What Is Talmud? The Art of Disagreement

What Is Talmud? The Art of Disagreement

What Is Talmud? The Art of Disagreement

What Is Talmud? The Art of Disagreement

Synopsis

True disagreements are very hard to achieve. They are even harder to maintain, for the ghost of final agreement constantly haunts them. The Babylonian Talmud, however, escapes from that ghost of agreement. Taking it as an example, one might ask: Are there any conditions under which disagreement might constitute a genuine and final relationship between finite minds? Are disagreements always only temporary steps toward final agreement? Must a community of disagreement always imply agreement, as in an agreement to disagree? In both engagement and disengagement with post-Heideggerian traditions of thought, What Is Talmud? redefines the place of the Talmud and its study in the intellectual map of the West. In Talmudic intellectual art, disagreement is a fundamental category, the ultimate condition of finite humanexistence or co-existence.

Excerpt

It is no secret that prefaces are written after the work is already done. Although the preface is placed at the beginning of the book, I am writing it to highlight my current position in my larger intellectual journey and the role this book plays within it.

This book grew out of my interest in the rhetoric of religious discourse, in particular the rhetoric of the Talmud, the main normative text of Jewish tradition originating in late antiquity. Because the Talmudic tradition developed in the same intellectual times and places as did Western philosophical and rhetorical traditions, I began to wonder how their approaches came to differ so much, and why one of them became dominant while the other remained largely unknown. In particular, why does the Talmudic approach to disagreement as a goal in itself seem exotic and esoteric while Western philosophy’s goal of reaching agreement in any discussion, intellectual or political, shapes common parlance? These questions intrigued me, and this book is my way of addressing that unfamiliar side of Western civilization, the side of disagreement as an end rather than as a means.

Entering the area of the unfamiliar realm of Talmudic disagreement as a goal of discourse required me to reconsider the familiar boundaries—only recently established in the twentieth century—between studies in philosophy and studies in the Talmud. Doing this required my undertaking a complicated and complex intellectual journey into two hitherto separate . . .

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