What is Talmud Tweets?

What is Talmud Tweets? A short, personal take on a page of Talmud - every day!

For several years now, I have been following the tradition of "Daf Yomi" - reading a set page of Talmud daily. With the start of a new 7 1/2 year cycle, I thought I would share a taste of what the Talmud offers, with a bit of personal commentary included. The idea is not to give a scholarly explanation. Rather, it is for those new to Talmud to give a little taste - a tweet, as it were - of the richness of this text and dialogue it contains. The Talmud is a window into a style of thinking as well as the world as it changed over the centuries of its compilation.

These are not literal "tweets" - I don't limit myself to 140 characters. Rather, these are intended to be short, quick takes - focusing in on one part of a much richer discussion. Hopefully, I will pique your interest. As Hillel says: "Go and study it!" (Shabbat 31a)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Shabbat 55 – Troubling Philosophy

A digression into philosophy – although the rabbis would not have seen it as such. It begins with this powerful statement of communal responsibility (actually at the end of the previous page):

Whoever can prevent his household [from committing a sin] but does not, is punished for [the sins of] his household; [if he can prevent] his fellow citizens, he is seized for [the sins of] his fellow citizens; if the whole world, he is seized for [the sins of] the whole world.

There follows a moving example of one:

Rab Judah was sitting before Samuel [when] a woman came and cried before him, but he ignored her. Said he to him, Does not the Master agree [that] ‘whoso stoppeth his ears to the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard’? (Prov. 21:13)

All the powerful social justice texts we love to quote. But Samuel rejects Rab Judah’s rebuke, noting that there was a higher court than his – and it would be they who would be punished, not him!

What follows is a discussion of the premise articulated by R. Ammi:

There is no death without sin, and there is no suffering without iniquity.

In other words, suffering and death are always, in this theory, the result of one’s own sins.

This rather troubling concept – what we would today call “blame the victim” is batted about among the rabbis. From Adam (“I gave him an easy command, yet he violated it.”) to Moses and Aaron (“Because you did not trust Me [enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people].”) And yet, the counter argument is made: the punishment for Moses and Aaron was that they did not get enter the Promised Land. So their deaths were not punishment for sin – otherwise they would have been punished twice!

This counter argument continues, lengthily, through many Biblical characters who were thought to have sinned, but are actually - through interpretation - redeemed. Ok, some of these refutations are a bit tortured (Reuben did not actually sleep with his father’s concubine, he just switched her bed for his mother’s). But the ongoing attempt is to refute the assumption that pain and suffering are always the result of someone’s own sins – perhaps hidden sins.

Life, and philosophy, are more complicated than that.

No comments:

Post a Comment