewish and Christian tourists alike) which is said to have the best breakfast in the country (it is), and produce furniture sold throughout Israel. When I was in Yeshiva in Meah Shearim, the Yeshiva wan't even working to collect money from the buchrim, so the Rabbis weren't being paid. They were relying on handouts and government checks; God forbid their wives leave the house and work. Mine and every institution I visited was in disrepair (save one Chabad institution, which was absolutely beautiful, and the Rabbis seemed actually to be making fair money for their teaching). I was actively discouraged from leaving the Yeshiva, from going to graduate school, and from working. I was very clearly told I should stay in Yeshiva and continue learning for the rest of my life. I was being told to be a leech to society.

Now for the real reason I wanted to comment: you missed a bit in your little history lesson. You completely skipped over the Mishnah. That's what was written as a memory aid. The Talmud was the compiled discussions of the Mishnah and other supporting texts. And don't thank God for Schottenstein Talmud. It is a sad necessity of our society that people can't take the time and effort to learn the language and nuances of the text; not even yeshiva buchrim, and so need the Talmud, like any other text, in translation. It is shameful, disrespects the original text, and anyone who learns from the ST exclusively is completely wasting their time, as they WILL miss vital points in the text which are indiscernible in translation. The Schottenstein edition is a cop-out fall-back waste of time and money and space on your bookshelf unless it is being used to help step you up to the real thing.

jewish philosopher said...

I don't really see what the difference is between the Institute for Advanced Study, located in Princeton

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Institute_for_Advanced_Study

and Beth Medrash Govoha a few miles away in Lakewood.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beth_Medrash_Govoha

Both exist on donations. One studies God's creations, the other God's will.

Regarding the Schottenstein Talmud, for us that is the real thing. I'm sure Rashi also seemed like a big crutch when first published.

Anonymous said...

The difference between Rashi and Schottenstein is that Rashi absolutely cannot be used in lieu of the actual text and one must have a strong command of the text before beginning to use Rashi. ST, on the other hand can be used alone, and a reader can think they're getting the full depth of the text when in fact they're barely getting a fraction of the information.

As for your example above, it misses the point entirely by using one comparison juxtaposed to another (hachi nami), when the two do not line up. Two institutions of learning in the US are not a comparable comparison to the Israeli institutions in question. I know personally several Lakewood avreichim, and generally their wives work. They frequently even find time to hold down a job. Students in Israeli Yeshivos, on the other hand, are discouraged from working, as are their wives. Yeshivos don't pay their Rabonim despite the huge government subsidies and private donations. The entire system and most within it survive on government handouts. You cannot compare the two.

jewish philosopher said...

"a reader can think they're getting the full depth of the text when in fact they're barely getting a fraction of the information."

Examples, please?

"The entire system and most within it survive on government handouts."

As do American universities (Pell grants, public colleges, student loans, etc) which are basically just 4 year vacation resorts for young adults.

Anonymous said...

Young adults who go to universities are encouraged to take their education and enter the workforce. When jobs are more numerous, they typically do. Unless their education is paid for with a grant, they are expected to repay the money. If they do not, they incur heavy penalties and can face repossession of property. Yeshivas, on the other hand, discourage their talmidim from entering the workforce and live indefinitely off of government handouts, not loans. They are not expected to repay this money. It drags down the entire Israeli economy. American universities help to grow it.

As for problems with Schottenstein Talmud, unfortunately all my notes and seforim are in another state at the moment, and I would be remiss if I would try to answer from memory alone. I'll try and find a few good examples, but that will take some time. I'll get back to you. But you're the Rabbi. Take a look at Bava Metzia around the sugiya of tafka cohen. I remember several major flaws there. There are problems with the translation of the first page of Makos. I and a rav of mine also took issue with several points in Brachos circa 45b (? on the exact page, its been a while, but starting with the Mishna slosha sheachlu k'achas).

jewish philosopher said...

Quite a few student loans default, leaving the taxpayer with the bill.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/education/14colleges.html

The Pell Grants are $28 billion a year.

http://www.citytowninfo.com/career-and-education-news/articles/57-billion-dollar-gap-for-pell-grants-10121402

State colleges received $66 billion of taxpayer money.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universities_in_the_United_States#Finances

In many cases, the expense is a waste.

http://chronicle.com/blogs/innovations/why-did-17-million-students-go-to-college/27634

How much of my hard earned money is actually financing frat parties? I don't think the Israeli taxpayer financing yeshiva students has that much to complain about. How much do yeshivas really get for adult students? About $50 per student per month?

Schottenstein is a new thing which naturally frightens some people in the very conservative ultra-Orthodox world. However if you can point out some specific problems I'd be happy to hear them.

Anonymous said...

On universities vs. yeshivas, you clearly aren't hearing me or anyone else. It is a waste of my time to continue the dialog there.

And being that I'm a gay yeshiva drop-out who was raised reform, I'd hardly call myself "very conservative" or "ultra-Orthodox." Again, you're supposedly a Rabbi. I've pointed you to a few places. You should have the resources to investigate them yourself; when I can get my sources together, I'd be glad to share more. I'll return then. Farewell.

jewish philosopher said...

"On universities vs. yeshivas, you clearly aren't hearing me or anyone else."

You're saying that yeshiva students are parasites robbing the hard working taxpayers. I'm saying, even disregarding the spiritual benefits of supporting yeshivas, they are no more parasites than university students.

"I'll return then."

I can't wait.

Undercover Kofer said...

"The essense of Judaism is the Talmud."

So something that was given by God (allegedly) is less important than rules that are written down by mere mortals?

Interesting.

jewish philosopher said...

In case of a contradiction, the oral takes precedence over the written law, as I've explained.

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2009/05/eternal-torah.html

Undercover Kofer said...

Doesn't make it the essence though. Just shows how confusing the original word of God can be.

jewish philosopher said...

Undercover, get to work. Order your Schottenstein Talmud and start studying!