Sunday, December 08, 2013

The Talmud: Just a series of debates?

The Babylonian Talmud: Just a series of debates?

By Michael Hoffman

Our enemies and detractors among the rabbis and their allies insult the intelligence of the uninformed by deceitfully claiming that Hoffman’s "Talmud quotes only reflect a series of debates between rabbis," rather than serving as a law-making function within Judaism. 

In the course of attempting to forge a connection between the U.S. Constitution and the Babylonian Talmud which Thomas Jefferson mocked and despised, Benjamin Wittes of the “conservative” Brookings Institute writes the following nonsense:
"The Talmud is a series of debates—and commentaries on those debates—on a text called the Mishnah.” 
The concept of a multiplicity of interpretations is not something we deny. Orthodox Judaism is a situation-ethics religion whose disposable “morality" has a shelf life according to the zeitgeist, as for example, Rambam’s injunctions on killing gentiles, heretics and Christians, depends on whether Judaics are in the ascendant in a particular era, or not. 

Judaism’s situation ethics revolve around relatively few fixed, non-negotiable sacred dogmas, such as the superiority of the “Jew,” the inferiority of the gentile, the filthiness of the female menstruant, the evil of Jesus Christ and His Mother, etc.

Rabbinic law, the halacha, is derived first from the Mishnah, then from the Gemara, and then from successor texts having canonical status. How this halacha comes to be formed and exert authority is a matter of exegetical rules pertaining to hermeneutic and epistemological boundaries and determinations which do not derogate any portion of the Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud). Almost all of the Talmud Bavli at one time or another can be valid and authoritative, depending on the circumstances of the time.

In Erubin 13b we observe that the school of Hillel and the school of Shammai differed. These schools are depicted as disputing for three years over whose ruling constitutes the halacha. In this case, even though it was subsequently determined that the halacha was according to Hillel, it is written that both Shammai and Hillel represent the words of the living God. [Cf.  Bar-Ilan University Prof. Avi Sagi, “Both are the Words of the Living God: A Typological Analysis of Halakhic Pluralism,” in Hebrew Union College Annual no. 65 (1995). Also cf. Prof. William “Zev" Kolbrenner, “Chiseled from All Sides: Hermeneutics and Dispute in Rabbinic Judaism,” Association for Jewish Studies Review, no. 28 (2004)].

Since both schools of rabbinic thought represent the word of God according to the authentic teaching of Orthodox Judaism, both represent the Torah sheBeal peh, the Oral “Torah" of the ancient Pharisees embodied by “Chazal," the Phraisaic and Talmudic “sages” who concocted the halacha

Viewed within the perspective of the rabbinic hermeneutic — which is so often denied in public — the exchanges between competing rabbinic views within the Talmud Bavli are 1. the basis of rabbinic law (halacha) and 2. have authority and validity even when in certain historical periods another view predominates. 

Therefore, when our opponents claim that the racist, demonic, anti-Christian, misogynist and insane statements from the Talmud should be dismissed as the mere flotsam of banal debates, they are lying, in the flagrant and familiar pattern that has come to be known as chutzpah

Hoffman is the author of Judaism Discovered and Judaism’s Strange Gods. This study is excerpted from his blog, The Truth About the Talmud: Judaism’s Holiest Book

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