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February 15, 1980 - Image 2

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1980-02-15

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Vetir6i 15;

Purely Commentary

By Philip

Jacobo Timerman Makes the Talmud A Source
of Measuring State of Israel's Status in the
World ... Pilpul Tradition Related to Disputations


Talmud and Pilpul: Jacobo Timerman Dips Into the Tradition of Scholarly Disputations

The very incoherence of the Talmud, its
confusion of voices, is an index of free
.—Israel Zangwill (1864-1926)
in "Chosen Peoples."

Jacobo Timerman is one of the remarkable men in our
generation. His devotion to truth as a journalist led him to
Argentinian jails. He withstood torture and is now a free
man in Israel.
Apparently self-taught in his Jewishness, appreciative
of the privileges Israel accords to a libertarian, he has
emerged as an impressive interpreter of Zionism.
His early Jewish education was minimal, which makes
his speedy mastery of Jewish traditions phenomenal.
This is demonstrated in his New York Times Op-Ed
Page article, written from Tel Aviv, entitled "Talmudic?
Yes And No."
It would have taken a Talmud scholar with a lifetime of
training to juggle the terms as masterfully as he did: His
essay adds to the accomplishments of an eminent journalist
who also is a convincing speaker on the public platforms he
now dominates.

swers: Do the Americans themselves know? And
then the other talmudist answers: Wouldn't they
have to know, first of all, what it is they want to
achieve in the Middle East?
Timerman inspires acquisition of knowledge about the
understanding of the Talmud. There is a fascinating defini-
tion that was offered of the massive Jewish studies which
signify both learning and teaching. The scholarly defini-
tion by Levi Yitzhok states:
Why does each tract of the Talmud begin with Page
2, and not Page 1? To remind us that no matter how
much we study and learn we have not yet come to the
first page!

—Levi Yitzhok, quoting Kahana
Sefer HaHasidut, 1922, Page 243

So influential has this work become for the ages that it
invited the interest and appreciation of non-Jews as well.
There is, especially noteworthy, the tribute to the Talmud
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), who wrote
in 1863:
That book of gems,
That book of gold,
Of wonders many and manifold.

—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1863

In "Talmudic? Yes. And No," Timerman elaborated, in
relation to the current Israel role:

In the NYTimes Op-Ed Page article he tackles the
Israel dilemmas. He could be judged as teasing, yet what he
wrote is too serious to be ignored. He demonstrates the
puzzling events in the form of a challenge.

TEL AVIV — It is hard to say whether it is a
sport, a game or one more exercise in political
science: The Israelis are spending their time these
days arguing that the Americans need Israel. Or
that the Americans do not need Israel. (Of course,
many Americans agrue the same thing, but in the
United States the argument lacks the flavor of a
game or a sport.)
These are not the only two alternatives. That
would hardly be talmudic. There are variations:
whether the United States needs Israel as an ally,
or does not need it as an ally. This raises other
variations: whether the United States needs Israel
now and will not need it in the future, or whether
the United States does not need Israel now and
will need it in the future.
The events in Teheran and Afghanistan im-
mediately became part of the argument.
For some, it would have been better not to have
signed the Camp David agreements, so that Israel
could emerge today as the only logical American
ally. Others believe that in such a case the United
States would have chosen Egypt as its principal
supporter in the Middle East.
But, argues the first group, Egypt would always
be an Arab country subject to the general irra-
tionality of the Islamic world, and, anyway, with-
out the Camp David agreements Egypt would
possess neither oil nor the airfields in the Sinai.
No, it is counter-argued: for the United States to
build airfields in Egypt and supply Egypt with oil
would be a marvelous geopolitical opportunity to
bring such an important Arab country into its
You would think that the game would wear thin.
Or the geopolitical argument, if you prefer. But it
goes on.
Some Israelis ask, Why speculate over what
might have happened? The Camp David agree-
ments are signed, they are making headway, and
Egypt accepts the idea of being the base for an
American offensive in the Middle East.
But other Israelis think that there are two sides
to the coin. One side is the present Egyptian atti-
tude: the other side is the question of what would
happen if Anwar el-Sadat should disappear. And
the talmudists ask, what are the two sides of the
Israeli coin? One side is that Israel is a stable
democracy and that its interests will always favor
the development of democracy in the Middle East.
The other side? That it will be difficult for democ-
racy to develop in the Middle East without a solu-
tion of the Palestine question. And this solution
must begin somehow, somewhere. The only one to
keep the date with history was Egypt. Or
President Sadat, if you prefer. But it is all there is.
In 30 years of offering peace, secret negotiations,
proposals for regional agreements, proposals for
bilateral agreements, secret guarantees, Israel
was unable even to find a starting point. Not even
when it went so far as to inform Jordan or Saudi
Arabia of revolts that were being hatched in their
So let us begin again, from the beginning. Do the
Americans need Israel or not? A talmudist an-

In the streets of Tel Aviv it is argued that
America needs peace in the Middle East. But it is
also argued that there is peace in Eastern Europe,
where all the countries are Communist. Does
America want a grouping of Communist coun-
tries in the Middle East? Curiously, there are
right-wing circles that believe that the answer is
yes. There are those in Israel who would like to set
up a monarchy with a descendant of King David
on the throne. But we shall exclude these two
groups from the game.
So let us begin once more. Let us suppose, some
say, that America needs Israel simply to show the
Arabs that America has Israel. But, others argue,
this would only be useful if America is willing to
use force. And is it? In the two recent instances
where it was possible —Teheran and Afghanistan
— Israel was willing to use force. But it was not
Israel's decision.
There is a talmudist — and every Israeli is a
talmudist — who declares that America feels that
it needs Israel hilt does not know that it does.
Whereas the other talmudist maintains that
America knows (with its head) that some day it
will need Israel, but does not feel (with its heart)
that this is a desirable thing. Finally, a third tal-
mtidist speaks up and perhaps manages to intro-
duce a note of rationality into the argument. He
says: America will need Israel on The Day Some-
thing Happens in Saudi Arabia. Of course, a
fourth talmudist will reply: Will there be time, by
then? At which point the games begin all over
again: Do the Americans need Israel, or not?

How does this, in its totality, apply to Israel, her di-
lemmas, the Middle East involvements?
There is an adaptation from the Talmud which may be
more definitive in its brevity than anything else that has
been written, thus:

One day, a Jew passed the imperial train and saluted

the Emperor Hadrian, who waxed furious: "You, a
Jew, dare to greet the Emperor! You shall pay for this
with your life!" Later that day, another Jew passed the
Emperor and did not greet him. "A Jew dares pass a
Roman Emperor without saluting?" Hadrian
exclaimed, "You shall be killed!" To his puzzled cour-
tiers, Hadrian explained, "I hate Jews, so I use any
excuse to destroy them."

—adapted from Talmud

Without indicating it, Timerman suggests a confes-
sional. He resorts to Pilpul, to the debatable. This intro-
duces the equally fascinating theme of the Pilpul. Dr.
Philip Birnbaum, in "The Book of Jewish Concepts, - (He-
brew Publishing Co.) has a definition for Pilpul:

In connection with Talmud studies, the term
pilpul is employed in the sense of a penetrating
theoretical discussion which culminates in the
drawing of conclusions in matters of Halakha or
traditional law. It is derived from the Hebrew
verb pipel (to spice, to season), signifying to argue
a proposition, opinion, or measure.
Since the word pilpel, as a noun, means pepper,
the suggestion has been that the argument is as
keen as strong pepper.. Essentially aiming to
clarify a talmudic subject by analysis of its essen-
tials, there were times when the pilpul was made
unpopular by its hair-splitting tendencies serving
as an end in itself rather than a means of solving
mooted problems.
Pilpul as a method of training was especially
applied in the talmudic academies (yeshivot) of
Poland from the 16th Century on. Its object was to
sharpen the minds of the students so that they
might see deeper into the difficult talmudic pas-
sages. By means of pilpul, the most familiar ob-
jects are made to appear in a new light. Hence the
name hiddushim (original products), or hillukim
(analyses), is applied to this method of study.
The extreme development of hair splitting pil-
pul, or talmudic gymnastics, dates from Rabbi
Jacob Pollak of Prague, who served as rabbi in
Cracow and died in Safed, Eretz Yisrael, about
1532. The talmudic academy (yeshiva) which he
had founded in Cracow supplied many of the
Jewish teachers of Poland. It was here that the
system of pilpul was elaborated, serving the pur-
pose of developing the acumen of the students.
The far-fetched analyses and combinations are
often pursued for their own sake, without distinc-
tive reference to law and ethics. The mental alert-
ness of the Polish Jews and their inclination to
engage in dialectical debates have often been as-
cribed to pilpulism, a characteristic acquired
through many generations.


Jacobo Timerman thus not only offered a lesson in the
Talmud. He also revived interest in pilpul and the el ements
of discussion and polemics. He is the journalist who teaches
and he emerges among the notable additions to Israel's
cultural leadership.

* * *

Professional Recognition
for Jacobo Timerman

On May 25, Jacobo Timerman will be awarded the
Golden Pen of Freedom Award at the annual congress of the
International Federation of Newspaper Publishers to be
held in Tel Aviv.
Timerman is the selectee of the executive committee of
the newspaper publishers association. He was nominated
for the award by the American Newspaper Publishers
Association in recognition of the libertarian courage he had
shown as one of the persecuted in Argentina.
All lovers of freedom should consider themselves co-
winners of this noteworthy award. Timerman was the sym-
bol of truth and justice enunciated by a free press in a land
of oppressiOn. He is now on the editorial staff of the Tel Aviv
Hebrew daily Maariv and he represents the fulfillment of
the Zionist ideal in Israel. He is a blessing for this genera-

Speaks Before Zionist Council

S. African Sheikh Asks for Moslem-Jewish Amity


(JTA) — Sheikh Abubakr
Najaar, an Islamic scholar
and leader of Cape Town's
large Moslem community,
. has issued a call for
Moslem-Jewish amity and
urged both faiths to work
together, and with Chris-
tians, to help solve the prob-
lems of South Africa and the
world in general and to fight
Najaar, ju returned
from a visit to '.alto, spoke
at a meeting sponsored by

the Western Province
Zionist Council, attended by
several hundred local Mos-
lems as well as Jewish lead-
ers. It was the first
Moslem-Jewish gathering
in Cape Town's 300-year
The time has come for the
Judeo-Moslem nightmare
of the past 50 years to end so
that cousins could come to-
gether in harmony, Najaar

He praised Jewry and
Israelis for carrying the

torch of monotheism de-
spite persecution. He re-
called the Prophet
Mohammed's treaty with
the Jews as a basis for a
special relationship and
alluded to the Israeli-
Egyptian peace treaty.
"The peace process is
better than war. We can
only pray and give moral
support that the forces of
peace must go forward,"
he said.

The sheikh chose his
words carefully so as not to

embarass those of his co-
religinnists who have
doubts about President
Anwar Sadat's peace moves
toward Israel. Neverthe -
less, he was criticized by
more radical Moslem ele-
ments in Cape Town for his
moderation and his appear-
ance at a Zionist-sponsored
There are over 500,000
Moslems in South Africa,
mostly of Indo-Pakistani
origin, compared -to about,
118,000 Jews.

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