Thoughts on Judaism

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Is the Talmud fundamentalist?

This exchange with badrabbi below emphasizes a very essential point which badrabbi poses perfectly succinctly. Blogger The way that yeshivas teach Germora today, as if it were writ, undermines the entire basis on which we should study it. Bad notes the progress of this approach ad absurdum.

badrabbi: The trouble, RebelJew, is that the Talmud, the source of the Chanukah holiday miracle, is sold to us as the "oral Torah". We are told that contents of the Talmud are just as holy as the written Torah. Now, both you and I agree that the Chanukah miracle is concocted. Set aside whether the rabbis meant well or not when they invented this fairy tale, the issue is that this "holy document" has in effect been defiled by this obvious falsehood.

If you find a chunk of ham in a pot of soup, a rabbi would advise discarding the soup. What do we do with the Talmud now that we have found obvious falsehoods in it?

RJ: Bad analogy. The reason we would chuck out the soup is that we cannot fully remove the ham and all of its offshoots. The soup becomes a single entity through cooking.

If we had dozens of objects, apparently cookies, and I find one that is not edible in any way, that does not mean that none of the others are edible.

The Talmud is more the plate of cookies than the soup. The fact that many rabbis and yeshivas sell it as soup is a problem, but even the Talmud itself does not claim to be so. It is admittedly pastiche over centuries, the forensic efforts of later rabbis to ascertain the actual "oral law", not the oral law itself. Hence, it does not claim fundamental infallibility. That later ignoramuses(ignorami?) claim that for the Talmud indicates that they either do not understand how to learn Gemora or that they are trying to condescend to, (or worse, deceive) their followers, to keep them from thinking critically.

The lack of critical thinking in a philosophy based almost entirely on critical thinking is one of the most interesting and ironic things about Judaism.


  • Very interesting, thanks.

    By Blogger Jewish Atheist, at 12:17 PM  

  • Rebel;

    In law, there is a very interesting rule, arising out of the 'fruit of the poison tree' concept. Essentially, the theory is that if the source of a given information is tainted, then all subsequent information based on the source are also regarded as tainted.

    For example, suppose the Police arrested and tortured me, forcing me to confess the location of my gun. Say, then, the Police found my gun because of my forced confession, and provided the gun in the court room as evidence of my crime. Now, if the judge were to determine that my confession is coerced, then all information arising from this information, including the gun would no longer be admissible.

    Similarly, if a witness were proven to be lying under oath about X, then the court would look at his testimony about Y with great suspicion, even though the witness may in fact be telling the truth about Y.

    This is the concept of "fruit of the poisoned tree".

    Now, again, if we can find obvious falsehoods in the Talmud, it is my contention that the entire Talmud becomes tainted. At the very least, the status of the document is greatly diminished. Certainly, we can not longer say that the Talmud is the "Oral Torah".

    By Blogger badrabbi, at 7:23 PM  

  • Bad

    Agreed, but your argument only works if we are viewing the Talmud dogmatically. If we view it critically, we are able to select the wheat from the chaff. Even the example you cite only implies suspicion of the evidence. There is no proof that an particular Talmudic dictum is true from an other. Let's simply drop the argument from authority and evaluate each Talmudic piece in light of its particular information. That is how it is designed to be evaluated, regardless of the invented theology of the past 300 years.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 11:23 AM  

  • So, sorry, does this mean I can no longer accept the gemorah dogmatically, as being the word-perfect, divine, oral law? but must find the wheat from the chaff? like some secular "book". Is that what we're agreeing on?

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 10:17 PM  

  • the email posted for RebelJew no longer works. I am hoping to get in touch, any ideas how that would be possible? Perhaps everyone has a desire for privacy, I can understand that. I too am not looking to have my name out in the open in this forum. So any ideas?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:09 AM  

  • To contextualize the issues raised in this web-post, I strongly urge a complete reading of the book "Mind Over Matter" (Shamir Publishers) I am not trying to get anyone to agree or disagree with the book. It contains the clearest and most direct statement of the Rebbe's and Chabad's philosophy on the Talmud, and its interpretation, in light of science, apologetics etc. Anyone who reads this book will know exactly what the CR's views were on this. It is very helpful.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:16 PM  

  • There is no question what the Talmud is. It is the attempt by 4 and 5th century Rabbis to ascertain what 1st and 2nd century Rabbis thought about what was authentically passed down as Oral Law. That is all it claims to be. To quote a great Talmudist, the rest is commentary.

    Jonathan, it is not a "secular book", nor is it more than it claims itself to be. The various parables and characters in a secular book, I can take it or leave it. The Talmud is a search for the Oral Law. Its parables teach us about the search and try to give us a clear and comprehensive view about it, not just a summary, but all of the reasoning behind it, so that we would understand why one thing was accepted and another rejected. Even the names used have meaning. It is sort of a coded message, but remember, it is not a book at all. It was never even intended to be written down.

    Anon: You can reach me at rebel.nation1 at gmail dot com

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 10:23 PM  

  • There seems to be a misunderstanding of the "fruit of the poison tree" doctrine here.

    The reason that a gun which was found as a result of torture is inadmissable, is entirely different from the reason a judge treats the testimony of a known perjuror with suspicion.

    The testimony of the known perjuror may be true; the judge treats it with suspicion because he knows of the increased likelihood that it is false. On the other hand, there is no doubt regarding the truth of the location of the gun found as a result of torture. The reason it is inadmissable is NOT because it is false - on the contrary, we know it is true. It is nonetheless inadmissable, (in some systems of law,) for other reasons. Society, for example, may want to discourage the police from using torture, or may decide that the defendant has certain rights to privacy, which may include privacy of information which the defendant would (and in this case, did) divulge only under torture.

    Of course, these are policy decisions. Will the "fruit of the poison tree" doctrine really deter overzealous or corrupt police? Do we really value a murderer's right to privacy so highly that we will even act as if we are unaware of incriminating evidence? Etc., etc.

    I must say that I'm not sure I can see why the "fruit of the poison tree" doctrine would apply to a discussion aimed at discovering answers (i.e. truth). How would policy, or for that matter logic, provide reason to categorically dismiss a source, let alone a huge multi-volume work, due to the presence of one (or even - gasp - more than one!) statement with which one definitively disagrees?

    If the source were claiming prophetic or devine infallibility, this would definitively prove that the source was false (either that, or the person who disagreed was mistaken). But that's not the case here.

    By Blogger Avrech, at 6:07 PM  

  • Dov;

    Your excellent points are well taken. I appreciate and whole heartedly agree with your assertions.

    I brought up the initial example of the fruit of the poisoned tree to illustrate the concept and agree that it is less than perfectly relevant to the discussion at hand.

    The second example I used is more apt to this discussion in that the Talmud's statements are diminished in their reliability given that some of its other statements are proving to be true.

    Again, thanks for your outstanding comment.

    By Blogger badrabbi, at 1:44 AM  

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