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, May 14, 2013

Eruvin 67 – Knowledge vs Dialectics

Continued discussion of shared courtyards and neglected preparations for the Sabbath. Also the status of a rock in the sea – where and how Sabbath restrictions apply. But I focus on some fascinating insights into the friendly rivalries of the Rabbis, and on the objections of students:

Whenever R. Hisda and R. Shesheth met each other, the lips of the former trembled at the latter's extensive knowledge of Mishnahs, while the latter trembled all over his body at the former's keen dialectics.

What matter most, the ability to memorize broadly and quickly recall information, or the ability to deeply analyze and challenge interpretations? Each believed it was the other's gift most treasured.

Again, as we saw on an earlier page, the relationship of student and master is brought up – when and how does a student question his master? A story is told:

There was once a child whose warm water (prepared for the circumcision) was spilled (on the Sabbath)

‘Let some warm water’, said Rabbah ‘be brought for him from my house’ (in the same courtyard). ‘But’, observed Abaye, ‘We have prepared no ‘erub’. ‘Let us then rely’, the other replied. ‘on the shittuf’ (“association” or shared set aside meal). ‘But’, Abaye told him, ‘we had no shittuf either’. ‘Then’, the other said: ‘let a gentile be instructed to bring it for him’ —

‘l wished’, Abaye later remarked: ‘to point out an objection against the Master (questioning whether this instruction to the non-Jew was permitted) but R. Joseph prevented me, because he told me in the name of R. Kahana, "When we were at Rab Judah's he used to tell us that in a Pentateuchal matter any objection must be raised before the Master's ruling is acted upon. But in a Rabbinical matter we must first act on the ruling of the Master and then point out the objection"’.


  1. The fascinating dichotomy between 2 types of intellect is hinted at here. Not everyone can do either of these; others may have the emotional intelligence of a therapist, or the spatial intelligence of an architect or intrapersonal intelligence of a spiritual leader. Rote memory strength may not even lead to remembering where you left your cars or your keys, as shown in the book, "Moonwalking with Einstein". Speaking of Einstein, his comment on intrinsic abilities was, "I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious."

    1. Excellent point. And one the rabbis seem to be supporting. For their task of halachic discourse, the dichotomy sufficed. Both methods are ways to refute the other: Shesheth marshaling text after text to overwhelm his opponent, Hisda analytically devastating his opponent's logic. But that's a dialectic and serves a particular function. As you say, there are many other ways of "knowing."